July 27, 2022 — The more time you spend walking the trails of Philmont, the more it changes you. With a Rayado trek, a Scout has the privilege of walking Philmont’s lands for three weeks. Rayado is a 21-day individual trek that provides Scouts with the opportunity to challenge themselves in the backcountry in a way unlike almost any other program offered at Philmont.
A Rayado crew is made up of Scouts from all over the country. Both boys and girls can apply before Philmont divides them into male or female crews.
Each crew is led by two rangers, who guide and advise the crew in their journey throughout Philmont’s backcountry. During their trek, the crews will hike long miles, summit many peaks, participate in program that teaches them the history of the area and bond with fellow Scouts whom they’ve never met before but who often become fast friends.
A Rayado crew member runs into a water blaster tunnel as he finishes his 21 day trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron N.M. on July 9, 2022. Photo by Zoe Cranfill.
Philmont has two Rayado Trek Coordinators who run the program. Katie Horn, one of the Rayado Trek Coordinators for this summer, described the importance to her of having an all-female crew.
“An all-female Rayado or ROCS [Roving Outdoor Conservation School] trek, from my experience there is nothing more empowering than that. Hiking 20 days in the woods with only [girls] that you just met really boosts your confidence because in one way you don’t think about your gender anymore because it doesn’t matter,” Horn said. “You did the same trek that everyone else is doing. But also, you’re thinking much more about your gender. So much more about the fact that your gender doesn’t matter, and you’re breaking all those stereotypes.”
A similar level of bonding is found in the male crews. Cameron O’Neill, a first-session Rayado participant from earlier this summer, described Rayado as an opportunity for friendship. Some of the friends he made during his trek will be friends for the rest of his life, he said. “By the end of the trek it looked like we'd known each other our whole lives,” O’Neill said.
A core reason for the bonding that occurs on Rayado is the difficulty of the trek. The motto for the program is “Expect the Unexpected”. Rayado is founded on discovery: discovering both what you and those around you are capable of.
Many of the details about trek itineraries and plans are not shared. This creates an atmosphere of mystery around the program. Not knowing exactly what mountains will be climbed, what trails will be hiked or what adventures will be undertaken is part of the charm of Rayado. But it is also one of the most challenging aspects of the program, as O’Neill describes.
“I learned how to embrace the suck and that for every steep, sucky trail there is almost always a reward that’s worth it at the top,” O’Neill said.
A male Rayado trek member pack their bags after being given 10 minutes to prepare for their expedition after the Rayado chapel service at Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, N.M., on July 20, 2022. Photo by Chase Ensz.
Learning to overcome challenges is a common theme during a Rayado trek. William Jennings, a Rayado participant last year who is now a Ranger, described a big memory from his trek was the constant rain that lasted for two weeks. However, their slog through the rain paid off as the storm ended with a rainbow. A rainbow that, Jennings said, led the crew to finish in high spirits.
The high spirits found after completing a Rayado trek have led many to return as staff members. For many, their experience on Rayado leads them to feel compelled to give back to a younger generation, to help facilitate a similar experience. How can they help others grow? Cameron O’Neill described the importance of Rayado’s capacity to draw new staff in
“Rayado is ... a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be put in the woods for 20 days,” O’Neill said. O’Neill went on to reinforce that the program is important because it helps kids mature and that “this program is vital for recruiting staff in the years to come.”
Female Rayado crew members pack their bags after the Rayado chapel service at Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, N.M., on July 20, 2022. Photo by Chase Ensz.
Rayado’s capacity to change lives is seen in those who fondly remember how it changed theirs. A Rayado participant himself, Chief Ranger Chip Campbell led the chapel service that occurs before each Rayado session.
Campbell spoke of his time on Rayado and what he learned. He made it clear to the crews that they would be pushed to their limits by the challenges of hiking, leadership, personal responsibility and wilderness skills. But, he also made it clear the next three weeks would be some of the most impactful each crew member would have the pleasure of experiencing.
Campbell reminded both participants and ranger alike that, no matter the difficulty of the day, the power of Philmont is found in the small moments found along the trail: laughing with your crewmembers, listening to the sounds of a stream and eating a hot meal. Campbell reminded everyone that the power of Rayado is in admiring the starlit skies above and breathing in the sage.