Striking Out On Your Own

Boy Scout leaders always talk about guiding boys to become men, but we don’t always get to see it happen. Late this summer, I watched it happen for my son.

Michael has been eager to go out backpacking with his friends and without older folks. He’s just turned 18, so I can’t quite say “without adults.” I was prepared to go over every aspect of the plans with a critical eye, reserving the option to cancel the whole thing.

He started planning the trip with his friends from the cross-country team, including another Eagle Scout. They looked at a bunch of options, but settled on revisiting the area the Venture Patrol hiked in a week-long trek in 2009 with Mike as crew leader. This was a conservative, safety-conscious decision. It is not the most dramatic part of the Sierras, but he’s seen almost all the trails before, including the part where we got lost in the beaver marsh on the west bank of the west fork of the Walker River.

They decided on the Hoover Wilderness, which does not require bear canisters—we used bear bags on our previous trip—and he found the two troop bear canisters (with only three phone calls!) and borrowed two more, so they decided on the heavier but safer route for bears. I walked in while he was explaining the “bearmuda triangle” to his mom, keeping the kitchen, food, and tents widely separated.

Mike has Wilderness First Aid training, so he borrowed my crew-sized first aid kit and Sam Splints. They are on their own this time, which is why we have always talked over the important decisions with the Scouts even if the adults are making the safety decisions.

We walked through the weather risks, even though he objected with a frustrated “I have been backpacking before” at one point. The more times we go, the more we respect the risks, I guess.

I took a quick look at their food plans. They looked OK, though I can’t really judge how much an active 18 year old eats. I wasn’t paying attention when I was that age. They did take a decent amount of food, and if they were a bit short, they’ll do better next time. They aren’t too far off. I would have made freezer bag meals to save money, but they are going with commercial freeze-dried stuff. I recommended taking some Tony Chachere’s cajun seasoning, but I expect he forgot that. He’ll remember next time.

They were going to take two water filters, but I found my stock of Aqua Mira for him. He’s used that before. They took one water filter, but I’m not sure they get that wet.

Mike checked his packing list with me, then did a pack check on the rest of the crew. With bear canister, food, and more than his share of crew gear, he was at 27 pounds. Water takes that to over 30, but but not too danged bad for a four day trek.

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