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608-OA-2: Building Bonds, Conquering Challenges, and Chasing Sunrises

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Participant Connor Brady and his crew smile as they hike through the Ute Park burn on June 17, 2023 at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. Photo by Caroline Fallin.

As one of the first Order of the Arrow Trail Crews of the season, 608-OA-2 built both trails and bonds on their trek. From hiking the burn to sunrising Baldy, this crew made friends and memories to last a lifetime.

“One of the things that I really love and what draws me to our program, is the fact that we take, in this case, eight complete strangers who didn't know each other at all prior to showing up at base camp, and now they're some of the closest of friends, and just have a really deep sense of belonging and brotherhood with each other.” said OA Trail Crew Foreman Tim Reisse.

The Order of the Arrow is the honor society of the Boy Scouts of America, with a foundation in brotherhood, leadership, and service. The Order of the Arrow Trail Crews (OATC)help with conservation efforts around the Ranch. Participants complete 40 hours of service building and maintaining trails in the first week of their trek, while most normal crews have just three hours of conservation work. Philmont is dependent on the hours put in by these crews to preserve the Ranch.

In the second week of an OATC trek, the participants embark on their custom-designed trek itinerary. This crew got to do blacksmithing, mining tours, rifle shooting, see night shows and hike over the Tooth into base camp, totaling over 80 miles of hiking.

Matt Shoemaker, a program counselor at Cyphers Mine, went on an OATC trek prior to joining staff. He taught the crew how to build cooking utensils in the forge. “It's a really nice feeling to come full circle there, and see people in the same shoes and same seats I was, you know, four years ago. I mean, I can't even explain how much my treks at Philmont have affected my life. All I can hope is that I can help others have that same feeling when they leave here.”

During their first week, they built trails up Mount Philips. Every day they would go out, swinging pick-axes and moving rocks, to create a durable trail that could stand up to high traffic and erosion. Participant Ian Wilhite recounts, “something about being able to know that you are leaving a lasting mark on the trail on the camp, and honestly just on each other. Because I've seen how much the other guys had an influence on me. And I really take pride in the fact that I'm leaving a mark on them too.”

Foreman Caleb Counter states that, “Part of what makes OA crew so special is that, you know, we're living and working together. And you really can't be in that close space with someone for that long, without really getting to know them…And I think all of that just really brings a group together.”

One of the most mentally trying parts of the trek was the burn hike day. The burn hike is still extremely dangerous areas with a high potential for flash floods, so crews have to hike with a GPS.

OA foreman Tim Reisse fist-bumps a participant from 608-OA-2 during their burn hike on June 17, 2023 at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. Photo by Caroline Fallin

“It was very hard to hike through the burn just because it felt so suffocating and hot. There was no shade, no life, it was kind of very 180 from the rest of Philmont.” said crew member Harrison Shaffer. The lush forest floor was covered in vibrant greens and wildflowers, a stark contrast to the blackened trees above. “

While it was difficult and challenging for everyone, I think it really showcased what OA crew is about,” remarked Counter. “That even through challenges, we supported each other. We got through it. We had a good time.”

Philmont is a life-changing experience for many of the Scouts, but it can be an equally rewarding experience for staff. “This job has been a lot more rewarding than I ever could have thought it would have been.” Reisse remarks. “Each of them, whether they realize it or not, has left an impact on me, in the way I view the world, and the way I look at others, and the way I'm going to continue to go about my life…..And it's something that I'll take with me for a very long time.”

The crew relaxes on the front porch of Sawmill after their strenuous hike on June 17, 2023 at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. Photo by Caroline Fallin

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