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Leading Boy Scouts To Their Death

August 9, 2017

Jeffery Julian is dead. He was 17 years old. He didn't die from drugs, or alcohol. He was in good health, a football player at Salem, UT High School. He wasn't engaged in any risky behavior. He died simply because he took a hike in the mountains last week. His scout troop hiked up into the High Unitas in Northern Utah. He most likely died of altitude sickness.

Sarah Beadle is also dead. She was 38. She wasn't a Boy Scout, of course. She was an emergency room doctor. She also went for a hike. She went with her daughter and nephew on a hike in Grand Canyon National Park two weeks ago. She died within 3/4 of a mile of Phantom Ranch in the park. She ran out of water and got lost. the children survived.

Three sisters are in the hospital, a 7 and an 8 year old in Salt Lake City and a two year old in Evanston, WY. They were fishing in the High Unitas. The storm came on them quickly and before they could get to a less exposed area, the lightning hit. All three are expected to recover.

Jhonatan Gonzalez considers himself lucky to be alive. Jhonatan is a 40 year old man from Hawaii who nearly died along with several other hikers in Zion's National Park in Southern Utah last week. They were hiking in an area of the park called "The Narrows." It's a slot canyon with a gentle river in the bottom and sheer sandstone walls on both sides. He, along with several other hikers were caught in a flash flood. They formed a human chain across the waist high water to help each other to safety.

Pay attention to this next part. If you do it wrong you might die.

I joined the Boy Scouts when I was eleven years old. I went on to get my Eagle and stayed involved with the troop until I turned 18. I never once remember a scout leader telling me that the activity we were about to engage in might result in my death. And I went on a lot of campouts.

I'm an Assistant Scoutmaster in our troop. We are a very active troop. We go camping eleven months each year. I use the above phrase with our boys at least 3-4 times per year. The boys hear it a lot, but they also take it seriously. See, in September we will take our boys on a overnight backpacking trip to the High Unitas. In June we took them to Zion's and hiked The Narrows. We don't hike the Grand Canyon, but we do plenty of hiking in Utah's canyons and desert.

My sons are 14 and 17. They no longer go on campouts with me and the "younger" scouts. But, their groups are equally active. And face similar dangers. As I was reading the online comments about Sarah Beadle, the ER doctor who died in Arizona, I saw several people questioning why she would even be out there. It was 100 degrees that day with little shade on the trail she was hiking.

Why do we put ourselves and our boys at risk? While we do everything we can to train our boys and make sure they are prepared for the wilderness, the fact remains that we are taking them into a dangerous situation. Jeffery Julian, the young man who died of altitude sickness, did everything right. He followed all the rules of safe hiking. And while the High Unitas are about 7,000 feet above sea level, his home town of Salem is 4600 feet. And, as an athlete, he was acclimatized to the elevation.

No leader wants to lose a boy. We had a case several years ago where a young man on a winter camp got frostbite and nearly died of hypothermia. We scaled back snow camps for several years. We do everything to reduce the risk, but we cannot lower it to zero. Is any risk too high, if the result might be death?

I've watched my five sons go through the scouting program. We do the same campouts at the same time each year. I watch 12 year olds struggle to make it up the trail. I've seen my share of tears as boys think the task is greater than they can manage. A year later, I watch those same boys lead the group, pushing us all to keep up with them. It's not just their bodies that get stronger, it's the knowledge that they can do hard things. And they know they can, not because we tell them, but because they experience it.

The second reason we take our boys out into the wilderness is to help them understand that life is full of challenges. But, if you are prepared you don't need to fear. Again, watching my sons, I'm gratified when I see them tackling difficult challenges. They are more confident in school and in their daily lives.

Thirdly, they learn that actions have consequences. We would never intentionally put the boys at risk. But, when we tell them that they need to bring enough water, and they run out, they quickly learn that their choices and their actions have an immediate impact on their lives. With water, because it's so precious and essential, we, as leaders, always bring extra. But, the boys have to come and ask for it. They learn the value of planning ahead.

Every month, I consider the difference in my own camping experiences growing up in Western Washington and the experience that our scouts have camping in the desert. It makes me extra careful to ensure I'm teaching them the skills they need to survive. And I remind myself that I need to pay attention. If I do this part wrong we might die.

Below are links to the stories about people I mentioned above.

Jeffery Julian

Sarah Beadle

Three sisters

Jhonatan Gonzalez

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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