Newton scoutmaster recounts harsh weather camping trip


John Miles said the main goal for his troop of Boy Scouts is to have as many new experiences as possible.

He said the group focuses on exploring new places more than trying to advance in rank.


From left, Tristan Buff, Matthew Paz-Leon, Zack Mckown, George Buff, John Miles, Jonathan Watts, Jackson Miles, Davis Tucker and Paxton Buff take a group selfie at Julian Price Memorial Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway in September of 2017.

Miles, 54, joined the Boy Scouts of America when he was 8. Miles worked his way up to Eagle Scout by the time he was 18. To earn his Eagle Scout rank, Miles helped start the Glenn Hilton Trail at Glenn C. Hilton Jr. Memorial Park in 1986, he said.

After becoming an Eagle Scout, Miles was a Boy Scout summer camp counselor for 10 years. He was a scoutmaster for two years when he was around 24 years old, he said.

In 2014, Miles’ oldest son, Davis, now 23, joined the Boy Scouts. Miles started helping with the Cub Scout pack that Davis was in. When Miles’ youngest son, Jackson, 17, joined the Boy Scouts, Miles became a den leader for Jackson’s Cub Scout pack, he said.


From left, Paxton Buff, John Winters, Matthew Paz-Leon, Greyson Buff, Jackson Miles and Tristan Buff look out over the horizon, as John Miles stands atop a rock. This photo was taken at Grayson Highlands State Park in September.

Miles became the scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 903 with the First Presbyterian Church in Newton when Jackson was old enough to join, he said.

Jackson will age out of Boy Scouts at the end of the year. When he does, Miles will end his work as a scoutmaster, he said.

“My hobby is scouts,” Miles said. “I’m sort of dreading next year, realizing there’s not going to be any scouts.”

Miles reminisced about previous scout expeditions and his time as a scoutmaster. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is different about your troop?

We’re not a conventional Scout troop. We’ve always been a smaller group. The most we’ve ever had was 11 scouts. Right now, we’re down to three scouts and two of them will age out in the spring. The other scout has no interest in continuing without everybody else. The end of the troop will be next month.

We’ve never really been concerned about advancements, which are something that other the troops are into, and that’s not a bad thing. We decided, since we were a smaller group, the kids would have more say in what we do and how we do things.


George Buff, John Miles, Greyson Buff and John Winters sit on their bikes at New River Trail State Park in Virginia in October of 2021.

At first, we tried to do a lot of our activities around advancements. The kids did get advancements. All three of them are a rank below Eagle Scout, but they’re not really interested in the Eagle Scout rank.

We put most of our effort and focus on the activities and the experiences that we can have as a group. We try to find things that our Scouts have not experienced before. We very rarely do activities and events that are the same.

This year alone, we did a backpacking trip on the Mountain-to-Sea trail at Falls Lake. We had a hiking trip at Mount Rogers in Virginia. We went to the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. We did a week-long expedition at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Just a few weeks ago, we did a bike-packing trip in Ocracoke. We did a trip to Harris Lake County Park in Wake County. They have a disc golf course there, and that’s been a favorite thing of ours. We’ve done seven or eight disc golf courses throughout North Carolina. We also did a backpacking trip in Linville Gorge.

We try to do about 10 to 12 activities each year. At least once a month we try to do some sort of big activity, and it’s been a lot of fun. The kids really do enjoy that more than trying to get advancements.

What’s your most memorable expedition?

We did a backpacking trip that started in Grayson Highlands (in southwest Virginia) and went up to Mount Rogers onto the Appalachian Trail. The night we got there, it poured down rain. So much so, that the next morning we dumped a gallon of water out of three tents.

So, we’re trekking up the mountain, and because of all the rain it was nothing but mud. There was sludge all over the place, but we finally get up to where we’re going to camp, and the wind started picking up. The wind was so intense all of the wet tents were dry within half an hour. We were so worn out and tired that we were all in the tents and asleep by 8 p.m. We knew it was going to get cold that night, so we were prepared for it.


John Winters, Matthew Paz-Leon, George Buff, Greyson Buff and Jackson Miles rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in May of 2021.

The next morning, we woke up and it was 22 degrees with snow everywhere. We had to trek down the mountain, and now the problem was that all of the mud turned into ice. It was a very careful trek down the mountain.

It was one of the things where, in the moment, we’re thinking, “God, this sucks.” But then, we think about it years later and we’re like, “You know, that really was a very memorable trip. You’ll never forget it for the rest of your life.”


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