One of my favorite Scout leaders passed away last month. He could be a little gruff – in a good way. If the troop hadn’t been backpacking in a while, he’d notice that the boy’s discipline on campouts would start to break down a little. They’d take a little longer to get going in the morning. “We haven’t hiked them in too long,” he’d say.
He was right, of course. There’s a lot to be said for summer camp and you can learn quite a bit at a Scout meeting or a campout. But there’s something about a backpacking trek that just can’t be duplicated anywhere.
Backpacking experiences are life-changing. When you get back you see the world differently. You see yourself differently. There are things you can learn on the trail, and nowhere else. These are things that can’t be taught. They have to be experienced and learned. I can tell you about what it’s like to put your foot on the summit, but until you actually do it for yourself, you can’t understand.
Backpacking teaches Goal Setting
Mountains are wonderfully clarifying things. When you set off to climb a mountain, the summit is an easily identifiable goal.
You know you have to keep hiking until you reach the summit. Getting to the summit is a success, anything less is a failure. And you’re not competing against anyone but yourself, and I suppose, the mountain.
But you can’t climb a mountain in one step. It’s a series of little victories. Get to the end of each section of trail. Pick a tree in the distance, and hike to it, and when you get to it, pick another tree – until there are no more trees.
Then go for the summit.
Getting to the summit always gives you an amazing feeling of accomplishment. You’ve set yourself a goal, and you’ve met it – and you’re literally on top of the world.
When I used to be an instructor for Camping Merit Badge, we’d always make the last requirement the one where the scout would have to “Hike up a mountain where, at some point, you are at least 1,000 feet higher in elevation from where you started.”
When they reached the summit, I’d shake their hand, and congratulate them on completing the badge.
And when I proposed to my now-wife, I did so on the summit of Mount Cardigan in New Hampshire. Because while the summit of a mountain is a goal, it lets you see for miles, and lets you see all the other goals you have still in front of you.