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Can’t Keep Troop 79 Indoors

The year’s COVID pandemic has created disruption and tragedy for so many families. Through it all, Troop 79 has done our best to get the guys together, even when it meant switching to virtual meetings.

It’s no secret that the pandemic has also taken many families outdoors, where they can stretch their legs and relieve some of the monotony of being cooped up inside. And as long as we maintain social distance, wear face coverings when appropriate and keep hands clean, science tells us the risk of contracting the virus outside is extremely low. It was with all that in mind that T-79 resumed our outdoor activities this fall.

Unfortunately a new stay at home order due to rapidly rising case numbers squashed our plans for a final fall campout of 2020. But, you just can’t keep some troop members inside… Even here in the city.

Have a ground-level concrete or brick patio? You can setup a wood fire in a fire pit! Just watch out for sparks and keep the blaze small. Probably best to have a bucket of water handy too. Here are a few photos from T-79 families warming up the weekend with some safe flames at home.

Have a cast iron dutch oven? I know, this item might not be on everyone’s kitchen shelves. But if you can get your hands on one, and some charcoal briquettes, you can bake just about anything you’d normally do in a conventional oven. Definitely want to set this up on a fireproof surface. Again, here’s what our own T-79 families have whipped up. Iron Chef, anyone?

Have a deck that’ll fit the footprint of your tent? Why not set it up for the night? Instead of country noises you’ll be lulled to sleep with the hum of traffic. And just think, you’ll still have wifi and a real bathroom nearby!

So there you have it, folks. Another fall outdoor program wrapped up, and a very unusual one at that! We hope that you all stay healthy, and see you on the trail sometime. Just not sure when….

[PHOTOS] “Camping” at home @boylesfour @PIvancsits @ACalabrese @DKeats

Troop 79 Clears Invasive Brush at Skokie Lagoons

As Troop 79’s PLC reconvened this fall, SPL Andrew B. proposed a day of service be added to the calendar. The goal was simple – in order to advance in rank, Scouts need to perform several hours of community-oriented service work.

However, not all volunteering is treated the same. Some awards, such as the Philmont 50-miler, require Scouts to “complete a minimum of 10 hours each of group work on projects to improve the trail, springs, campsite, portage, or area.” In other words, outdoor conservation work. Thus was born Troop 79’s participation in an invasive species removal day with the Shedd Aquarium on a balmy November morning at the Cook County Forest Preserve’s Skokie Lagoons.

After a brief introduction to the ecosystem, tools and safety protocols, the T-79 guys started hacking away at the thickets of buckthorn and tossing branches in the fire.

Loppers, handsaws and flames. Is there any better way to spend a Saturday morning with your friends?

Normally, standing by a raging fire in November would be a welcome respite from the cold. Not this day, where temps soared into the unseasonable 70’s! Perfect for showing off the T-79 branded T shirts.

By the time the noon whistle blew, the volunteers had made a noticeable dent in the wall of invasive buckthorn, clearing room on the forest floor for native plants to return. Thanks to the PLC and Mr. Keats for their leadership, and to the Scouts and parents for attending! Shout out to 2019 “Eagle X” alum Edward Boyle who returned to work and capture photos.

Member of our Google group? Click here for more photos.

[PHOTOS] Skokie Lagoons @boylesfour, @artsmaniac

Troop 79 at the Dunes, Part 2

The Stormchasers of Troop 79 were at it again leaving Friday night on the Chicago side of a squall only to drive around the lake to catch it on the Michigan side at Warren Dunes. Just in time for a 20 minute downpour while setting up our solo tents. Our second campout during Covid again called for individual tents (over 20!), masks, hand sanitizing, working in separate patrols, and using our common sense. Despite the excitement of setting up a campsite in the dark and rain – we did it no problem.

Saturday morning kicked off with patrol cooking and the adults doing their thing. Turkeys and Scouts headed out for the trails and dunes.

The afternoon was spent back at campsite for work on advancement, fire-building, tarp installation, and ensuring camp chairs worked properly.

Evening dinner pitted patrols against each other to create the best dinner in categories mostly just known to the SPL judge. In the end, the burrito dinner patrol won and were awarded the coveted Oreo prize. Adults were treated to gramma’s famous Hungarian Goulash recipe, salad, and pan-baked brownies for desert.

Saturday night campfire illuminated the darkness and entertainment programmed and MC’d by two Communications Merit Badge hopefuls.

Sunday morning forecasted rain provided enough motivation to rise early, eat breakfast, and head-out in time for rain in Chicago. Great to be out of our city cocoons and into the woods again!

Thanks to our PLC for organizing the events and the adults who made the trip. Hoping for one more overnight in Nov before we put the wraps on an abbreviated 2020 outdoor program.

Member of our Google group? Click here for more photos.

[PHOTOS] Warren Dunes @DKeats, @ABui

Troop 79’s Fall 2020 Socially Distant Court of Honor

It’s a long standing tradition at Troop 79 to hold a Court of Honor shortly after the start of the school year. The meeting fills several important missions, including recognizing individual Scouts’ advancement and new leadership positions in front of parents and siblings. It’s also been a terrific opportunity to share photos and stories from the past summer’s camp and high adventure.

It goes without saying by now that pretty much everything about 2020 has had to be adapted to COVID restrictions, including celebrating as a group. How can we safely host several dozen Scouts, adult advisors and their families? And with indoor gathering not recommended, where do we hold such an event?

The answer, it turned out, was a forest preserve shelter, thanks to Cook County. Unfortunately our usual multi-media show was a no-show, but with the help of a battery powered mic and amp, mask-muffled voices could be heard. Emcees and Communications Merit Badge candidates Davu S. and James B. kicked off the meeting, with awards and advancement presented by Mr. Barich and Mr. Keats, assisted by SPL Andrew B. and ASPL Geoffrey B. Elbow bumps replaced the traditional Scout handshake, but otherwise the pomp and circumstance proceeded as usual.

Despite no summer camp at Owasippe, the troop held two high adventure trips for older Scouts. Stories of both the Summit and Alaska adventures were shared, hopefully whetting the outdoor appetites for next year’s trek to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota.

In closing, the adult leadership of Troop 79 is grateful for the families that support our activities. The annual Court of Honor is way to share that gratitude in person, and demonstrate just how much our Scouts accomplish in the few short months in between. And considering how disruptive the COVID pandemic has been to so many facets of daily life, it’s impressive how adaptable and resilient our Scouts have been. Hike on!

Member of our Google group? Click here for more photos.

[PHOTOS] Fall CoH @KBui

Troop 79 at the Dunes

Hey COVID, can we camp already? Yes, but with precautions please. After a several-month long hiatus, Troop 79 finally got back to camping via Southshore Train for an overnight near the nation’s newest National Park in nearby Indiana. Had a train car to ourselves.

We pulled our packs from the luggage racks for the hike from rail to trail. Needed to keep up the pace in a race against the Doppler Radar blob on our tail. Motivated by an ever increasing misty drizzle, Scouts quickly set up their individual tents (solo for COVID) and site rain tarp.

Off for a vigorous scout-led hike up up up and over sandy forested hills…chatted with time traveling Voyageurs… summited all highest peaks completing the famous “Three Dune Challenge” thanks to the leadership of our SPL Andrew B, the committed Scouts, and over committed adults.

Another COVID precaution had us skipping close knit patrol cooking and instead enjoying a local delicacy after thorough hand sanitizing. The night was topped off by a drying campfire program lead by George H. complete with Scout skits, songs, and a traditional Owasippe roast.

Sunday morning glorious sunshine after a night of silly woodland noises, squawks, and always that mysterious rustling right outside your tent. Classic tent camping in a low marshy area of The Dunes.

After simple breakfast and campsite sweep for “itsy bitsies” it was packs on, group pose AGAIN, and back to the train, gang! Congrats to Oscar and Carter success on first campout as new T-79 Scouts!

Member of our Google group? Click here for more photos.

[PHOTOS] Fall camping @DKeats

Troop 79 is Back!

For the start of the school year, that is. Considering what an unusual spring and summer 2020 has brought, it was refreshing to get together again in person for our first “regular” meeting. Typical except for meeting outdoors and everyone wearing masks…

Newly elected SPL Andrew B. and ASPL Geoffrey B. welcomed the Scouts and led a traditional opening flag ceremony. Mr. Keats then held his Scoutmaster minute, introducing Oscar and Carter who joined from Cub Scout Pack 3822, and filling everyone in on the upcoming weekend campout to the Indiana Dunes.

Next it was time to hold the annual Scout-led elections, where positions like Patrol Leader, Quartermaster, Trainer and more were up for grabs. So many qualified and interested candidates! Congratulations to the winners – they’re all now official members of the Patrol Leader’s Council.

Finally, the meeting wrapped up with a game of Sleeping Pirate, a Troop 79 tradition. In case you’re unfamiliar, the object is to silently sneak off with a set of keys laying under the chair of a Scout who’s “sleeping”. And that’s it – until we meet again in the dunes of Indiana!

[PHOTO] Troop meeting @boylesfour

Troop 79’s Summer 2021 High Adventure Plans

Every summer our high school age Scouts get an opportunity to stretch their physical and mental endurance at one of the BSA’s high adventure bases. We’re pleased to announce a return to the Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base in Ely, MN in July 2021.

Prepare to spend a full week paddling and portaging through the 1 million acre wilderness of the Boundary Waters like the French Canadian Voyageurs of old! Swim in warm water so clear you can see down 25 feet. Eat handfuls of wild blueberries as you walk the trails between lakes. See waterfalls and ancient petroglyphs left by the indigenous people. Enjoy a place where the loudest sound you’ll hear besides each others’ voices will be the calls of loons.

But this trip isn’t all easy street. We will be paddling our canoes for several hours a day, heavily laden with everything we need to survive. Where the water ends, we’ll need to carry our boats and gear across rough and rocky trails to the next lake or river. And when it gets buggy or rains, which it will, we’ll need to cheerfully shrug it off as just part of the adventure. Roll the summer video here: https://youtu.be/oXw8CDlOeOc

The fine print:

  • All attendees must be registered with BSA
  • All attendees must be in EXCELLENT physical condition, meet BSA height & weight limits and pass the BSA swim test
  • Scouts must be 14 yrs old by July 25, 2021
  • $500 deposit due 10/2/20, final balance $600 due 3/1/21 – ALL PAYMENTS NONREFUNDABLE!
  • Personal gear, travel meals and souvenirs are the responsibility of each attendee

Contact Mr. Boyle for more information.

[PHOTOS] Northern Tier @Boylesfour

Troop 79 Alum Achieves OA‘s Highest Honor

It’s always exciting to hear from past members of Troop 79 who have kept Scouting in their lives. As our Scoutmaster Mr. Keats is fond of saying, the Eagle ceremony isn’t a retirement party! Read on to hear what’s up with past SPL Elijah Greiner.

“When I first joined scouting as a Webelos Scout, I probably wouldn’t have imagined that I would still be involved with the program eleven years later at age 20. 

I definitely enjoyed my time in Cub Scouts, but it was not until fifth grade, when I joined Troop 79, that I began to realize how much more there was to scouting than what Cub Scouts had to offer. My Cub Scout pack didn’t “feed” into any Scout troop, so — at the time — earning the Arrow of Light felt more like the denouement of my scouting career than the first step down a trail that would eventually lead me through the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, the wilderness of Canada, and so many other adventures along the way! 

I was left, then, to seek out a Scout troop on my own. It was intimidating. Many of the boys were much older than me and I knew nobody at first, but continuing scouting beyond Cub Scouts was the best decision of my life! The years went by, I learned new skills, grew more confident from my experience, had a blast at Camp Blackhawk each summer, and somewhere along the line was elected into the Order of the Arrow: scouting’s “Brotherhood of Cheerful Service”.

Active service in the OA was never high on my interests. I loved scouting for the carefree romps through the woods on weekend campouts and the grand adventures at Northern Tier, Okpik, Philmont, and Sea Base. I had no interest in such formal events as OA chapter elections, winter banquets, or section conclaves. Maybe I never knew what I was missing. 

As a member of the OA, however, I also was contacted to assist in crossover ceremonies for Cub Scouts receiving their Arrow of Light award, with an emphasis on the transition from Webelos to Scouts. It was at these events that my passion for scouting — or, more specifically, not wanting any Cub Scout to lose interest before discovering what scouting really has to offer — met with my interest in storytelling before large groups.

I volunteered for every crossover ceremony I could attend, which I performed alongside other Troop 79 Scouts. After doing it enough, I inevitably learned the lines for each role. So, when I couldn’t find anybody to join me to perform at a Blue and Gold Banquet in 2017, I performed the whole ceremony solo (taking my own liberties to make the four parts cohesive). When I staffed at Camp Blackhawk in 2018, my practice at crossover ceremonies made me an integral member of the OA ceremonialist team there. 

At the time, I hardly imagined that my enthusiasm and dedication to performing these solemn rites-of-passage would earn me nomination to Vigil, the highest distinction of scouting’s National Honor Society. After all, I scarcely involved myself in OA business outside of the ceremonies. But — as time continues to prove — the more you put into scouting, the more you get out of it. As an Eagle Scout, seasonal employee of the BSA, and now a Vigil member of the Order of the Arrow, I can attest that scouting continues to be a gift that keeps on giving.”

Troop 79’s High Adventure, Part Two

As the year 2020 kicked off, Troop 79 was eagerly awaiting the end of school that marked the start of a fun-filled summer – camp in Michigan and high adventure like The Summit Experience at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia.  But as we all know, 2020 has been nothing but unpredictable.  As we neared closer to the date of departure, we were met with a stringent set of health checks and requirements designed to make sure that everyone stayed safe, but had a fun experience at camp.  The crew ended up being comprised of three scouts and two adults – Daniel, Sawyer, Nicholas, Mr. Falkner and Mr. Schnee.  Our small crew size didn’t diminish our enthusiasm to make it an enjoyable time though.  Paired with a great troop from Memphis, Tennessee (Troop 197), we set out each day, masked up, full canteens and looking for fun.  Each Day looked to outdo each other as the best day at Summit.

Day One led the excitement with rain and a service project!  A Scout is Helpful!  Helping to clear woods and build trails on the far side of Summit was strenuous work in the backwoods of the Appalachians, but quite rewarding as we saw the fruits of our labor at the end.  Plus, the general thought was to get the hard work out of the way early in the week to set up a full week of fun.  The afternoon brought just that – whitewater rafting on the Lower Keeney Rapids of the New River Gorge!  Just the thing after a hard day’s work on the trail.  Our small crew size paid off by us being paired with the best guide on the river (Justin aka “Motorboat”) in the smaller and faster boat than our sister troop.  With this great setup, we were able to tackle rapids from Class 2 all the way up to Class 5.  Although we were shaken up a bit at points, we all made it through unscathed and a bit more confident out on the water.  We even tackled some of the rapids out of the boat, in the water!

Day Two had a hard act to follow from the previous day’s events.  But it proved up to the challenge.  As everyone knows in the Scouts, it’s not worth it unless you hike there.  Summit does not disappoint in this respect.  Everywhere you go, you walk.  Take lots of water, lace up your boots and head out.  Our second day of events consisted of rock climbing and rappelling.  Sawyer proved himself the star of this event, easily scampering up the rock courses with his nimble arms and legs.  Everyone succeeded in their endeavours at the wall, no matter their skill level.  What do you do after climbing the rocks?  Rappel back down – on a different tower.  This included traditional rappelling on the wall, but also a confidence jump.  This meant you were tethered to a pulley and harness, but you jumped off the platform to be lowered to the ground gradually by gravity.  It took some nerve to willingly jump off of a platform 30 feet in the air.

In the afternoon, we hiked over to the Canopy course for some fun in the trees.  The canopy course was a lesson in navigating the zip lines up in the trees and learning how to fly from tree to tree, but stop before you slammed into the far tree or worse, the staff member waving for you to slow down.  This was a fun challenge and gave us a preview of what to expect on the Big Zip. After a fun day on the ropes, everyone was eager to head back to base camp and relax.

Day Three proved a step up from Day Two.  On deck were The Big Zip, Ropes course and Mountain Biking! The Big Zip is a 3,500 foot long, 400 foot drop zip line from the top of the hill, over a lake to the platform below, all at over 40 mph.  This was a lot of fun and worthy of a second run, but then you would have to hike to the top of the mountain again.  Next trip.  The Ropes Course was a challenge course up in the trees and was quite the challenge for adults and Scout alike.  The adults certainly paid for their youthful tries later that night.  Mountain Biking proved every bit the challenge with the endless hills and rough terrain, but the views of the Reserve from the vistas were worth it.

Day Four offered up a day at the ranges – shotgun, rifles, pistols and archery.  After a safety briefing, the crew stepped to the line to try their hand at clay pigeon shooting with 12 ga shotguns. Although newbies, everyone scored a hit with what appeared to be ease.  Nicholas, Sawyer and Daniel mastered the pistol and rifle ranges as well, with little instruction.  No matter the caliber – 12 ga, .22 pistols or rifles or .223 rifles – all were great shots!  Archery ended up being rained out, but this offered up a great afternoon lesson in breaking down the firearms and lessons on safety and cleanliness.  A great Scout lesson.  The boys learned how to break down the shotguns and rifles and safely reassemble them.  Arguably the highlight of the day.

Day Five was the last day at camp, but was not to be outdone by the rest, including skateboarding and BMX bikes.  The boys took the challenge to brush up their skills at the skate park and tackle the concrete jungle of Summit.  Everyone came out in one piece, so it was deemed a success.  The BMX course was the last, but not least event of Summit.  The boys and Mr. Falkner got some good fundamental training on maneuvering the hills, dips and turns of the dirt course, then hit the track.  This proved to be quite the fun event with endless runs on the various tracks. 

Summit definitely didn’t disappoint and lived up to the High Adventure spirit of Scouting.  At the end of an eventful week, the crew looked back and determined it was the best it could have been, even with the pandemic trying its hardest.  Everyone tested their personal limits, came away scraped, sore and bit bruised, but were beaming from ear to ear on the drive home.  Someday Troop 79 will return to Summit, a new crew, but eager to conquer again.

YIS, the Summit 2020 Crew – Daniel, Sawyer, Nicholas with Mr. Falkner and Mr. Schnee

[PHOTOS] Summit Experience @ B. Schnee and G. Falkner

Troop 79’s High Adventure without Philmont

49A5E857-08D8-4523-A89E-274D33BF43A0The current pandemic has reshaped so many lives. But despite the human and economic disaster that’s been unfolding, Troop 79 met its commitment to our high school age members to get a shot at summer high adventure. As you may recall from this earlier post, we were thrilled to secure two coveted spots for Philmont in the summer of 2020. Seemed far away at the time. Nobody knew what would happen nine months later…

BSA high adventure trips are intended to be a physical and mental challenge, pushing the Scouts (and adult advisors!) to exceed their self-imposed limits of endurance and leadership. Many in the Scouting community view Philmont as the pinnacle of high adventure – hiking for dozens of miles in the rugged Sangre de Christo Mountains, living on freeze dried food and Spam, carrying everything you need on your back. It’s not a vacation.

When Philmont’s summer 2020 season was canceled on June 4, the troop’s adult advisors sprung into action to organize a suitable replacement. Truth be told, we’d been formulating backup plans for a while, suspecting that Philmont’s modified operations could be blocked by state orders. A Scout is Prepared. After some debate on alternatives, a ten day trip to Alaska rose to the top, including five days of backpacking in the wilderness of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Our secret weapon for organizing the trip was a Scout’s parent who lived near Anchorage during the summer. And with the state requiring negative covid test results upon entry, we felt the locals were taking the virus seriously, as we would create our own social pod on trek in the wilderness.

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While for many 2020 is a summer of cancelled plans, Troop 79 pushed ahead with our Philmont alternative. Read below for the trip report written by one of the two Crew Leaders, Eagle Scout Andrew Bui.

My statement on Alaska High Adventure

Three years ago, I first stepped foot onto Philmont. I loved the experience and wanted to do it again, but as Crew Leader. Due to COVID, we ended up changing course to Alaska as part of a DIY High Adventure as Philmont was closed. Our final group was Mr. Boyle, Mr. Chambliss, George, Chris, Henry, Max, Craig, James and myself. 

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We caught the 6.5 hour plane ride to Anchorage on 7/21/2020. After getting through COVID paperwork and entry forms, we made it to the Eagle River campground where we had hot dogs and reindeer sausage for dinner.  

The next day, we hopped into a van to go to Wrangell St. Elias for our adventure. Wrangell St. Elias is bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Switzerland combined. Our guides were Mike and Jonas, both of whom were fantastic. Since Mr. Boyle asked for the trip to be a high adventure, they were pretty much hands-off for the trip. The scouts backpacked, navigated, cooked, and cleaned.  The first night was at the riverbar and the next morning, we spotted a bald eagle and a moose with her calf. 

In Kennecott, we toured the abandoned copper production centers and learned about the history of the copper boom. Then we hiked to our first campsite. It overlooked the glacier we would cross the next day. Dinner was couscous and someone ended up having to drink the last of it to avoid leftovers. Dessert was much better, as everyone loves Oreo cheesecake. 

Hash browns were the next day’s breakfast. We walked across Root Glacier in crampons, which gave us extra traction but felt weird doing it for the first time. The glacier was only one mile wide, but it took 5 hours to get across it and get around all the crevasses, glacial streams, and moulins. We had lunch at 3 and were pretty miserable and tired. However, we still had to trek to our campsite for that night, enduring 5 hours of rain and bushwhacking. I was about to call it quits and sleep in a marsh when George pushed me to go across one last hill. There was a valley below and a much better site for sleeping. While not everyone was thrilled arriving into camp at 8:00PM cold and wet, we worked lightning speed to get food ready. That night was Kung Pao noodles and vegetables, which tasted great and was a huge morale boost. We were in Donoho Basin and were exhausted, so we all had a good night’s sleep.

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On 7/26 (Day 3), the crews took a day hike on the moraine of Gates Glacier, a neighboring glacier. Nobody wanted to put on crampons again. The hike was short, and that was intentional to give ourselves a rest. Dinner was chili and mashed potatoes, and everyone enjoyed it. Despite being stuffed, dessert was two servings of pudding.

For breakfast the next morning, it was oatmeal combined with some hot cocoa mix, something I learned at Philmont. We dumped an entire gallon bag of oatmeal in, which was apparently twice the amount we were supposed to eat. We still finished all the food. Then, I naviguessed us back across Root Glacier. We hiked back to our first night’s campsite because of ice climbing the next day.  The return trip was completed in two less hours, as we recognized the path.  Dinner was fried rice and dehydrated vegetables, which was the perfect consistency. 

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On 7/27 (Day 4), we all ice climbed. Breakfast was ramen, and lunch was granola and Cheerios. We were joined by two other guides, Jeremy and Eli who helped us with ice climbing. There were three walls to climb:  the beginner’s wall, the endurance wall because it was the tallest, and the technical wall.  It’s technical because of the overhangs. Everybody climbed at least once and some of us climbed two or even three walls. At the top of the center wall, I was feeling adventurous and took a selfie at the top. You can even see the rest of the guys down below. 

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The last climb was into a moulin. A moulin is where glacial streams all converge. Those who were feeling up to it were lowered down, and we climbed back out. The inside of a moulin is full of pretty blue ice, although that ice is very hard to stick crampons in. It was the biggest test of our technique and our will to continue. Nobody needed to be rescued, and that was the best part of the climbs. 

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Once we were done with climbs, we headed back to the riverbar in McCarthy. Dinner was beef stroganoff with peas and bell peppers. Dessert was Reese’s pudding. In the food storage area, they have a full map of Wrangell St. Elias. If you thought what I mentioned was huge, that small area between Mr. Boyle’s fingers is where our trek went. Wrangell St. Elias is huge. 

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Unfortunately, Nothing Gold Can Stay and on 7/28, we left St. Elias, Mike, and Jonas. At the Schechter’s cabin, we took showers for the first time in a week. We also slept in a climate controlled place, which was a nice change from the tents in 50F overnight temp.

On the morning of 7/29, half of us hiked up Mt. Aleyaska. The view was great, although we didn’t see any bears (which we were all hoping for). The wildlife cruise was five hours long, and we all were able to see sea lions and sea otters in the wild.  One of the glaciers we passed was calving, so everyone saw a hunk of it fall off and then heard a low rumble from hundreds of tons of ice falling into the sea. After the cruise, we headed to Anchorage airport. Our trip was 10 days/ 9 nights long and while it wasn’t Philmont, it is something I will remember for a long while. 

– Andrew Bui

Member of our Google group? Click here for more photos.

[PHOTOS] Alaska high adventure @P Chambliss, A Bui

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