What started out as a great father-son adventure one August morning turned into a quick lesson in emergency preparedness for two Arrowmen last year. Charlie and Hap Stokes, Brotherhood members from Lakeview, Minnesota, were hiking up the 14,259-foot Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado last August when they had to put their Scout skills to use. The two had just completed two weeks at Philmont and were ready to take on a mountain that Hap had wanted to climb since he was a boy. They brought plenty of water, extra clothes and rain gear and even started early enough in the day to reach the peak before the daily thunderstorms hit. “We did everything right,” said Hap of his and his son’s preparations. “But, in this case, it didn’t matter,” he said.
The walk up the mountain was as leisurely as it could be. They stopped to take pictures and admired the well-known scenery along the way. But when they reached to summit of the mountain, the pair noticed dark storm clouds quickly making their way towards the mountain. One of the reasons for making the climb that day was to spread Hap’s dad’s ashes, so they quickly did that, took a few pictures and began their descent back down the mountain. After hiking a little over a mile down the mountain the decided to stop and put rain gear on, something that many of the other hikers on the trail that day chose not to do. A few hundred feet later, they were being pelted by hail and surrounded by lightening. At one point, the hail was hitting so hard that the pair decided to stop with a group of others and seek shelter. "It was hail," Hap told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I'm bald. It hurt, man. I was getting pelted."
After a while, the father-son pair decided they had to continue down the mountain or risk being sitting ducks in a lightening storm. They led a group of several people down to a shelter and collected other stranded hikers along the way. Once they got to the shelter Charlie and Hap sprang into action, using the skills they had learned in Scouts to help their fellow hikers. “[Scouting] trained us to help those who were less prepared than we were,” said Hap. They emptied their backpacks of the extra clothes and distributed their water. Eventually someone was able to call for help and handed the phone to Hap. The rangers told him that those who could walk down should do so. While Hap encouraged others to leave, he and Charlie stayed behind to help those who couldn’t leave until more help had arrived. Eventually another group of hikers, including two physicians, arrived at the shelter where Hap and Charlie had huddled with others to escape the storm.
The physicians arrived just in time, because Charlie noticed that his dad was starting to experience hypothermia. “He was so busy helping other people he didn’t help himself,” Charlie told the Pioneer Press. Hap credits his son’s leadership abilities with helping to keep him safe. “It was just natural for Charlie to pick up the leadership role,” he said. Charlie immediately ordered his dad off the mountain and the two made it back safely.
For their heroism and actions that day, the pair was awarded the National Medal of Merit at a surprise Court of Honor held by their troop. The honor meant a lot to Hap and Charlie, whose family’s Scouting heritage goes back several generations. Still, Hap credits his action to the training he received as a Scout. “Any number of people are trained to provide service. The real motivation is to just execute that training.”
Yours in Scouting Service
Great Alaska COuncil
Eagle Scout OA Brotherhood Member
NSJ '05 WSJ '07 '11 Philmont AA '08