Each summer, tens of thousands of LDS Scouts head to the hills (or, maybe, the mountains, the caves or the lakes) to enjoy the outdoors, earn a few merit badges and unify their troops and quorums.
The vast majority of Scouts return home with fun memories, rank advancements and, at worst, mild sunburn.
When members of Scout Troop 496 from the Hanford 1st Ward, Hanford California Stake, recently set out to summit Mount Whitney, they fully expected a week of high adventure — but nothing that would claim the attention of the evening news.
Instead, they returned home with a new appreciation for the Scout motto “Be Prepared,” and a deepened love for the power of prayer and the priesthood.
Hanford 1st Ward Bishop Jonathan Buckley said there were early signs that their recent, six-day hike, highlighted by an ascent of California’s highest peak, would be replete with trials and character-revealing moments.
On the first day, one leader realized he had forgotten his sleeping bag and had to return home to get it. A few boys began showing signs of altitude sickness early in their hike. Their equipment didn’t always work and the weather was generally disagreeable. Sometimes the leaders had to push the boys to walk a bit faster to keep to their tight schedule.
But despite their troubles, the troop remained in good spirits. No one whined about the heat or complained about the distance.
“Throughout the whole trip, the boys helped each other out and looked out for one another,” said Bishop Buckley.
Nightly scripture devotionals delivered by the young men also helped keep spirits high.
By day four of their trip the troop had reached the base camp where they would embark upon the rugged trail to the top of Mount Whitney, elevation 14,505 feet.
Bishop Buckley said the summit-bound group of Scouts left base camp a bit later than scheduled. The delay would prove to be a blessing. By the time the first group reached the top of Mount Whitney in mid-afternoon, dark clouds had begun settling over the summit. Soon it began hailing. Lightning was imminent.
“I knew it was time to get off the summit,” said the bishop.
While the group was making its slow, deliberate four-mile descent back to the base camp, they passed a married couple struggling their way to the summit.
“They didn’t look good,” said Bishop Buckley. “I told them they should return to camp, but they chose to continue.”
Two of the troop’s young adult leaders on the camping trip, Brian Phillips, 23, and George Myers, 21, were a short distance behind the bishop and the main group. They encountered the couple a short time later.
The man and woman, who were both in their 30s, were without water and were struggling with the elements and the high altitude. Brian and George recognized they were in trouble.
“And then the woman collapsed,” said the bishop.
The two young Scout leaders shared their remaining water and were able to revive the woman. George ran down the trail to catch up with the others and make emergency preparations at the base camp. Brian began the slow walk down the trail, supporting the woman at his side.
When Bishop Buckley learned that the distressed couple was returning to camp, he knew they would need a warm shelter to spend the evening. He erected a small tent that he had found abandoned a few hours earlier in the day. Then he asked the Scouts and other campers in the area if they would be willing to give up their sleeping bag or other provisions to assist the man and woman.
“Everyone was willing to help, the boys really rose to the occasion,” he said.
The bishop also learned from one of the campers that a nearby, vacant search-and-rescue supply tent contained a pair of sleeping bags. By the time Brian and the couple reached the base camp, a tent and two all-weather sleeping bags were waiting.
After providing the man and woman with food, water and shelter, Bishop Buckley asked the couple if they would like a priesthood blessing to help restore their strength and spirit.
“The man looked at me and asked, ‘You’d do that for a Catholic?’ “
The bishop smiled and answered, “Of course, I’d do it for anyone.”
The Melchizedek Priesthood holders from the troop gathered about the man and woman and gave each a blessing.
By morning, the weather was much improved — and so was the couple. The trail leading to their car was just a few miles out and they were strong enough to walk out on their own. Still, a few of the boys accompanied them for the first couple of miles. The couple thanked the entire troop, adding that they would be forever grateful to Brian, who is not a Church member but a lifelong Scouter who enjoys working with the troop.
The Scouts’ selfless efforts to assist the couple caught the attention of the local newspapers and television stations.
In their final camp devotional, Bishop Buckley saluted the boys — and their leaders — for their willingness to serve and care for others in times of personal discomfort and distress.
“When I looked at the boys — all future missionaries — I knew that the Church had a bright future,” he said.