Basking Ridge, NJ. - Despite rain, hailstorms, altitude sickness, blisters, bug bites, freeze-dried meals and the weight of 50 lb. backpacks, eight members of Basking Ridge Boy Scout Troop 555 and their four adult advisors proudly completed a 12-day adventure through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. The group hiked 75 miles – from camp to camp, July 13-24 – through wilderness trails ranging from altitudes of 6,500 feet to 12,441 feet, carrying everything they needed to survive on their backs. Along the way, they participated in backcountry programs such as rock climbing, gold prospecting, homesteading, knife throwing and lassoing.
“It was a rigorous, but life-changing experience,” said the group’s designated crew chief Gregory Najarian, of Basking Ridge. “The views, the wildlife and the abundance of stars at night were absolutely amazing. Each member of our crew equally contributed and came together as a team. We should all be proud that we accomplished one of the most difficult adventures of our lives.”
Najarian, who is entering his junior year at Pingry, reports that the crew worked well together, rising at 5 a.m. most days, eating a light breakfast, and hiking most of the day before setting up tents and camp for the night. “There was no cell phone service, which was actually refreshing. It allowed us to focus on the experience and the world around us without distraction.”
One of the biggest challenges the group faced was several days of rain. “When our gear got wet, it made the packs heavier. Fortunately, everything dried fairly quickly after we hung it up,” commented Joe Brady, a rising junior at Ridge High School, whose twin brother Christian also participated in the adventure. “The experience made me realize that things don’t always go as expected, and you’ve got to adapt and make the best of it.”
“Another major challenge was staying hydrated while using our water sparingly,” commented David Vaccarello, also a junior at Ridge, and a member of the school’s cross country and track and field teams.
“Getting water was definitely a challenge,” agreed Najarian. “There were some wells along the way, and we purified water from streams with chlorine tablets. In the backcountry, the water was not always the best tasting or best looking.”
Meals consisted of granola bars, nuts, trailmix or oatmeal for breakfast; canned soup, tuna or Spam for lunch; and freeze-dried foods for dinner. Although the crew members consumed approximately 3,000 calories per day, many of them lost eight or nine pounds on the trip after hiking 4-6 hours per day through steep terrain with heavy backpacks.
Mornings and nights in the mountains were cool and many wore hats, gloves and jackets to sleep.
“During the day, most of us wore pants with zippers that could be converted into shorts as the weather warmed up,” mentioned Najarian.
Now, back to civilization in Basking Ridge, the boys are completing their summer activities before returning to school. Brady, an offensive and defensive lineman with the Ridge football team, has returned to preseason camp while his brother Christian is attending fencing camp.
“Not a lot of people can say they hiked 75 miles. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I’m proud of what we accomplished,” says Brady, who credits the rigors of football practice to his being prepared for Philmont.
“It was a great feeling of accomplishment when we returned to base camp and saw the sign saying ‘you made it,’” added Vaccarello. “I learned that I am capable of doing more than I thought I could; that I am stronger than I realized, both physically and mentally.”
What else did the boys learn about themselves?
“I’m pretty sure that I’ll never eat Spam again for the rest of my life,” commented Brady.
“I’ll never complain about my mom’s cooking again,” said Najarian.
In addition to Najarian, Vaccarello and the Brady’s, Philmont crew members included Basking Ridge residents Conor Mahoney, a rising freshman at Pingry; Tommy Martinson, a rising sophomore at Ridge High School; Ethan Kroeger, a rising sophomore at Ridge High School; and Joe Criscione, a rising junior at Ridge High School, who served as co-navigator with Christian Brady and ensured that the group stayed on course.
Adult advisors on the trip included Basking Ridge residents Lloyd Martinson, Mike Mahoney, Joseph Criscione, Sr., and Dr. Larry Najarian.
Philmont Scout Ranch is the Boy Scouts of America’s premier high adventure camp and the largest youth camp in the world serving nearly one million participants since 1938. It covers 214 square miles of vast wilderness, once traversed by legends of the American West.
For more on Philmont Scout Ranch, visit: