Ryan Bertram, Contingent Advisor, wrote this introduction to their adventure this summer:
From June 10-24, 2015, eight youth and four adults from the Utah National Parks Council completed an 11-day, 84-mile backpacking trip at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, NM. This trip was made possible via full youth scholarships awarded to the Council from the Waite Phillips Scholarship Fund managed by Philmont. The crew spent time in the Valle Vidal area of Carson National Forest to the north of Philmont, “meadow walking” through grass-filled prairies and ponderosa pine. The highlight of the trip was summiting 12,441 ft. Baldy Mountain and experiencing its 360° panoramic views. Completing a Philmont trek is a life-changing experience!
To experience this trek, The Boy Scout staff invited Ian Sundberg, a 19 year old trek leader, to share his day-by-day adventure.
Day 1: Thursday, June 11, 2015
Alamosa CO to Philmont
We arrived to Base Camp around 2 pm. After driving through the welcome center and parking, we were met by our Ranger, Jake Frash. He was in the same Troop as Ian in Powell, Ohio.
We threw our gear in camp D-1 as one of the first crews of the Summer, the closest to the Dining Hall. Jake “from State Farm” led us through lunch and the Logistics Department. While waiting for Crew Leader Kobe to review the maps, route and itinerary programs, the crew bonded over two Truths and a Lie and rounds of Ninja.
Frash taught us all of the first aid and principles of the new Trail of Courage, a pledge to be tobacco free. We got medical checks, our picture taken, crew gear with little bags of food, cooked Last Supper, and attended a Chapel Service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at 7 pm. Dallin impressed us by volunteering to play piano for worship and Michael and Andre stepped up for the Invocation and Benediction. Following a nice service where the Elder gave us bread and cups for Sunday Sacrament, we went off to the Opening Night Campfire.
The actors did a great job introducing us to this land and its historical figures, from Lucien Maxwell to Waite Philips, without whom we would not have this High Adventure Base.
The Sunset and heat lightning were more incredible (except to our crew members that flirted and got selfies with the Indian actress). We quietly walked back to our site to have our first Roses/Thorns/Buds reflection, ending in a group hug. The Tooth of Time has been chewing on me.
Day 2: Friday, June 12, 2015
6-Mile Gate to Indian Writings Staff Camp
We woke up early to rendezvous with Ranger Jake. Frash had us pull out our tent cots and put all of the gear onto them. He had us take out everything not essential for trek, storing most of our equipment in lockers. As soon as our backpacks fit all remaining items, shoving in food, we boarded a bus with our brother crew from South Carolina. Our rangers gave us an entertaining window tour, noting Arrowhead Rock first, that if you see over your shoulder on the way out means you’re destined to return to PS. We were then dropped off at 6-Mile Gate in the pouring rain.
With our pack covers on, Jake taught us about the infamous Red Roofs and how to navigate with map and compass. After finally figuring out where we were and a crew picture, we were now Trailbound!
The hike was just a 5k to get us acclimated to altitude and have time for camp lessons, but zigzagged through a beautiful rock valley. This is the greenest Philmont has ever been in at least 20 years. Also first year in as many that fires are allowed in camps. We saw remnants from the Great Ponil Complex Forest Fire, carrying its own mystic wonder in the destruction.
Notable was seeing the only documented Tyrannosaurus Rex track in the world here in the Ponil Canyon. Passing through Anasazi and fields of tall grass we arrived to Indian Writings with Peter, a staffer retrieving a runaway cow. He gave us our first porch talk, explaining the area and activities offered here, and took us to camp.
Fresh Frash gave us the Bermuda Triangle rundown, setting up tents in a triangle with the fire pit where we’d store Nalgenes and cook beside, and bear bag lines.
Frash showed us the ropes, literally, from throwing over our coiled ropes to tying 4 different bags for food/smellables/toiletries (oops bag put up right before bed) with a Larks Head Knot and wrapping ends on separate trees around sticks to save the bark. It was all about Leave No Trace, from sumping dishwater, to swallowing toothpaste.
Day 3: Saturday, June 13, 2015
Indian Writings to Cook Canyon Trail Camp
We got another early start to fit in the program. There was atlatl throwing with Isabelle where Chaplain Chandler speared a deer and Talon reminded us that “Dinosaurs are extinct!” Then there was archaeology with Quentin, where we sifted through dirt to find charcoal fossils from Native American fires.
Most interesting to me was Peter’s neat Cliff Tour of the actual Indian Writings, Petroglyphs like those we’d also see at Mesa Verde on the way home. We all had our own interpretations of the vague etchings in the rock, stories and depictions, some of which weren’t complete and were shot at by cowboys.
Upon packing up and policing camp, we departed, greeted by creek crossings, which we had to walk across barefoot with backpacks unstrapped, and several cattle gates.
We took our break at Metcalf Station, a new staff camp where they are laying down train track with railroad spikes from their own blacksmithing camp, just like the time period.
They’ve laid approximately 800 meters through, so we were fortunate to see history in the making. After learning about the telegraph, we left to leap over more crooked creeks during a storm and made it to Cook Canyon in preparation for Leave No Trace (LNT) in the Valle Vidal.
Jake taught us to make our own bear line, and sump yum-yums via pine needles in a poked meal bag into another to pack out as with all trash. While we saw triple rainbows, we also got to see carcasses from recent Mountain Lion huntings by our tents.
Day 4: Sunday, June 14, 2015
Cook Canyon to Ring Place Staff Camp
We awoke to enjoy the sunrise atop a neighboring hill in the valley. What we shared up there will continue to remain only in our hearts. We descended in tears to share Sacrament and conversation about Mormonism, Methodism and other denominations.
Most sad was saying our goodbyes to Ranger Jake. He had to zip line on power lines back to State Farm. Following several pictures, we were alone out in the wilderness.
Hiking became steeper and we got our first trail views of Baldy Mountain. We ran down a huge hill into Dan Beard Staff Camp, where we almost saw Jake, but instead met Julia.
To say the least, “pulling a Julia” means underestimating a day hike by at least 6 miles. Juan, the other staffer here, led the crew thru a cool COPE course. He’s also real big into NYLT. 611-V lowered a hula hoop with fingers, threw each other in the air, as well as through a spider web/across rope swings/bridges they had to carry around one another, all of which without talking or touching the ground and acting out disability (blind-fold or amputee). By throwing each other up the military wall, also action movie themed, they were in performing stage. Not even near lightning that made us take shelter, getting lost on Loop Road in hours of rain, or the 8 mile hike that turned into 14, could phase them.
Wilderness Guia David entertained trail hikes with low-impact camping and LNT lessons, not to mention narrating never-ending RPGs. We passed many large lakes and started meadow walking, hiking side by side instead of straight lines, seeing many marmots.
Ring Town’s Ranch finally came into sight! We celebrated at their commissary with fresh fruit and chocolate milk.
Day 5: Monday, June 15, 2015
Ring Place to Whiteman Vega Staff Camp
We slept in since today was a shorter hike between two staff camps, tired from the strenuous surprise peaks and false summits of yesterday, in preparation for tomorrow’s 18-miler. This was the hike I took my favorite pic of the crew, when they spread out along a Carson National Forest service road. hiking in one line on the same level as a team.
We touched down in Whiteman Vega, where staffers immediately ushered us into a Mountain Biking session. Jake showed us the gears, literally and a different Jake, and we were off, relaxing strained leg muscles to use other ones. Isaac was the only one amongst the crews to conquer Dwayne Johnson, biking up “The Rock” without landing. We hit moguls, rhythm and blues, berms, high-banked turns, ramps, log drops and more.
Upon returning, for the most of us, in one piece, they led us back up the 4-mile trail for our 3-hour conservation project. Philmont maintains its property by having each crew help out around the camps, like their OA Trail Crew with Rayado/ROCS itineraries. While it is the 77th Anniversary of Philmont since Philturn, it’s the 100th Anniversary for Order of the Arrow. Our project was unique since the trail we worked on was for the Mountain Biking they are still extending. We laid ramp foundations by burying rock.
Nick took us to our site at last, Pirate Island, where we set up and ate just in time for Sundown. Crude cross-tent conversations were put to rest by mountain lion roars and cow cries in the distance. It was hard to realize our trek was about halfway over.
Day 6: Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Whiteman Vega to Greenwood Canyon Trail Camp
We got up in time to see sun shine through mountain mist, hazy fog and morning grass dew. Surviving cattle grazed across the field to say good morning. Beginning of our hike was flat, an enormous meadow of tall weeds and purple flowers. Mountains were clear in all directions, including Little Castilla, Baldy, and the one we’d climb next.
We went up a steep hillside littered with fallen branches and rocks to surmount. The top brought more meadow walks over a barb wire fence, lessons on camping principles and songs.
Today was 20 miles of ups and downs, if you count the countless bathroom breaks requiring us to go a good ways off trail. We hiked by McCrystal Camp Ground (but the right way this time), through yet another storm and passed a windmill. We descended a sandy road all the way down to the creek bed of the valley in which we’d hike through the rest of the way, crossing it numerous times into Greenwood. The woods were certainly green, making for a great view on open-air bombardiers [outdoor toilets].
Day 7: Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Lower Greenwood to Copper Park Trail Camp
We hiked along the rest of the river in the Canyon this morning, passed our bro crew yet again, despite them taking every shortcut possible, and saw even more deer limbs [bones]. This was perhaps our steepest hike, determining distance by elevation left, opposed to remaining miles. It wasn’t long before we topped this cliff in the shadow of Baldy, except for the three of us that kept getting bloody noses.
We broke for lunch as usual, also to purify water from a mountain stream. We began to see snow and more pine trees. Baldy got closer with each switchback down into its base camp, Copper Park.
It was much tougher starting a fire with air pressure from high altitude, but we had enough to enjoy good conversation and do our duties in time for a good nights sleep.
Day 8: Thursday, June 18, 2015
Copper Park to Baldy Mountain (Side Hike)
We didn’t have to take down our tents this morning! Because this is the day up Baldy…
It was risky getting such a late start, given a pattern of afternoon thunderstorms, but our prayers were answered with perfect weather, and our summiting was sooner than expected. We may or may not’ve (intentionally) gotten lost on the most traveled PSR path. If we had, it would’ve been the fault of snow covering the trail without footprints…
We technically left no trace because footprints were in the snow and bouldered rocks. The technical climbing as we scrambled up the side of Baldy was as incredible as the views and pictures were certainly all we took in addition to deep breaths and #2-breaks.
I chose to use my hands as ice picks up some snowy bluffs for pics over Eagle’s Nest, which we would drive thru on the way home. We explored cabin remnants and the entrance to a mine shaft, and then finished strong up the rest of Baldy.
Words can’t do justice in describing the scenery atop the summit. Without the common clouds, we’d see all the way to the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Spanish Peaks, Tooth of Time/Mt. Phillips/ Black Mountain from my last trek, and most of our Journey remaining to Chase Ranch. We didn’t “build a snowman,” but we made hot chocolate and a 611-V rap music video.
Hiking down the other side into Baldy Town was even steeper. We crept laterally to not slide, slowly tip-toeing to not erode rolling rocks onto those ahead.
Baldy Town was our lunch stop and the next commissary. Shortly into our hike back to Copper, a flash of lightning nearby came less than a second after the loudest thunder strike most of us have ever heard. We instantly dropped our packs, poles and any metal, running down the side of a cliff to take shelter in our lightning positions. After that and safely returning to camp, the day was relaxing, reflecting around a fire and tossing the disc, sometimes “on accident” into a girls’ crewsite.
Day 9: Friday, June 19, 2015 Copper Park to Pueblano Staff Camp
We sadly had to tear down camp this time, but we were off very soon after breakfast to Pueblano. On the way was French Henry, a staff/mining camp. Levi gave the best porch talk and then we took advantage of all their programs.
Chris the Geologist told us a never-ending story of information about the formation of mines and gold. We panned for gold specks while waiting for the forge, where we crafted a Crazy S-hook.
Next was the mine tour! We hiked to the Aztec Ponil 2 where Levi led us 400 meters back into the mine shaft. We confirmed Ranger Frash’s theory of a ghost presence with Tommy-Knockers. What happened at the end of the tunnel shall remain a secret for any yet to explore.
We had to get moving, but it was mainly downhill into Pueblano. Boss Man got us situated and we were just in time for the last Spar Pole Climbing session.
The staff were all in character of early settlers from the Logging/Milling Company. They gave a hilarious demonstration of sparring up the log, paying belayer “Donkey” a compliment before and after. Our poles were named Sarah and Megan and a few of us completed in almost a minute. It was more exhausting than it looked, but dinner was right after.
They let us cook by the cabin behind the dugout of their logger ballfield. A game was played after the National Anthem, staffers versus campers. Staff won…
They deserved the victory with how great the campfire they put on that night was. Much of the music in the slideshow I made is from this show.
Day 10: Saturday, June 20, 2015
Pueblano to Ponil Staff Camp
We saw a lot of nature this morn. Monarch butterflies, jack rabbits, deer, horses and burros from treks that use them to carry gear on the Cavalcade.
Before we departed, I climbed up an almost vertical rocky bluff, using roots and rocks for handholds. The sight atop was one-of-a-kind with the sea of Evergreen trees. Our hike between these two iconic staff camps wove along the side of cliff, dug into the side of a mountain valley. We even saw the conservation camp responsible for controlling erosion.
We passed our third and final commissary, staff housing, horse and burro stables, the trading post and Cantina on our way to the cabin porch. We then went on a horse ride that stretched across the whole camp and into neighboring hills.
They were trained to trot in line and cross all the creeks. My horse Bubba was spooked by a passing Ranger and tried to throw me off—very scary, but we returned safely. As always, we set up camp and made it in time to the Chuck Wagon Dinner. Beef stew and cobbler has never tasted as good after days of dehydrated trail food/snacks and freeze-dried dinners.
The great night continued into the Cantina Show. This was another staff camp full of musicians and their play blew us away. It went back to back with a talent show where Michael performed a pantomime to “The Entertainer”, played by Dallin on the piano (while on the subject he also got to play on Waite Philips’ piano on our tour of The Villa our last day).
Day 11: Sunday, June 21, 2015
Ponil to Dean Cow Staff Camp
We packed/cleaned up camp and did the morning Action Cowboy Shooting session. The girls from the Cantina showed us the safety rules. They showed us the three guns we were going to use: a Colt Single Action Army replica revolver, a Winchester Lever-action rifle and a double-barreled shotgun.
We shot under aliases, catchphrases like Crazy-S “Suns out Guns out” and got 12 shots each. This is one of the only places in the world with an interactive range where the first shotgun shot swings a target down to propel a clay into the air shot by the second shot.
The Philmont Swap Boxes are famous for cast off foods that other hikers can’t wait to get rid of. It is truly a place to please one person with someone else’s trash
After resupplying our food supplies from the Mega Swap Box, we hiked out and up yet another cliff. We thought it was mainly downhill from here, but this hill didn’t seem to end. Once we’d finally make it, we shared in Sunday Sacrament and another emotional crew reflection.
Philmont changes lives in ways journal entries cannot communicate. Dean Cow’s skyline’s views were spectacular and different on each side.
We hiked through a valley much like on Day 2, along a dry creek, and through Chandler Canyon into our final staff camp, Dean Cow. The camp didn’t have any cows, but did have Bill, the 6-week old kitten.
Rock Climbing is my favorite Philmont Program. They got us started real fast on real rocks, climbing on the routes Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise. Once at the top, we’d strap off into a line to traverse over to a rappelling rope.
Staff also challenged us and won volleyball…
Day 12: Monday, June 22, 2015
Dean Cow to Chase Ranch Turnaround
We said bye to the Girls’ Crew from Cleveland and hit the road one last time. I’d argue this to be one of our most beautiful hikes. The meadow was grassy with a variety of flowers with the sun shining through the trees in a brilliant fashion. The cow tail reeds or Typhas sat in the greenest vegetation. We passed one last windmill, fence step, a livestock gate, meadow and road to our pick up at Chase Ranch. We took the tour with our Brother Crew, and 103 miles later, at least for us, were back on a bus to base camp.
We celebrated with showers, debriefed with logistics and turned in our crew gear. Then we met up with Mark Anderson, the Director of Program at Philmont, who gave the crew scholarships.
That night was steaks at the haunted St. James Hotel before returning to base for the closing campfire with a funny MC.
The next day we toured the museum and home of Waite and Genevieve Phillips and also said bye to Ranger Frash again… The last sight we saw at Philmont was Arrowhead Rock!
Author: Ian Sundberg | an Eagle Scout who holds Scouting’s Triple Crown, completing treks at Nothern Tier, Florida Sea Base, and Philmont.
A Council crew contingent of eight youth and four adults will be returning in 2016 again on full scholarships. For more information, contact Ryan Bertram.
Philmont Scout Ranch, the Boy Scouts of America’s premier High Adventure base, challenges Scouts and Venturers with more than 214 square miles of rugged northern New Mexico wilderness. Backpacking treks, horseback cavalcades, and training and service programs offer young people many ways to experience this legendary country (www.philmontscoutranch.org)