It was a grueling trek placed before them, and the girls dug down deep, mapped their course and hoofed it across copious miles of rugged back-country terrain.
Amid blazing heat, two crews of Mercer Island scouts carrying heavy backpacks and upbeat attitudes recently bonded, encouraged each other and persevered to finish their epic, 12-day hike at the Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico.
“They’re just amazing. They surprise me how resilient, how strong and how positive they are,” said Rachel Yu, scoutmaster of girls Troop 678 of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), a troop that was founded locally in February of 2019 when BSA welcomed girls troops into the organization.
The scouts, ages 13-19, were split into two groups and were joined by parent volunteers as they tackled 67 miles and 51 miles of ground, respectively, at the National High Adventure Base. In total, Troop 678 consisted of 17 hikers from teens to adults on the trek.
Yu said the locals were two of very few all-female scout crews at Philmont, which covers 140,177 acres of mountain wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains in northeastern New Mexico, according to the camp’s website.
Lydia Hogg, 15, said the scouts learned some vital life skills during the trek, during which they hiked in a thunderstorm, rallied to return to their course after getting lost for a spell in 100-degree heat and nursed sore feet after finishing tough and satisfying days in the wild.
While pushing through some difficult times to reach their destination, Hogg said, “It was really helpful with the rest of the group, ‘cause we would cheer each other on and we would tell stories or there were some songs that we would sing on the trail.”
Lexi Liu, 14, said she wasn’t a fan of hiking before the Philmont trip, but that trek exposed her to the freedom of hiking in wide-open spaces.
“I actually found it really, really fun. I wanted to go back to Philmont again right after. I wanted to just continue, go on in the back country,” she said.
Yu said she was emotionally touched when the girls began singing while getting soaked in the rain. Hiking at Philmont was a unique and life-changing experience for the girls, who pushed their boundaries and learned about leadership, teamwork and problem solving, she added.
During the trip, one crew of local scouts crossed paths with a rattlesnake and lots of deer, but no bears. Some scouts from another crew said they spotted a bear one night, Hogg said.
The locals made it through the trek with just two trips to the infirmary: Hogg sustained a cold to go along with her seasonal allergies, and another scout burned her foot on boiling water while cooking. Both girls forged through those incidents to finish the trek.
Hogg said the girls carried 35-50-pound backpacks during each daily hike, which ranged from three to seven miles. The girls were up by 3-4 a.m. each day, began hiking by 5:30 a.m. and were tucked into bed in their tents by about 8 p.m.
The scouts became pros at quickly setting up and taking down tents each night and morning, and hanging 32-pound bear bags, which contained anything that bears could smell like sunscreen, food, camping fuel and more.
“It was definitely the most strenuous activity,” said Hogg, who added that the girls had backpacked before, but nothing like the breadth of the Philmont trip.
Liu said the girls experienced mental strain at times because they were so far away from the base camp, but they helped each other along the way.
“I thought that the bonding experience with the rest of the crew was really nice. We all found each others’ personalities different. There were some hard times, but we got through it,” she said.
Yu, who was proud of the way the girls displayed their strength at Philmont, said Troop 678 is comprised overall of 47 girls from Mercer Island, Bellevue and Woodinville and was one of the first girls troops founded in the area. It is the largest girls troop in the area, she added.