Preparation and Travel
This is an account of a trip taken in 2009 by Scout Troop 801 from Brea California to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Planning for Philmont takes over one year from the time that you place your hat in the lottery until you actually arrive at this wonderous place.
Trek range in length, but typically they are in the range of 60-80 miles. This is backpacking but you get resupplied every two to three days and on 2/3 of the days you do a fun activity such as rock climbing, black powder shooting, fishing or learning the history of the ranch.
Training is required and while we didn't do as much training as we should have, the trek was a great deal of fun. We did day hikes with full packs in the rain, backpacked to Bishop Pass, backpacked to the Bridge to No Where, and a day hike with full packs through Crystal Cove State Park.
Treks are numbered based on the day you depart and our departure day was July 18, thus 718.
We travelled via Amtrak departing Fullerton at 7:30 pm. Train travel is nice in that you have room, but given that we were on an overnight train I would have preferred a sleeping berth. We were 40 minutes late arriving in Flagstaff but by the time we arrived in Albuqurque we were ten minutes early. We had friends who had recently moved to Ohio join us here for the afternoon run up to Raton. We met the Philmont bus at the train station, bought dinner at a fast food place and arrived at the Ranch at 7:15 pm. After dumping our gear in wall tents, the Scouts enjoyed a Ben & Jerry Feast.
Day one is spent at Base Camp. We awoke at 0600 to Deer eating grass near the tent. Those troops who have yet to go to the backcountry are assigned tents furthest from the facilities. There were many meetings during the day, medical checks, learn about food and get the first supply of food, arrange troop gear, purchase fuel, attend a First Aid talk. we met our "Ranger" who was from Nebraska and had just finished his first year at Harvard. We had a large Thundershower at 5:45. Actually it rained hard twice that evening for a few minutes each time. This was Saturday night and they offer church services. Some went to Catholic Mass and some of us attended a Jewish service. There are many types of clergy who vacation at Philmont to provide spiritual guidance. I'm not very religious but these preachers are not the pushy type at all and for the most part have been involved in Scouting for years and spend time explaining how there religion works and perform a brief service tailored to the audience. All were in bed when the adults returned at 9:45.
We were up at 0600 for breakfast at 0630 then showered packed to be at the bus pickup point at 9:00 for a 9:30 departure. The bus ride of 15 minutes dropped us off at Turkey Creek Turnaround which is on the road to Angel Fire and Taos. We had a map and compass demonstration prior to crossing the road and beginning our hike. We didn't have a long day but gradually wound through the woods stopping for lunch arriving at Vaca Camp about 3:30. We set up our bear bags and while setting up the dining fly it began to rain hard with Thunder and Lightning in the background. We set up tents in the rain which stopped after a while. The Ranger taught us how to treat the water from the well at the site. We had a good sleep
Up at 5:30 but we had a very slow group. We hiked from Vaca to Harlan and loaded two shotgun shells and then went to the range. At the range everyone fired five shells. We left Harlan 7556 feet hiking south through a large meadow up to 8,000 feet circling Deer Lake Mesa. We stopped at the commisary at Ute Gulch and enjoyed fresh pears. We then had an uphill climb to Devils Wash. We had a few members who had a very hard time needing water and air. We had a thunder shower and heavy rain at Ute Gulch but we waited it out under the overhang. It took three hours uphill to camp at Devils Wash. We set up camp and cooked in the dark getting to bed at 11:40.
We were up at 5:30 but all were very slow going. We had a one hour talk from our Ranger and then he departed and left us alone for the remainder of the trek. We then walked about 45 minutes for our conservation project which was trailbuilding a new trail out to Deer Lake Mesa. We spent 3 hours on the project partly due to the fact that there were other groups ahead of us. We had a late lunch at 2:00 and then a 40 minute hike down to Ute Gultch for food pick up. As we were leaving Ute Gultch it began to rain and we had about a one mile hike gaining 400 feet of elevation to Aspen Springs Camp. We set up camp in the rain and the Scouts did a great job. Lasagna for dinner was good and in bed by 9:00.
We woke and packed wet tents for a short hike to Cimmarroncito where we took showers, ate breakfast and dried gear in the sun. This is a staffed camp and staff shared coffee with adults. We had a nice leisurly stroll down a pretty meadow to the Hunting Lodge. We did not stop due to time constraints although it looked like it would be a nice tour. We then walked along the Middle Fork of the Cimarroncito Creek to Lambert's Mine to set up camp. Setting up camp was slow and then we hiked without packs to Cyphers Mine. We were late arriving but we were able to participate in the Blacksmithing and made an iron moustache. As the blacksmithing was ending we experienced a near direct lightning strike. We thought that someone had taken a flash photo except the at the same time we were rattled by a huge boom. There was room for five to go on the tour of the mine and the rest of us sat on the porch and watched the heavy thunderstorm. We walked back to Lambers Mine and learned that we didn't have any water purification tablets. We had the good fortune of a trek from Texas who gave us some. We have a Scout who is having a tough time and his Dad is also on the trip, they were alone this evening. Dinner of Mac and Cheese was dreadful. Due to our elevation it took forever to cook and we were in bed very late, cold and damp!
Woke up at 4:00 and on the trail by 6:15. We walked to Cyphers Mine and ate breakfast there. We had a Scout with some sort of respitory infection and he and his dad opted to leave the trek for medical issues. We are going over Mt. Phillips today and the 11,786 foot summit might have been an issue to great for someone who is ill. The staff at Cyphers does not wake up until 8:00 and staff consulting with the medical staff at base meant that we didn't get back on the trail until 9:00. We had a packs off break at Thunder Ridge Camp. Altitude and the need for food hit me at 10,800 feet and we stopped then to eat lunch on Comanche Peak. We had two sets of storms which included rain and hail on the way to Mt. Phillips. We had a Scout with altitue issues at 11,500 feet and between taking gear from him and giving him climbing poles he was able to summit. On the summit the sun came out and the wind died and it was quite comfortable. We had a tiring steep hike down to the Mountain Men at Clear Creek. We set up camp quickly and enjoyed a tasty dinner. Staff Coffee with the Mountain Men was welcomed.
We broke camp quickly and we were at the range at 7:50 for our 8:00 am shoot. Anticipating that we might have to wait, we ate breakfast at the range which was a good idea as we were first in line over another group who arrived early but not as early as we did, they ate at their tent site. We shot muzzle loaders which are black powder rifles, took a tour of the trappers cabin and threw tomahawks. We made a quick hike down to Crooked Creek which is known as the Homestead. The trail was a nice grade through the woods. We did have a run in with some large cows and a bull. We were a bit intimidated. This homestead is like what one would expect back in the day like a Little House on the Prarie or the Homestead experience that PBS did a few years back. As we walked up the Homesteaders were yelling a greeting to come on up y'all. The Scout with the illness and his dad had returned healthy. We split wood, ate lunch and began to rain. We were under the awning of the porch when hail began. The storm was so intense that the ground was white with hail. In a matter of twenty minutes the temperature dropped from 70-50 degrees. We had a tour of the cabin, set up camp and the sun came out. We had advisor coffee with the staff, one of whom grew up at Philmont as his parents were on staff. The Scouts got to milk a cow and drink "fresh" milk.
This was a very easy day. A quick hike down to Phillips Junction for a food pickup and then a mile and a half climb up to Beaubian. We arrived at 12:45 and went horseback riding for two hours. We sat on the porch listening to staff play music and when it began to rain we quickly set up camp. Cooked dinner and had a good advisor coffee session. Campfire was short due to rain.
This was our layover day. We woke to a light rain and rolled over back to sleep until 7:20. I spent most of the morning lighting and tending the woodfired boiler for hot showers. This was most enjoyable. The day was cool and overcast. As the Chuck Wagon dinner was served a huge storm blew through. We had a biscuit, beef stew and peach cobbler. Advisor coffee but no campfire in bed at 8:30 to a light rain.
Up at 5:30. Most of the group were slow to get up today. We had a slow walk downhill through a meadow toward Abreu. The Scouts were very slow. The lower canyon was very steep and rocky and two Scouts had a very hard time. We arrived at 3:00 and set up camp in 25 minutes. Scouts loved the root beer in the cantina and we had a great hosted mexican dinner with seconds and thirds.
We had one Scout who was in bad shape, he could barely walk due to sore ankles and blisters. He went to base camp to end his trek. We climbed out of the camp in hot sun to Aguila Camp and then over to Crater Lake for Spar Climbing. Thunder and rain were threatening so no activity. We did hear some great mountain music on guitar and banjo. We then hiked to Miner's Park and the Scouts went off to rock climb and rappel. Adults napped on the porch and halfway through the activity it began to rain so it got cancelled. Dinner and bed early.
Woke up at 4:00. The rule at Philmont is that you cannot hike prior to sunrise, we were on the trail at 5:30 and ate breakfast near Sheaffers Pass. We did all the uphill work in the early morning in shade and cool temps. We had a very rough and rocky trail to the Tooth of Time. It was nice on top and we ate lunch after the Tooth. We had a long group of switchbacks down into base which is visible for most of the day. We arrived about 3:00 with thunder and rain in the distance. A good evening meal and a most welcome shower.
We woke at a normal time packed and got the bus to Raton. While waiting for the bus we spoke to a priest who was from southern Indiana, it turned out that he was a Bishop and that was very impressive to one of our catholic scouts who had never met a Bishop. The train was running late so we explored downtown Raton. We had pizza delivered to the station in Albequerque and dropped on Scout off so he could go to an OA even back east and our friends from Ohio said goodbye. A normal ride on the train arriving in Fullerton the next morning at 6:30.
A good time was had by all.
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