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Philmont 2016 726-Z2

posted Sep 24, 2016, 10:57 PM by Joshua Wu   [ updated Sep 24, 2016, 11:13 PM by Gary Anwyl ]

Link to Philmont 2016 726-Z1 Report: Philmont 2016 726-Z1

Hi all,

I had the pleasure of being Crew Leader for crew 726-Z2 over our 12 day Philmont adventure. Below is my report, enjoy,

Day 1: 7/26

At 5:00 AM, 12 scouts and 5 adults assembled groggily at San Jose international airport. We had a 2 hour flight to Denver. In Denver, we rented a 5 seater car and a 15 seater van that we all crammed into. As we drove from Denver to Cimarron, NM we slowly saw the progression from an urban environment to barren farmland. After a long 4 hour drive, we arrived at the Philmont base camp around 4:00 P.M. We were immediately blown away by the hundreds maybe thousands of tents for trailbound and homebound scouts that covered basecamp. Vatsal and I, had a bunch of paperwork to fill out and after several meetings, we went on to have our first Philmont meal: ribs and mashed potatoes.  We also met our ranger, Katie Mulkay, she would be hiking with us for the first few days and be teaching us skills along the way. She was incredibly helpful and kind. After doing a quick shakedown, making sure we had all our gear we went off to opening campfire. There, rangers gave us a history of the Philmont Scout Ranch and told many stories of the cowboys, outlaws and landowners who walked this land. All crew leaders were presented with an American flag that symbolised exploration and adventure (It had to remain on my pack at all times). We got back to our tents quickly as we knew we needed to get as much sleep as possible. I could easily tell everyone was feeling a balance of excitement and nervousness.

Day 2: 7/27

Waking up at basecamp at 5:30 the next morning made it finally sink in, I’m gonna be here for 2 more weeks. After a quick breakfast we had more logistics to take care of. Photos, medchecks and gear distribution. We had a fair diversity in strength levels in our crew thus, some packs weighed around 20 lbs while others weighed as much as 60 lbs. After eating our last meal at base camp, we boarded our bus at 1:00. We started at Lover’s Leap turnaround and right after disembarking. Katie, taught us many useful skills. This included using a compass and orienting yourself, finding trails and how to use redroofs. (Redroofs are essentially bathrooms you cannot urinate in). Finally, we officially began our trek. It took us no more than 15 minutes to realize we were on the wrong trail. With a few pointers from Katie we got on our way and had a fairly easy 4 mile hike to Lover’s Leap Camp. Along the way we stopped at Lover’s Leap point and saw a vast view of an unnamed valley. We arrived at Lover’s Leap camp at around 3:00 as we spent a while learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses, finding a good pace to hike at. Once at camp, Katie taught us how to set up bear bags, this was to keep bears from the smellables you may have (food, toothbrush/paste, etc). We would a tie a rope around a “Bear Bag” which contained the smellables and after tying several knots around the bag and a tree we would be able to raise it up around 30 feet off the ground (out of a bear’s reach). She also taught us how to set up a dining fly, this was essentially a cover for us to put our packs under and cook under in case of rain. These became the two first actions we did as soon as we got to every campsite. We set up our tents and began working on dinner. Dinner was freeze dried chicken and rice. While we waited for the water to boil Katie began quizzing us on many different skills we would need to survive Philmont. These ranged from dealing with lightning to how to deal with snake bites. Due to it being our first night, we spent a little while longer doing everything like cleaning dishes so by the time we finished it was around 8:00. Even though everyone was nervous and excited, we tried to get as much sleep as possible since we had our first major hike the next day.

Day 3 7/28

We woke up at 5:30 the next morning to a bright sun and no city noises. It was a great feeling waking in the backcountry, like we really were in it. Katie taught us how to filter non potable water using disinfecting tablets and when we got started it was around 8:00. We made fairly good pace on the trail even catching up with our sister crew (the other Troop 5 crew). By the time we made it to the base of Urraca mesa, it was around 10:45. What stood before us was a great elevation gain that crushed our morals. Slow and steady, we clawed our way up the side of the mesa until at around 12:00, we summited as a group all together. We were treated with a vast view that put into perspective what we had accomplished. This would be the first of many great views we would reach. Katie had us ask us a few questions to ourselves, Why did you come to Philmont?, What have you gotten from Philmont? And, What do you expect to get from Philmont? This was a great opportunity for us to clear our minds while enjoying a stunning view. By this time it was 12:30 and we saw storm clouds rolling in, we decided to make a push for Urruca camp which was on the other side of the mesa, approximately 1 mile down. Although it was a steep downhill which was hard for the advisors, we worked efficiently making it to Urruca at around 1:00. Literally minutes after arriving at camp the rain came down relentlessly and there was even small amounts of hail. We all sighed in relief as we enjoyed our lunches under the cover of the main cabin rather than being stuck in the storm. After lunch, we attended one of Urraca’s main programs, COPE. These are various challenges designed to teach teamwork and problem solving through actions. Our first challenge was to get from log to log by passing bridges to each other and trying out different ones. This required communication and patience. While it did take a while, we all made it, something that would symbolise many parts of Philmont. The second challenge was much more eventful. It was a 10ish foot wall we had to scale. We would do it by standing on a each others shoulders and pushing over the wall. For some people it took less than 5 seconds while others it took several minutes. We all had a good laugh working together and in the end, almost all of us made it, even most adults. This was also Katie’s last day with us so as a parting gift for us, she presented us with a cake drenched in icing. It was very satisfying to sink our teeth into that sugar after a long day of hiking. At 8:00 we went down for the Urruca campfire. Here, they sang many country songs and told their famous scary stories. These stories were actually quite creative and fear inducing. For example, one was about a 1940s Boy Scout who had gone missing many years ago and has shown up recently. We went in to bed quickly as we were scheduled for an especially early start the next morning.

Day 4 7/29

Today we woke up at 5:00 because we wanted to go watch the sunrise at Inspiration Point. This was one of my highlights of the trip, it was breathtaking to watch the sun creep over the mountain range as the sky turned pink, blue and yellow. Since we stopped to enjoy this amazing sunrise, we hit the trail around 9:00, heading for our next campsite, Abreu about 6 miles away. Today was our first day navigating without the help of our ranger Katie, and sure enough we ended up taking a wrong turn that put us about a half mile off trail. Aside from that, after getting back on route we had a fairly uneventful trek as we had to go down the Urraca mesa which took the advisors a bit longer than the scouts. We had a quick stop for lunch at the base of the mesa as we saw the rain clouds moving in. We tried to move with haste but as we neared Abreu the rain really started to pick up, the intensity was so unbearable that Rohan and I decided to run ahead to find the correct path (there were several paths that were not marked on the map but were in front of us, thus we could not afford to choose the wrong path). Running through intense hail that genuinely hurt when it hit you, Rohan and I found a barn that we took take refuge under. We sprinted back to others and lead them back to cover as well. Although during the heat of the moment we may have not realized it, looking back I realize we had to work as a team to get everyone to cover, this would be a recurring theme in our trek. After waiting out the rain we walked the last quarter mile or so to our Abreu. There we were greeted by staff members who role-played 1800s farmers, they even dressed like it. We were sent to our campsite and once there we noticed the rain started to pick up, we moved with efficiency to set up the bear bags and dining fly in what was becoming more intense rain. We threw our packs under the dining fly and ran for the famous Abreu Cantina. Once there, we were surprised to find it was nothing more than a small cabin with a few tables and a bar tender. Still, it was a welcome change from the intense rain we had been pounded by for hours earlier. There, we talked with other crews but more importantly, they served their homemade root beer which was the greatest feeling after an exhaustive and wet day. Around 4:30, we sent our cook (Rohan) to the barn where we had taken refuge under to start cooking our dinner. Abreu was also known for its Mexican dinner that they served. We joined Rohan around 5:00 where we had to perform a skit which was ranked in order to find who ate first. Needless to stay...we ate last with our subpar skit which was starring... myself. Regardless, the ground beef burrito was delicious and made up for the rough patches during the day’s hike. I should probably mention for parents reading that everyone took their first (and for some, only) shower of the trip. We turned in for the night early as we had a long day tomorrow

Day 5: 7/30

We woke up early today knowing this would be our longest hike so far at around 10 miles. We hiked alongside a stream which was a very enjoyable but challenging hike, there were some sections that became steep uphill but we simply had to push through it. We took a welcome stop in the middle of stream where we could filter water and watch the water flow.  When we got started again, we were confronted by cows. And not just a couple, a full herd of cows stood between us and the path. We weren’t exactly sure how to proceed until Jason stepped up and showed off his cow herding skills. He clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, making a very loud clicking sound that scared away the cows. We followed to the now dung- ridden trail all the way till a vast meadow. This was postcard style meadow, perfectly green grass, wild cows and horses and we were the only people in it. We stopped for an enjoyable lunch as we watched the horses and cows graze on grass. Unfortunately, things would not be so pleasant in the coming hours. Around 1:00, dark heavy rain clouds started threatening us, but we kept moving moving despite the loud thunder, there was no rain. And then there was a crash, as lightning struck around 100 yards away from us. This made us very alert as we darted under the cover of trees and into lightning position. The lightning persisted, now it started to pour but we could not move because of the lightning. After around 45 minutes of waiting we counted the seconds between the flash and the sound and determined the lightning was fairly far away. But as we geared up and started to make a move, one scout realized he was out of water. So we had to wait another hour as our water filtering device was clogged and we kept having to clean it. Once finally under way, the rain and occasional lightning picked up again. We tried to move as fast we could but stayed together as a group. We had to climb an unnamed mountain knowing how dangerous it was during a lightning storm but we decided to the take the risk as we all wanted to get to camp. Once at the top of the mountain we were horrified to find 4 unmarked trails where there was only one on the map. While we tried to decide which path to take lightning struck a tree around 10 feet away from Parth and Jason. At this point, with all of us honestly scared for our lives we just took a gamble and decided on the trail that was generally in the correct direction and had about 1 day old footprints on it. Thankfully the trail was under cover of trees so the lightning started to subside but the rained continued relentlessly. We finally arrived at Beaubien at around 5:30 with a great sense of relief. As it turned out, our job was not done yet as we had to set up our camp in the rain and Rohan and I cooked dinner under the dining fly. We worked remarkably efficiently and were just happy to be in our tents protected from the rain. At 8:00 was the outlaw campfire, due to rain, there was no fire but it was a fun experience. They sang songs and told stories of the famous outlaws who had roamed New Mexico such as Thomas “Black Jack” Ketchum. After an exhausting day we all slept like babies that night.

Day 6 7/31

We would be staying a Beaubien for two days as a layover thus, we got an opportunity to have a luxurious “sleep in” until 6:00. What a luxury that felt like. We had glasses of much anticipated hot chocolate which felt great in the cold morning. At 7:45 we went down to the horses. There we were assigned horses and got to ride them along a trail. The horses did not go very fast but it was a first time experience for most if not all of us which was a great deal of fun. We also were able to get some of our gear branded like our hats which received the Philmont emblems. As I said before, today was a layover day so we got to enjoy some downtime for the first time. We sat around a campfire and chatted with other crews for several hours while it rained. Ashok, Jason and Michael also went and picked up food for us as the Phillip’s Junction Commissary (they provide around 3 days worth of food to stock up on). In the evening we went to the Chuckwagon dinner, this time our cook was Parth and he helped make beef stew and peach cobbler. This traditional western meal was made over a fire and was quite delicious. At 8:00 we went for a cowboy campfire, similar to last night’s this one was cowboy themed, they sang songs and performed skits around this idea of living out in the country.

Day 7 8/1

The next morning we found that Michael and Jason’s tent had around 1 inch of rain in their tent. It was revealing to note how tired we were that this did not even bother us. By this time, most of us started to understand what was important. Our parents would be so proud. This was probably our most uneventful day, we stopped at Bonito Peak which was around 10,000 feet. On this day, we hiked without rain for the first time which felt much more amazing than you may think. When compared to hiking with wet clothes, wet shoes, heavy wet backpacks, this felt like an easy walk in the park. As we descended towards our camp of Red Hills there was an incredibly steep downhill that took us a while to descend. Once at camp, we had an opportunity to relax as there were no activities planned in the camp. We chatted with our sister Troop 5 crew and enjoyed a relaxing evening as the next day we had our tallest peak to climb. Maybe the good weather cheered us up because we were not nervous about the next day.

Day 8 8/2

We woke up at 5:00 as we had to get a early start as we were going to hike Mt. Phillips which is 11,736 feet. We got to Phillips junction at around 9:30 this was the base of Mt. Phillips and Vatsal offered to wait there with our packs. Without packs we were able to summit Phillips fairly quickly and we were taken aback with the incredible view from the second highest point at Philmont. After spending around 20 minutes soaking up the view and taking pictures we went back down fully energised and motivated. We continued to hike on a fairly easy trail to Thunder Ridge where we stopped for lunch and eventually descended down into Cypher’s Mine, our next camp. Cypher’s Mine was an actual mine that was used in the 1800s, it was thought gold could be found here but it actually turned out to be mostly iron. We got a chance to get a tour where they showed us the mining stations and told us about the tough life of miners. After a long day’s work, they earned 3 dollars a day. The guides also took our flashlights and had us try to get out in the pitch dark which was a lot of fun but required a large amount of trust in the person in front of you. We also got to do blacksmithing using several traditional styles on an anvil and melting metal. We made a J-Hook which could be used to hang paintings on the wall. That night we got an opportunity to sleep in a “Muck Shack” which is essentially a large room missing a wall. With the exception of Vatsal, who slept in a tent due to his “bear noises” he makes at night, we all got a nice change from tents. In the evening we went to “The Stomp” which was a program in a cabin where staff performed traditional country songs on banjos and guitars. They also explained the heartbreaking life of a miner who searched his/her life for this elusive gold.

Day 9 8/3

We were able to have a later start as we did not have have camp to take down. We hiked from Cypher’s Mine to Hunting Lodge which was one of our most beautiful hikes on the whole trip. With the rushing stream at our side and the lush green trees, it felt like we were walking through a rain forest. From Hunting Lodge, we went to Cathedral Rock and Window Rock, here both crews met up and we took many pictures. Along with the unique rock formations, we could see across the state border to Colorado. As we were enjoying the view, we saw the rain clouds rolling in yet again and we wanted to make as much progress as possible. Unfortunately, around a mile away from camp the rain became fairly intense so we stopped for lunch. As it started to die down we tried to make a move but sure enough, the rain came back even harder. We rushed through Aspen Springs and made it to Ute Springs around 2:00. After setting up camp and waiting for the rain to die down, Parth, Ashok and I hiked an extra couple of miles to get our food pick up where the staff there generously gave us some fruit and chocolate milk. As we returned, the rain started to pick up again and we were all forced under tents to wait it out. In the evening we ended the day with a campfire without a fire (there was still a fire ban). Both crews came together to form a talent show. A noteworthy act included Ashok and Sri’s Hindi song duet. A touch incongruent with country music and banjos!

Day 10 8/4

Day 10 was a 4 mile hike to Harlan. However, we had to go very quickly as we had our conservation project at 10:00. Our conservation project was the re creating of the Deer Lake Mesa trail. It was started 5 years ago and is around 1 week from completion. Using tools like Mcleods, shovels and picks we cleared up a trail leading up to the top of a Deer Lake Mesa. Our project was stunted by a lightning storm but it was still satisfying to give back to Philmont which had given us so much. Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed shotgun shooting. For some of us this was the first time they had handled shotguns and some were more experienced. We created our ammunition using gunpowder and got a chance to shoot clay pigeons which was a lot of fun. When we returned to camp after shooting we found that Ashok had scared off not one but two bears which had come to explore our campsite. No one, not even a bear, can be a match for Ashok. At 5:00, it started raining again and thus it canceled our programs (burro racing) in the evening to our disappointment. The rain continued until 2:00 in the morning. This is turning out to be a wet trip overall, we had one dry day so far.

Day 11 8/5

Day 11 would be our longest and hardest hike to Dean Cow. We combined both our crews for this day as we could not afford to get lost. We had a fairly easy and relaxing hike to Turkey Creek turnaround. After that, there was a very intense hike up Turkey Creek Canyon. As we were getting close to the top, the rain suddenly started and was beyond immense, by far the more intense rain we faced our whole trip. We really had to work as a team in these conditions finding the correct path, retracing our steps and even relying on luck. The dirt path looked like masses of peanut butter and it took twice as much energy to wrench your foot out of the flooded path. There was a steep downhill where we stayed as a group and finally, drenched and miserable we made it to Dean Cow. After setting up camp we set out to trying to dry our clothes with a fire (the fire ban had been lifted that day.). Jason worked for a couple hours but despite his best efforts could not get a fire started. Dean Cow was a climbing camp and although their main program (rock climbing the side of cliff) was closed due to rain, we got to do their obstacle course which required proper foot placement, core strength, and calculation. Through this mentally and physically taxing day everyone took the opportunity they had to sleep as soon as possible.

Day 12 8/6

Our last day on the trail started off fairly uneventfully, we had a hike up Trail Canyon which gave us our last great view of Philmont. We hiked around 5 miles to the 9 mile turnaround, except there were a few problems. We reached there around 10:45 and our bus was scheduled for 2:30 (bus times couldn’t be changed). Also, several boulders had fallen further down the road blocking all vehicles. And of course, there was a major rain cloud moving in. So as we started buckling down for the rain to come, a Philmont bus and suv speed down the road. We flagged them down and they stopped and agreed to take us to base camp. It turns out the boulders were cleared fairly quickly and we got to leave a couple hours ahead of schedule. Once back at base camp, while Vatsal and I sorted out some logistics, we basically had a few hours to relax without worry. We picked up some t shirts and sodas from the shop and sat back and enjoyed our last hours at Philmont. In the evening we went to the closing campfire where we really started to appreciate what we had accomplished and they showed the rich heritage we were a part of. We ended our last day on Philmont with a long Roses and Thorns session which highlighted our favorite and least favorite parts of the trip.

And, just like that, the trip was over. It was not easy and at times people wanted to quit, it's easy to imagine your warm bed at home while you are stuck in a lightning storm begging for it to be over. But Philmont has this amazing quality to it, for every hardship you go through there is a golden reward that makes it all worth it. It was a life changing trip for most of us. The ability to escape from my busy life at home for around two weeks while being presented with this unique physical and mental challenge was something life changing for me. It's incredibly hard to put into words what makes Philmont amazing and the only way to fully understand it is to go experience it yourself.

I would like to thank the advisors, Vatsal, Ashok, Sri, Victor and Thomas who took time out of their lives to accompany us on this great adventure. Katie, our ranger who was incredibly helpful and taught us everything we needed to know. And lastly, all the people who helped make this trip possible regardless of if you went or not, I am certain everyone on this trip is grateful for you.


Vish Juvvadi

Crew Leader