Camping and Events
Troop 175’s trek to Philmont Scout Ranch in NM consisted of ourselves and 3 boys and a leader from Troop 182 in Palatine. We were the “Orange Crew”. (Along with the Blue and Maroon crews that represented the Northwest Suburban Council’s 2011 contingent).
We began our adventure at the Metra Station:
(BTW you can click on any of these pictures to get the original)
On the way down to meet the rest of the NWSC Philmont contingent at Union Station – where we withstood the first minor speed bump of our trip. This one was quick and innocuous in comparison to all else we faced – The “Great Picture Taking” – requests for a picture on each and everyone’s camera ( likely 15 or more. Not sure how you did it Bob!). Man, were we hot sitting here – but we all made it!
Great looking bunch of people – right?
Amtrack was a great idea for a couple of reasons. One was that we would be able to interact a bit among all our crews. The boys played rummy and cribbage along with consuming loads of junk food and enjoying the scenery.
Another reason was the acclimatization that we would get from moving into the mountains a day earlier. And this extra day would give the leaders more time to plan……
(I swear that I did not take this picture!!!)
We did enjoy some delicious meals on the train – dinner and breakfast were excellent. Despite the previous pictures, there was not a whole lot of sleeping going on that night. The train can be quite noisy and people walk around quite a lot. But this was still a great idea and a cool way to travel for the kids.
First stop around 8 am was La Junta CO, where we had planned to stay at the Koshare Indian Museum in their “Kiva” which is quite famous –
We also stopped at “Old Bents Fort” which is a trading out post just off the Santa Fe trail.
We swam in the La Junta Pool and had a good nights rest then off to the train again and on to Raton, NM to catch a bus to Philmont.
Unfortunately, a couple of our “Orange Crew” members got sick with a 24 hour bug right as we got on the bus. This was not a good omen – especially at a Dairy Queen!! But we all made it to Philmont right on time – ready to begin trek 15.
Little did we know that we would spend the next 24 hours sitting around waiting, waiting and waiting for all our forms to be processed, plans approved and equipment procured.
We made the best of it.
Luckily we had some help from our Ranger Richard :
Richard was a soft-spoken guy – who “makes” his own knives. But he knew his stuff and helped us immensely.
The view from base camp was very scenic –
After all this preparation, we FINALLY headed out to start our trail – by getting on a school bus and being dropped off at the “turn around” where it proceeded to rain, lightning and thunder!
Richard did point out one bright spot – since the Scouts who attend Philmont are all so smart and attentive to detail, there would be little smell from the latrines. This is because we were not supposed to be disposing of any “liquids” in these latrines and consequently there would be little smell from the ammonia present in those ” liquids”. I knew this would be a great thing for our crew and I thought, “why don’t they do this at Napowan?”
Well, lets just say that this one was the ONLY KYBO that didn’t smell!
Not to digress in to extraneous matters, but we were also told that the only way to get rid of our “liquids” was by finding a “rock” – not grass, not brush, not a tree, but only a rock. Oh and make sure you put the seat down when you are done!!!!
Speaking of rocks, one of our first stops was “Lovers Leap” a huge outcropping on the side of a mountain.
The camp site here, was a huge open meadow and quite pretty.
Tents were put up quickly along with bear bags;
All this time Richard was keeping a close eye on us.
As he rightly should have, because our two sick crew members were still a tad sick – they spent some time at the med site in base camp – and were diagnosed with a 24 hour bug. Since both of their first names were “Dan” the other boys named this disease “Dangivitis” and all were deathly afraid of getting any wiff of it!
Right after our first Philmont dinner of Beef Stroganoff ( my son has asked Mom if she could make it here at home, so it must have really been a hit) Richard informed us that Philmont has the highest concentration of Mountain Lions in all of New Mexico, and the highest concentration of these creatures in all of Philmont was right where we were camping that night ( there is a pamphlet from 1956 that mentions Mountain lion hunting as one of the programs. Now wouldn’t that have been fun??) For the most part they would not be attacking us while we slept, however if one of us had to get up and use a “rock” in the middle of the night, we had better take a buddy with! Great words to go to sleep with!! As an “older” person, it’s not so easy to avoid that middle of the night visit to a rock, so I had to wait till sun up – as I am sure some of our other leaders had to do!
Richard also taught the boys how to put up a bear bag, to keep our food away from the bears at night and especially away from us while we slept.
The hike on day 2 was a bit more strenuous than the previous day’s. We did get a great view near the top of Uracca Mesa.
Here’s the Mesa itself:
The Urraca camp ground was a great place to stay. When you enter a staff camp they usually tell you all their camp details in a short and usually boring talk. Urraca did this in a song
You can watch it here:
Unfortunately at this point we had ANOTHER scout down with the 24 hour bug – Jason. He barely made it down the trail to camp. Then at camp, four more got it – Tim, Evan, Carter and Andy B. Things were looking pretty grim for the old “Orange Crew” at this point.
Nevertheless, for the remaining crew members, Urraca was loads of fun. They had “Challenge” events that we all enjoyed – trying to pass the “Stick of Life” in one direction and at the same time passing the “Stick of Distraction” in the other.
He couldn’t do it!
Other events included keeping 8 of us on a 1×1 platform with only 5 parts touching for 5 seconds. Having all of us squeek through a web of rope without touching; getting all of us to balance on a teeter platform without either side touching the ground – using no words!
And most importantly, was trying to get the whole crew over a 12 foot wall. All of us made it except for Drew, since he had to jump on his own without any help from us. We just weren’t strong enough to lift him up by his pinky!!! All of these took a bit of work, but with some teamwork, we made most of them.
The nighttime campfire was excellent. Great songs, jokes and skits!! – Urraca camp 2011 is on Facebook – “like” them.
We also found out that the screaming from what we thought were ravens, was actually from Magpies. According to the staff here, if the Magpie said your name, this meant that you would die the next day. Luckily we didn’t really hear anything sounding like one of our names, but that didn’t stop anyone from shouting them out like a bird.
Alas, after all was said and done, we tried to settle down and get some sleep for the day, but the staff decided that they needed to check out our sick boys and took us back to the cabin at 1130pm. Lucky for us, none of our kids needed an IV like the scout from our “Sister” Blue crew. He had to go back to base camp. Not fun for him or his crew. Our guys got some meds and slept the night through. The only problem I had with that was the fact that all four of them had basically no food and could barely hold down water, yet they were going to have to hike about 4 miles with us early the next day. Oh well, the ranger ASSURED us it was all down hill…………
Urraca was also our first encounter with the “swap boxes”. We were told that if we put something in, we could take something out. Thats the idea, but the reality is that most of them are overflowing with food and the Rangers told us to take whatever we wanted. There usually wasnt much you would want but if you looked hard enough there was always a gem – one of the highest in demand was the “Spicy Buffalo or Garlic Chips”.
So the rangers don’t always tell the truth?????!!!!!!! My @&#$@ it was all down hill!!…………. The first 45 minutes was UP the Mesa again and then we got a short downhill – (and stopped at the cool observation point again)
Right after this was taken we got lost – seems our “Navi-guesser” missed a trail and we were headed to Toothache Springs instead of Crater Lake.
Switchback number 1 of MANY!!!
We made it to Crater Lake in our weakened condition just in time for the program to end….but we made it nonetheless.
And then to make matters even worse we had to hike up a HUGE hill just to get to our campsite. I think all would agree that this was probably one of the hardest hikes on the entire trip outside of Mt Phillips and Big Red. And then to top that off it RAINED!
But the rain did subside and we were treated to an excellent campfire by the Crater Lake Staff.
We learned all about “Nine Pound and Bertha ” and had a great time.
We did the program the next day, which was Pole Climbing.
The next day’s hike was quite the doozy. As we left for “Fish Camp”, we knew that there would be a few hills to climb but we had little idea of what else was to come. After about 1 hour of hiking it started to rain and then pretty soon there was some thunder and lightning. And as we came into this clearing we heard and FELT a lighting strike right at our feet.
A quick poll showed that NONE of us ever had been that close to lighting. Scary ! We had to sit in lighting position for 3o minutes before it was safe.
Fish camp was a welcome sight after that episode. This is one of Waite Phillips favorite cabins in all of Philmont. He supposedly made sure all his guest got to visit here.
Lots of mini bears here – (chipmunks).
We also had our first stream crossing not long afterwards.
And our first real encounter with the wild creatures of the Ranch…..
Yep, COWS. They didn’t want move either. I don’t think any of us knew that the females had horns as well. When they are feeding their young, you don’t want to get near. This was probably one of our scariest encounters with the wild life in that regard.
The rest of the hike that day can only be described as arduous ! We probably hiked 4 miles up and down hill to Fish Camp and then at 4 pm we had about 4 more miles to go to get to our camp for the night – Bear Canyon
Pretty campsite, but right at the edge of this lake there was a deer skeleton. And check out the hike we still had to make..
Seemed like these inclines would never end. It didn’t help that Blue Crew told us that there were active bears at the camp and we would need to make sure we had all our smellables put away. We heard some growling in the middle of the night for sure.
Bear Canyon – this was a VERY tight campsite.
Next day was a trek to Beaubian with a stop at Phillips Junction in between. We killed about half the hike – in good time I would add due to our improved health – with a game of “Name a Sponge Bob Character”. When I thought of doing this, I thought it might kill 5 minutes or so. It went on for almost a hour. The winner was Tim D with the “Striped Sweater Guy”, beating out Drew with “Nosferatu” and I might add the “Hash Slinging Slasher”. Who would have thunk it??!!
At Phillips Junction we were able to get all kinds of goodies in the trading post and pick up more food.
We also had a challenge event. If you could do 20 push up on the set up below or 20 chin ups, you got a pudding cup. Unfortunately none of the youngsters were able to do either, but they did have a lower hurdle for the old folks and we were able to crank out a few for a pudding cup.
We had another contest for the pudding cup. This time it was name that Merit Badge. Dan W. won it. For everyone else here are some that we forgot ( all oldies but still merit badges at one point):
Clerk. Electrician, Fireman, Gardener, Marksman, Master of Arms, Seaman.
The three amigos from Troop 182 found their Harmonica skills and entertained us for the rest of the trip
Next stop Beaubian and 2 day lay over.
Beaubian is one of the most majestic places in all of Philmont. It’s kind of hard to believe you are up at almost 10,000 ft. But it truly is stunning (the great weather certainly also helped).
It is a horse ranch and where we were scheduled to do our conservation project.
(Drew’s horse appeared to have a “man crush” on one of the other horse and made it hard for him to sit still!!)
As always seems to be the case, the horseback riding was fun, but just too short. The boys absolutely loved it!
For our conservation project, we had to chop some wood and cut down some trees:
A couple more great things about Beaubian – Showers, Hot food , Horseshoes and “Rope the Log”.
This is where the Honey Badgers team came about ( YouTube “The Honey Badger” – “We don’t care”) . As a combo of the Blue and Orange crew we almost beat the staff at roping the log (thanks to Jason for finding the ringer “Bo”).
The Chuckwagon diner was excellent –
While no one had to deal with the “bug” anymore, we did have one more casualty. Dan popped his knee out and had to be sent back to base camp to recuperate. We were all praying for his speedy recovery. Oh and right as we turned in for the night, the staff came walking around looking for a bear. Someone reported seeing one that night!
We had a very easy hike the next day to Crooked Creek.
Crooked Creek is a re-enactment of an 1875 homestead. All the staff are (supposed to be) in character.
The porch talk was not sung like Uracca, but they did tell us we could hypnotize chickens, and what would our lives be like without ever trying that!!!
Everyone had to try it!
The only water we could get here was from the creek:
We also killed some time visiting the burros – the boys named them Jorge and Gonzalo.
We also visited the Cow. Not sure about his name.
Thinking I knew what I was doing, I tried to show Bob how to milk her. Little did I know that she had other plans and then tried to kick me (she missed!!).
Crooked Creek was also the home of the cow pie throwing contest. No one seemed to want to take any pictures of that one!!
This was also one of the larger campsites and also had the most level ground.
I think it might have gotten down into the 40’s that night – we were up near 10,000ft.
The next day was another very easy hike to Clear Creek campsite which was not very far or all that much different from the previous. This was a fur trading outpost with the staff in character also.
We were treated to a demonstration/explanation of beaver trapping –
Interestingly enough, none of the “Orange Crew” volunteered to help the trapper!! One of our members did say they wanted to try to eat “Beaver Tail”……. YUCK!
We also got another great surprise – Dan made it back from base camp all better and ready to continue on! What a relief!!
Here he was relaying why you would not want to have to spend a day alone at base camp!
The boys did some Tomahawk throwing – a few of them were dead on experts! (What are you teaching those kids ?)
Later we went off for some BlackPowder rifle shooting. Everyone could put out a shirt, hat, bandana or some other personal article for target practice. Somehow, the Blue Crew procured an Orange crew shirt and shot that to pieces – (we’ll get you for that!!!)
Everyone got 3 shots and it all went well until Andy came up to bat. We were using percussion caps to ignite the shot and no one had any problems until Andy. Six or seven misfires later – after shouts of “This never happens to me” – he hit it right on and put a hole in his hat! Great job Andy!
The next day’s hike would be up the Famous Mt. Phillips at roughly 12,000 feet. I’m sure a few of the boy’s we’re a tad bit concerned – as was I. This was a tough hike, but a beautiful day to start :
This was supposedly the steeper side to hike. I wont argue with that:
Try that next time you are out – oh yeah, add 50lbs to your back and about 40% less oxygen! We all got a work out:
And lucky for us, the weather remained perfect for the rest of the day!
The view at the top was most certainly worth the climb:
This was one of the highlights of the entire trip! Unbelievably awesome!!!
We made it down the “easier” side, to Red Hills camp, which was unstaffed. We got in before noon, so it was a short hiking day. This camp was nothing fancy, but since we had lots of time, the crew played some games – Mafia, Killer (like Clue) etc and had a blast. This was also the site of the great Spicy Buffalo chip negotiation – ask Tim and Dan W.
The next day was to be our longest of the trek – or second to longest. And it started off with a bang, having to climb a smaller, yet just as difficult Mountain called “Big Red”. This was probably harder than Mt. Phillips, just not as long.
We had about an hour of this type of incline before it flattened out. One of our Scouts did start to get sick right at the top, but he made it through after a brief rest. This day we also got lost. We completely lost our trail as well. Somehow we just missed out and had to search for it again. We found it and made our way down – on the only trail shown on the map I might add. Note the dotted line in the middle heading to the right.
We ended up at the X (below).
Philmont needs to update their maps. We were going straight south for over 30 minutes and clearly there is no indication of that trail on the map. And it was a defined trail too. When we got to the road, there was no continuation of the trail on the other side. Uh Oh! Not a problem. The Blue crew was in front of us and they had made the same side trip and found the trail up ahead after some bushwacking. That was their redemption for shooting our shirt!
We still had a long day ahead of us, but again, we had great weather.
Late in the day we encountered another of Waite Phillip’s lodges – Hunting Lodge –
This was also one of his favorite places.
Too bad we weren’t spending the night there – I later heard that they have the best Cinnamon and Butter biscuits at camp – however they had really stinky water here!
We still had another 2 hours to get to our final camp – we decided to stop at Clarks Fork to cook our dinner so that we didn’t have to carry extra water to our dry camp.
On the way there, we found a new friend:
Note Mr. Rattlesnake in the middle of the picture. He was sitting just off the side of the trail and 4 people passed him up before anyone noticed him. He started rattling, but as we backed up, he went off to hide in the brush. No problems. He was a little guy anyway. Still, very cool to see him.
We stopped by the Cimarroncito reservoir and then finally made it to our campsite around 745 that evening. That was one long day.
We only wanted to get to sleep for the hike before us the next day. This was to be a long one as well, with a climb up Shaefer’s Peak and the Tooth of Time. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
Our final day was almost as strenuous as the previous. Some of us would likely say that it was harder. We began with a climb up Shaefers Pass which meant an elevation climb of about 1400 feet. This was pretty tough.
Apparently, the escalator was broken!
Shaefers Peak gave us a great view also
Next stop, the Tooth of Time. Little did we know that the path there was anything BUT a trail:
All rock, almost the entire way
This was probably the best we had – and it didnt last.
We toughed it out:
It wasnt too far till we reached the Tooth and very quickly we started our ascent.
It wasn’t easy
But well worth the view:
Stop by next time you are in NM – oh yeah, the hike up is tough! So was the hike down:
It was a beautiful day and clear as could be but that was not to last too long……
As we came back down the Tooth, we put our packs on for the hike into base camp. Little did we know what was to come. Before the weather tuned on us we did pass some very interesting rock formations:
The rain started coming down rather strong at this point. This is the last picture I was able to take before I began to worry that my camera would get ruined (it didn’t):
While we were only a few miles away from base camp, we could not have been farther from home. As we began our descent from Tooth ridge, we started off into open meadows, with very few trees for cover. And then the drizzle became a down pour. There was nowhere to hide and the temperature dropped a good 20 degrees in minutes. We could see lightning in the distance and heavy rain right behind it. Then the HAIL hit. First little pebble sized, then thumbnail sized. It just didn’t stop. And then the lightning started – right next to us. We had several strikes where we counted less than 5 seconds afterward ( on one of them, I counted 2 seconds). Standing on the side of a mountain with metal poles in ours hands was not very wise and we stopped to get in the lighting position for some time. Thank goodness that most of this lasted less than an hour and rather soon we were headed in to the end of our journey.
This is what passed us. What you can’t see is the pitch blackness to the left. Since they had been in drought conditions for some time, the trails were all hard pack. This rain created nothing but flooding and puddles – which we had to walk in most of the way down (my shoes took about a week to dry out).
One crew in front of ours had a scout with hypothermia. Yep, it got that bad.
But we made it in to base camp around 3 pm and the crew was ecstatic:
We all made it back safe and sound!!!!
We might have survived that illness, but the WHOLE crew survived some tough times at Philmont. And we all came back happy – and hungry – to tell you all about it. It was a wonderful trek and I am sure we would all do it again in a heartbeat! I’m sure that I have left lots of stories out – all worth telling – but I’ll leave that to all you to relay to your friends and families for many years to come.
It was my sincere honor to take this trek with all of my crew mates – your sons and husbands. I hope this brief post gives you some things to talk about and perhaps years from now it will help inspire you or another young man to venture to that wonderful place known as Philmont.
For Food, For Rainment, For Life, For Opportunity, For Friendship, for Fellowship, we thank thee O Lord
– Philmont Grace
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The official blog of Scouting magazine, a publication of the Boy Scouts of America.