Scout Leader Training: Ultralight Backpacking

In May 2010 I had the privilege of teaching one of the most exciting courses ever to Scout Leaders from across North America.

They came from Alberta, the District of Columbia, Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Washington, and other faraway lands to little old DuPuyer, Montana at the foothills of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

Their mission was simple: “Help me help our Scouts enjoy backpacking more.”

That’s the easy part, just lighten them up with cheap, light, decent gear, and show them how to use it.


Therein lies some of what we do in this course. After all, it’s a pretty cool thing to play with a bunch of ultralight gear and try out new things.

But that isn’t the most important part.


Scout Leaders from across the country convene in the Bob Marshall Wilderness near DuPuyer, Montana for a training course in ultralight backpacking gear, skills, and integration with Scouting Aims and Methods. SIGMA DP2s.




The really cool parts of the course are all about how this whole Ultralight Thing fits into the Aims and Methods of Scouting, and especially, how we integrate ultralight gear and skills to:

  1. Maximize opportunities for the Patrol Method to work;
  2. Build expedition leadership skills among young people;
  3. Identify and address the unique challenges and benefits of immersing Scouts, their parents, and their leaders into the ultralight paradigm.

The course proved so popular (we sold out in a matter of days), and the participants recognized it to be such an important part of their training as Scoutmasters, High Adventure program leaders, Outdoor Program Chairpersons, etc. that we’ll be cementing the course into our calendar for the next few years.

And where else to do this than in the beauty of Montana Wilderness?

So, save the date for 2011: May 12-15. Reserve your spot now by contacting me! Alumni, of course, are welcome (bring a friend!) – our program will change from year to year to provide everyone with a fresh experience.

This course is provided in partnership with Backpacking Light, The Boone & Crockett Club, Montana Council BSA, and United States Forest Service.


Arrowleaf Balsamroot: Rocky Mountain Tough Guy (Leica M9)


Tough Guy of the Rockies: Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Leica M9, Zeiss 35/2.8C

The Arrowleaf Balsamroot is the first wildflower that shows itself on drier and rockier slopes in the Northern Rockies. It starts to appear in May and really gets going in June.

I think it’s the toughest flower in the West. Here’s a photo of a posse that dealt with their fair share of Stuff by the time July rolled around.

The flower above is being crowded by thorny things and has already seen its fair share of hail and frost. I know because those veins in its big leaves tell these kinds of stories.

This is another exceptionally edible plant, with a caveat.

Any part of it that you see is nasty and sappy and tastes bitter, like pine-sol, but it won’t make you sick at least.

The rest of the parts you can’t see – the fleshy roots – are nutritious and tasty, and are quite good when sliced thin and fried in olive oil and black pepper over a Bushbuddy stove.

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.

Ross Peak & Truman Gulch Near Bozeman, MT (Photo, Sigma DP2s)

Ross Peak

Sigma DP2s, ISO 50, f/8.0, 5.0 sec

In May, we really start to itch to go up into the mountains.

Snow and mud starts to clear from trails in the Bridgers starting at the South end (with the “M” and Sypes Canyon trails) and progresses s-l-o-w-l-y up the Western slope as the Month wears on. Our hikes this weekend into Middle Cottonwood and Truman Gulch were snowy, and not quite ready for Prime Time.

And with blue bird days few and far between, dry trails are coming late this year.

But with a few clouds and some rain to keep the skies clear, the skies sure are nice before sunrise and after sunset, and they have character.

Bridger Mountains & Cherry Creek – Bozeman, Montana (Sigma DP2s)

Cherry Creek

Sigma DP2s. Click for bigger.

This photo was taken in May 2010, but this is what it looked like fifteen years ago, before million dollar homes started dotting the horizon and changing the weather patterns. Now they can be removed with Photoshop’s Clone Stamp and none of you will miss them when you view the photo.

If only the Clone Stamp existed in real life…