“Troop 756 Makes Good,” New Era, Feb. 1976, 21
Maybe we weren’t the best troop in the district, but could you really blame us? Boy Scout Troop 756 (of the Mesa 34th Ward, Mesa Arizona East Stake) was barely a year old, and already we were losing our third Scoutmaster. We were losing interest in Scouting too.
Some of us had been to camp the summer before. Camp Geronimo, nestled under the Mogollon Rim in the heart of Arizona’s ponderosa pine forest, has the reputation of being one of the best Scout camps in the country, but we weren’t very well organized and didn’t take advantage of their program. Few of us wanted to go back. We’d lots rather go camping in the Grand Canyon, if we could get someone to take us.
Our problem was discussed in the next troop committee meeting. Brother Decker had just moved into the ward and had accepted the assignment of advancement chairman. He agreed to take charge of us until someone could be called as Scoutmaster.
At our next troop meeting Brother Decker explained to us what the situation was. We discussed the Grand Canyon trip and decided on a date, and our new leader agreed to contact the park and make reservations for the campgrounds we planned to use. He then showed slides he had taken on other hikes he had made in the canyon.
In our troop meetings the next few weeks we learned how to make up a light pack. All the equipment we took into the canyon would have to be carried out, and the last 7,000-foot climb would be when we were the most tired. There would be no need for sleeping bags—an air mattress and a sheet or sleeping sack would suffice. Food would be planned for light weight and high energy: instant cereals, jerky, dry soups, etc. (We could have freeze-dried camp packs if we could afford it.) We practiced first aid and other things we might need on the trail and were encouraged to hike a few blocks every day to condition ourselves and make sure our walking shoes were well broken in.
The big day finally came, and we all met at the prescribed place at the crack of dawn. Our transportation arrived—two Volkswagen bugs! That’s the best our leaders could come up with. We crammed ourselves in and headed north.
We stopped in Flagstaff to visit the headquarters of the Grand Canyon Council. They have patches that can be earned for hiking some of the trails in the canyon. First there’s the diamond-shaped patch with a colorful view of the canyon. Then there are chevron-shaped patches to sew around it, such as “The Hermit Trail,” “Supai To River,” and “Rim to Rim to Rim.” (The latter would be about the best 50 miler you could ever make!) We found that we would have to hike the trails first, then apply for the patches.
We entered the park through the south entrance and went directly to Mather Point where most of us got our first view of the canyon. What a view it was! No words can describe it, and pictures can’t do it justice. I’ve heard it said, and really believe it, that the Grand Canyon’s magnitude is impossible to comprehend.
We loaded back in the cars and went to the visitor’s center where our leaders checked our reservations and got our camping permits. Then we drove out to Yaki Point where we loaded our packs and started down the trail. It was steep at first, with several switchbacks; then it straightened out along Yaki Point. Dropping down on Cedar Ridge we encountered our first mules. The famous mules of Grand Canyon carry thousands of visitors on tours of the canyon each season. This, however, was a work detail repairing the trail.
At Cedar Ridge we found hitching racks for the mules, a scheduled rest stop on the way out of the canyon from Phantom Ranch. We also found a glass-covered case protecting an imprint of a large fern leaf in solid rock, no telling how old.
As we dropped down behind Bucky O’Neil Butte, storm clouds started gathering above us. Brother Decker told us that the only shelter on this trail was the tunnel at the suspension bridge over the river. This was over four miles away. The rain came, and we got into our packs for our sheets of plastic. They worked almost as well as raincoats and kept our packs dry too. The rain was really a blessing in disguise. It would have been pretty hot without it. Sometimes the temperature down in the gorge reaches over 120 degrees.
The troop was strung out as we went down over the Tip-Off. Brother Slade had twisted his knee and was taking it easy for a while. We found the tunnel at the river, which opened right onto the suspension bridge, and then we crossed the river, and waited for everyone to catch up. The sun came out and the wet cliffs glistened—a beautiful sight, and the river ran peacefully along below us. It was restful there, and we could have stayed for hours, but we still had to find a place to camp. It would be dark soon.
We followed the trail around the bend to Bright Angel Creek and then on to Phantom Ranch. Brother Decker remarked that another flood had gone through since he was last here; boulders were exposed everywhere. The beautiful new pool that had been so nice to swim in had disappeared, and a lawn had been planted in its place. A deer grazed peacefully nearby.
We found the concession window open at the restaurant. They didn’t have much of a selection, but the tall, cold lemonade sure tasted good.
We went on up the trail and found a beautiful campground. A little bridge over a sparkling brook led to a level area with plenty of grass under large spreading trees. Bright Angel Creek bordered the camp on the west. We just had time to get supper and make up our beds before dark. Most of us were pretty tired and went right off to sleep, but some of the guys amused themselves by tracking bats with their flashlights. They claimed that with the light on them the bats would lose their radar and crash into things.
The sun rises late in the canyon. Breakfast was over, and we had stashed our packs in a shed at Phantom Ranch for a hike up Bright Angel Creek. We didn’t see the sun until we had hiked up through the Box, with sheer rock walls reaching thousands of feet above us, and had come out in a valley inside the canyon. Here, out of sight of the towering cliffs, it was easy to imagine we were in an area of rolling hills rather than the bottom of a mile-deep chasm. Only the South Rim could be seen far in the distance.
To reach Ribbon Falls we had to leave the trail, cross the creek, and wind our way up a side canyon about half a mile: Ribbon Falls is a fantastic place. The water flows out of a cliff about a hundred feet above where we were, falls to a moss-covered ledge about halfway down, then onto the bottom, some falling free and the rest running down a tall, green wall of moss. We climbed up the ledge. We were hot and tired from the long hike, and the water sure looked inviting. We went in, some of us fully clothed, and it was the best shower I’ve ever had! We relaxed around the pool beneath the falls and ate the snack food we’d brought in our pockets. It was so peaceful it seemed like the most out-of-the-way place in the world. We didn’t realize at the time that only a mile or so away, almost directly above us, was the bustling Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim!
We returned to Phantom Ranch and our old campground. The day was hot and the pool in the creek looked like a good place to cool off. Storm clouds were beginning to appear, so we stashed our clothes and packs where they wouldn’t get wet and enjoyed ourselves in the creek. The rain came but we didn’t care. We were comfortable in the water.
We still had a long way to go. It was seven or eight miles and 2,000 feet up to the Indian Gardens Campground where we had reservations to spend the night. We broke camp, policed the area to make sure there was no sign that we had been there, and headed out. We went down past the ranger’s station and crossed the river on the lower bridge, the one that carries the water line from Roaring Spring to Grand Canyon Village. It’s a half mile below the suspension bridge.
The trail ran a mile or so along the river, with each bend giving another spectacular view. The sun was getting low in the west when we turned up the side canyon and started climbing the Bright Angel Trail. Since the campgrounds were always so crowded, we decided to let the senior patrol leader and some of the faster boys go ahead and pick us out a good campsite at Indian Gardens. The rest of us made our way the best we could. A patrol leader was assigned to bring up the rear, and it was way after dark before we reached the camp. In fact, those who went ahead were just starting to organize a search-rescue mission to come look for us. We had hiked about 20 miles that day, with the last two or three miles as hard as you’ll find anywhere.
We made our supper in the dark. Most of us used canned heat, but Brother Slade, a member of the bishopric, had made up a little stove from a tuna fish can with rolled up corrugated cardboard inside and melted paraffin poured over it. It worked fine for the whole trip. He was using it that night, and it made so much light that the Indian camp attendant came over to tell us that campfires weren’t allowed!
If everyone hadn’t been so tired that night, we would have had some star study. I’ve never seen stars as bright as they were that night at Indian Gardens. The sky was perfectly clear with no clouds, and no moon. The only light we could see was the one from the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim, 16 miles away. We didn’t enjoy this beauty very long; sleep came fast.
As we began stirring at daylight the next morning, Brother Decker called a conference. He reviewed each boy on his advancement, then gave the senior patrol leader some assignments on Scoutcraft instruction. This hike wasn’t just for play, he said, after we’d already hiked nearly 30 miles! He went on to mention a few things we could improve on and bragged us up a bit for the way the troop as a whole was conducting itself. Brother Slade also gave us some words of encouragement.
With breakfast over, some of us went on a morning hike with Brother Decker out to Plateau Point. This is where the mule parties go for a look down into the gorge. The rapids were shimmering in the sun, and although we were 2,000 feet above them, we could hear their roar. The colors in the canyon that time in the morning were indescribable. When we returned to the campground, we found everyone ready to leave. We still had 4 1/2 miles and 3,000 feet to climb.
On the trail we met several mule parties, with a dozen or so tourists in each. Most of them were on a half-day trip to Plateau Point. Too bad that they couldn’t go on and see Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Creek as we had. The only way to really see the canyon is to walk! When we met these mule trains, courtesy required us to get clear off the trail out of their way.
We reached the three-mile rest station and found a little stone house with a drinking fountain and a telephone. No one was ready to call for assistance yet, especially after reading the message by the phone that it would cost $30 to have a mule come down for you. There was another rest station much the same as this one 1 1/2 miles farther up. By then it was becoming a race to see who could be first to reach the top.
The snack bar at Bright Angel Lodge was sure a welcome sight. We decided that we liked civilization after all. Our leaders drove out to Yaki Point for Brother Slade’s car. When they returned, we all went to the Yavapai Museum where they have a bank of mounted binoculars that we used to look down on all the places we’d been. It was goodbye for now to the canyon, but we all wanted to go back.
As we traveled homeward that night I reflected on the events of the past few days. We’d had a very good hike. We had learned a lot. (The best way to learn Scouting skills is in actual practice.) We had driven ourselves almost to the limit of our endurance, but we had succeeded. It was a comfortable feeling, one of great satisfaction.
Brother Decker kept working with us each troop meeting. He taught us how to plan our own program, built up our enthusiasm with songs and games, and helped us with advancement. In September we had a Court of Honor where nearly everyone advanced a rank and over 50 merit badges were given. A district camporee followed soon afterwards, an overnight event held at Sugar Loaf Mountain on Sycamore Creek. Brother Decker let us set up camp just the way we wanted it. Our patrol leaders assigned boys to dig the latrine, rope off the wood-chopping area, make the grease pit, etc. It was a Boy Scout troop run by the boys!
Saturday was given to merit badge work. Brother Decker had classes on nature and was gone most of the day. At 3:00 P.M. we had our closing ceremony, and awards were given to the outstanding troops, with suitable prizes. There was one for the troop that showed the most improvement from last year, and others for similar things. When they were ready to announce the first-place winner, we glanced over and saw the prize sitting on the table, a dutch oven—just what we needed most in our troop equipment. And the winning troop was–756!