2008 July - Philmont

June 30th-July14 2008 After 2 years of preparation Troop 106 sent 19 of our scouts to the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron New Mexico. Our trip to Philmont was a great success.

Our trip started on a nice sunny afternoon in June. All 19 of us were looking forward to a great trip and nobody was disappointed. Our flight from LaGuardia to Denver was a bit late but nobody minded. During our trip we met at least a dozen people who come up to us to say that they went to Philmont. Even the guy at the budget car rental counter went to philmont. He graciously upgraded us to 4 SUVs at no cost so we now travel in style. We had one guy come tell us stories from when he went to philmont in 1957. Do the math, that's 51 years ago. I think he could have talked for hours about his trip. Our first stop was in Canon City on the Arkansas river where we planned a whitewater trip down the following afternoon on July 1st. The raft trip was on the arkansas river just north of royal gorge. The guide said that the water has never been that high in years. They were class 3 and 4 rapids. We didn't loose anybody overboard from our crew, although we did rescuse another man from another boat. It was like a wet roller coaster. I actually got water in my ears and up my nose. A bit scary but the guide were amazingly professional and we were always safe. 

About Philmont

a Trip to Philmont scout ranch is the pinnacle of scouting adventures. Located in Northern New Mexico in the foothills of the rocky mountains the camp is 140,000 acres of untouched wilderness. The ranch was a gift to the Boy Scouts from Waite Philips in the 1930's. No Scout will ever forget his adventure there!

Ascent of Mount Baldy

    The next day was a short hop down the Philmont. We stopped in town of Cimarron for a bit of shopping before going on to the camp. For the adult leaders who had been to philmont years before as scouts it was like entering a time warp. It was as if you had just left the camp a few months before. Other than a few new buildings in the basecamp and unusual sights (such as a womens latrine) nothing had really changed. The scenery was the same, the town of Cimarron was the same, the scouts looked the same, the camp had not changed in 30 years. One could not help to think about returning again in another 30 years. 

    As you arrive in Philmont you sign in and immediately join your ranger. As we went with 19 scouts we were already divided into two crews so we were assigned two rangers. Although we had two crews (702-I1 and 702-I2) we were both on the same itinerary (#24). The job of the ranger is to show you the Philmont method. The Philmont method covers all manner of things from gear, cooking, clean up, bear bags, safety and crew teamwork. The ranger will stay with the crew for the first two days after which you are on your own. The first day in camp consisted of lots of registration and check in activities such as getting gear, going over the itinerary and gear checkout. Our ranger was brutal about gear weight. Even though we had several shakedown prior to our trip it was amazing how much extra gear we had. When hiking 80 miles the name of the game is light weight. This means things like sharing soap and bugspray, a minimum of clothes and such. That night we went to the opening ceremony across the street. The scouts were very exctited. 

   Day 1; Basecamp to Rayado River:  After spending on 24 hours in basecamp we were on our way to the trail. A long busride from the basecamp to Zastrow turnaround at the southern end of the ranch was the real start of the adventure. In the span of 48 Hours we went from the busy streets of New York to being left at the end of a lonely dirt road in the midst of nowhere surrounded by rattlesnakes, lions and bears. What fun!

It did not take long for us to realize we were not in New York anymore, Less than a mile down the trail several scouts spotted a rattlesnake on the trail side making noises. After some prodding by the adult leaders we gave it a bit of leeway to scurry off. Our first day was all about training the Philmont way. This is all about leaving no trace and not making an impact on the camp. The training is quite different from most camping our troop had done before and would go to such lengths as not tying anything to trees, not walking outside the established trails, and not contaminating the campsite with anything which could attract bears. The first day was quite enjoyable. We had a nice breakfast in base camp, an easy bus ride and a very short hike to the first camp in Rayado River. That night the ranger cooked for us and the weather was somewhat enjoyable as we were treated to a short rain shower and a rainbow afterwards. We should have known it was not going to get better than this... 

Email from the trail Day 1

This was an email from the end of Day 1 at Rayado River. 

Today we woke up at base camp for our big day. At this point we have split into two crews. Crew I1 consists of Jeff Petracca, Rich Zelman, Chris Zelman, Joe Waters, Daniel Aprahamian, Anthony Negrelli, and Eric Schwartz. Rich Zelman and Mitch Holsborg are the advisors. Crew I2 is the balance. After breakfast we had a shakedown where all the gear is placed on your bunk. An amazing amount of gear was left at base camp. We even went as far as having one crew bug spray or sharing other items. A lot of clothing was left behind also. When everybody was ready we went to lunch and waited for the bus. At 1 pm we got on the bus for Zastrow turnaround. Our first real hiking. After a really short hike we arrived in Zastrow and did an orienteering course which we use our compass skills. We then left Zastrow and headed for Rayado River camp. This was only a mile away. It was a very short hike so we could have time to complete all the training in cooking, camp setup, bear bags, first aid and cleanup. This training was not completed until 10 pm, at which time we went to bed. Tomorrow is a 6 mile hike in which the ranger observes us to see what we learned. So far so good.

    Day 2: Rayado River to Lookout Meadows: The second day. What can be said about the second day. Looking at the map the second day originally did not look all that hard. On the map is was only 4 to 5 miles. The point we missed was that it was all up hill, It would rain and hail, we were out of shape, it was at a very high altitude and it was a dry camp. Even our ranger said that the trip from Rayado River to Lookout Meadows was one of the most difficult days he had done. Although it took a long time and everybody was tired we made it. Although everybody wondered what had we got ourselves into and questioned our ability to make it the rest of the way, we did not realize at the time that we had just done the hardest part of our trip. The rest would seem easy in comparison as we got used to the pack, our bodies got used to the altitude and the food did not seem so bad after all.

    Day 3: Hike to Beaubien: After the previous days hike we we no longer so confident that everything would be so easy. We were worried about making the tooth of time and Baldy. But every journey is one step at a time. At least on day 3 the weather was cooperating with us. The trail was easier, the sun was shining and our canteens were filled. We were just getting our hiking legs and learning navigating the trails. We missed several turns, but these were a good lesson learned. If you aren't paying attention and miss your turn then you will have to walk back to find it. We were coming together as a team and helping each other. With our crew looking well on their way it was at this time our ranger said goodbye and left us on our own. Arriving at Beaubien we were all tired. For several of us it was not the end of the days journey as we had to go the 2-3 miles to Phillips Junction and back to get our rations. 


The Tooth of Time

   Day 4 to Shaefers Pass: Of all the days this was to be the big day. But is did not turn out that way. The itinerary stated that we were to go from Beaubien to Shaffers pass, then make a side hike to the tooth of time. This was too much for everyone as we would be hiking the tooth with little water in the heat of the afternoon after a long hike. We instead opted to hike the tooth the next morning. This would afford us the luxury of getting a better head start on the day, however it meant that we would have to make cimmaroncito after the tooth. it worked out for the best as we got a good rest at shaffers pass and got an early start the next day. Leaving Beaubien we headed north towards the Black Mountain camp. It wasn't long before we got there and found that we entered what seemed like a time warp back to 1861. Black Mountain is a very sparse camp set up in a very steep valley of the North Fork of Urraca Creek. The camp has no roads and is provisioned only by mule. The camp is a replica of a union recruiting station complete with army enlisted men staffing the camp. It seems as when we entered the camp we were drafted into the union army. At this camp there was black powder rifle shooting and blacksmith. As we still had a long way to go, we went on our way down the Urracca Creek. The terrain was very tough, the trail was extrmely narrow and it passed back and forth across the small creek. This is where I slipped and stepped into the creek getting my right boot soaked to the ankle. Not fun... At the end of the creek was the North Fork Urracca Creek Camp. The camp was at the bottom of the valley but we needed to camp that night at Schaefers Pass which was about 1000 ft. up to the pass. The problem was the Schaefers pass was a mostly dry camp with little good water. Crew 702-I1 decided to opt to eat dinner for lunch and they would have lunch for dinner that night. Crew 702-I2 instead pulled out our secret weapon an loaded Matt Wilk up with about 7 Quarts of additional water for cooking that night. The camp at shaffers was horrible when it came to level campsites. Everybody woke up the next day piled up at the bottom of the downhill side of the tent. This was our closest encounter with bears. One scout from another crew reported seeing a bear about 50 feet in front of him while he was doing his business in the woods (the scout that is...). I suppose the bear was doing the same. Fortunately the bear was more frightened of the scout and it ran. It was also at this time that John Connell started to complain that he was loosing feeling in the right side of his face. At the time it didn't seem like anything remarkable but over the next few days it would get worse.

    Day 5 The Tooth and Cimmaroncito: This was a big day. With 2 liters of water each and no packs, we left at first light. The Tooth of Time is a located near the opposite end of a long ridge. It is called the tooth of time because from the distance it actually looks like a tooth sticking from the ridgeline and it was a marker for the travellers on the Santa Fe Trail that they had two weeks of walking to get back to Santa Fe, Hence the Tooth of Time. From our vantage point it looked like a lot of trees and rocks, until you actually got to the base of the tooth. At that point it is lots of hand over hand rock scrambling. The ascent up the tooth was challenging for some scouts as it was a rock scramble with large boulders and crevices. The top had quite a 360 view and was a nice rest stop. The top was also quite crowded as everybody seemed to arrive at the same time in the morning. Any earlier would have been difficult as the hike was long and any later would have risked being caught there in a lightning storm. In short order both crews made it to the top. We stayed for about and hour and took lots of crew pictures. The trip back was a bit harder as we were running out of water. Fortunately we had also stored water at shaffers pass so we had plenty when we returned. However this was only the first part of the day. We still had to make it all the way to Cimmaroncito. On the way we passed through Hunting Lodge. This place was aptly named as about 100 yards past the lodge we stumbled upon a large heard of deer just standing in the late afternoon sun. They hardly noticed us as we hiked on our way. Although the day was long, everyone made it OK. At this point we were actually far north of the base camp.  Just before the camp was the cimmaroncito reservoir. The views are amazing as can be seen from the pictures. 

Cimmaroncito Reservior

Day 6 to Visto Grande: Visto Grande is the first place where you can see Baldy mountain from afar. It was very satisfying to see how far we had actually hiked. We picked up food on the way at the Ute Gulch commissary. When we got to Ute Gulch the rain was coming down quite hard so we stayed there for a while. Many of the other crews also had the same idea so the very small porch out front was extremely crowded. It was also quite cold. After a while the rain let up just a bit so we moved on out to Visto Grande. It was on our way this camp that we took a wrong turn and got a bit lost. We were very close to camp but the trail seemed to get more and more faint. Matt was in the lead and started to blaze his own trail. He was having such a great time that he got way to far in front of us before we could stop him. Eventually after retracing our steps we eventually got back on the right trail and all the way to camp. 
Day 7 to Head of Dean : From the Visto Grande trail camp to Head of Dean was several miles including the crossing of the Cimarron River, Highway 64 and the ascent up bear canyon. On the way there where the cimarron river crosses route 64 we had an interesting encounter. We had stopped there for water early in the morning, while resting there we encountered another crew coming from the north. Most of that crew stopped and rested while one of their scouts who was all excited, started to scale the highway bridge and went up to the road. He ran down a few hundred yards and yelled out a number. One of the other scouts pulled out his cell phone and made a call. wondering what was going on we asked. They said that they needed to know the mile marker on the road so that the pizza delivery guy would know where to stop. Later on from what I heard I dont think the pizza delivery guy needed the mile number. He had made lots of deliveries to that location as it is one of the few places in the scout camp that the trail crosses a public road. As we had a long way to go, so we soldiered on. This was a long hike but we were becoming very acclimated to the routine so the day did not seem all that bad other than the problem with Johns face. The adult leaders thought that his condition was Bells Palsey but the staff at the camp needed to see him. 

The Real Philmont Wilderness

When traveling from Head of Dean to the Basecamp the SUV with John Connell, Myself and the EMT, the driver was passing through Maxwell turnaround at the edge of a large field when he shouted "Look at that!". By the time I looked up it was gone. The driver had spotted a mountain lion stalking deer from the edge of a large field. The lion was hiding behind a hay bale and was startled by the lights, he darted across the road 75 feet in front of us into the brush. The entire encounter was abut 2-3 seconds. After that, it made the task of going to the latrine in the dark a very memorable experience.

Mr Hanft.

P.S. Mountain Lion attacks are incredibly rare as they are very afraid of humans. I asked about them an they staff said no scouts have been attacked. The most common cause of death at Philmont is out of shape advisors dropping dead from heart attacks. 
When John was presented the staff at the camp was very professional and conducted a full exam in consultation with the base camp. A driver and EMT was sent immediately from the base camp and arrived an hour later. After more exams John and his stepfather were evacuated to base camp for further exams. It was on the way back that they got a great tour of the back lot of Philmont. Back at base camp he was positively diagnosed with Bells Palsey. John and his stepfather would stay in basecamp for the night and rejoin the crew the next day. When we returned to New York, John found out that the Bells Palsy was actually caused by Lyme Disease which he had apparently caught while hiking with his family weeks before. He was treated and quickly recovered with no ill effects. Although not known for being the most athletic of kids, The fact that John made it through the rest of the trip, crooked smile and all, earned the respect of the rest of the crew. 

View of Baldy from Ute Meadows

Day 8 to Ute Meadows: The hike from Head of Dean to Ute Meadows was a short one. On the way we stopped at Miranda for black powder shooting. It was here that Mr Hanft and John rejoined the crew. While waiting for the shooting we enjoyed the afternoon sun, throwing tomahawks and resting on the porch and enjoying the very scenic views. Due to a misunderstanding 702-I2 never did get to shoot black powder. It seems as though we were called but nobody responded so we lost our turn. From Miranda it was a short hike up the valley to Ute Meadows where we set up camp along the river for our ascent up Baldy Mountain the next day. Ute Meadows is at about 9,100 Ft Elevation. The peak of Baldy is at 12,441 ft.

    Day 9 Ascent of Baldy: The big day. With an early start we along with several other crew made our way from Ute meadows up to Baldy Town. Baldy Town was once a mining town with a fairly large population. This became the rallying point for most of the crews making the ascent that day. We ate our breakfast and loaded up with water. The weather was very cooperative it was blue sky with cool temperatures. At Baldy Town the mountain seemed quite impressive. The ascent was long and difficult, but ok if taken slow. At this point in our trip our feet were acclimated to the miles on the trail and out lungs were also feeling much better. On the way up we also encountered an older scoutmaster with white hair and a fresh uniform. It was very noticeable since we were standing still trying to catch our breath, while he walked right by us, saying hello, but not stopping. This was the fabled old scoutmaster whom we had heard about, on his 20 something trip to Philmont. The younger scouts didn't seem to notice but all the adults on the trip nodded their head in respect to this real mountain man. Taken slow and steady, Baldy was to be conquered that day by every crew member. At the top the sky was incredibly blue, the air was warm and the wind was blowing but not all that hard. We all congratulated the hikers as they completed their ascent. With all 19 of us were at the top we celebrated with pictures, congratulations and lunch. The descent down the other side would actually prove harder as it was steep with lots of loose rocks which were difficult on the ankles. The weather was also closing in on us and we needed to get off the mountain quickly. At the bottom of the north side of Baldy we were treated with a unexpected sight. Snow!,  nobody expected snow in the middle of July. The snow had accumulated on the northern side of a very steep hill in a gully. All the scouts had to try out their skiing skills to the amusement of the onlookers. About this time was when the rain also started. The hike on the north side of the mountain in the rain was not fun. We were tired, wet and hungry. We also had several miles to go. Eventually we made it back through Copper Park, French Henry, Baldy Town and back to Ute Meadows. On the way the crews had stopped to pan for gold and visit one of the mines. This was a very long and tiring day.

Day 10 to Elkhorn: The next day our itinerary called for us to pick up burros from Miranda and take them to Ponil. However on our schedule there was no pick up time so our crew (702-I2) did not make any concerted effort to get to Ponil in a hurry. When we got to the burro pens we had a very rude burro wrangler yelling at us for not reading our itinerary. After very nicely explaining to him that we had no pick up time, he apologized and asked if was OK for us not to have burros. Secretly, we were elated since we did not want them, and more importantly the itinerary called for us to camp at Elkhorn with the Burros and to be at Ponil the next morning by 9 am. This was going to be impossible as the camp was 5 miles away over rough terrain. 

Elkhorn Camp

We would have to left have in the pitch dark to make it in time. So, we kindly declined the burros and celebrated when we left earshot of the burro wrangler.  The trip to Elkhorn from Miranda was very hot as the sun was high in the blue sky and the temperatures were hot. We were also walking in an area which was obviously ravaged by fire. There were very few standing trees and the trail was a dirt road. Eventually we did get to camp and were quite surprised to see that the camp was nestled in a bowl shaped valley with little or no fire damage. The shade was nice and more importantly we got to camp early enough to enjoy the shady pines, soft breezes and early afternoon sun. There was not much to do, but that was OK by us.

Day 11 Ponil Turnaround and Return to Basecamp: For Crew 702-I2 the trip from Elkhorn to Ponil was going to be tight. Our sister crew was staying in Dean Cutoff so they did not have so far to hike in the morning. Our crew had to get up very early, I was glad to see that we were all doing our part in taking down the camp, eating breakfast and moving out at first light. Like a well oiled machine. I was extremely glad that we did not have burros on the southern side of Ponil Creek since there were several places where the trail had totally washed away. I could not see a burro passing through that trail as even our best crew members had to remove their packs and scramble on hands and feet across the rocks and sheer cliffs. Eventually we made it to Ponil with quite a bit of time to spare. It was in Ponil that 702-I1 found 702-I2 waiting for them. With a bit of time before the bus came to pick us up we all had a go at branding our boots, belts, hats and other items. The Philmont Horse and Cattle brand is highly prized since it marks you as a real adventurer. With our trip completed we went for a very short hike down to the Ponil Turnaround and waited for the bus to return us to whence we came. All 19 of of us will never forget the time we had.
Tom Hanft
October 2008
Troop 106 ASM