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Philmont 2016 726-Z1

posted Sep 24, 2016, 11:06 PM by Joshua Wu   [ updated Sep 24, 2016, 11:14 PM by Gary Anwyl ]

Link to Philmont 2016 726-Z2 Report: Philmont 2016 726-Z2

Hi all,

Here it is, my report of Crew 726-Z-1 adventure at Philmont.  

Trip Summary

The 2016 Philmont trek was filled with fun and drama.  Both crews trekked Itinerary 6, which was a challenging trek that included 66 miles of hiking highlights such as viewing sunrise from Inspiration Point, climbing over 3000 feet with loaded packs up to Trail Peak, climbing Mt. Philips at an altitude of 11,736 feet, and enjoying amazing views from Window Rock.  Itinerary 6 also included program highlights such as horse rides, a cowboy camp fire, mining, blacksmithing, and rock climbing.

The memories of the 2016 Philmont trek are much more exciting than the highlights of the Itinerary.  In addition to the amazing views and sceneries in the scouting paradise, we got to experience:

1) Crushing our competition in a softball game;

2) Multiple hail storms in the summer;

3) Pranking other crews about the different backgrounds of our crew members and places we came from;

4) Close encounters with numerous lightning and thunder storms;

5) Drinking the best root beer in Abreu;

6) Getting lost and fearful for our lives (for some scouts);

7) Meeting new friends from Texas;

8) Staring down a rattlesnake to claim the path to Trail Peak;

9) Riding horses in pouring rain;

10) Escaping from Cypher’s Mine in total darkness;

11) Digging cat holes for the first time (for some scouts);

12) Enjoying humorous skits and talent shows from members of both crews at our own campfire;

13) Fending off bears visiting our campsite;

14) Shooting the 12-gauge shotguns;

15) Seeing double rainbows at Base Camp;

16) Visiting United States Olympic Training Center and United States Air Force Academy.

I would like to thank Sri, Victor, Vatsal, Ashok, and Thomas for leading the trip; thank Victor for taking the beautiful pictures; and thank Thomas for planning and coordinating the trip.  The trip would not have been possible without the dedication and sacrifice of the adult leaders.

I also am really glad I got the opportunity to take on this trek and I am proud that I made it along with my fellow crew members. For me, the physical aspect wasn’t the toughest part. It was the task of guiding five young scouts and willing them on till the very end of the journey. Never had I been faced with a challenge this hard in my entire scouting career. I didn’t want to do it at first, but it was until the very end when I realized how life changing and meaningful this experience was. For the scouts who went with me, I hope you will always remember these special mountains for the rest of your life. And for newer scouts, I encourage you to go ahead and experience Philmont for yourselves.


Brian Chan

Detailed Trip Report

Day 0: Arriving at Base Camp

All scouts arrived at the San Jose International Airport at 5:30. To protect the loose straps and buckles on our backpacks, we packed them in heavy duty garbage bags before checking them in. We then boarded the plane at 6:30 and took a two and a half hour long flight to Denver. While waiting at baggage claim, the scouts elected me as the crew leader of Crew 726-Z-1. After getting our backpacks, the Alamo car rental bus drove us to their car rental station. Once there, we rented a 15-passenger white van along with a 5-seater SUV, just enough to barely squeeze in twelve scouts, five adults, and all our backpacks. We then set off towards our main destination, Base Camp, located near Cimarron, New Mexico. Halfway to Base Camp, we stopped at an Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, we didn’t stay there for too long because the tour wasn’t free and the scouts were hungry. We quickly glanced around, took some pictures, and then headed off to a nearby Taco Bell and Burger King for lunch. We finally arrived at Base Camp at 5:00 and met our ranger India, who would be our guide throughout the first three days of the trek. After the adults checked us in, India brought us to the six tents that would serve as our homes for the night. These tents were similar to the ones at Oljato but better. These tents had velcro straps to seal the tent flaps shut, an inner flap allowing for air ventilation, and most importantly, cots with mattresses. After unpacking everything out of our backpacks we did a “pack shakedown” where India would check to make sure everyone had the necessary items for surviving in Philmont. All we were missing was canister gas fuel for cooking, which we noted down to get the next day from their shop. After all was settled, we proceeded to have a nice, warm dinner cooked by the staff in their cafeteria. While we were happily eating, two magnificent rainbows formed side by side in the sky to form a double rainbow. Victor, our professional photographer, took some pictures of this amazing sight. To end the evening on a high note, the staff had organized an entertaining campfire consisting of skits and stories about the history of Philmont. This campfire got every scout pumped and excited for the adventures that were awaiting them.

Day 1: Goodbye Civilization :(

We got up for an early 6:45 breakfast served at the cafeteria. We ate quickly knowing that today would be a very long and busy day. Lots had to be done before our scheduled 1:00 bus could take us away from civilization and drop us off in the wilderness. Right after breakfast we returned to our tents to finish packing. Thomas distributed “crew gear” to every scout. This gear included bear bag ropes, pots, eating utensils, and a dining fly. Although this added a few extra pounds to everyone’s pack, everyone understood that these items were essential for our 12-day trek and no complaints were made. Once everything was packed out of our tents we moved our backpacks to the Welcome Center where the 1:00 bus would pick us up. We quickly got our medical forms checked off and completed crew advisor meetings. After that, we went to Logistics to finalize our itinerary. This was an hour-long meeting only for crew leaders and crew advisors. In this meeting, an experienced Philmont staff member walked us through what would happen in our next 12 days at Philmont. He gave us a detailed day-to-day guide of where we would camp, helped mark our map of all the places we had to go (indicating whether it was a trail camp, staff camp, or food pick up), and suggested trails to take on the way. While this meeting was in progress, the other scouts waited outside with India and got slushies. When the meeting was over, our entire crew walked across Base Camp to take our crew photo. In the background of our crew photo was the marvelous Tooth of Time, one of the most famous geological attractions of Philmont. Not only was this crew photo a souvenir to bring back home, but it was a tool to help them find us if we ever got lost in the mountains. It was almost noon, but one last thing had to be done before lunch time and that was getting food. We walked over to the food pick up station and picked up two large garbage cans filled with our first four days worth of food. All foods were contained in plastic bags separated by day and meal. In total there were 55 bags of food since there were 5 bags of food per meal (each bag serving 2 people) and 11 total meals before our next food pick up. Five bear bags were given to us along with the food, so we stuffed all the bags of food in the bear bags, returned the garbage cans to the staff, and hauled the heavy bear bags to the Welcome Center to drop them off by our backpacks. After that, we quickly ate lunch since our bus departure was very soon. We returned to the Welcome Center after lunch to begin packing our food into our backpacks. It seemed impossible at first, but somehow, after strategic distribution, we managed to fit all 55 food bags into our backpacks. There was so much food that everyone’s pack weight almost doubled. Luckily, today’s hike was only two miles. At 1:00 the bus picked us up and dropped us off at Lover’s Leap Turnaround. Before we could start hiking, India taught us basic navigation techniques and the lightning position which would come in very handy later on in the trek. After the talk, we began our hike. When we reached Lover’s Leap Point, we took a packs-off break to enjoy the scenery where we could see Lover’s Leap, our campsite for the night. Once we arrived at our campsite, India taught us the proper procedures of setting up camp. We first set up the dining fly, intended for sheltering packs and crew gear during the rain. Then we raised our bear bags onto a 20-feet-tall cable. Lastly, we pitched our tents 50 feet away from the “Bear-muda Triangle” -- campfire, sump, and bear bags. We had a nice dinner, but already lost our dishwashing soap on the first day. Today was a nice, smooth day, thanks to the assistance of India.

Day 2: COPE

Woke up at 5:30 and ate breakfast. We also found the cleaning supplies we were missing the last night. At 7:00 we broke camp. Five miles away was our destination, Urraca, a staff camp specialized for its COPE program. We were off to a blazing pace and managed to be the first crew to arrive at the camp. It was only 11:00 when we arrived so we decided to start the COPE program before setting up camp. Our first task was an easy balancing activity. The second challenge was significantly more difficult. We were required to build our own path of wooden beams by placing them in between tree stumps and get everyone across it. Every time someone dropped a beam on the ground they lost a body part as punishment, such as an arm or not being able to talk. This challenge really tested our teamwork skills and took an hour to complete. The last challenge was a blindfold maze. Andy was allowed to see and talk while everyone was blindfolded. Andy had to guide everyone through the maze only by using voice commands. This wasn’t as challenging as the wooden beam challenge, but was still fun nonetheless. As we walked back to camp, hail started to shower from the sky. Everyone was quite startled, since it never hails in Palo Alto. Luckily, it only lasted a few minutes, so we were able to set up camp. We had plenty of time to spare, so the rest of our afternoon was spent socializing with other crews at Urraca. Some of our scouts thought it would be funny to convince the other crews that we were from China. Believe it or not, some crews were actually convinced (I won’t go into the details of how it happened because it’s quite silly). After dinner, we went to their evening program. This program included a staff versus camper whiffle ball game followed by a campfire. At the campfire, they told several scary stories. One story was about a secret portal at the top of the Urraca Mesa that led to a demon realm. At the end of the campfire, they reassured us that these stories were made up. Still, the stories were so spooky that probably no one slept well that night.

Day 3: Yum, rootbeer

We woke up at 5, earlier than usual, because we planned to go on a short morning hike without backpacks to Inspiration Point. By 5:30 everyone was ready to go so we began our hike. After ten minutes of hiking up a steep path, we reached Inspiration Point. We sat on top of the rocks and admired the gorgeous sunrise. It was incredible to see the sun illuminate the vast valley that lay in front of our eyes. We spent an hour just sitting there and taking everything in. We returned to camp at about 7:00 to have breakfast. Our three days with India had gone by, and now it was time to say goodbye to her. We thanked India for guiding us and broke camp shortly after she left. To our next staff camp, Abreu, it was another five mile hike. However, the path we took was a very uncomfortable steep down hill. This made our feet tired and made the hike feel a lot longer than five miles. We eventually arrived there by mid-afternoon. This campsite was basically an animal farm. Chickens scurried around by our feet and there were multiple pens for goats and burros. The staff brought us to a campsite so we could set up camp. As we were putting our bear bags up, marble-sized hail started pouring down on us. It was too cold to continue the task so we dropped the bear ropes and ran back to camp to hide under our dining fly. We had lunch as we waited for the storm to pass by. Once the hail stopped, we hurried to finish setting up camp. We figured the Cantina was a nice place to stay because everyone was wet and cold. The Cantina was like a small indoor bar where people bought snacks and root beer. Due to the rain, the Cantina was packed with many people. We stayed in there for a couple of hours and became good friends with a crew from Texas. We chatted, played cards, and drank root beer with them. We were in there until it was time to eat dinner. The dinner was a nice Mexican burrito meal served with churros as a dessert. Everyone was pleased with the food since it was better than our typical dehydrated food packet dinner. We wanted to meet with the Texan crew again, so we went back to the Cantina to spend the rest of our evening there.

Day 4: Oh, no! Where are we?!

We were going from Abreu to Beaubien today. There were two routes we could take: a) a straightforward 8-mile hike from one camp to the other or b) a longer path that would pass by the remnants of a crashed World War II plane called the B-52. Because there were quite a few plane enthusiasts in our crew, we decided to take the latter path. In order to reach this B-52 plane, a very steep hill known as Trail Peak had to be climbed. Today was going to be a very tough day so we broke camp as early as possible and made sure to fill up our water bottles to the fullest before leaving Abreu. We left around 8:00 and hiked at a steady pace for the rest of the morning. On our way to Trail Peak, we had our very first encounter with cows. Their moos of encouragement kept us going, and by the time it was noon we reached the front of trail peak. On our way up Trail Peak, we passed by a familiar crew. They were a crew from Los Altos, who we saw at one of our Philmont training hikes. After a really tough hour of climbing we finally reached the top of Trail Peak. However, it wasn’t time for a packs off break. The top of the peak was literally infested with thousands of ladybugs. What seemed to be red mold growing on the trees there, wasn’t red mold it was huge clusters of ladybugs. Obviously it wasn’t a good place to rest and have lunch, so we kept on walking. We finally found a good spot but we had a problem though. It was 1:00, the clouds were getting grayer, and we were on top of a mountain. This spelled for a lightning storm disaster. And just a few moments later, rain started to pour and thunder roared in the distance. We waited under the trees hoping the storm would pass by, but the thunder sounds kept getting louder. After a few minutes, flashes of lightning could be seen which were then followed up immediately by the loudest thunder sounds we’ve ever heard. Everyone dispersed and dropped into lightning position. The frightening lightning strikes and heavy rain lasted ten more minutes before dying off and turning back into a light drizzle. We ate our lunches as fast as possible, so we could get off the mountain before another storm could happen. When we reached the B-52 plane on our way down the mountain, we stopped to take pictures before moving on. There were only four more miles to Beaubien, so we were expecting to reach camp by about 4:00. After about another hour of walking, we hit a confusing fork in the trail. We could either go left or right, but after a few more minutes of careful discussion we decided to go right. However, while walking this trail there seemed to be a growing suspicion that we went the wrong way. Although we were a bit confused about our whereabouts on the map, we continued hiking until we hit the next intersection. Finally, after many minutes of walking in one direction we hit a three-way intersection on the trail. Our natural instinct was to try to locate the intersection on the map. The adults believed we were on an out-of-service fire road while the scouts believed we were on some other trail. But neither the adults or the scouts were right. No one knew at the time, but we were actually on a horse trail which was unmarked on the map we had. At this moment we had to admit that we were really lost. Everyone was in disagreement, people were panicking, and the rain just made the situation even worse. We were just making wild guesses now and chose to go straight south, even though it was the complete opposite direction of Beaubien. But thank the heavens because we eventually found a trail sign that led to camp. We reached camp at 7:00 and were no doubtedly the last crew to arrive that day. The camp staff didn’t really express much sympathy for us but at least they gave us hot water to cook our dinner. Since we arrived so late, cooking and camp setup was done in the dark. It was a really rough day, but thankfully the next day would be an off day.

Day 5: Off Day

Today was an off day which meant that we would be staying in Beaubien for another day. Everyone was so exhausted from walking 12 miles the day before, so we slept in until 9:00. We were scheduled to ride horses at 1:00, but until then our time was spent relaxing at camp. We ate breakfast, took showers, and washed our clothes. Beaubien also had a branding station where they would imprint the official Philmont brand on any item you gave them. We went there after lunch because it was right by the horse pens. At 1:00 we went to the horse pens for our scheduled horse rides. Since, there were a limited amount of horses, only four people in our crew could ride them. The horse ride instruction session and preparation took a bit long, allowing for the 1:00 storm to roll in. When everyone was on their horses and ready to go, that’s when it started to rain really hard. The horses went berserk, but good thing we weren’t on the trail. The rangers safely got everyone off the horses and we headed back to camp to hide in our tents. Sadly, we didn’t get to do the full horse ride but at least getting on the horse was fun. At 4:00 Andy, Victor, Thomas, and I emptied our backpacks and went to Phillip’s Junction Commissary, which was a mile away, to pick up food for our next three days. We finally finished all the food we got from Base Camp! Next was a Chuckwagon dinner, where the staff served us dinner. The final event of the night was a cowboy themed campfire. The staff all dressed as cowboys and sang songs about cowboys (Andy also popped some guys guitar). Overall, the day was pretty good except when it rained.

Day 6: Yuck, Catholes

We followed our usual morning routine and said goodbye to the many cows that surround Beaubien. We then set off on our way to Red Hills, our next campsite. This was our second trail camp, the first one being Lover’s Leap. In order to reach Red Hills, we had to climb Bonito Peak. When we reached the top of Bonito Peak, we all agreed that the scenery was well worth the climb. We also met our sister crew at the top and took a few group pictures with them. After we spent enough time at Bonito Peak, we continued on our merry way to Red Hills. We arrived at Red Hills, selected a campsite, and had our lunch. The typical 1:00 storm didn’t occur so we were able to set up camp easily. During the afternoon, many people had to dig catholes for the first time because we could not find any latrines. Not many of us expected to come here and dig catholes. Our campsite was next to a stream, so we filtered the stream water. This water was surprisingly really good, the best we had at Philmont so far. At night, we had our dinner and had cake(India gave me) in celebration of Thomas’ birthday.

Day 7: Cypher’s Mine

We combined crews today for the first time. The plan was for Ashok and Vatsal to get a head start so they could meet us at Mt. Phillips junction. Even though they got a head start, we still arrived at the junction before them. Mt. Phillips wasn’t on the way to our next camp, Cypher’s Mine, but we were recommended to go up there as a side/day hike due to the exceptionally beautiful view at the top. We dropped off our backpacks at the junction and went up one crew at a time. Crew A went up first, then our crew went up after they returned. The view was definitely really nice up there and we spent lots of time taking pictures. When we returned to the junction, it was a smooth downhill hike to Cypher’s Mine. We had lunch along the way there. When we arrived there, they showed us our campsites which were really cool. We were given a big square shelter for sleeping in, which had a roof and walls covering on three of the four sides. This meant we didn’t need to pitch tents. The programs at this camp were really interesting as well. We did a mine tour where they’d show us what working in the mine was like back in the 1900s. They also challenged us to walk out of the mine as a group without the use of flashlights, and so we accepted the challenge and got out in 12 minutes, eight minutes shy of the record. They added jump scares throughout the challenge which made the whole thing extra fun. The other program was blacksmithing where everyone got the chance to pound searing hot molten metal with a hammer. We made ourselves a metal J-hook which we got to keep. We returned to camp to have dinner. At night we went to “The Stomp”  where the staff shared their songs and stories about Cypher’s Mine. I don’t know if it was just me, but I thought their singing was superb.

Day 8: Lots of Stream Crossings

In the morning we had an argument about taking the North Fork or the Middle Fork, both different ways of getting to our next campsite, Ute Springs. The scouts who were all adventurous wanted to take the North Fork which apparently had 50 stream crossings. The adults wanted to be safe and take the Middle Fork because there were only 25 stream crossings. Because the scouts could not overrule the adults we ended up going on the Middle Fork. The path along the Middle Fork was quite pleasant and was very much like a rainforest. Streams of water flowed by the sides of us, and the trees provided plenty of cover. We also passed by a site called Window Rock. It was a great place to observe the sweeping landscape as we stood above the rock formations. As usual, it started to rain so we tried to make our move. When the rain started to get a bit unpleasant, we stopped for lunch. We reached Ute Springs at 2:00 and set up camp. Today was another food pick up day, so we sent Skylar, Ryan, Thomas, and Victor to the Ute Gulch Commissary. When they returned, we had our dinner. To make our very last trail camp a special one, we joined with our sister crew and had our very own “campfire” (with no fire due to the fire ban). People shared their funny stories, showed magic tricks, roasted people, and sang songs. The “campfire” was a really great way to bond with each other.

Day 9: Conservation Day

Today was conservation day. The conservation site and Harlan, our next campsite, were only about four miles away but we had to be at the conservation site by 10:30. We got out of camp as fast as we could, but arrived at the conservation site ten minutes late. The conservation project was to help put some final touches to a trail they have been working on for the past five years. We were assigned to pull out dead tree stumps out of the ground. They lended us tools which we used to whack at the base of the tree stump. The amount of time it took to take out these tree stumps ranged from ten minutes to an hour depending on how deep the roots were. After a couple hours of hard work, the rain kicked in so we decided to call it a day. We had lunch at the site and headed to Harlan. While we were setting up camp, we were completely thrown off track when out of nowhere a black bear appeared. Victor quietly took pictures of the bear as it casually walked away from us. The next activity of the day was shotgun shooting. First, each person got to hand-make three shotgun shells. Then we brought the shells we made to the shooting range to shoot at clay pigeons. Almost everyone hit at least one out of the three clay targets. Some first-timers even hit two out of the three targets which was quite impressive. After the shotgun session, the rain started to pick up again. We had a very nice chicken teriyaki rice dinner while the rain was barely a light drizzle. But the rain got heavier as the night went on, cancelling the burro racing we were very much looking forwards to. Only until past midnight, did the rain finally stop.

Day 10: Toughest Day

Today would be the most physically demanding hike of the entire trip: a 10-mile hike to Dean Cow. We combined with our sister crew because we figured it would be quicker and safer to hike with them. The beginning few miles of the hike were very relaxing until we hit Turkey Creek Turnaround. From that point on, nothing was easy. We forced ourselves up the canyon as the sun beamed down on us. The grind was tough without any shade to rest in, but we eventually made it to the top. Unfortunately, the clouds above us were darker than ever. There was no time to stop for lunch now, otherwise we would risk getting caught in another storm. However, by the time we got our rain jackets and rain covers on, the rain had already started. This rain wasn’t the typical daily rain we had been getting; it was by far the most intense rain of the entire trip. We took cover under the trees, but not even that helped at all. We accepted the fact that we would have to get thoroughly drenched in order to reach Dean Cow. Trudging slowly through the thick, grimy mud, we finally made it as a group to the camp. Thankfully the rain stopped. We had our lunches and setted up camp. In an attempt to dry our wet clothes, we tried to make a fire but to no avail. Dean Cow was a camp specialized for their rock climbing/rappelling programs. Their main rappelling program was closed down due to the rain, but we still got to try out their rock climbing challenge. This rock climbing challenge took playground rock climbing to a completely new level. It required so much skill that only nine scouts this summer have completed the entire course.

Day 11: Last Day on Trail

Four miles away from the end of Philmont! Since it was our final day on trail, we had to celebrate it with our sister crew. We decided to hike together all the way to 9-Mile Turnaround where we would get picked up by our bus. We arrived there around 10:30, but our bus was scheduled to pick us up four hours later. So willing to get back to Base Camp, we tried our best to get a bus to come pick us up earlier. We tried calling Base Camp, but there was no signal. We prepared to set up the dining fly, since the clouds were moving in. As we searched for a good spot for the dining fly, the sound of a bus approached us. We screamed in excitement thinking it was our bus, but sadly it passed by us and ignored us. Fortunately, we did not have to wait too long before another bus and an SUV came to pick us up. The moment we passed through the “We All Made It” sign of Base Camp, everyone in the bus was so emotional. We responded with cheers of joy and maybe even tears of joy. The rest of our day at Base Camp was uneventful, except for the wonderful closing campfire -- a truly touching way to end the journey at Philmont.

Day 12: Back Home

We left Base Camp at 7:30, headed towards the Denver airport. With plenty of time to spare before our flight, we decided to visit the Air Force Academy which was on our way to the airport. We went to the Visitor’s Center where we watched a short film about the life of a freshman at the Air Force Academy. It was an interesting film which described their life style and hardships they faced throughout the course of a year.  After that, our trip was pretty much over. We headed back to the Denver airport, and in no time, we were back in Palo Alto.

(I hope no one is offended by the B-24 typo. It’s just a prank bro!)