Article by Chris Citrola

As I looked out over the vast landscape of Philmont I thought to myself "God, I am soo lucky to be here". The shear beauty and vastness of this mountainous landscape was just visually overwhelming for me. I couldn’t take in as much as was given, my eyes were just amazed at how many different colors one scene could hold and how quiet and serene it could be at the same time. I was sort of shell shocked by how much activity wasn’t happening. I mean when you come from Long Island where everywhere you look there is a car within the next 40 feet of you, It becomes quite hard to adjust.

That night on our first day at Philmont I was exhausted yet so excited to get going that it was a fight to get myself to sleep. Everything was so quiet and yet it was so cold! I was shocked since the temperature had dropped from 98 degrees to about 49 degrees, in fact I was so ill prepared for this that I had to zipper myself up into my duffle bag because I didn’t want to take anything out of my backpack. When I woke up later that night to go to the bathroom I had stepped out of the tent and was awestricken by the gorgeous stars that were above me. At first I thought I was dreaming so I pinched myself but apparently I was quite awake. This display of the heavens was so much better than going to a planetarium that I have memorized the picture in my mind so vividly that I can point to the big dipper right over the northern horizon. I quickly went to the bathroom and fell quickly to sleep.

The next morning we awoke at 6:00 to go and eat breakfast and to receive a quick training session about Philmont. The breakfast was quite good and we all knew from that point on it was the last time in the next two weeks that we would ever taste milk again. Even though this was quite depressing we continued on excited as ever and happy to be moving on. We then moved to the training session taught by our guide Kim about Philmont and all passed with flying colors. Next we left for the trail leaving the base camp behind and hoping that we would survive.

I was the navigator and I had the most stressful and important job of all. I had been chosen for this position because I was the most responsible and common sensed person on our team. I also had the best navigational skills there. Kim started us off with a speech about the signs and how not to follow them because it would be the end of me and my navigational position. I was then ordered by Kim to orient the map or make it point in the right direction and lead us to the proper trail. Billy Davis was our front man and closely behind him was Dan Schantz, Chris Ritchie and the adult crew. We, an expert hiking crew set such a fast pace that Kim was having a hard time keeping up. We reached the campsite known as the Lovers Leap camp in a record time of 45 minutes. Kim had later said that we were the fastest crew she had ever seen and the most knowledgeable crew she had ever met. We had so much extra time that we played games and taught everyone how to play Hackey Sack. We then became greater friends with Kim and got to know her a lot better as we played all sorts of fun outdoor games. We soon went to bed but not without a speech about the bears and how to handle one if it happens to get into your tent.

The next morning we quickly broke down camp and got on to our hiking. Once again we went at a full force pace and even caught up to and passed crews that had left 2-3 hours before us. We were a master crew that had dominated all others when it came to hiking. We developed jokes like “Wakapoo” and even had some fun while walking the trail. We sang songs, drank lots of water and enjoyed all the fruits of Philmont. Within two and a half hours we reached the next campsite called the Uracca Mesa camp, a trip that normally takes campers 4-8 hours to reach. At this camp there were plenty of things to do such as going to a campfire at night and being able to participate in challenge events. These were a series of group challenges that we must conquer as a group. One of these challenges was that we had to get a person to touch a star 30 feet off the ground and we could only do this with the people in our group. I was the one that was designated to touch that star so we designed a strategy that would have all of our guys stack up on each other and lift me to the star. We succeeded and it became one of the greatest things I had to do ever. We then listened to the many ghost stories and enjoyed the time we were having at Philmont. Kim also left us that day at that campsite. We were on our own now.

One of the things that we had to do was carry these heavy backpacks filled with food throughout the entire trip so that we could eat. I of course had the heaviest backpack out of them all and was one of the aggravated front men who wanted to go faster than a jog. It was hard but a lot of fun. One other thing was the quality of the food. Philmont was always notorious for its horrible food and diarrhea, but this year the food was amazing. All of it was freeze dried and bad looking but tasted amazing and made the trip that much more worthwhile.

Our next camp was one of the worst and nicest camp of them all, Backache Springs Camp. You could probably guess by just the name. Backache Springs Camp was brutally rocky and the water source was a half a mile away. On top of that it had a brutally scolding sun that was so hot and shiny that we needed to make a gigantic tarp which we used all day to make food and just hang out in. The good part about the campsite was the view. It was amazing that you could see into the valley and beyond. I cannot express the beauty of that one campsite, it was sort of like the Sound of Music hills with the most beautiful mountains you have ever seen. We went to sleep that night with backaches and woke up worse but glad to be able to leave. Our next campsite was Zastrow. Before we went to sleep that night though we had quite a disagreement on whether or not we wanted to walk the full way to Agua Fria camp or part of the 14 mile journey with our packs. We eventually decided to go all the way but with much dislike.

On our way to Zastrow we encountered a rattle snake which almost bit Bill Davis but luckily it didn’t and Bill's life was spared. When we got to Zastrow we were able to take showers and play the staff in a game of Frisbee. We also were able to make a cherry cobbler which was so good it was unbelievable. Also at this camp there was an amazing amount of wildlife such as bear, elk, deer, and mountain lions which had been stalking humans there and caused the counselors to warn us. The camp also had an interesting campfire in which we had to hike a long path to a circle in which an entire performance was made and it was quite an interesting display of creative wonder. The best part of this camp was its abundance of water. Our campsite had a beautiful river next to it and it had SHOWERS! This was the greatest thing that has been ever invented….a shower. We had so much dirt on us by this time that you could peel it off our skins in separate layers. It was sick, but gratefully there were nice warm showers. We then rested for our biggest hike of the trek, tomorrow would be the toughest day of all.

We started the day off excellent; we moved hastily and tried to shave off as many miles as we could while we had the energy. The views were brilliant and the energy constantly flowing. We were burning up the trail and having fun while we were doing it, nothing seemed so much shorter but at the same time never ending. When we finally got to Fish camp we felt relieved but still not yet done. This is where we got to drop all of our things and rest. We then sent three willing people, one of which was myself, to the food pickup place - another 4 mile journey all together. It was hard but we got to talk and let some things vent out as we continued walking. By the time we got back we had hiked 13 miles all together. Next we had to separate the food and hike to our actual camp called Agua Fria. This was another mile journey in which would complete our full walk from one side of the Southern part of Philmont to the complete opposite side of Southern Philmont. We then set up camp in our worst by far campsite of all. Each of us grew aggravated and tired but had the feeling to move on. We then slept and enjoyed the rest we got. Next was our trip to Crooked Creek Camp.

This camp was by far the most beautiful and picture perfect camp ever. There were cows and other animals grazing in the valley bellow and up at top was a log cabin all surrounded be tall thick pine trees. BEAUTIFUL! In this camp I learned how to milk a cow and how to build a log cabin, which I have to say, was quite a lot of fun. I loved this camp the most out of all of the camps and enjoyed being there the most of all the camps. We also had some trouble getting to that camp because all of the trails were not the same as what was on the map, but we managed and did not get lost.

Our next camps were Clear Creek, Lambert Mine, Webster Park, and Clarks Fork Camp. We did an assortment of things at these camps such as black powder rifling, tomahawk throwing, blacksmithing, rock climbing, branding, horse shoeing, and more cooking. My favorite thing was going into an old mine shaft because it was dark and cold but a lot of fun, we even had to find our way out of the mine without lights which is quite hard but so much fun. One of the greatest things though was our climb up to the peak of Mount Philips which was an elevation of 10,470 feet. We had to climb a total of 5,000 ft within a two mile distance which is quite a climb but a lot of fun. I enjoyed the sights of it and would do it again any time.

Philmont was an amazing experience all around and I suggest anyone who is thinking about going to go because it was so much fun and so exciting. The last day from Clarks Fork Camp to the Tooth of Time to Philmont base camp was brutally long and a harsh hike. By that time we were all so sick of hiking it was unbelievable and everyone started to become agitated to the point that they wouldn’t listen to my judgments which had been right the whole time about the maps. Eventually I received apologies and thanks for not getting everyone lost, but we had a lot of fun and truly enjoyed the Philmont experience. I left Philmont with pride and a gigantic sense of accomplishment. Philmont will always be part of my memories and for everyone that goes, you come back a different person. Life will always be a challenge but Philmont was an ultimate challenge that can be conquered just like the challenge of life can be. I LOVED Philmont and cannot wait to go back. I am a true Philmont survivor and could never be so proud of it. Philmont the true stepstool from boy to man.

- Chris Citrola


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