IntroductionA brief explanation of why this trip report is so late: It's been on my "Gotta Do It Someday" list for quite awhile now. However, during our trek I kept a journal each day and, upon return to Oklahoma, I put that journal where it wouldn't get lost. Trouble was, shortly after that I could not remember where that was! I genuinely looked all over the house. And, it wasn't until a couple weeks ago when I was searching through a file cabinet for papers to use at my son's Eagle ceremony that I finally found it. Aha! Thus, I'm now ready to write this trip report.
This is the Philmont adventure of Crew 612J-4 (2005) from the Last Frontier Council of the Boy Scouts of America. We all happen to be in Boy Scout Troop 275 of Choctaw, Oklahoma, but this was a "council contingent", which means that we could have been a mixed unit crew (in fact, we had another six folks attend from Troop 275 and they were place in a mixed unit crew). Because this was a council contingent, the folks in charge assumed that the participants (108 total on 9 crews) didn't have much backpacking experience. That was not the case with our crew (more on that in a moment), but it means that we participated in a variety of preparatory tasks. I'm going to describe that below because I think it might be useful for other folks who are preparing for a similar trip.
Our crew consisted of twelve individuals, eight youth and four adult advisors. It's important to emphasize that word "advisors": The adults are not the leaders. The entire adventure would be planned and run by the boys; the adults would just do their best to keep up. Our crewmembers were:
Joe (Ranger Joe): A very experienced backpacker and Life Scout. Joe is two years older than the rest of the youth. This would be his fifth Philmont trip (and his third trek).
Eric (No Stick): A Life Scout. Eric is one of two youth who had not been in Cub Scouts with the others; he went to a different elementary school when younger and was in a different pack.
Stephen (Beaver): A Life Scout. Stephen and I had hiked parts of the Ouachita Trail together (a non-Scout event).
Marvin (El Silencio): A Life Scout. I had known Marvin since first grade as a Tiger Cub Scout.
Nathan (Bones): A Life Scout. Nathan is the other youth who had not been in Cub Scouts with the others; he went to a different elementary school when younger and was in a different pack.
David (Gatorade): A Life Scout. David had met the other boys towards the end of Cub Scouts when he transferred from another pack. This would be David's fourth Philmont trip (though his first trek; however, he'd hiked much of the Philmont backcountry as a younger Scout).
Curtis (Yo-Yo): A Life Scout. Curtis is my son and, as such, has plenty of experience in the wilderness, including backpacking Charon's Garden, King's Canyon, and parts of the Ouachita Trail and Appalachian Trail. This would be Curtis' third Philmont trip, although his first on a trek (though he'd hiked much of the Philmont backcountry as a younger Scout).
Bryan (Sump): A Life Scout. Bryan's dad is an Eagle Scout, himself, though he did not go on the trek with us.
Roger: David's dad. A retired USAF pilot, and an Eagle Scout himself. He's an extremely experienced Scouter (nearly 50 years of service). This would be Roger's fifth trip to Philmont, and his second trek.
Max: Nathan's dad. A USAF aircrew member and a private pilot. Max had limited experience in Scouting before this trip.
Ronn (Radioman): Stephen's dad. A software programmer by trade. Ronn and I had hiked Charon's Garden and parts of the Ouachita Trail together. He has lots of experience setting up climbing/rappelling routes, though he prefers rappelling himself. Also a certified Climbing Instructor and COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) facilitator. Ronn is also a Amateur Extra Class ham radio operator, and would ensure that cell phone service was almost always available! This would be Ronn's second trip to Philmont (though his first trek, but his previous experience was also in the backcountry).
Mark (Snap): Me. Curtis' dad. Retired USAF Chief Master Sergeant and aircrew member. Inveterate photographer. Have hiked all over the country in my quest to visit all of the U.S. national parks. This would be my fifth trip to Philmont, but my first trek (though two of the prior experiences were in the backcountry). Currently fully retired (and loving it!).
Preparation for the TripApril 27, 2004: Philmont sign-ups! The prior year there had been far more people to sign up then there were slots (108). And, because of that, we were concerned that some (or all) of us might not actually get to go. However, as it turned out there was no cause for worry. There were actually about 35 slots left open after the sign-ups.
November 5-7: Greenleaf Lake State Park Campout. This was actually a troop campout, however we made our best guesses as to who would be crewed together for the upcoming Philmont treks and then hiked and camped together for the weekend. My crew (which included everyone except Max, Nathan and Eric) would hike 15 miles around the Greenleaf Lake during the weekend, and would camp at Mary's Cove (all except the very youngest boys camped there).
November 20, 2004: Trek Training and Parent's Orientation. This was classroom instruction directed at those on the council contingent who had no or very limited backpacking experience. It was also designed to help parents develop a "Christmas Shopping List" of items that their son (or daughter!) might need during the trek. Subjects covered included personal and crew gear selection, and crew dynamics (how the crew would work together, especially in stressful situations).
January 15, 2005: First-Aid/CPR Certification. Philmont requires each crew to have two first-aid/CPR certified individuals. However, we had everyone attend this American Red Cross certification training.
February 19-20, 2005: Camp Kickapoo Shakedown. This is a campout at a nearby council camp. Though it's only supposed to be one night, our crew camped both Friday and Saturday night. The purpose is to do more checking on who still has gear needs, what crew gear has been gathered (ie, stoves, water filters, etc), and to provide training in an outdoor environment for various challenges that will be faced. On Saturday evening is the highlight of all the preparation: Trek selection! The youth gather as crews and make a prioritized list of the treks that they'd like to take. They consider program activities (Philmont is much more than just a hike, but please read on), distance, crewmember abilities, etc. Our youth decided that Itinerary 24 (See description or see map) met their desires: Summit Baldy Mountain and the Tooth of Time, and cover a pretty good amount of distance. Officially, without side hikes, it's a "strenuous, 70-mile hike". Unofficially, it would turn out harder and longer! It was also during this weekend that the youth selected Joe to be the crew leader. This is an important position: At Philmont, the camp staffs will only provide direction and assistance to the crew through the crew leader.
April 10, 2005: Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience (COPE) Course. This was a half-day, low elements course designed to build crew camaraderie and teamwork. It was a hoot and, even though all of us had known each other through Scouting for at least four years, and some much longer, it still served well to develop a great closeness. I remember this as being the very first time I thought (and even said it to the other adults) how proud I was to be going to Philmont with this crew.
April 22-25, 2005: Ouachita Trail Shakedown. A final shakedown hike along the Ouachita Trail, Boardstand Trail and Old Military Road. By this time all crews should be fully-equipped. They should be working on familiarity with crew gear, and reducing the load (no need for four stoves, for example). It's also a true wilderness experience in a genuine "leave no trace" environment. While loading their truck with gear for the campout, Nathan would twist his ankle and be unable to join us. Fortunately, his injury was mild and within a couple weeks he was back up to full speed.
May 13-15, 2005: Camp Sasakwa Campout. With school ending and all, this is a difficult time of year to schedule a campout. However, this was a troop campout designed to work with the younger boys on their basic Scout skills. I also arranged for our Philmont crew to do some trail work at the camp, thus affording them the opportunity to complete the necessary hours to earn their 50-miler award (they needed seven more hours beyond the three they'd perform while we were at Philmont).
June 11, 2005: Depart for Philmont. An all-day, chartered bus ride. But we arrived in time for dinner!
June 12, 2005: Philmont processing and check-in. Health records were reviewed. Joe and I visited logistics where Joe prepared an overall map outlining our itinerary, marked staffed and unstaffed camps, and annotated commissary pick-up points. Joe also arranged for horseback riding reservations (which we would ultimately miss), and decided where the crew would do its conservation project. Two critical documents came out of this: The crew itinerary and that annotated map. More on both of those later!
The TrekFrom here on this report is a copy of the entries in my trail journal [unless in brackets].
June 13, 2005: First day on the trail. Getting started was rough. Chris, our Ranger, had moved Joe's backpack at the Welcome Center to be with the rest of the crew's and didn't notice the maps on the table [both the annotated map and the section maps we would need]. By the time Joe realized it, all our section maps and the marked ranch map (my personal map) were gone. :-( Earl [council contingent leader] gave us new section maps and I bought a new ranch map which Joe hastily marked and we made the bus [to the trailhead] on time.
Hiking in, we stayed on the trail and had to cross a creek twice and enter Ponil through the corral. The road would've been much quicker! At Ponil we ate lunch, lassoed a few "cattle", and played some horseshoes. I whipped Nathan's tail, 21-18!
We continued the hike to Dean Cutoff, where we set up camp. During the hike we had a gorgeous view of [Baldy Mountain] through a "vee" at the end of the canyon.
Went to the cantina at Ponil - Great root beer and better show! [After departing, a crew up ahead of us claimed to have seen a mountain lion.]
June 14, 2005: Hiked from Dean Cut-off to Ponil, then on to Rich Cabins. While at Ponil many folks branded a few items. Then continued to Rich Cabins via Wilson Mesa. Trail up the mesa was a very steep, very rocky, 4-wd road. It was very slow going for us old guys. But we made it to the top after about 2-1/2 hours. Trail on top was quite easy and the views of the mountains in Colorado, as well as [Baldy Mountain], were spectacular. The road back down the other side was also steep and rocky.
We arrived at Rich Cabins pretty late - 6:30 p.m. But they bent over backwards for us. They let us put our bear bag in their storage locker, and let the boys sleep in the barn hayloft, and the adults in the staff tents.
June 15, 2005: Watched the boys milk the cow at Rich Cabins, then we were off to Greenwood Canyon. It was hot at first because we were walking a road with very few trees. But in the early afternoon the clouds set in and we continued our trek through light rain and lots of thunder. We got to a nice location to camp at 4:30 p.m. Set up an LNT campsite.
It was a riot to watch the boys struggle to put up a bear rope - no cables in the Valle Vidale. They finally prevailed, with a little guidance from me.
Dinner was beef stroganoff. With a little help from Ronn, it came out outstanding. A very pretty sight was a close pairing of a first quarter moon and Jupiter - one finger apart at 9:00 p.m.
June 16, 2005: Headed from Greenwood Canyon to Copper Park. This was a l-o-n-g day of hiking as we had to ascend about 3,000 vertical feet on a steep, rocky road. Occasionally we'd get glimpses of the surrounding mountains that were just awesome. After a very tough struggle to get to the highest point of the day's trip (11,500'), we faced directly against [Baldy Mountain]. It was both awe-inspiring and intimidating as we realized that the next day we'd be assaulting the top. As I was backing up to take a photo of this sight, I tripped over a log, smashing my camera against a log and breaking off the CF access door. After that the camera wouldn't turn on. I was heart-broken, but fortunately Curtis figured out there was an interlock and that if we taped the camera door in place, the camera worked find. Duct tape saves the day again!
The descent into Copper Park was brutal - steep (50 degrees), covered with loose gravel/rocks, and narrow. We descended by slipping and sliding from tree truck to tree trunk. We were lucky no one was injured. We were beat when we hit camp that night. [The boys would take to calling that "Suicide Slide". At Copper Park we'd learn that three individuals had injured themselves on the same stretch of trail. Trail crews were coming in to try to make it less "challenging".]
June 17, 2005: Baldy! We decided to assault Baldy from the south. We headed for Baldy Town, when Joe realized he'd forgotten the crew leader's itinerary. We needed that to check in, as well as to get our commissary issue, so four boys headed back to camp - a fairly steep, long road up to Copper Park.
[One note: It was here that our missing maps caught up with us. Because that annotated map was my own personal map that I'd had for a couple years, I had written my last name on it. The maps were turned into logistics the day they were lost. They researched and sent the maps to us with a small note: "Hey guys - Are these your maps? A crew brought them in @ 4:30 the day you left. I think we made a new map together, but I thought you'd appreciate getting your maps back. :-) If these aren't yours, please send them back to logistics. Hike safely. Laura. P.S. It's a good thing your name was on the maps! :-)" Thank you, Laura!]
During that time the rest of us showered - that felt s-o-o-o good! :-) When the boys returned they showered, then we began the ascent up Baldy. Even before reaching the tree line I was wore out. Curtis and Bryan stayed with me and, when I said I planned to stop at the tree line (400' below the top), they promised to pull and push me to the top, if necessary.
After reaching the tree line there was a modest snowfield that the boys had a blast playing in. I had been told by another crew to cross the snowfield and take in the view from the other side.
We spent about 20-minutes there, watching other folks make a slow crawl 400 vertical feet to the top. Ronn, Roger and I decided we could do it. So, with Roger leading the way we made the final assault. It was very strenuous, 50-100 travel feet at a time, but in about an hour we reached the top of the world - 12,441 feet! It was cold and windy. The boys made a monument to Troop 275, we took the requisite pic's with the flags, then descended to the snowfield in 15 minutes - steep, rocky and slippery.
From there we rejoined with Max (who didn't want to make the ascent) picked up our food-filled backpacks and returned to Copper Park. After the steep ascent of Baldy the climb back was pretty tough. We were delighted when we arrived at camp, tired but elated to have succeeded in our ascent.
June 18, 2005: Today we hiked from Copper Park to Upper Dean Cow, with a stop at French Henry. The hike down to French Henry was steep and rocky, but followed a pretty creek the entire way. At French Henry we did a little gold panning, visited the Aztec Ponil 2 Gold Mine (which in its day was the most productive mine in NM), and made a "J" hook in the blacksmithing forge.
We then took off for Upper Dean Cow via Poblano. On departing Poblano, after a brief rest, Mark heard and Ronn saw a mountain lion. As we got closer to Upper Dean Cow the trail got a lot tougher and even disappeared. But we struggled as a crew and made it. Because the boys were wupped, the adults cooked dinner and did the clean up [normally the boys did these chores, but it's traditional for the adults to do it one evening].
June 19, 2005: Today we hiked from Upper Dean Cow to Upper Dean. It was a modest distance over a fairly level road. But, there weren't many trees and the rocky canyon walls showed us how this hike earned the name, "The Reflector Oven".
We arrived at Dean Cow early and Curtis, Marvin and Bryan took advantage of the rock climbing. They also had showers, and a place to wash clothes. All-in-all, it was probably our first relaxing day of the trip.
[This was also Father's Day, so Ronn made sure that all of the boys who didn't have their dads with them were able to call home to wish them happy Father's Day.]
June 20, 2005: We hiked from Dean Cow to Harlan. This was another hike through rocky canyons. But, on the ridge above Dean Cow we ate breakfast and enjoyed the wonderful view of the Tooth of Time Ridge. We called Chuck Haley [Scoutmaster and veteran of three Philmont treks] to say, "Hi!", and to tell him how much fun we were having.
We then continued the hike to Turkey Creek Crossing, where highway 64 cuts through Philmont. Here we called Simple Simon Pizza in Cimarron and arranged for delivery of six pizzas and three 2-liter bottles of soda. The lady who deliverd the pizza waited while we ate, then hauled out all of our trash (easing the minds of some Philmont Rangers who "caught" us). We then continued the hike up to Harlan.
That evening the boys participated in the burro races. What a hoot watching them as they chased this burro who had his own idea of which direction to run!
June 21, 2005: [The next morning the boys did shotgun reloading and clay shooting before we departed Harlan]. Hiked from Harlan to Ute Springs. This was a reasonably short hike, with us arriving mid-afternoon. We had planned to do our conservation project, but a severe lightning storm with rain and light hail prevented that. During the storm the boys gathered up some large rocks and built a circle of twelve chairs around the fire ring. It was way cool! Because of the foul weather we confined our activities to around camp.
June 22, 2005: We hiked from Ute Springs to Clark's Fork. Enroute we stopped at Cimarroncito to complete three hours of conservation work. The "con" project was a meadow restoration, meaning we got to cut down trees to restore the health of the forest - yeah, really! Meadows increase the bio-diversity of the forest by allowing flora and fauna that require open spaces to thrive. Trees encroaching on meadows can suppress this diversity.
We then continued our hike, stopping at the Hunting Lodge to take a tour, then at Cathedral Rock and Cimarroncito Reservoir to enjoy the dramatic view. We arrived at Clark's Fork just in time to enjoy the chuckwagon dinner of all-you-can-eat beef stew [missing our horse riding session, however]. It was little more than canned stew, but it sure was nice to have a meat-filled meal for once!
June 23, 2005: Last day on the trail! We hiked along the Tooth of Time Ridge trail, following the route from Shaefer's Pass to the Tooth, then down to main camp. This is a very rugged trail filled with lots of rocks. We left at the crack of dawn - 5 a.m. [We met the remainder of the Troop 275 members as they were coming off of the Tooth. We dropped our packs and climbed to the top. After drinking in the last of the Philmont backcountry, we hiked the rest of the way down the ridge and back to main camp.]
In 2006 Curtis and I were went to another Boy Scout high adventure camp at Florida Sea Base. There we spent a week sailing the Florida Keys in the 85-foot gaff-rigged schooner Heritage of Miami. Joe, Stephen, David, Ronn and Roger are signed up to attend another trek at Philmont in 2007.
Since our return Joe, Curtis, Bryan, Marvin, Nathan and Eric have all completed their Eagles. In November of 2006 Ronn presented a gift from 612J-4 to Curtis at his Eagle ceremony. He summed up the trek like this: "In June 2005 four men and eight boys went to Philmont Scout Ranch. Ten days later, eight young men and four tired old men came back!"