Five friends from Troop 820 of Chapel Hill, N.C., have seen Scouting take them to every high-adventure base in the BSA.
The Scouts — Ben, Matthew C., Andersen, Matthew J. and James — have been participants at all four: Northern Tier in Minnesota, Sea Base in Florida, Philmont in New Mexico and the Paul R. Christen High Adventure Base at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia.
This feat earned each of them the BSA’s Grand Slam of High Adventure. But it earned them a lot more than a cool patch, says Alan Christopher, an Eagle Scout and leader in Troop 820. It gave each young man a lifetime of memories.
“It’s a story of five boys adventuring together,” he writes.
“Struggling to meet the physical demands of Northern Tier; overcoming seasickness to snorkel at Sea Base; the view from the Tooth of Time at the end of Philmont; mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and learning how to skateboard for the first time at Summit. These are just a few of the memories these young men will have for the rest of their lives thanks to Scouting,” he writes. “It’s an experience they are all glad to have been able to share with one another.”
Alan sat down with this fantastic five and asked them to recollect their experiences and discuss what makes the bases distinct from one another.
“Everyone had their own favorite, but they all agreed each one was an important ingredient to their collective Scouting experience,” he says.
So let’s take it base by base and get the insight from these terrific young men.
The guys were 12 or 13 on this trip, meaning they “had to rely on older Scouts for a lot of things,” Alan says. But the beauty of the lakes and rivers — plus sightings of deer, elk, otters, loons and bald eagles — made the occasional struggle worth it.
Matthew J., on the isolation at Northern Tier: “A lot of nights you would truly just pick a route on the map out there with your crew.” He’s still in touch with his interpreter to this day.
Ben, on its beauty: “There’s crystal-clear water so you can see all the way down. It’s a land yet to be conquered.”
Matthew C. liked fishing and getting water straight from the lakes.
Andersen liked picking his own route and campsite. He remembers the time he nearly flipped his canoe on rough waters.
All the guys were between 13 and 15 for this one and were in two different ships: the Calypso Gypsy and the Jolly II Rover, both traveling from Key Largo to Key West and back. Alan says they remember “climbing the spar and the mast, navigation lessons, catching and preparing lobsters to eat, snorkeling at coral reefs, seeing huge groupers and dolphins, the street performers at Key West, the Sunset Festival at Mallory Square, saluting other boats with the cannon, learning complicated knots, and having insufficient restrooms on Mexican-food night.” To that last one I say: Yikes!
The five consider Sea Base to be the most-relaxing of the high-adventure bases. Especially when they watched fireworks across the water on New Year’s Eve.
Matthew J.: “It’s a very different way of life. A lot slower. You had to chill out. You don’t have to worry about what time it is.”
Now 15 or 16, the guys were in top condition for a 90-mile trek. Being two years older meant the guys felt better prepared for this trek than they had been for Northern Tier, Alan says.
Favorite memories included “blacksmithing, spar-pole climbing, burro racing, spectacular views, the final ascent of Baldy (sliding backwards with every step), being able to see the next four day’s journey, the view from the Tooth of Time, listening to music at Pueblano and getting through group bonding activities.”
Oh, and after more than a week of not shaving, the beard competition at the end was pretty epic.
Philmont came with its expected share of bumps and bruises.
“There was a nightly ritual of bandaging feet,” Alan says. “One guy hiked the last 10 miles in Crocs after his boots fell apart.”
But the guys were glad they got to see another part of the country and meet people from all over the nation.
“They treasured ‘mountaintop moments,’ and charted the three stages of a Philmont Crew: love, hate, cooperation,” Alan says.
The guys, now 16 and 17, said the BSA’s newest high-adventure base is “different in every way possible.”
It’s a “21st-century camp, with Wi-Fi everywhere,” Alan says.
The guys loved mountain biking, zip lines, archery, pistol, shotgun, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, skateboarding, and cooking together at the end of every day.
“There is nowhere else to do all that stuff in the same place,” Alan says.
They were impressed by the huge, isolated property, where every morning you cross a large bridge from the campsite to the activities, or bike up the mountain to see half the camp.
“They had everything as big and good as it could be,” Alan says.
Andersen: “It’s like nothing you’ve ever been to. Everything was professional-grade.”
High-adventure bases are tough, but it’s worth it, Alan says.
“You won’t remember being tired,” he says. You’ll remember the fun.
The guys say the key to success at high-adventure bases is being prepared.
“Staying cheerful and kind as a way to be helpful to yourself and others. Getting in touch with yourself,” Alan says.
The boys treasured their experiences in Scouting and the leadership skills they learned.
Matthew J. put it best: “A large part of our college applications involve Scouting experiences. All my best friends were in Scouts with me and did all this stuff with me.”