Dave Burnham hoped to take 300 teenagers "further than they've ever thought they were capable of emotionally, physically and spiritually" this summer.
To do that, he took them back to a time before cell phones, cars and even the buildings that make up Salt Lake City were around.
Burnham is the trail boss for his LDS Farmington South Stake's youth pioneer trek this summer. In a four-day span, he led the group over about 30 miles of dirt trails, with all belongings, food and water packed heavily in a handcart, as similar as possible to the Mormon pioneers traveling west to Utah in the 1800s.
He warned them it wasn't going to be easy.
"One thing we tell the kids is they're going to eat well, but it's going to be the hardest thing they'll ever do," he said before the trek.
On the first day of the trek, which took place on the Deseret Land and Livestock ranch in Woodruff, Rich County, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Burnham and other stake leaders split the teens into 30 families and five companies. Each family was assigned a "Ma" and "Pa" (a couple from the stake) and an aunt and uncle (young single adults from the stake). Another couple led each company.
The group planned to cover the most miles on the second day. Near the end of the day, Burnham instructed all the men to stop pushing the handcarts, leaving only the women to pull. The men were not able to help, even if the women were struggling.
"This will take them to the edge of their emotions, especially the men," Burnham said before the trek. He
said the activity is designed to give the youths a realistic view of how things were for the pioneers.
"When men were ill, when they died or joined the Mormon Battalion, the women were left alone," Burnham said.
The menu for dinner that night was chicken broth and rolls.
"You feed them that at home, and they'll whine," Burnham said. "But we've heard from past treks that this is the most memorable meal for the youths, because of what they had just gone through."
The third day included a personal retreat, where participants had the opportunity for a "Sacred Grove experience" where they could be alone and pray about their questions. That night, each company held a testimony meeting.
Burnham said he and his fellow stake leaders trained for the event, realizing its importance. The trek theme "Shall we not go on in so great a cause?" comes from Doctrine and Covenants, Section 128. Burnham said participating in the trek helps teens better understand the scripture.
"Joseph Smith started something with the Restoration that's remarkable," he said. "We can be part of building up that kingdom. We can't be slackers."
Pioneer treks help youths learn about the gospel, and in particular pioneers, said Brandon Pierce, of the Clearfield South Stake. When Pierce was the trail boss on his stake's trek last summer, the theme was "The trail is the teacher."
"As much as you can sit and talk about pioneer experiences, there's more to get out when you re-enact what they did," Pierce said.
To help further the learning, the youths of his stake were encouraged to search for pioneer ancestors and incorporate their stories into the trek. Each participant wore a name tag representing one of the pioneers.
Pierce's stake's trek took place on Big Mountain Pass in Emigration Canyon. At the steepest incline, a man rode down on a horse and read a letter from Brigham Young, calling all the men to leave for the Mormon Battalion. This meant the women were left to pull alone.
"It was interesting to see the reaction," Pierce said. "Some families kneeled in prayer right there. We were all big bawl babies watching the women ... "
Craig McBeth, of the West Jordan Prairie Stake presidency, is not a newcomer to the trek scene.
As he is planning for his stake's Martin's Cove, Wyo., trek this summer, McBeth remembers a special experience he had while planning and participating in his stake's 2000 trek.
The night before the trek, which took place along Co-op Creek near Strawberry Reservoir, the forest service informed his stake that they could no longer use their planned route because elk were calving in the area. After deciding on a new route, the leaders went to take a look at their campsite for the first night but found a family reunion taking place there. The leaders and the family came to an agreement for the stake to camp about 100 yards away from the reunion.
Even though they worked things out, the leaders were discouraged, McBeth said.
"It was like the trek was going to fall on its face," McBeth said.
But the family made another agreement with the stake that added to the experience. The family members were all dressed up and taking part in a "mountain-man rendezvous." They offered to act as an angry mob when the youths came to their campsite.
"Only eight of us knew it was going to happen," McBeth said.
When the youths came to what they thought was their campsite, they started unpacking relieved to have a rest, McBeth said. But a woman from the family reunion came and asked some trek members what was going on. When she learned it was a Mormon group, she started yelling, telling them they were not welcome, and to leave. Then the rest of the "mob" joined her.
Even though the youths had to pack up their belongings and hike farther to the real campsite, McBeth said it was an interesting experience.
"The youth never really had their religion questioned like that before," he said. "What started out looking like a roadblock ended up being a highlight of the trek."
The next day, the family offered to provide activities for the trekkers, such as hatchet throwing and black powder rifle shooting, concluding with the firing of a candy-filled cannon.
As McBeth was leaving for another trek Wednesday, he offered advice to first-timers."Based on that experience, do all you can to prepare, and leave the rest in the Lord's hands."
E-MAIL: [email protected] Please see TREK on M5
Please see TREK on M5
For an audio slide show of the Farmington Utah South Stake pioneer trek, visit deseretnews.com/multimedia.