Boy Scout Troop 26 of Galloway Township has a reputation as a “high adventure” unit, but a small group of young teens within the troop pushes the limits even higher.
Scouts Evan Monteith, Sean Kulin, Preston Blazej and Riley Blankenship, led by 18-year-old Eagle Scout James Brown, Scoutmaster Michael Monteith and two other scouting fathers, recently hiked within 1,200 feet of the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the highest peak in the northeastern United States.
The trip on the weekend of Feb. 22-23 was the latest in a series of adventure outings the group has taken together. Although it wasn’t a sanctioned Boy Scout trip, all the boys do belong to the same troop and utilize all the skills they have learned as scouts.
“Since this had the potential to be a little more dangerous, we
didn’t organize this as a scouting trip, but we’ll use it as training tips for the rest of the troop,” said Monteith, who has been scoutmaster for the past two years and is Evan’s father.
Dressed in about four layers of clothing and wearing parkas, hats, snow goggles, heavy gloves and mountain boots, the group started up a mountain trail at 5:30 a.m. and didn’t come back down until late afternoon. Each carried about 25 pounds of equipment, including ice picks, ropes and crampons, which are traction devices used to improve mobility on snow and ice, to put on their boots.
The teenagers came off the mountain cold and tired, but thoroughly exhilarated, Scoutmaster Monteith said.
They didn’t make it quite to the top of the mountain, but that is something they look forward to accomplishing on a future trip, possibly with the rest of the troop.
“It was so beautiful up there, like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said 15-year-old Evan Monteith, who grew up hiking and camping with his family. “It was a really good experience.”
An outdoor enthusiast, Monteith is a longtime scouting member and has hiked during the summer in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia. But hiking up a mountain in the dead of winter was entirely different, he said.
“For one, it was cold. We wore layers of clothing to deal with it, but you have to keep moving or you got numb pretty quick,” he said.
Monteith, who wants to enter the Air Force Academy when he’s older, said he likes to push his endurance and get the chance to use all the skills he has learned over the years. He videotaped the climb as much as he could with a portable Go-Pro camera strapped to his chest. The footage he shot, along with the images from the another camera, will be used as a teaching tool and serve as motivation for the other scouts in the troop.
“Watching the climb all over again is a really good feeling. To see what we accomplished makes us feel pretty good,” he said.
Mount Washington is famous for dangerously erratic weather. For 76 years, until 2010, a weather observatory on the summit held the record for the highest wind gust directly measured at the Earth’s surface. It took the group about four hours to reach their peak destination. Although winds weren’t record-setting, they were still strong enough at times to slow the group’s advance to just a few feet at a time.
“It was awesome. I’d definitely do it again,” said Riley Blankenship, 14, of Galloway Township, who experienced his first high-altitude winter hike.
Blankenship, a scout since he was 5 years old, is used to hiking in the Delaware Water Gap and Shenandoah Mountains during warm weather. The ice and snow took some getting used to, he said.
“Traction was different. Our boots didn’t grip on the rocks the same as the snow, so we had to adjust,” said the Cedar Creek High School freshman. “But we’re all well trained. I’ve been doing this since I was little.”
“It was the best trip I’ve ever been on,” agreed Sean Kulin, 15, of Galloway Township. “When we reached our destination and looked down the mountain, it was the best feeling I ever had.”
The Cedar Creek High School freshman has been involved in high-adventure scouting for four years now, but this was the highest he ever hiked up a mountain in one trek.
His father, John Kulin, who was also part of the group, has a lot of experience mountain climbing and was able to give him a lot of pointers, he
“We hit one patch and it was pretty much all ice climbing, and we had to use the pickaxe a lot,” he explained. “I can tell you, when that wind got blowing it was slow going.”
Still, he called the experience “awesome” and is already looking forward to the next trip.
Dave Seals, a Northfield resident and family friend of the Monteiths, rounded out the group.
The group’s next outing will be a Pocono ski trip with the whole troop. Rock climbing and whitewater rafting will follow during the warmer months, he said.
Boy Scout Troop 26, which is sponsored by the Germania Volunteer Fire Company and chartered by the Jersey Shore Council of the Boy Scouts of America, prides itself on camping and hiking in all types of weather, and scout members have traveled throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
“The boys love it. You see boys become men on such trips,” Monteith said. “It’s a part of scouting that builds character.”
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