In August of 2012, my son's Scout troop planned a backpacking trek across the Spanish Peaks, a unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in Southwest Montana. You can read the photo essay here.
This trek was an interesting one for me. It was one where I observed the boundless enthusiasm and excitement of crossing a rugged mountain range by one group of boys (the ones that attempted it) and the cynicism and disdain for trekking by others who had no intention of participating in a hike like this.
I struggle to develop a strong thesis for why this is (although I'm rather sure our forum members will rapidly come up with one following the publication of this article!). However, I can't help but reflect on how our changing culture might be inhibiting backcountry participation by kids:
- Lack of a mentor who is excited about it, and who can take them.
- Lack of family members who do it.
- Competition from other activities that might be less expensive, less hard, and more - how shall we say this lightly - beneficial for self esteem? (I find that wilderness is the ultimate smackdown for a teenager's inflated ego!)
- A culture of entitlement that keeps kids from pursuing activities that cause discomfort.
- Peer influence that redirects time to other activities (mall shopping, video games, lift served skiing...)
- Single parent families where the time constraints of work-parenting-life lessen time spent outdoors.
This certainly isn't an exhaustive list.
I have no delusion about having all the answers, or solving what is probably not the biggest problems in boys' lives.
I'm not even sure I have the desire to see "all teenage boys go into the backcountry." But the topic makes an interesting study nonetheless, especially in the context of two roles that I'm playing today: a parent and a Scout leader of teenage boys.
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Learn More About Trekking With Scouts
The topics addressed in this film are discussed in depth at Backpacking Light's BSA High Adventure Leader Training Course that we hold each May. Please consider joining us. The discussions we have about boys and backpacking are some of the highlights of our training time. Enrollment is now open for 2013.
About the Author
Ryan Jordan is an Eagle Scout, former Camp Program Director and High Adventure Program Director (Camp Parsons, Chief Seattle Council), former Scoutmaster (Troop 676, Bozeman), Montana Council BSA High Adventure Committee Chair, and a member of the BSA Fieldbook Task Force providing oversight for the next edition.
Read more from Ryan:
- Are You Stealing Opportunity for Character Development From Your Scouts?
- The Scout Patrol Method, and Leadership
- I Just Want To Be With My Friends
- Swimming Slots and Intentional Living
The video in the rain was shot with a Panasonic TS-1. The rest of the video was shot on a Sony NEX-7 using a Sigma 30/2.8 and a Leica Elmarit-M 90/2.8. You'll see some blobs here and there. We were trekking during a bad fire season and those blobs are ash particles that settled on my image sensor while changing lenses. Most of the video isn't stabilized, so my apologies for the jiggles!