50-Miler Training, Bridger Mountains, Montana (Leica M9)


Bridger Mountains and the Gallatin Valley, Montana

Leica M9, Zeiss 35/2.8C

How do you train a boy to walk a 50-Miler?

In Bozeman, you do it by walking up and down and across the satellite ridges of the Bridger Mountains, where the trails are steep and the mountains have size, and there are enough views so you can forget how much your feet hurt.

The photo shows the Flesh Eating Tick patrol lighter on their feet because the view is good and the 3,000 foot climb is now behind them.

They have warm food in their bellies too, from cooking over fire, which also warms the soul of a boy with cheer.

They get double points for doing it in the rain down in a dark, wet, mossy forest.

On the Relevance of Video Games, Lightweight Backpacking Gear, and Education for Boy Scouts

Boy Scout, Montana Trekking

Sigma DP2, ISO 50, f/5.0, 1/1000 sec.

A lot of things vie for our kids’ time and interests, including but not limited to video games, which this post is not about.

I could suggest why spending time outside with peers might be a better use of time than spending time playing video games, but that may not be the right battle to fight because (a) the short term reward systems that deepen addiction to video games may be more powerful than the long term benefits of participating in outdoor recreation as a social activity and (b) it’s a fight against the behemoth we all love to hate and hate to love called Organizational Marketing for Recruitment because of the perhaps misguided belief that Bigger is Better, at least in terms of Membership Numbers.

These are all topics for another day, of course: back to the photo.

The good fight to fight is that which spends money from the pocketbooks of youth parents wisely, and that which saves our kids from heavy loads on their backs.

The pack in the photo is the prototype of a 2-lb pack we’re building for backpacking Scouts. It’s 65% lighter, absorbs 80% less water, and will cost 35% less than the most popular internal frame pack carried by Scouts new to backpacking, and parents new to buying gear for their Scouts that they don’t have to lug up and down the mountains.

It’s intentionally been designed to be small enough so as not to fit all the gear that Scouts are told to carry these days by misinformed or inexperienced leaders and the risk management experts who review gear lists for high adventure programs. It has an internal frame so the Scout can carry several days of food, so even a 12-year old can go on a 50-miler. In the new BSA Guide “Passport to High Adventure”, wilderness backpacking is now recommended for kids aged 15 and older, an age guideline that has been creeping upward for the past 80 years. What a disaster, to rob younger kids of these experiences.

The pack of course is only part of the problem, and a relatively minor one at that.

The real battle, like that with video gaming, is about education.

That’s why today, I’m joining a corps of six instructors from Backpacking Light to teach Scout leaders from across the U.S. in a sold-out wilderness course where they will learn how to implement lightweight backpacking programs in their own troops and high adventure programs, and why we are working with Montana BSA to provide High Adventure Treks that immerse Scouts into ultralight backpacking in a deep and meaningful way.

What better proving ground to show that ultralight backpacking really does work, than the Bob Marshall Wilderness in May?

The photo, of course, is my son Chase, 11 years old and 70 pounds soakin’ wet, carrying 13 pounds of food, personal gear (18.6% of his body weight, not 30%-40% as per BSA guidelines and 40%-50% which is common among Scouts), and patrol gear on a weekend trek near the snowline in March, in Montana, where we had temperatures down to 20 degrees and overnight winds gusting to 40 mph. My favorite part – he’s walking upright, gave away one of his trekking poles (“I don’t really need it, I suppose…”), and has a lot fewer things to keep track of than this Scout. Plus, he’s got a bit of a swagger to him on that high ridge. I like his confident gait – it’s fast, and intentional. He knows where he’s going!

That doesn’t make Chase, or anyone who carries a light pack, a better person.

But if better is defined as “more useful, suitable, or desirable” (freedictionary.com) then it would be hard to argue the case that you’ll have a better time in the wilderness if you saddle your kids with stuff that displaces the knowledge of skills that they should be carrying in their brains, and a little bit of emotional fortitude to do without a few things for a few days.

Training Hikes with Boy Scouts: “M” Trail, Bozeman, Montana (Sigma DP2s Photos)

Turning the corner and heading home at sunset.

(Click the photo to see it bigger and better, especially if you have an Apple LED monitor.)
Sigma DP2s, f/2.8, 1/30 sec, ISO 50.

Our Boy Scout Troop (Click for Website: Troop 676 Bozeman MT) is training for a 50-Miler in the Beartooths this July, so we’re hiking a lot. Of course, these training hikes are more than training hikes and they’re a lot of fun, too. Especially when you live in Bozeman, when it’s pretty more often than it’s not.



Click for bigger.
Sigma DP2s, f/2.8, 0.5 sec, ISO 50

Patrol Campfire

Patrol Campfire

Tobacco Root Mountains, March 2010 (Sigma DP2, f/2.8 15s)

Our Scouts are learning about lightweight backpacking.

Unlike most of us, who learned about it on our own, these kids are learning it in the context of the Patrol Method, that tenet of the Scouting program that develops character, teamwork, and leadership of the group.

In the photo above, one of our patrols is cooking dinner. They were issued a 1 gallon pot and a firestarting kit and left to their own devices with dehydrated meals they shopped for, and packaged, on their own. This was a practice run before we went backpacking for the next two days.

Our next trip is this coming weekend – a patrol outing into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. We’re preparing for bigger trips this summer on the CDT in Glacier National Park and a traverse of the Beartooth Plateau.

Our troop website has lots of great information on how we “do” lightweight backpacking with Scouts, including our Troop’s Backpacking Handbook, Gear List, and more, and we’re spreading the gospel to Scout Leaders and High Adventure Staff at this course in May, which is almost full.

Spring Hostility in Montana (Photo: Sigma DP2)


Spring Hostility in Montana, Sigma DP2 (click for larger)

Last weekend we took the Scout troop on their first backpacking trip of the season into the foothills of the Tobacco Root Mountains. We cooked over fires, slept under tarps, and learned the art of navigating in coulee country.

It was cold, too. Twenty one degrees on the first night. On our second day, we hiked and camped in outrageous winds that toppled shelters, chapped faces, and put ultralight stoves to shame. This was a trip where some troops might take mountaineering tents, balaclavas, and XG-K’s.

Instead, we chose light packs: our boys had pack weights that averaged less than 20 pounds (including food and at least 3 liters of water in this dry country). That’s minus one anomaly: our SPL carried 43, because we saddled him with 8 liters of extra water.