Driving to the trailhead I wondered if we’d packed enough cold gear. Snow had been reported at Wilburn Ridge with an overnight low in the 20’s. My buddy and I have a crew of eight high school kids with a collective playlist of nearly 10K songs but did they pack enough insulation?

My concerns are dismissed once we reach Grayson Highlands. Our midnight arrival stirs a Park Ranger who provides an adequate shake-down of the party. She’s impressed to see a group of young people, 4 girls, 4 guys and two dads, out in the woods. She also cautions us to be careful – “Deer season opens tomorrow at sunrise.”

After finding gloves, hats and headlamps we hoist our packs and head north to connect with the Appalachian Spur Trail and over Wilburn Ridge. Our party carries a variety of packs – the majority being Osprey Packs. Two boys lead the way as they’ve hiked this area with their Scout Troop. The girls help with reading the map. Everyone is excited to get on the trail and enjoys the night hike experience. Jokes are passed down the line as we discuss who brought along a blaze orange vest and who brought the antlers.

I kid you not, a rifle shot awakens me just before dawn. Unable to return to sleep I decide to crawl out of a cozy MSR Carbon Reflex 2 and explore the area where we’d chosen to camp. The shelter was occupied when we passed it at 1am so we hiked a bit further before pitching our tents. The babbling of Big Wilson Creek has me digging out the Platypus Gravity Works (video demo here) as I do my best to appear non-deer-like making my way to the creek. Water filters as I fire up the MSR Pocket Rocket and take in the sunrise with a cup of coffee.

The next two days with the crew were great. These young people share a profound connection with this wilderness and each other. Away from our busy city life we can live in the moment – present and connected to the beauty all around. We talk about how the most difficult part of the trip is returning home. They want to do this again – soon – and bring along more friends. We all have a new sense of adventure – maybe it comes from the from the night hike, or stream crossing, or maybe from meeting the hunter who shared his story – but that sense of adventure remains with us long after we return home. Kids these days are eager to get outside and share that adventure with others. They are the next generation of conservationists and it was a privilege to join them on this trip.

Thanks to the folks at Outdoor Sports Marketing and my skillet carrying friend, Blake, who help to make this and many other Scout and Youth adventures possible.