"Who's not ready?" comes the call from the Crew Chief. Before he's even finished, we've already started hiking. We travel the trail worn and true, seeing the grandiose sight of Mount Baldy in the distance. The smell, the sounds, the sights - everything screams the outdoors. This is the experience at Philmont Scout Ranch.

On June 30th, Berkeley Heights Crew 630-R-4 from Troop 368 will set their foot on Philmont. No Philmont alumni among the scouts in the crew, none of us were quite sure what to expect. But through a long and hard training process, we are finally ready.

The preparation started with some training hikes. The first one was long before Philmont, back in November in the Watchung Reservation. Here, our entire crew of nine people and our three adult advisors first set out hiking together with our 40-pound packs. Here, we got the first taste of hiking as a crew. We learned a lot of things, including the basics of hiking with each other, how to use a map and compass, and how to set a good pace for ourselves. Our skills in hiking slowly grew over time.

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Throughout the next few months, we had training sessions where we learned what to pack, how to pack it, and why we should pack it. We learned how to shave off up to 5 pounds off our packs, and pack everything in half the volume. This was all in preparation for our next training hike - Bear Mountain.

This hike was high on the Appalachian Trail, experiencing a net change of about 1000 feet in elevation, and a total change of about 5000 feet. At this hike, we learned the true meaning of the word: “crew.” Roles were handed out - these were our most important jobs in Philmont. The roles were rotated to give us a taste of everything. The roles are as follows:

  • Crew Chief - the leader of the crew and the one who keeps everybody together

  • Chaplain's Aide - responsible for keeping morale up and also the second in command

  • Navigators - the primary and secondary navigators, these people must be sure to know where they are, where they're going, and how to reach their destination quickest

  • Fire and Water - three people, who are responsible for all things fire and water - making fires, filling up water at streams, fetching water, putting out the fire and fire and water safety

  • Cooks - although the trail food is freeze-dried, somebody is still required to cook it! These two people boil the water, make everybody's dinner

  • Cleanup - two people who are responsible for crew sanitation. Their most important duty is to guarantee that the crew cooking utensils and each crew member's eating utensils are sterile before meals. They also oversee the campsite to make sure everything is clean

  • Wilderness Guia - makes sure that the crew "leaves no trace." This includes preventing crew members from breaking branches, picking leaves, stepping on lichen and disrupting nature in general.

  • Crew Reporter - responsible for keeping notes on the crew’s exploits and publicity.

You might have noticed that adds up to more than the nine scouts in the crew. For this reason, some are required to take multiple roles - for example, I am both a navigator and crew reporter. Everybody in their respective role really makes the crew come together. The Bear Mountain hike was a tough one, and we only got through by working together. We weathered many things and gained much along the way. We learned how to filter water from a stream, how to “caterpillar” up a mountain, and even what everybody’s strengths and weaknesses are. Such was the feeling of being part of a crew, that even afterward we always pledged to refer to each other as such.

The final training hike was the Watchu Weekend, where crews from all over New Jersey came to hike and learn. We polished off all the skills we had learned here with the helpful staff, and went on a Philmont style hike. After this experience, we are finally ready.

And now we are here. Ready to set out, to explore the backcountry, to hike the trails. We want to smell the air, hear the sounds, see the sights. Watch out Philmont - Crew 630-R-4 is coming!