"Leaving Her Footprints" - Philmont Journals
I served as the advisor to a crew that trekked in 2022. Being rescheduled from 2020 the makeup of our crew changed during the two years we had to bide our time. One scout left scouting, two scouts turned 18 and were preparing to move away to college, and one adult began facing some medical issues. The original roster included two of my sons. One of which was one of the aforementioned college bound men. When he informed me that he was not interested in attending I was crestfallen. My father trekked in 1967. I trekked in 1991. Continuing this legacy with two of my three boys, with the plan for my youngest to participate in a few years, meant the world to me. But we moved on and I got down to focusing on the experience my middle son and I were going to have. We prepared for a family backpacking trip in our home state to get a little Philmont practice in.
My youngest daughter, and twin sister to my son going on the trek, had recently expressed how much she loved camping and being outdoors, much to my delight. So she decided to join us on our training hike. We had a wonderful trip and she did great for her first true backpacking trip. While we were hiking back to the trailhead on Sunday morning I was asking her about her experience. She told me she had a ball and wanted to do more of it. A bolt of inspiration hit me and I looked at her and said "I have a crazy idea, do you want to go to Philmont?" She experienced Philmont family camp in 2019. Day hikes, games, crafts, songs, etc. And it was great. She had heard her brothers and I talk about getting ready for the trek and had exactly two nights of backpacking on her resume. She looked at me and said "Oooo. That might be cool." It was 61 days before our trek.
The very next day was a flurry of activity. Getting with Philmont to find out what I needed to do in order to add her to our roster, getting her registered with a Venture crew, and verifying with our existing crew members that they were ok having a female join us. That is when the hard part started…. Philmont informed me that I need to locate a female leader over the age of 21. I scrambled! Phone calls, emails, text messages, etc. I contacted dozens of people that I thought might be interested in joining us or knew someone else that might. It was two weeks later during WFA training class that I made an announcement about my search. A woman in the class emailed a female Scouter and that Scouter contacted me. Turns out we knew each other from events around our Council and I attended Wood Badge with her husband. Small world. She joined up with our crew six weeks before we hit the trail. I am not sure how I will ever repay the gift she gave me. Tess Wall, you are a hero.
The coming weeks were filled with the standard things. Lots of gear shopping mainly. Crew meetings, finalizing logistics, etc. The departure date was upon us quickly and before we knew it, we were pulling into base camp. Followed shortly by stepping off towards our great adventure.
As we prepared for Philmont, I warned all the adults and Scouts that there are challenges beyond the physical. Being tired, cold, hungry and with the same people for 12 days can be taxing emotionally as well. That moment came for my daughter on our second night on the trail. She missed home, missed her friends, etc. But also she was still feeling like a bit of an outsider. Since all the other boys had been Scouts together for years she didn’t feel like one of the crew. We talked for a while about what she was feeling, why, how to deal with it, etc. And about how being part of the crew is a two-way street. She had to insert herself into the mix as much as they had to invite her. It is worth noting that this event coincided with the battery on her phone dying. Not a coincidence. Despite all the talk about leaving them behind and the fact that all the other boys did, she decided to bring hers. She went to bed a little early and got a good night’s sleep.
The next day was a good day. Nothing really notable as far as crew dynamics. It was our longest day as far as distance so there wasn’t a lot of energy to put into other pursuits.
Then came day four.
Day four was great. Easier hike and good weather. We ended our day shooting black powder and throwing tomahawks at Clear Creek. My daughter really put herself out there to get more engaged with the crew. When we sat down that night for RTBs, we got to her and she started crying. I got really nervous for a second. Then she spoke.
“You guys don’t know me that well. But I cannot tell you the last time I laughed as much or had as much fun as I did today. I just want to thank you all for that.” She went on to cite some specific incidents and experiences from the day and how much she loved them. That was the day Philmont changed my little girl.
The next day she volunteered to be the navigator and she loved it! Even spending half an hour with me going over the map for the rest of the trip while we soaked our feet in a creek. She helped carry gear for others, jumped on opportunities to cook or clean, refused any help with her tent, and started joking with the boys like they were all her brothers. And speaking of her brother, I can’t count the number of times I looked at him during our trek and it hit me that he wasn’t the tiny little kid that he may always be in my mind. Taller than me, he shouldered his load without ever uttering a complaint or faltering. He helped his sister, when she would let him, and performed on such a higher level than I did when I was his age.
When we watched the sun come up from the Tooth of TIme six days later I had tears in my eyes and a smile from ear to ear. To be there with my son would have been special enough. But to be there with him and his sister, the first woman in our family to leave her footprints on a Philmont trek, watching the sun come up while being filled with pride and awe over how well the both did, it ranked right up there with the day they came into my life.
When we got base to base camp she was beaming with pride. She LOVED the experience. And she LOVES that she did it as a woman. Our Troop is not coed. She asked me towards the end, “Will everybody get a patch at the end?” I assured her she would. Then she asked me if the Troop brings all the people that do treks up during courts of honor. I laughed because I knew exactly what she was REALLY asking…..”Can I go up there with the boys and show everyone what girls can do?”. I told her, absolutely. The only downside I can speak of is that her enjoyment of the experience and love of Philmont meant a pretty sizable bill to the ToT Traders…. Hoodies, stickers for her car, a hat, stuffed animal, she wanted lots of things to remember.
Thank you Philmont. For what you have done for my son, my daughter, me, and for so many others that came before us. HIKE ON!