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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

Troop 79 Hosts a Socially Distant Social

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By now you know what we mean – family groups generally six feet apart, face coverings and plenty of hand sanitizer. Just your typical summer cookout, covid-style. It was the first time the troop members had gathered in person since late winter. Refreshing to catch up with each other in 3D instead of staring at a little screen.

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Besides providing some traditional cookout fare and desperately needed socializing, the event also served up our annual changing of the guard. In other words, SPL Colin G. and ASPL Oscar S. swore in their successors, Andrew B. and Geoffrey B. It was a little hard to hear the exchange, muffled as they were, but it appears we have new leadership in charge.

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Formalities and precautions aside, it was terrific to see Scouts, parents and even a pet enjoying a warm summer evening in the city. Thanks to the PLC and Mr. Barich for organizing! Let’s hope we can all get together again in person this fall.

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

[PHOTOS] Summer cookout @boylesfour @abui

2019’s “Eagle X” (minus 1) Reunited

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Regular followers of Troop 79 legend will remember the ten Scouts that graduated high school last year. They left us with many shared stories, all having achieved the rank of Eagle. Not content to leave all that in the past, 9/10 of the class got together this past weekend to camp! As reported by Edward Boyle.

”COVID 19 has put a major halt on most plans, and for many of us college students, that has created large amounts of uncertainty. Last year, a few Troop 79 alumni planned a camp out for a weekend at the Indiana Dunes. This year, that group, AKA Eagle X, pulled together and planned a social distant outdoor event.

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This plan to camp at Warren Dunes came to be through the dedication of a few homebound graduated Eagle Scouts. With the aid of online communication and expert planning skills, the group came together to enjoy a lovely weekend in the outdoors. Supplied with enough firewood, hope, and taco fixings, we were ready.

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We soon realized our socially deprived selves were in for a treat. We got to our campsite without a hitch (except circling for a bit), and kicked our camp set-up skills into gear. Soon after many attempts to pitch a house-sized tent finally resulted in success, we hit the trail and took a familiar walk through the sandy forest.

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Keeping a friendly distance on trail, we meandered among the lush greens and fallen trees. After a quick ascent up the dark side of the dune, we emerged atop the sandy and sunny scene. Wildflowers, grasses, and beach-loving trees filled our periphery, with “a big puddle” on the downslope side. Our march continued till we hit the lake, and there we spent our afternoon.

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Once the realization kicked in we needed to make dinner, we gathered our reluctant selves to get back to base and begin the prep for a delicious meal. Armed with a bag of taco seasoning, 4 pounds of chicken, a few tomatoes, 5 limes, a jalapeno, yellow onion, 60 corn tortillas, and some mysterious vegetarian supplement, we produced a meal to feed an army. For the remainder of the evening, we shared laughter and familiar songs from Owasippe around a bright fire.

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All in all, I have to thank those involved in the smart planning that made this possible, and the followthrough of us Eagles to reconnect safely. Despite the hardships we all have been facing, the “bonds of friendship seal our loyalty” forever. So here’s a big thank you to the Troop that brought us all together in the first place, allowing us to build these lifelong friendships and memories.”

[PHOTOS] Dunes camping @W Gardner, @E Boyle

The Virus Can’t Ground an Eagle

As our regular readers know, the capstone of a Scout’s journey to the Eagle rank is to complete a service project that benefits the local community. Normally that entails a significant challenge – selecting an idea, writing up a proposal and getting it approved. That’s before anyone shows up to help!

This summer has been extra challenging for many families here in Chicago and around the country dealing with virus-related changes. That also impacted Scouts planning and carrying out their Eagle projects. But at least one member of Troop 79 managed to complete his. Read on for Oscar’s summary below:

I would like to give a big “thank you” to everyone who showed up to help complete my service project this weekend. Despite the heat, masks, and hiccups along the way, we were able to complete all six stands for Old St. Mary’s (and they look great!). I want to give a specific shoutout to the following people:
Colin G.
Sawyer M.
Chris C.
Max F.
Mr. Fischer
James K.
Colin N.
Davu H.
John Paul P.
Mr. Martin
Brady M.
Again, I really appreciate you guys volunteering, as well as your hard work.

Oscar S.

[PHOTOS] Eagle project @Oscar S

Troop 79 Goes Virtual

By now everyone’s well aware of the need to keep a safe distance from others to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. The official guidance from our local council is to cancel all meetings or events with more than 10 participants. Unfortunately, that put our in-person Troop and Patrol Leader Council (PLC) meetings on hold.

Thanks to some quick thinking, the PLC met virtually this week. After getting familiar with the software, the main topic was pretty simple – what would a digital troop meeting look like? It’s not like we’ve ever done this before.

A number of ideas were floated – from playing online games to hosting merit badge instruction. The PLC also considered how to hold Scoutmaster conferences and boards of review using virtual breakouts while still living up to our two deep leadership standards.

The meeting ended with agreement to give this new format a try! We’d hate to let Scouting lapse while everyone’s sequestered at home. And when this all passes, we’ll be able to pick up mostly where we left off. In the meantime, stay healthy everyone!

[PHOTOS] virtual PLC @B Greiner, M Fischer

Corona-what?

Taking all the necessary precautions, a mini-Philmont prep hike was salvaged from the Troop’s scrubbed plans to camp overnight at Bullfrog Lake in the southwest burbs.

The hikers did their best to maintain their social distance in the hilly woods of the forest preserve. Getting outside for a vigorous and muddy walk seemed like the best prescription for an afternoon that would otherwise be spent indoors at home.

And despite the light snow falling, they made it to the remains of the atomic testing that had been done at the site. Perfectly safe now, of course.

[PHOTOS] Cook County Forest Preserve @boylesfour

Two Scooter Riders and One Prepared Scouter

My favorite section in Boys Life magazine as a teen was “Scouts in Action”. Sure, the corny jokes are great, but the idea that with a little training and a cool head you could save someone’s life? Well, that was pretty impressive.

Fast forward a few decades. Last week I was traveling with Mrs. Boyle to the west coast for some sightseeing. We had pointed our rental car up the steep drive to LA’s Griffith Observatory to catch the sunset over Tinseltown.

About halfway up, two young men on rental scooters came zipping around a corner. The first guy hit a pothole and fell. The second tried to avoid his buddy but also wrecked. So here are two people lying in the road, clearly hurt. What does one do?

If you’re prepared, you safely pull your vehicle out of traffic, grab your first aid kit and go help! As the two dazed riders stood up, I walked over and introduced myself, letting them know I was trained in first aid. Making sure we were all out of harm’s way, I did a quick triage and was relieved that neither one was badly injured.

I kept up a constant stream of chatter as I cleaned and bandaged abrasions, wrapped a sprained wrist and kept watch for signs of shock. A few minutes later they were on their way (walking!) to return the scooters.

Thankfully this wasn’t a case of life or death. But I can assure you these two guys were super appreciative to have someone show up with the right supplies and the knowledge to use them.

[PHOTO] First aid in Griffith Park @amyboylephoto

Troop 79 Opts Outside on Black Friday

If getting some exercise and doing good with your friends on the day after Thanksgiving sounds like a great idea, read on. Inspired by REI’s #OptOutside initiative and led by 2018 Eagle Scout Edward Boyle, over 25 Scouts and family members spent the morning doing litter cleanup at a Chicago park. Also joining the work crew were six of the spring 2019 “Eagle X” who were home on break from college.

The cleanup benefited the environment and people who enjoy Horner Park, a location several of the Scouts experienced as cross country runners in high school. The teams fanned out across the 58 acre grounds, gathering many buckets full of carelessly discarded debris – including food packaging, plastic bags, plastic straws, bottle caps, cigarette butts, along with recyclable items such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans and glass containers.

Thanks to the Scouts, parents and siblings who came out to support the cleanup, to the Chicago Park District for the opportunity, and to Friends of the Chicago River for their generous contribution of cleanup equipment and refreshments!

  • Interested in serving your local Chicago park? Contact the volunteer office at (312) 742-4764.
  • Check out this excellent guide from the Friends of the Chicago River to learn more about the mission to keep improving our city’s “blue green corridor”.
  • Recycling can seem mysterious.  What goes in the blue carts?  What happens to it?  See the City’s guide to what’s recyclable. Test yourself with a quiz!

Now don’t you feel better?

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

[PHOTOS] Park cleanup @boylesfour

Troop 79 Does a “Freeze-out” in the Kettle Moraine

A little snow and cold didn’t stop Troop 79 from enjoying a late fall weekend north of the “cheese curtain” in Wisconsin. Thanks to no school on Friday, several members of our Philmont 2020 crew (and one future Philmonter) hiked out into the woods and fields of the famous Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Arriving at backpack Shelter #3 several hours later, the crew members made a trail dinner, setup their tents, and promptly settled into their sleeping bags as the temps sank into the mid-20’s overnight.

Saturday morning dawned slightly warmer, as the Scouts shouldered their packs for the remainder of their 15 mile hike. The trail crossed fields and woods, and included a visit to a dolomite outcropping called Brady’s Rocks.

A satisfying trail lunch was the Philmont crew’s reward before continuing on to Pinewoods Group Camp where the rest of the Troop would be waiting. A happy reunion followed! A two mile hike was enjoyed by the future Philmonters while the 15-milers rested their boots.

Dinner was started early as darkness fell around 5PM, which prompted a hot campfire of locally sourced oak until “hiker midnight” around 9PM. Thankfully not so cold as Friday.

Thanks to our Patrol Leaders and adults Mr. Keats, Carter, Chambliss, Martin, and Boyle for making the weekend possible! Last campout until 2020.

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

[PHOTOS] Kettle Moraine camping @boylesfour

Two more Troop 79 Eagle Projects completed

One reason achieving Scouting’s highest rank is such an accomplishment is the service project that must be completed before a Scout turns 18.  Fall 2019 has been an important season for two of Troop 79’s Scouts on the path to Eagle.

What is the Eagle Scout Service Project?
While a Life Scout, plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community. (The project must benefit an organization other than the Boy Scouts of America.) A project proposal must be approved by the organization benefiting from the effort, your unit leader and unit committee, and the council or district before you start.

From Eagle candidate Andrew B: Thank you to everyone who helped with my project! Despite the cold and wet Saturday, we were able to complete the assembly of the bench components (sanding, staining, building, as well as yard work) to prepare for the job site. Due to the cold and wet weather, I was forced to extend the project to Sunday when we (James, George, my parents, and I) installed all the benches to complete my project.

I would like to thank Mr. Taylor and Mr. Zoiopoulos for their guidance and encouragement throughout this process. Thank you to Mr. Martin, James, Chris, George, Geoffrey, Nico, Daniel, Eadan, Aidan, James, Henry, Lev, Brady, Max, and Davu for attending; in total, you earned 80 service hours, ate 24 donuts, drank over 2 gallons of Coca-Cola, and ate 5 large pizzas.

I received generous donations from Home Depot on Elston Ave. and several family friends. These benches will help St. John Berchmans School and the Logan Square Community, where I live.

From Eagle candidate Jack S: Thank you to everyone who helped with my project! The painting of all of the walls, installing the rubber flooring with the glue, and Andrew masterfully installing the lockers could not have been better. Through the course of the day, I was very thankful for all your support. Although we could not finish the project that day, my parents and I went back the night after and did some finishing touches.

I would like to thank Mr. Taylor and Mr. Zoiopoulos for their coaching and everyone who came out to help me complete my project.

Special thank you to Eddy Murray who supported all the cost of my project. Benton House is very thankful for your support and is interested in hosting further eagle scout projects.

[PHOTOS] Logan Square Benches @ABui, Benton House Interior @JStewart

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