Recently Boy Scout Troop 319, which meets at Dunsmore Elementary every Tuesday evening, attended Philmont Scout Ranch, the Boy Scouts of America’s premier High Adventure™ base. The Ranch challenges Scouts and Venturers with more than 214 square miles of rugged northern New Mexico wilderness. From Troop 319, nine Scouts and three adults attended. One of the Scouts, Forest Hunt, shares his journal of what the experience was like for him.
Before I can go about sharing my experience with you I naturally have to enlighten you as to what my experience is about. From the title you already know that it’s about Scouting and a place called Philmont. This place, only a word to you now, hopefully will transform into a an entirely new thing by the end of this article, much as it did for my fellow Scouts and I by the end of our trip. For now, know that it is a Scout ranch in New Mexico, with the focus on backpacking. At its widest point, Philmont is almost 30 miles wide, with most of its land having been donated by Waite Phillips in 1938 (35,857 acres). It is the largest Scout ranch in the U.S. with people traveling there from all over the country just to experience its beauty. Simply hearing about Philmont’s size and wonderment, of course, could never do it justice. So let me share with you now a journal of my Troop’s Philmont experience.
Day 1 ~ July 4 ~ On the Train
Today we arrived the train station with great excitement – waiting at Union Station for the train to arrive was almost too much!
When we finally started to make our way toward the train the excitement only seemed to grow.
Not only were we heading to Philmont but not many of us had ever had the pleasure of going on a overnight train before. Everything in the train was a little cramped, but we hardly noticed, there were too many other things going on in our minds. All 12 of us had been preparing for this journey for almost a year, and it was odd knowing that now it had begun. With all these thoughts swirling around in our heads it was almost a surprise to see fireworks bursting outside the windows during dinner, it was 4th of July!
Day 2 ~ July 5 ~ On The Train and our Arrival at Base
Sleeping on a train is not something I think any of us will easily forget, the gentle rocking, constant comforting sound of the moving train, nice beds. Then waking up to look out the window at wide, never-ending plains slowly being illuminated by the rising sun. Everyone heads to the dining car for a pleasant breakfast and prepares for their last day of relaxing before Philmont. The time seems to go by like it was never there and soon enough we find ourselves riding the bus to Base Camp, the hub for all people going in and out of Philmont. There is a funny and memorable moment when another Scout, Pete Simpson, takes out his speakers, and I my iPod with the sound of a vuvuzela, and play it well we all chant, “Goal! Goal! Goal!” in honor of the World Cup that will end while we are in the middle of our trek. When we get to base camp everything runs smoothly, we end up having to sleep in our own tents instead of the larger permanent tents they provide, but no one complains.
Day 3 ~ July 6 ~ Base Camp
Today was mostly uninteresting besides the initial thrill of being at Philmont. It seems like everyone feels relaxed and tense at the same time, this is a day between two different worlds. Of course there is still plenty that we had to do, all the logistics and the like are knocked out on this day. Most of which was handled by our elected crew chief, Weston Foote. We also acclimate to Philmont, both in terms of elevation and mind. It can rain in an instant, one moment it will be sunny, the next you will be drenched and in the middle of a thunderstorm. We are told the two most important items to have with you are simply raingear and drinking water.
Day 4 ~ July 7 ~ First Day of Hiking
As we wake up in Base Camp it’s clear in our minds that today will be the start of a journey that will remain with us possibly for the rest of our lives. The excitement that we had experienced before getting on the train now returned, stronger then ever. We are taken over to the trailhead via bus where we stayed for an hour or so to go over some necessities with our ranger, who will stay with us for the first three days of our trek. When we finally finish it’s time to head to Lovers Leap camp, it’s a very easy start, and thank God because the packs are almost 50 pounds with all the food we will be eating for the next few days! On the way we get to stop at the jutting rock known as Lovers Leap. Apparently, as the story dictates a least, two Indian lovers from opposing tribes jumped off the rock there. Despite the thought of that that, it’s a truly spectacular view of the rolling glades and forests of Philmont. We arrived at camp not too long after the leap and immediately got to work. At Philmont there is an entirely different system of doing things: first we set up the bear bags, a simpler task when you get the hang of it. Then with the help of two borrowed hiking polls we have to set up the dining fly. It gives us a place to cook and organize ourselves if it’s raining. Finally after all these things are done, we set up our own tents in a communal blob to discourage larger animals from stumbling into our campsite. It’s a smooth running first day, we spend the rest of our time relaxing by the giant glade near our campsite playing cards, reading, and sleeping.
Day 5 ~ July 8 ~ Urraca Mesa Camp
Today is another short day of hiking, but with a great deal more elevation gain. We had to hike to the top of Urraca Mesa, so it was nothing unexpected. This is the first staff camp we have encountered, and it’s a bit different then Lovers Leap Camp. Before we do anything we have to go to a porch talk where they talk about the program offered at the camp, Urraca has a Challenge Course. After we set up camp and head over to take the challenge course we discover that most of the staff is sick with some sort of fast spreading bug that had started with a troop that was sharing water. Over the rest of our trek people would refer to this as the infamous Urraca Plague. What it meant for us was an incomplete challenge course and no campfire, but we did get to go “noodle jousting.” This is an odd activity that involves putting the end of a pool noodle on your head, spinning around, and then trying to hit the opposing player with it, very funny to watch, maybe not so much to play.
Day 6 ~ July 9 ~ Crater Lake
We woke up around 5:30 am today and set forth on our longest hike so far . We were all eager to get to Crater Lake because their activity was spar poll climbing, which involves getting on spiked straps for your legs and climbing up a giant wooden poll. Sadly we had to delay that activity because of a storm, not the best idea to be on top of a poll in the middle of storm. Instead we went off to make railroad ties, which took quite a lot of physical labor and we did not quite finish, but we met another troop from L.A. so it was worth it. At night we went to the campfire where they had five very talented and funny musicians, it was quite a brilliant show. Later it was decided this was the best campfire of the entire trip.
Day 7 ~ July 10 ~ Hiking to Beaubien
As we did not get the chance to do it yesterday we went spar poll climbing today in the morning. It’s a lot harder then it looks: when all that’s between you and a lot of open air is a wooden poll, you start to get bit nervous. Everyone had a great time though, it’s not every day you get to do something quite like this. We started hiking quite late, at around 10:00, due to the diversion. All the same we decided to hike to the top of Trail Peak on our way to Beaubien, we had a layover day there tomorrow so we could afford to get there late. It was a hard hike up, but near the peak is the wreckage of a B-24 plane that had crashed there on a test flight in 1942. It was worth the climb to explore and eat lunch at the wreckage. We hiked into camp from there and somehow managed to get a great campsite despite being fairly late. After a nice dinner we settled down to sleep, happy we could sleep in a bit tomorrow because of our layover day.
Day 8 ~ July 11 ~ Layover at Beaubien
We started our day riding horses, everyone was paired with a different horse and addressed by that horse’s name. Names included Lucky, Boulder, Apples, Riddles, Coyote and many more. It was a two hour ride through the woods, and ended up being quite enjoyable. After this we went to participate in our three hour conservation project. We were set to work sawing stumps, not the most interesting job, but we all survived. At this point in the day we split up to experience all Beaubien had to offer, some branded hats. boots, and the like, while others took showers, and others went to the commissary to pick up food. After all this we had our chuck wagon dinner, the one chance we get to eat real food during the trek. It consisted of stew and biscuits, and for desert; peach cobbler, it was a good day.
Day 9 ~ July 12 ~ Crooked Creek
We made our best time in setting down this morning, but decided to take it easy and make the only breakfast we have to cook because we have a short day of hiking. It was a nice change having hot food in the morning. We stopped by a commissary on the way to camp and bought some Toblerones while others took propane heated showers (as opposed to the wood heated showers at Beaubien). We walked though a spectacular green meadow next to a stream until we arrived at Crooked Creek Camp. This was also a staff camp, but a bit more isolated then the others. Here we made candles and in the evening milked cows.
Day 10 ~ July 13 ~ Clear Creek
A good hike today, despite a small shortage on water everything seemed to go very well going into camp. As we arrive in Clear Creek the multitude of things happening at once is overwhelming. Tomahawks are being thrown, lead rifle balls are being made, wood is being chopped, and so on. Soon we were reaping what the camp had to offer, many went to shoot black powder rifles, others went off to different parts of the camp. We had plenty of stuff to do, we made sure to enjoy it to as this was our last staff camp.
Day 11 ~ July 14 ~ Thunder Ridge
Today we had one of our longest hikes yet, and not only did we have to carry our water because our next camp is dry, we also had to hike Mt. Phillips. Host to one of the steepest and most painful trails on Philmont property. Despite these challenges we somehow managed to have a great time going up Phillips, and an even greater time at the top where we posed for countless hilarious pictures. When we arrived in camp we found some tents set up, but no one there, the other crew had most likely taken a day trip to the nearby Cyphers Mine staff camp. It was nice to have the camp to ourselves and we played endless games of Big Booty, Ninja, and High Noon. At one point we were interrupted by a storm – at the start of our trek we were told to take lighting positions if lightening and thunder were 5 seconds apart. Here there was a near-simultaneous lightning and thunder strike, the sound of which convinced half of us the sky was falling. We later reasoned that the lightning would have had to strike within a half mile of us. The name “Thunder Ridge” should have told us something when we were picking what trek to do!
Day 12 ~ July 15 ~ Cathedral Rock
This was our longest day so far, 12 miles, but it was flat for the most part. After setting up camp most of the crew left to pick up food at the commissary, which also had a trading post and free fresh fruit, the latter was quite a treat. As this is another non-staff camp we did not do much today after the hiking and commissary.
Day 13 ~ July 16 ~ Tooth of Time Camp
Today did not go exactly as planned, in the morning one Scout, Logan Rosselet, woke to find his leg in pain after it had gotten injured the night before. It was clear he would not be able to hike, so the decision was made to walk him to Hunting Lodge, the nearest staff camp. Four Scouts hiked the extra mile or so and then met up with the rest at Clarks Fork while Logan was driven out. From there we had a brutal hike to Tooth of Time camp that took us the better part of the day. When we finally made it to camp we were surprised to find a ranger waiting for us there. He informed us that Tooth of Time Camp had been temporarily converted into a staff camp due to bear problems. They had a program planned and everything. So after dinner we reported to go “Finger-Jousting,” basically locking fingers and seeing who can touch the other person first. It was a blast, and somehow very tiring, we fell asleep pretty quickly.
Day 14 ~ July 17 ~ Heading Out
As a result of popular vote the day before we woke up at 4:30 am to climb to the top of the Tooth to see the sunrise. Climbing up in the dark was quite interesting in itself. We were the first to the top, but it soon got crowded with crews. There are no words here that I could possibly use to reproduce the sight seen at the top of the tooth that morning. The words “brilliant,” “spectacular,” and “enlightening” come to mind, but they can do nothing to portray to you the spirit and essence of the dawn from atop the Tooth. The hike back to Base was an easy one, it was a great feeling being back in civilization. We spent the rest of the day returning gear and taking some much needed rest.
Day 15 ~ July 18 ~ Leaving Philmont
As my fellow Scouts and I step into the train I am filled with relief in going home, and sadness for leaving this place of wonder. Philmont it seems becomes much less of a place, and more a chapter in your life, a part of your memory that you will hold forever in your mind. For me it will always remain so…