Boy Scout Troop 135′s dramatic rescues
By MELODY KARPINSKI / Santa Rosa Correspondent
It began with the news of a missing backpack.
Five boys from Santa Rosa-based Boy Scout Troop 135 were on day 10 of a 16-day backpacking trip in Yosemite in July, along with their scoutmaster and two other adults.
News of the missing backpack filtered down the trail, as did news that the hiker who owned the pack had also been missing for three days, after disappearing from the camp he shared with two others.
The boys were eager to help and kept a lookout as they went, alerting scoutmaster Allen Kezer to the situation as they set up camp for the night.
Later that evening, scout leader Doug Lewis hiked down the trail and stumbled upon the missing hiker. Dehydrated and delirious, he lay flopped across the trail. The man was unsteady but could still walk, and Lewis quickly helped him back to camp.
The boys rushed over to give him food and water from their supplies. Kezer and former scoutmaster Bill Cummings walked out of camp to call the rangers via satellite.
“He was very dehydrated,” said Kyle Heien, one of the scouts on the trip, “but the rangers came out pretty fast.” They took over the hiker’s care, freeing the boys to continue with their trip.
A few days later, the boys were told that the hiker suffered another collapse and was evacuated from the park by helicopter, but suffered no permanent damage.
“I’m very proud of the boys. They did a great job,” said Steve Sapers, assistant scoutmaster.
The Boy Scout oath includes the pledge “to help others at all times,” a sentiment Troop 135 takes seriously. Since 1995, members have had three chances to assist hikers in trouble.
That year, a group of scouts hiking on a trail above Calistoga encountered a woman who had injured her leg. The scouts and adults on that trip placed an emergency splint on the woman’s leg to immobilize the break. Soon after, further help arrived and she was evacuated out of the park.
In 2000, the troop was hiking in the Trinity Alps and found a woman who had broken her ankle.
“I had never used a signal mirror before, and that day I used it twice,” said Cummings, who was on both the 2000 and 2012 trips. After he successfully signaled a horseback ranger, the woman received medical assistance.
“The kids just loved having the chance to go into rescue mode,” he said. “The lady was nice enough to send us a check afterwards.”
The troop primarily focuses on backpacking and outdoor wilderness trips, although no one really knows how it started.
“Boys decide to join a particular troop for many reasons, but most who join Troop 135 expect a backpacking theme,” said Kezer. “When you realize something works and the scouts thrive on it, you don’t change it. (You) only expand on it.”
Since 1992, members have volunteered at the park’s museum and Indian village and have worked on conservation-themed Leave No Trace projects.
“It’s nice to get away from society and get out into the back country,” said Heien, 15, a Montgomery High School football player. “I have a pretty busy life, so it helps me slow down.”
Heien recently completed a term as the troop’s Senior Patrol Leader.
“I think it’s a great thing for these boys to be exposed to the beauty of the outdoors, to begin to get this in their DNA,” said Sapers. “The boys become more than tourists. They become part of the park, and it becomes part of their lives.”
The scouts just returned from Yosemite, where they were awarded Youth Volunteer Group of the Year for 2012. That award puts them in the running for the national Youth Volunteer Group of the Year award, which will be determined later this year.
“Yosemite National Park loves us due to our low impact and respect for nature and the trails,” said Kezer. “I can truly say that our scouts leave every campsite better than they found it.”