BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Twelve days. Nearly 100 miles hiked. Changes in elevation of up to 4000 feet a day. 50-pound packs on our back the entire time. And yet, we enjoyed every second of it. Crew number 630-R-4 has returned from Philmont Scout Ranch, Scouting paradise. It was a difficult and arduous experience, but it had the fun to match.
Our Philmont experience began in Colorado. There we vacationed for two days with other Philmont crews ready to get on the trail from New Jersey. We rode a cog railway to the top of Pike’s Peak, white water rafted and even visited the United States Air Force Academy. These two days served two main purposes: to acclimate us to the altitude, seeing as Philmont Base Camp alone is 6000 feet above sea level, and to make sure we were relaxed and rested before we started our trek.
We came into Philmont Base Camp on our second day. Before the excitement started, we had to handle the logistic matters first. Our first day in Philmont was filled with medical checks, equipment pickups, and briefings. However, at base camp, we were able to meet our ranger, Brian. Beloved by all the crew, our ranger helped us through the first two days. He earned immediate respect for his skill in backpacking and helped guide us through many things those first days to make sure we got along fine on the trail. We were sad to see him leave on the third morning.
On our second day on the trail, we had the unfortunate experience of running into a rattlesnake. More accurately, the crew member up front stepped on it. He narrowly escaped being bitten, but we had a good laugh about it later. Other than that, some of us seemed to hear somebody shouting in the night, which we later ascertained to be a mountain lion. We didn’t have any other major experiences, but the incident reminded us that Philmont is more than just fun - we had to use all our Scouting skills in order to avoid the dangers and experience it to the fullest.
Chuckwagon dinner on the Fourth of July
On our fourth day, we came to Clark’s Fork where we had the pleasure of being treated to Chuckwagon dinner. Chuckwagon dinner is when, rather than cooking for ourselves and eating trail food, as we did every other night, the staff cook for us (with some help from two people in our crew). This is a treat in itself, but this was even more fortunate for us because it fell on the 4th of July - a perfect way to spend the night. This was at Clark’s Fork, a staff camp. We got to enjoy a delicious beef stew, flaky and perfectly cooked biscuits and of course, dessert which was the Boy Scout classic of peach cobbler. After that, as the sun began to set, we also got to attend a campfire show put on by the local musicians.
While it doesn’t sound particularly exciting, our conservation project was one of the most interesting experiences in our trek. There, we got to take part in building a trail, which future generations at Philmont will hike on. We were allowed to fell trees to widen the path and carry rocks to make a nice trail.
Head of Dean
Few camps were by themselves singularly amazing, but Head of Dean was one of them. After one of the longest hikes we had the entire trek, going 11 miles all uphill, we collapsed on the porch at Head of Dean. The views were stunning, the activities and challenge events were lots of fun and overall it was a very enjoyable camp.
This is it. The big one. On day 10 of our hike, we hiked up the famed Baldy Mountain. The highest point in the ranch, it stood at 12,441 feet above sea level. The hike was hard, the hardest we faced, but it was lightened by the fact that we got to leave our camps at our campsite since we would return again that night. Doing a massive sprint up the mountain, we summited the height in just shy of 1 hour 50 minutes. The view on top was stupendous, as was the intense wind. This was definitely the highlight of our trek.
After getting down from Baldy, the following day, we picked up our burro, a Spanish word meaning donkey. We lovingly christened him Philippe, and the entire crew was much enamored by him. However, our initial love slowly evaporated after we realized two things about donkeys - they’re slow, and they’re stubborn! Regardless, we pushed on, and soon Philippe began moving at a nice pace. We dropped him off at Day 12, both happy and sad to see him go. Philippe joined our ranger Brian as an honorary part of our crew.
On day 11, we arrived at our final camp - Pueblano. Pueblano was by far one of our favorite camps. As with all other staff camps, the people at each camp represents their own time and place in history, in this case being the base of the Continental Tie & Lumber Co. in 1914. The staff there was superb, with their costumes matching the time period, easygoing attitude and their love of things which were fun. After settling into the camp, we climbed 25-foot-high spar poles using climbing gear actually used by tree scalers. The best part was the campfire show that night, where they put on skits, and then proceeded to entrance the entire audience with their early 20th century songs coupled with amazingly played guitars.
Showers at last
As enjoyable as the experience was, all of us were tired, dirty, sweaty and supremely smelly by the last day. Home was on everybody’s mind, and we were happy to finally get off the trail. We spent one night in base camp, taking not one but two showers to wash all the dirt off, and then got on the bus and said goodbye to Philmont Scout Ranch, Scouting paradise. It was an enthralling adventure and one which everybody in our crew can never forget.
The experience was not only difficult and fun, it was life-changing. We learned so much, got to see and do so much. They say Philmont is a place where boys become men. While I cannot attest to that fact, I know it is a place where a Scout truly becomes what he is meant to be.