CLARENDON HILLS – Dramatic climate changes, forest fires and more than 100 miles of hiking tested a group of Boy Scouts from Troop 51 who Bear Gryllsed the wild during a 12-day adventure in New Mexico, all while being almost self-sufficient.
“It’s not as wild as ‘Man vs. Wild,’ but it’s close,” said Andy Schmidt of Clarendon Hills, referring to the TV show featuring survivalist Bear Grylls.
Schmidt, his 16- and 14-year-old sons and about 21 others headed out on a train June 13 from the Clarendon Hills train station for the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Philmont is considered one of the premier destinations for high adventure in Boys Scouts.
The boys, ages 14 to 18, and the seven adults originally were set to take on trek 33 of the 35 offered, but because of forest fires in New Mexico, the boys were bumped to the most difficult trek resulting in hiking about 120 miles – 30 more than expected.
“It was very hot – it was about 10 degrees higher than normal,” said Scout Master Don Mungovan of Clarendon Hills, who had a beard upon arrival June 27. “It was tough, but every boy just stepped up to the challenge.”
In addition to hiking and camping along the way, the boys took part in black powder shooting, search and rescue activities and mountain biking while exploring the terrain around them.
Mungovan said each Scout carried a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, three changes of clothes, pocket knife, four liters of water, rain gear, warm clothes and dehydrated food such as beef jerky.
Along the way, the Scouts saw everything from bison, to badgers, elk, deer, a rattlesnake and the aftermath of a bear.
“We did not see a bear, but one morning we got up, and there was fresh bear scat in our camp,” Mungovan said. “We were so tired from hiking we just slept through it.”
The lone Eagle Scout, Jack Girard, 18, of Clarendon Hills, said the Scouts started training for the adventure six to eight months ago. As a member of the cross country and track team at Hinsdale Central High School, Girard wasn’t worried about conditioning. In fact, he said the trip was better than expected, especially considering the circumstances.
“We didn’t see any flames, but we could definitely see the smoke,” Girard said. “You could definitely smell it. The hottest days were in the mid to upper 90s, but it was a very dry heat.”
Although Bear Grylls has an impressive resume in addition to his show “Man vs. Wild,” the survival specialist always has said the most important factor when facing survival is the will to survive. Boy Scouts teaches an array of survival skills and tips, but like Grylls, Mungovan said being a Boy Scout is more about taking whatever life throws at you, which was tested on this trip.
“It’s about perseverance, leadership, confidence and building a sense of accomplishment that we can get it done,” he said.
Mungovan said what he took away from the trip was seeing the troop interact and support each other through harsh conditions.
“It was great just seeing these boys come together, work together, mature and overcome the obstacles,” he said.