On treks from the mountains to the sea to more than 1,700 feet underground, Troop 315 discovers you gotta hang tough when you search for adventure in paradise.
Clockwise from top right: assistant Scoutmaster Ross Cole cools off in the bay at Salt Pond Beach; Ross Alan Cole, Josh Simonds, Ross Cole, and Scoutmaster Charles Hazard (from left) rock on inside the Thurston Lava Tube; the beach boys get ready for a refreshing swim at Hanakapiai Beach on the Na Pali Coast; a submerged 11-year-old Ryan Hazard at Queen’s Bath; the big valley from the Pihea Trail; Hazard and company go slow hiking the Kalalau Trail; Scout Hunter Reed gets in his licks during the boys’ first encounter with shave ice.
Amazing things happen when Scout troops think ahead. Take Baltimore-area Troop 315. If they hadn’t worked, saved, and mapped out their trip to Hawaii for two years, they might never have wound up emerging tired, sore, and covered in mud from the world’s highest swamp.
For this group of active Scouts and Scouters from Reisterstown, Md., that could be their definition of a good time in any wilderness location. But did we mention that the world’s highest swamp is on the island of Kauai?
Muddied but unbowed, Bob Sammarco on the Pihea Trail.
The boys and adults were prepared. They regularly hike sections of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania and climb Old Rag Mountain in Virginia. And some of the troop’s older guys have been to Alaska, Florida Sea Base, and Northern Tier.
Still, the difficulty of the swamp hike surprised most of the adults—and pretty much all of the boys, who ranged in age from 11 to 17. “That was a lot tougher than I expected, with the mud and the climbing,” said 13-year-old Jared Sammarco. “But it was cool to be in a real jungle.”
Who could blame them if they felt ambivalent after spending almost five hours on the strenuous Pihea and Alakai Swamp trails? Hikers seeking a challenge favor these two trails for their difficulty and their beauty. And the weather certainly merits consideration.
Though the Scout group chose a sunny day for their trek, permitting a marvelous view of the entire seven-mile sweep of the majestic Kalalau Valley, this region is one of the wettest places on Earth. Located about 4,000 feet up Mount Waialeale, the trails receive an average annual rainfall of nearly 450 inches, or almost 38 feet. Their shorts told a messy story, returning with dusky crimson splotches that recorded every slip and slide.
A soon-to-be discarded pair of red-dirt shorts.
Some descents were easier navigated as sliding boards rather than on foot. “I think these shorts are trashed,” said one adult as he was pulled up after sliding down a slope.
Assistant Scoutmaster Ross Cole pointed out at least one silver lining. “You know,” he said, “people on the mainland pay good money for Hawaii’s red-dirt clothing.” That potential to make a fortune like the manufacturers of Hawaii’s Red Dirt Shirts didn’t keep the adult from tossing his shorts into a trash barrel back at camp.
“It was tough,” said Scoutmaster Charles Hazard of the trip’s first hike. “But I was impressed by how well the younger Scouts handled it. And I don’t think I’ve been anywhere in the world as beautiful.”
Both the day’s exertions and embarrassments were laid to rest (almost) that afternoon as the travelers gathered in the gentle breeze and warm sunshine outside JoJo’s for arguably the best shave ice in the islands. An island institution, located in the ocean-side village of Waimea, JoJo’s is an unassuming wood-frame shop advertising 60 flavors of syrups and ice cream. Luckily, everyone had plenty of time to decide while waiting in a line that typically snakes out to the sidewalk.
They’re not “snow cones,” as a leader instructed the Scouts—the difference being that shave ice consists of thin slivers, whereas snow cones use crushed chunks. Semantics aside, at least one satisfied customer discovered that shave ice with a generous dousing of raspberry syrup and a scoop of macadamia nut ice cream in the bottom of the cup goes a long way toward easing tired muscles, sore joints, and the loss of a perfectly good pair of shorts.
Above: Located in the upscale Kauai community of Princeville, Queen’s Bath offers the relative safety of a swimming pool with the excitement of a saltwater swim. From a lava ledge (lower right), Scouts and Scouters can plunge into the pond while others swim, snorkel, or just relax on the rocks.
Despite Hawaii’s celebrated laid-back lifestyle, not every visitor succumbs to the “hang loose” mentality promoted by the islands’ ubiquitous hand gesture. Known as the “shaka sign”—fold down your three middle fingers and wave your thumb and pinkie—it’s easy enough to pick up. But, no surprise, it failed to induce any slacker behavior among the guys in this troop.
True, the complexities of transporting 12 boys and four adults more than 4,800 miles, then creating an itinerary that would keep them excited and engaged, might have been a good excuse for taking it easy. But the troop had something different in mind. What the guys needed was a hand sign for “hang tough.”
From the night in late 2007, when Scout Ross Alan Cole first used a PowerPoint presentation to sell the boys and their parents on making the trip, to the day they finally touched down in Honolulu last summer, they expected some action. “This was not a vacation,” explained Ross’s mom, Joanna Cole, the committee chair who acted as the trip’s treasurer, primary planner, and travel guide. “We wanted adventure.”
Aligning themselves with serious hikers who rank Kauai’s Alakai Swamp Trail, the Kalalau Trail (on the Na Pali Coast), and the Canyon Trail that winds through Waimea Canyon, among the islands’ finest, Troop 315 chose to tackle all three. “The coast hike was more rugged than the swamp hike, and the heat was more intense,” said Hazard. “But though the Canyon Trail was easier than either of the others, it was probably the riskiest since you’re hiking on the edge of an 800-foot cliff.”
So why would a troop that craved such adventurous treks make its first stop at Pearl Harbor? Simple. The group wanted to see the memorial to the USS Arizona, the battleship sunk during Japan’s attack on Dec. 7, 1941, and the World War II-era USS Missouri, where Japanese leaders officially surrendered almost four years later.
Oceanside camping at Kauai’s Haena Beach Park offers some quiet moments to play in the water (close to shore because of strong currents), hike to the area’s wet tunnels, prepare and eat some hearty, camp-cooked fare, and drift off to sleep while a local camper strums his ukelele.
In particular, committee member Bob Sammarco, who made the trip with his son Jared, felt drawn to the sites by something other than just the significant roles each ship played in U.S. history. “My dad was stationed here when the attack took place, serving in the Navy. So the Arizona tour was very moving. It was good to see the exhibits and learn something about the war. It gave me and my son a connection that otherwise we wouldn’t have had.”
On the Missouri, Troop 315 met up with the Aloha Council’s Troop 135, a group the Maryland unit had contacted for advice and assistance during its trip-planning process. The boys exchanged neckerchiefs, participated in flag ceremonies, and looked on as a new ensign received her commission.
“Right after we raised the flag on the ship, we could hear the National Anthem playing all over the naval station,” Scout Ross Alan Cole said. “If we hadn’t stayed overnight on the ship and raised the flag the next morning, we never would have experienced that. It was really neat to know that everyone was stopping and turning to face the flag and salute.”
Just the sort of once-in-a-lifetime experience each one of these travelers had hoped Hawaii would offer. Though such high hopes didn’t prevent cost from becoming an issue from the get-go. “We had made high-adventure trips before, and they had cost a lot of money,” Joanna Cole said. “But as soon as we mentioned Hawaii, everybody said ‘Oh, no! It’s going to cost too much.’”
She started working up a cost analysis, building in flexibility for fluctuations in airfare based on the changing prices of fuel as their travel date approached. The Scouts did their part, too, earning hundreds of dollars selling programs and cleaning up trash at equestrian events at Shawan Downs, an arrangement brokered by the unit’s chartered organization: the Kiwanis Club of Reisterstown.
Scout Neel Patel watches his step on the Na Pali Coast’s Kalalau Trail.
They also washed cars and, for the princely sum of $8 an hour, cleared paths at a park in nearby Owings Mills, Md., as well as got a leg up from a local merchant. “An Outback Steakhouse cooked dinner at the firehouse where the troop meets and allowed the boys to sell tickets,” Sammarco said. “For a nominal cost, the restaurant, in turn, gave most of the proceeds back to us.”
“Initially, we thought it was going to be $1,600 per person, but then it looked like $1,800,” Joanna Cole said. “Our troop does pretty well raising funds, so we knew that if some people couldn’t come up with the extra $200 before we went, we could make it up with the fundraisers we would have when we got back. We weren’t going to leave anybody out because they couldn’t get that extra $200.”
The troop treasurer tracked the progress of payments and sent monthly reminders to both the parents and boys, so they would feel a larger sense of responsibility. “It’s easy to procrastinate,” she said, “and all of a sudden have $1,500 due for the trip.”
Originally, about 20 kids signed up and about 10 parents indicated they wanted to go. Of course, not everyone made the trip. “But not everyone who dropped out did so because they couldn’t, or wouldn’t spend the $1,800 per person,” Joanna Cole stressed, though finances did play a role in the troop’s eventual decision to spend most of its time on Kauai. “Kauai gave us the most for our money.”
After a short flight from Oahu to Lihue, the leaders picked up their rented 12-passenger van and full-size sedan, loaded up everyone and their baggage, and bought supplies from a local discount food outlet before heading to the Aloha Council’s Camp Alan Faye.
The Kilauea Volcano does its thing, producing a nighttime light show for the gathering at Kalapana.
Located in a tropical-forest clearing in Kokee State Park, a couple of miles from the Waimea Canyon overlook, Alan Faye served as the troop’s base camp for the majority of their activities. For a donation to the Aloha Council, troops coming to Hawaii can reserve facilities that include a boxcar-like barracks for the boys and for the adults, a two-story wooden lodge with three bedrooms, one bath, living area, and full kitchen. It’s a secluded spot that, as Ross Cole put it, “Lets Scouts be Scouts.”
Shortly before the troop’s departure from Baltimore, the Aloha Council announced a new rental plan for the camp. It resulted in a total cost of $273 for the troop to stay seven nights. The Maryland Scouts also made a $150 donation directly to Hawaii’s Troop 133 because its camp coordinator had helped so much during the planning stages.
To determine which of the adults could go, organizers made some rules. Adults had to:
- register with the BSA.
- comply with timely payment of funds.
- complete the necessary training courses.
- hang with the boys.
“Initially, we had some parents saying, ‘I’ll go to dinner while the boys go…’” Joanna Cole said. “And I was saying, ‘No, no. If you’re going on this trip you have to be committed to doing what the boys are doing.’ We were also concerned that if we had too many parents on the trip, they might dictate the activities.”
So the committee limited the number of adults, made it clear that its decision was final, and gave the boys a lot of say in the activities. “We let the boys choose what they wanted to do, for the most part,” she said, “let them take as much control as possible. We just helped them organize it.”
Each wave that pounds the rocky ledges at Spouting Horn sends water gushing from the blowhole, producing some colorful special effects.
A fact that might help explain why the five-day itinerary for Kauai included those tough but cool hikes. Also, why they planned downtime—if you consider “downtime” snorkeling at Queen’s Bath, a natural saltwater tide pool, and around a barrier reef at Kee Beach; playing keep-away football in the surf at Lydgate Park Beach; and camping out one night a mere 60 feet from the ocean at Haena Beach, where the group set up their tents “positioned perfectly for a beautiful sunset and a beautiful sunrise,” said Hazard.
And though it might seem that all Troop 315 did in Hawaii was race around from one sweaty or waterlogged activity to the next, not so. They spent plenty of time working together as a team and forming bonds that carried over into the ongoing life of the troop.
“In that completely different environment, there were no stebacks at all,” Scoutmaster Hazard said recently. “And there were no complaints. The boys built up closer relationships that you can see now in how well they work together in troop meetings. I wish the whole troop could have gone.”
For its last two days in the islands, Troop 315 relocated to the Big Island of Hawaii. Though rain thwarted their plans to camp out in Volcanoes National Park, the adult leaders arranged two nights in the park’s cozy A-frame quarters.
After an early morning stop at the park visitors’ center had acquainted everyone with the lay of the land, they headed out Chain of Craters Road to observe the vast expanse of desolate, lava-covered acres and hike where, since 1983, lava has covered 10 miles of the highway. “It felt like we were on another planet,” Ross Alan said.
That hot, two-hour trek across a hard-lava field made a subsequent visit to the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum a welcome breather—the air-conditioning cooled them off, and the buildings’ bank of seismographs showed no imminent activity in the adjacent caldera.
Despite the sign, this wasn’t the end of the road for Scoutmaster Charles Hazard, Scouts Hunter Reed and Tyler Cole, and assistant Scoutmaster Ross Cole.
As impressive as that was, though, 13-year-old Tyler Cole cited the Thurston Lava Tube as his favorite experience. A third of a mile down inside the cave-like tunnel, the less-claustrophobic Scouts and Scouters switched off their flashlights and received a shock to the senses few people experience. “It was cool to be in totaldarkness,” Tyler said.
That evening, at Kalapana, they watched (from a safe distance) molten lava from the Kilauea Volcano hissing into the sea. “You couldn’t match those colors in an oil painting,” Hazard said. “Even the photos I took didn’t duplicate the colors.”
For sure, the high-adrenaline activities were crucial to the trip. But assistant Scoutmaster Cole believed that many more of their lasting impressions were derived from just “being there.”
“The best thing the boys got,” he said, “was a sense of what life is like in another part of the world, in a place with a diverse range of people, food, and cultures.”
They’ll remember the beauty of the mountains and the beaches, seeing the 50-foot high plume of water shooting from the blowhole at Spouting Horn, chatting with locals and other visitors while shopping for cheap souvenirs in the village of Hanalei, and feasting on roast pig and poi at a genuine flaming-sword-and-hula luau at Smith’s Tropical Paradise.
After all, how often do even the most active Scouts get the opportunity to learn the hula from real Hawaiian hula dancers?
And though it might be accurate to conclude that Troop 315’s trip gave the boys a greater appreciation for what Scouting can bring into their lives, the kids probably would never express it that way.
They’d probably sum it up much like Scout Dany Annous: “The awesomest thing that happened to me was just getting to see everything,” Dany said. “It was just an amazing, unforgettable trip, and I’d definitely do it again. But then I’d go on a trip with my Scout troop to pretty much anywhere.”
That’s what happens when Scout troops think ahead.
John Clark is the senior editor of Scouting magazine.
Troop 315’s Itinerary
Tips for Troop Travel