Adjusting a Trek and Backpacking Merit Badge

Hiking boots in an outdoor activity

A reader sent in this question:

The Backpacking Merit Badge Requirement 11 states “Write a plan for a backpacking trek of at least five days using at least three different campsites and covering at least 30 miles. ” My son attended a 12-day Trek at Philmont this past summer. He created 3 different backpacking trip plans. Two 3-day and one 5-day. As it happens on his second 3-day trip he fell (over 8 feet) and had a concussion. He was taken on day 6 to the infirmary. Kept under observation on day 7, and returned to the trek first thing in the morning on day 8. He was dropped off near the campsite were the rest of his crew was. He backpacked a short distance to camp. His crew had arrived the day before to the campsite. They spent day 8 there and left the next morning. Philmont actually changed their trek to arrive a day earlier due to my son’s fall and they realizing that the area that they sent them was dangerous. Now his merit badge counselor refuses to approve his 5 days for the backpacking merit badge. He says that they didn’t backpack that day. Mind you they hiked 5 miles that day (8) alone doing activities in the campsite. Plus, from day 9-12, they all backpacked every day. They stayed on 5 different campsites those 5 days (more than is required). In fact, the mileage for those last 5 days alone was over 50 miles, which is more that is required. I understand that the purpose of the backpacking merit badge is to learn backpacking skills, but where does it say that they had to backpack every single day of those 5 days? They were already in Philmont, backpacking and staying in tents. I think the counselor is missing the point of the requirement and adding more to it. They couldn’t pre-approve the change because of poor cell phone reception in the area, and it was more important to make sure every one was safe. Please advise. My son is very frustrated. He worked very hard to earn this merit badge, and it is not like a 5-day trek is so easy to plan (properly staffed to make sure it is safe and adults taking vacation days.)

In cases like this where you feel like the counselor is asking more that is required by a reasonable reading of the requirements I say first go to your district advancement chair. There are usually a lot of details to consider.

A large question in my head is about what it means to “take the trek you had planned”. If something in the plan doesn’t work out – for example there is an obstacle and you have to take a different route – then that would be reasonable to do that. In the case of something being unsafe, you would definitely need to make adjustments to your plan on the spot.

So I’d say talk to the district advancement chair. I don’t usually encourage just switching merit badge counselors to make things easier, but in extreme cases that is also sometimes an option.

Readers, what do you think?

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