Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pack it in, pack it out

The troop gathered at the gate to the Cheaha Trailhead.

Troop 50 conducted its first backpacking expedition Nov. 23-24 on the Pinhoti Trail System in North Alabama. Eight Scouts and three leaders started at the Cheaha Trailhead adjacent to Cheaha State Park and snaked through portions of the Cheaha Wilderness and Talladega National Forest. Subscribing to the "pack-in, pack-out" philosophy, each Scout and leader carried his own personal gear and food, as well as a portion of tenting, cooking, water filtration, and other troop gear that had been divided among the 11 backpackers.

The birthday boy:
Scoutmaster Baird
In a year of firsts as a new troop, the outing was more than the first backpacking trip the troop took. It was also the first chance it had to celebrate its scoutmaster's birthday — which coincidentally was on the Saturday of the campout. While Mr. Baird was adorned in festive hat wear, the troop serenaded him with a quick round of "Happy Birthday" in the parking lot of First Presbyterian Church before departing.

With a mist still hanging in the air from overnight and morning rains, the group set out from the Cheaha Trailhead around 9:30 a.m. They connected with the Pinhoti Trail and, after passing McDill Point and the remaining wreckage of a 1972 plane crash, the group stopped at an overlook for lunch around 12:45 p.m. For lunch, everyone enjoyed a trail lunch of items that included crackers, peanut butter, trail mix, and other snacks that were sure to boost energy and fill bellies.

The troop at the transition point to Cave Creek Trail.

SPL Andrew leads efforts
to siphon, filter and
purify water for personal
use and cooking from
a creek along the trail.
About an hour and a half after returning to the trail, the troop transitioned to the Cave Creek Trail. At the creek, everyone stopped to refill water bottles with water filtered from the creek. With a little more than five miles and seven hours logged on the trail, the troop arrived at its campsite. With the sun setting, and wind gusts and colder temperatures settling in, fire and shelter seemed to be the highest priorities. Once tents were pitched and the fire blazing, Scouts unpacked cooking equipment and food to prepare the evening's dinner.

Scouts Louie and Mark, assisted by Scoutmaster Baird, prepared a chicken and rice meal using the backpacking stoves and pots that had been packed in with other troop gear. A variety of snacks and other trail food rounded out the meal, and when everyone realized they had eaten by 6 p.m. and were ready for bed, a number of Scouts joked about eating and going to bed early like "old people" (which, because it was the scoutmaster's birthday, was met with more than a raised eyebrow!). However, with the dropping temperatures, everyone being in their tents by 8:30 p.m. didn't seem like a joking matter.

Soaking up the last little bit of warmth before hitting the sack!

The contents of several
water bottles froze
Waking up to temperatures in the low 30s — a little colder with the wind chill — Scouts went straight for warm oatmeal for breakfast. Once the troop finished breakfast and packed up the gear, it gathered around a stoked campfire for a devotional focused on service. Scouts discussed the troop's mission of servant leadership and Jesus' call in Matthew 20 to be a servant to others by seeking to serve and not to be served. In a small recognition of this idea, the Scouts gathered a pile of firewood to leave for the next campers who use the site. Shortly thereafter, the troop hit the trail for the homestretch, adding roughly another 90 minutes and two miles to their backpacking adventure.

In the troop's monthly Patrol Leaders' Council meeting the following Monday evening, the troop's youth leaders spoke enthusiastically about the experience. While the group included both first-time backpackers and Philmont veterans, it was noted that everyone did their part and worked well together. The veterans were able to teach new camping skills, such as filtering water, hanging a bear bag, digging a sump, and cooking with the Whisperlite stoves. The new Scouts absorbed their lessons well and are now ready for more backpacking adventures. In discussing the positive aspects of the campout, the PLC members even spoke fondly of the singing ability of the troop's own "Pandora" radio. In reflecting on lessons learned to improve future campouts, it was noted that having proper personal equipment is very important, especially in regard to the weather. The overall positive assessment of the trip came from the SPL, who noted that "the only bad thing is, it was cold."     

For more photos, check out the troop's online photo album.