Philmont 2000 Heros

Subject:    Philmont 2000 Heros
Author: "Ron Butts" <>
Date:       7/26/00 10:52 PM
For 2 years we planned and worked and trained for what is considered to be one of the pinnacles of Boy Scouting, a Philmont trek. Little did we know that this high adventure would turn to high drama.

We were hiking the switchbacks that wind their way from Cypher's Mine camp to Mt. Phillips camp in the western edge of the Philmont Scout Ranch. It was our 5th day on the trail and undoubtedly our toughest hike so far. We had climbed up from the creek at Cypher's Mine at about 9,000 ft., passing through Thunder Ridge at 10,400 ft. on our way to Comanche Peak. We had pushed almost 2,000 feet of vertical climb in a little over 2 hours.

At 11:30 a call came out from the back of the crew to take another break. Breaks were coming more often at this altitude. Our goal was to reach Mt. Phillips by lunch. We had heard of some bear incidents there and were not allowed to camp, but we figured it would be a noteworthy place to stop, eat and take some pictures. Unfortunately, our pace was not going to get us there by lunch. We decided to break out the cheese and crackers.

I was leading this expedition because I was the slowest and most out of shape of the crew, and I knew we would not rush the group with a speed bump like me at the head. My fellow scouters informed me later that the smart money had been on me to drop first. As I sat and drank from my water bottle, someone in the crew yelled for me to come to the rear of the line.

Our crew consisted of 8 boys and three adults. One of the adults was a doctor. One of the boys was my son, Michael. It was these two people who captured my attention for the next 15 minutes. I walked back down the trail a few yards to find my son sitting on a rock clutching his chest. He was complaining of chest pains and tingling in his arms. My limited first aid knowledge immediately told me 'heart attack'. But in a 16 year-old? The doctor said, "No, it can't be a heart attack. He's too young and too healthy. And besides, his physical would have given us some indication of a coronary problem." We mentally ran through the list of possible alternatives. Acute mountain sickness, hypothermia, collapsed lung. Nothing seemed to make sense.

In the meantime, Michael's condition worsened. He was doubled over in pain and shivering uncontrollably. He was complaining that he was cold, yet his extremities were warm and his heart rate seemed normal. We had him wrapped in fleece jackets, a space blanket and his sleeping bag. No more guessing. We quickly dispatched 4 of the boys in our crew; Mark (our crew leader), John, Max and Steven to run back to Cypher's Mine to the nearest radio to get immediate help.

The remaining three boys; Chad, Chris and Dustin helped make Michael as comfortable as possible. They provided the space blankets from their packs and erected a rain fly over his head for shade. All we could do now is wait.

During this time, another crew came up behind us. Rather than pass by, they stopped and asked if they could help. This generous gesture resulted in one of the most selfless acts of compassion I have ever been witness to. On the trail at Philmont, a crew tries to get an early start each morning because the next camp is usually a good hike away and you try to get there early to make sure you can set up camp and still have time for the program that awaits. Any unnecessary stops can ruin your activities for the day. It was at this point that we decided we could wait no longer. Michael had to get off the mountain.

A couple of the other adults produced a cell phone and tried to scramble the remaining distance to the top of Comanche Peak to get a signal. They could not. This second crew (706K2 Troop 236 from Dayton, Ohio) dropped their packs and lunches and hurriedly fashioned a litter from a rain fly and two downed trees. They loaded Michael on to the makeshift stretcher and down the trail they began. What took us 45 minutes to climb would now demand almost 2 hours of drudgery.

The trail, although sufficient for hikers laden with packs, proved to be more of a dangerous obstacle course for eight men and boys and a stretcher. Rocks and trees had to be navigated, and the trail fell dangerously away on the down hill side. Boys and men scrambled and struggled for 2 painstaking hours to transport a stranger to safety. The brutal irony of the switchback is that you can see the end of the trail long before you actually reach it. These rescuers shuffled back and forth dropping out when they could no longer continue. Crying out for relief from others who were already weary from their previous turn at the side of their frail cargo. At one point one of the supports broke, requiring yet another person to walk backwards down the trail while supporting my son's head.

Just when I was certain these heroes could go no further, a crew from the Philmont health lodge arrived. The scouts put Michael on the ground and took a well deserved break. The doctor checked Michael's vital signs and it was time to resume the march. As if by providence, a third crew arrived on the scene (710B3 Troop 1 from Madisonville, Kentucky). They said that they had passed our four boys on the way down the hill and that they had dropped their packs at Thunder Ridge and hurried up the trail to see if they could help. They carried my son the rest of the way down the trecherous path to the waiting vehicle at Thunder Ridge.

A one hour 4x4 ride followed by a 45 minute ambulance ride found us in the Miner's Colfax Medical Center in Raton, New Mexico. Michael was stabilized and we spent the night. The rest of the story includes the 6 day information blackout wherein the crews that had saved my son's life never knew of the result of their heroic deed. Two weeks later, after a visit to the cardiologist and a battery of blood, stress and ultrasonic tests, we learn that Michael's incident, although traumatic and potentially life threatening on the mountain, was induced by an esophageal spasm. His breathing system practically shut down.

I am indebted to the boys and the men of Troops 1, 236 and 386. Your selfless act has inspired every person to whom I have related this story. I have contacted your council office and have recommended you for recognition by your council executive, your region and the national office. It is not nearly enough thanks for what you have done for me and my family. When I left you on the mountain, I gave a prayer to our crew leader to share with you:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rain fall soft upon your trail,
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

I hope to see you all on the trail again soon.

God bless you,

Ron Butts

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