Troop 15 Backpacking Skills Camp, McGee Creek NSRA, OK

Boy Scout Troop 15 had a great weekend at McGee Creek National Scenic Recreation Area (NSRA), Oklahoma 09-11 May 2014.

Hike Summary: Around 12 miles around a beautiful and pretty much unpopulated hilly area. Good training ground.

I posted photos from this camp on my Google+ site.

This is my second visit to the NSRA. The GSOK-West HAT had Intermediate Backpacking at the NSRA back in October; it was a great experience. I recommended the NSRA for our backpacking skills camp.

Our objective was to introduce the Scouts to some essential skills. We ate 100% trail-type food. First breakfast was oatmeal and applesauce, lunch was PB&J with trail bars, and dinner was dehydrated meals. Second breakfast was Pop Tarts.

The other skills were how to potty in the backcountry using catholes, and water treatment. The first was accomplished using AP carried by the boys, and a number of trowels, and the second using a couple varieties of water filter pumps. I also wanted to work on topo map reading skills with the boys.

And of course we needed to hike.

We got to camp around 2200 Friday and got set up in the wall tents the boys are used to, pretty standard. The next morning we got up and had our backpackers style breakfast of oatmeal and applesauce, packed up our daypacks, and headed out.

We started on the South Rim trail and had a nice walk with a little uphill. We took a break on the Bugaboo Canyon Overlook, and made it to the junction with the North Rim trail easily. We had lunch at the Wildcat Canyon junction. After lunch and a rest, we headed down. Most of the boys were short of water (as they should have been), so we stopped at Wildcat Creek and had them pump water.

We resumed hiking, and kept going generally west-southwest. We found another place to pump water, and noticed a lake to our left. This was great, except there wasn’t supposed to be a lake to our left. We hiked to a trail junction, and spurred a bit north, realized we didn’t need to be there, and headed back south/SSW. We knew we were, if not lost, a bit off our desired trail location. After some map and topo work, we realized we needed to go back NNE, and we bushwhacked our way to trail we recognized.

We got back to where we recognized Wildcat Canyon, headed up to a flat area, went a little back, and then struck off SSE. It took about 20 minutes of hiking through the wilds, but we ran into a trail. We were pretty sure we needed to head ESE on this trail, and a scouting (literally!) party was dispatched, finding the right trail in about 10 minutes. We had a short rest at this trail junction, then headed on south, pumping water one more time, before getting to camp around 1815.

Now, all this annoyed me greatly. There were several things I should have done. First, when I printed the paper maps of the proposed hike route, I took all the other trails off the topo map. I should not have done that; maybe the proposed trail should have been in a different color, but the rest of the trails should be left on the map.

I carried my GPS, but I didn’t download the map of the proposed route into the unit. I could have easily noted we were off-route, and navigated back to the route easily.

I checked the GPS battery before we started, and thought I had enough battery to complete the hike. With the extra time on the trail, this was a bad assumption. I *had* spare batteries in my bag, in camp. No one else had AA-powered devices, like flashlights. So the GPS died when we were backtracking, and I ended up leading a bushwhack by dead reckoning. It worked, the skill is there, but it didn’t have to happen.

We totally missed a trail junction. I’m talking 20 people here. I don’t know if there is a sign, or if the trail is faded, but I should have realized that we needed to be going SSE instead of N, NW, W, or WSW.

The trail we were on was pretty obviously new. It had rock cairns (the only place I’ve seen those in the NRSA).

So we were never in any danger, but we were way behind schedule. We were thinking we would be back in camp around 1600, and got back at 1815.

We went ahead and took the boys to the beach at McGee Creek State Park, and they had a great time swimming. When we got back to camp at 2115, the boys elected to switch the dry and fast breakfast with the rehydrated and slightly slower dinner.

Everybody slept really well! The next morning everyone had various trail dinners, including Chili Mac. We packed up and got out quickly.

The basic hike I had proposed was about 7.5 miles, and with side hikes on the Whiskey Flats spur and the Overlook Loop, it would have clocked in at 10.1 miles. The actual distance was around 12.5-13.5 miles.

The area was beautiful, the weather perfect. The Scouts were cheerful and looked after each other. This is a GREAT place for a hike. There are at least two trails that need to be marked (the other was a trail running along the bottom of Bugaboo Canyon that we noticed last time).

Couple Notes

There was good water at both Big and Little Bugaboo Creeks, Wildcat Canyon Creek, the lake, and Bog Spring Creek. We had a couple ticks, but no bug issues.

We and an RV were the only campers at the trailhead area. I wish the management would institute a site reservation for those who call and get a permit. There seems to be only about five campsites there, and I would hate to roll up at 2100 with 20 Scouts and find no campsite.

Recommended!

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