It was day nine of our 11-day trek through the remote backcountry of north central New Mexico.

We had already covered 55 or so miles of our planned 72-mile hike. Today, our goal was to get to the top of Mt. Baldy, the highest peak at the Philmont scout camp -- 139,000 acres of wilderness ranch land owned by the Boy Scouts of America. Mt. Baldy tops out at 12,441 feet above sea level.

Already on the trail for three hours that day, we were now faced with a quarter-mile climb up a very steep slope covered with loose shale and no trees to hold onto. We were above the treeline at over 11,750 feet. We were tired and hungry. It was hard to breath. Every one of us thought about turning around, but we didn't. That would mean giving in to the challenge.

We continued to climb and finally, after nearly four hours of hard hiking, we made it. A group of young Scouts and a couple of adults had just climbed to the summit of the highest peak around, almost running the final 50 yards. All that tiredness and hunger evaporated as we reflected on this accomplishment. We would have gazed out over the open country and marveled at what we saw, but we were buried in a cloud bank so dense that it was hard to see 50 feet. Oh, well. We didn't let that dampen our spirits or lessen what we had just accomplished. We met the challenge and we came out the other side, stronger for it.

This story is a brief description of a single event that was part of a larger trip taken by one of the local Boy Scout troops three years ago. Does it sound like it was a challenge? Well, speaking from experience, it was. All of the local Scout troops regularly go on similarly challenging trips, and we all treasure the experiences. Life is a challenge and Scouting is there to help you develop the tools to meet many of those challenges head-on.

Boy Scouts starts at an early age when young boys can join the BSA's Cub Scouts program. Boys can join the Cub Scout program anywhere between first and fifth grade. During their time in Cub Scouts, they will not only learn many different skills, but they can advance in rank all the way up to Webelos II and finally earn the Arrow of Light, the highest honor given to a Cub Scout. Along the way, they have the opportunity to learn about numerous things including athletics, basic camping skills, knots, fire safety, building model rockets, respect for the flag, and many others. The most important part of the Cub Scout program, though, is the chance to have fun.

Once boys enter the sixth grade, they are of age to cross over into Boy Scouts. Here, the learning and adventures get more and more challenging. Backpacking, kayaking, camping, rock climbing, mountain biking -- these are all activities that the Boy Scouts promote. Tied very closely with all of the outdoor skills you would expect to learn are the leadership skills that come with it. Leadership is given a big emphasis as Boy Scouts is a youth-led organization. Adults are there to ensure a safe and fun environment, but it's the boys that do all of the planning.

Outdoor learning and leadership skills are core values of Scouting. Another core value is giving back to the community. Many of the ranks the boys try to achieve have a community service component built right into them. Without the community, the troops and packs can't exist, so we try to give back what we can in thanks.

All the leadership skills and practical skills help a boy to advance in Scouts. Eventually, through hard work and dedication, a young man can reach the rank of Eagle Scout -- the highest rank the BSA awards. Less than 5 percent of boys that enter Boy Scouts eventually achieve the rank of Eagle. This is an achievement that a young man can be proud of for the rest of his life.

You may be asking, "Is it too late to join scouts?" It's never too late. The great thing about the way Scouting is structured is that we are always learning. Though some skills do build on others, many skills can be learned right from the start and by boys of any age. Boys will begin their Scouting journey at the right level and will be provided every opportunity to advance as far as they can. So, if you are already in fifth grade and think it's too late to join Cub Scouts, it isn't. If you're already a junior and think you've missed out, you haven't.

Groton-Dunstable Scouting is currently recruiting boys between the ages of 5 and 17 (first through eleventh grade) to join our program and see just how far they can go. We are fortunate to have a very strong Cub and Boy Scout program between the two towns with three very active Cub Scout packs and three very active Boy Scout troops. The packs and troops meet at different times and in different locations, so if one doesn't work for your schedule, another probably will.

For more information, please see the flier that will be coming home in your son's folder or contact me at scoutmaster@westgrotonscouting.org.

DEAN MARSH

Groton