“I look back and I remember the questions I got asked by the campaign director.” said Kathy Leach, one of the first woman rangers at Philmont, and a leader of the first ever Rayado women’s trek in 1973. “He said, ‘You know, are girls this age going to be interested in going?’ That was number one. Number two was, ‘Are they really going to be able to handle the physical and the mental challenges?’ And number three was, ‘Are you gonna be able to find enough people for a trek?’ And it was yes, yes, and yes to all three of those questions. To me, that was the biggest accomplishment ever. After that summer, I'd never hear those questions asked again.”
Leach recalls the value of the opportunity to develop yourself in the outdoors in a time when the opportunities for women were limited. Two-thirds of the girls had never backpacked before, with little idea of what to bring. One girl brought construction boots, and another showed up with no gear at all. But despite all the blisters, Leach knows the girls valued their experience.
Rayado Women Celebrate Fifty Years of Life-Changing Adventures “They were just excited to be there, excited to meet each other, doing all sorts of fun programs that they had never done: rock climbing when they got to Cito and rappelling for the first time. Their eyes were as big as saucers.”
This year, Rangers Katie Keenan and Katherine ‘Kat’ Hansen carry on the Rayado tradition. The program focuses on developing skills in navigation, wilderness backpacking, and positive group dynamics, instilling a sense of independence and self-reliance in its participants. Scouts travel from all over the country to spend three weeks on a highly curated experience designed to bring out the best in each individual.
Rayado primarily differs from other special treks, like STEM or Trail Crew, in that the details of the trek are largely shrouded in mystery. For example, while participants would know and expect to take care of farm animals during a Ranch Hands trek, day-to-day activities are not specified to Rayado participants.
All treks involve pushing the physical and emotional limits of Scouts, but Rayado truly exemplifies that. Keenan and Hansen spend days coordinating with staff camps, planning activities, and purchasing items that add to their overall experience. In RW-1’s case, one of those items are multi-colored sombreros.
'Expect the Unexpected’ is the famous tagline for Rayado, and it rings true from the moment participants arrive. As an individually-registered trek, the girls meet their crew for the first time the day they set foot on Philmont property.
Participant Ila Bumagin, 17, went on her first trek last summer. After loving her experience, and hearing about Rayado from various staff camps, she decided that it was the next step. She was initially worried whether or not she would get along with a group of strangers, but those worries were pushed aside as soon as she met them.
“I was like, oh, these people also like hiking. That's great. And then you kind of can't worry about anything. You're just forced into it.” said Bumagin. “And obviously, everyone here is wonderful. And I feel like, it's just gonna go well.”
“The Rangers really made it so fun for us and have so many awesome things planned. I'm really learning to just hike, not think about what's going to happen next, and be prepared for anything.”
Participant Kayla McVickar, 16, has found the trek mentally challenging but extremely rewarding. She has become good friends with crew member Maggie Han, with whom she shares some of her favorite Rayado memories.
“I'm really close with Maggie. She's from Kentucky, which is interesting, because we would talk about things like when it snows. And I was like, ‘Do I know when it snows? No, I don't. I live in San Diego, California. It doesn't really snow there.’ And it's just weird, seeing other people's perspectives on things that don't happen to me. It's so cool.”
McVickar has also found that Rayado has helped her work on some of her personal struggles.
“When we're hiking, I've done a lot of reflecting on my life right now. I'm going into my senior year, and focusing on what I want to get out of this trek. I'm definitely learning patience. I am kinder to myself and don’t doubt myself as much. I feel like I often catch myself thinking, ‘I don't know why I'm on this trek. I'm not up for it. But I'm like, No, I am up for it. I'm doing it right now.’”
The crew, at this point in their trek, have two more weeks left to go. Although they don’t know what’s going to happen, they can count on the fact that women who went through the Rayado experience fifty years ago look back fondly on it today.