At Philmont Scout Ranch, four Scouts BSA members and the rest of their crew trekked through the pristine, rugged wilderness of the New Mexico backcountry.
At Florida Sea Base, the same four Scouts learned to live on a sailboat, exploring the Florida Keys both above and under the water.
At Northern Tier, the four paddled around The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and then decided they didn’t want it to end.
So, finally, they made it to the Summit Bechtel Reserve, where they tried whitewater rafting, mountain biking, skateboarding, archery and other activities offered at the BSA’s newest high-adventure base.
When they were done, they had earned the BSA’s Grand Slam of National High Adventure award.
It wasn’t something they had set out to do from the beginning. Instead, it just kind of happened naturally, as the Scouts were all in the same Cub Scout pack, then joined the same troop at the same time, then mastered most of Scouting’s introductory skills, and then found themselves eager for more.
“We have experienced some awesome things together,” says Grant Rainbolt. “We were able to experience some really hard challenges on these trips and help each other when one of us struggled.”
Getting started at Philmont
The Grand Slam is awarded to Scouts, Venturers and adult leaders who participate in a qualifying high-adventure program at all four of the BSA’s national high-adventure bases. (Those who participate in three such programs can earn the Triple Crown.)
For the four Scouts of Troop 889 in The Woodlands, Texas, it started back in 2016, when Grant, Jonathan Yost, Matthew Harrop and Zachary Fillault joined the Lynx Patrol as the unit’s newest recruits. Over the next three years, the Scouts did what Scouts do: went to summer camp, earned merit badges and worked on Scout skills.
“As the boys were getting older, tying knots and all that stuff wasn’t really floating the boat anymore,” says Matthew’s father, Neil, a Troop 889 assistant Scoutmaster. “They wanted to get on to bigger things, so we asked which high-adventure camp they wanted to do.”
Under the guidance of Scoutmaster Tim Yagley, the group came up with a plan: They would go to Philmont Scout Ranch in the summer of 2019.
“We signed up for that at age 14, not really knowing what we had signed up for,” says Matthew. “Sometimes it was hard. We all had to rise to the occasion, overcome challenges. We had to really be there for each other.”
Then, a funny thing happened. The guys had so much fun together, they wanted to try another high-adventure base the next year.
Planning, then re-planning
A trip to Northern Tier scheduled for the next summer was canceled due to the COVID pandemic. The group was on somewhat of a time crunch — they didn’t want to risk letting upcoming high school graduations and possibly moving away for college get in the way of their plans.
That meant they needed to tackle two high-adventure trips in the summer of 2021: Northern Tier and Florida Sea Base. They only had six days at home from the time the first trip ended and the next began.
“It was cool, but a little exhausting doing two high-adventure trips back-to-back,” says Zachary.
With the qualifications for the Triple Crown complete, they decided to get the band back together for one last performance: a 2022 trip to the Summit Bechtel Reserve, completing the Grand Slam of high adventure.
“The big zipline was so much fun and so fast,” say Grant.
When the Lynx Patrol got together for one of the first events back in 2016, they stood together for a photo commemorating their achievements.
Six years later, near the end of their time at the Summit, the group posed for another photo, this time commemorating another achievement. By a complete coincidence, they were standing in the same positions as the photo taken all those years ago.
“One thing that make the high-adventure bases so special is the variety of experiences,” says Jonathan. “From climbing trees with spiked boots at Philmont, to seeing incredible marine life at Sea Base, or having control of your own adventure at Northern Tier and all sorts of new things at Summit. … They’re all great in their own way.”
An obvious home run
During their time at Philmont, the group participated in a conservation project that involved the removal of vegetation that could turn into fuel for a wildfire. Working alongside professionals, they watched as dead trees were cut down to make room for new vegetation that would be much less likely to burn.
At one point, they asked the forest workers to slice off a section of the tree’s stump so they could keep it for a souvenir. The worker kindly obliged.
Later on the trip, they had the wood branded with the official mark of Philmont. They didn’t realize it at the time, but they had just obtained one of the best mementos ever. They ended up taking that same piece of wood with them at every stop, where it would receive the official brand of every high-adventure base.
“We’re going to burn our names on it and then make it into a plaque,” says Matthew.
No word yet on which of the four will get to keep it, but with how close this group has grown during their time in Scouting, we’re thinking it won’t be a problem.
“It feels great that I was able to go to all four high-adventure bases,” says Zachary, “and I’m mostly grateful that I was able to do them with my friends.”
The Grand Slam and Triple Crown awards are administered by the Charles L. Sommers Alumni Association. Approximately 1,500 individuals have earned the Grand Slam of National High Adventure Award since the opening of Paul R. Christen National High Adventure Base at The Summit, according to a spokesman for the organization. Have you completed the requirements for the Triple Crown or Grand Slam? Click here to apply for the awards online.