Article by Billy Davis

It was the summer of 2003 in middle of July that eleven people - seven youth and four adults - headed out on a seventy mile hike that would take two weeks.  We had arrived in Denver, Colorado just two days earlier to acclimate to the high altitude.  We would soon be going to Philmont High Adventure Scout Ranch, near a little town called Cimarron in New Mexico, to hike Trek #13.

It was early in the morning of our second day, maybe around 7:00 AM.  We had just hiked up a steep side of the Urracca Mesa, which was pretty hard.  Our first day on the trail had been easy for us as far as hikes go.  We stopped on the top of the mesa for breakfast.  The view was magnificent, you could see for miles.  We would be hiking over it later in the trek.  I was the point man this day, the person responsible for following the trail.  After breakfast I led the crew down the other side of the mesa, down another steep and rocky trail.  It was so rocky I thought I was going to twist my ankle.  Someone had already tripped and cut his leg.

We were descending down the trail into a valley, and the day was becoming dry and blistering hot! On the sides of the trail you could see tracks and skeletons of animals all over the place.

I heard a rattle and a hiss, so I stopped.  Looking around I saw a rattlesnake curled up in the grass off to the side of the road.  When I pointed to the snake everyone stopped.  At first I couldn't see it, it was camouflaged in the grass, I could only hear it. Everyone started to take out their cameras and took pictures of the snake as it turned and slithered away.

We kept hiking along the long dirt road, which seemed to never end.  About a mile down the road it forked so we went left towards the camp, down another rocky hill.  We hiked the last half-mile along a different road to the camp.  Ahead of me I saw a sign that read Zastrow Training Camp.  

We arrived in camp around 9:00 AM, and we were dead tired.  Everyone cheered as we entered the grounds. While Keith checked in with the staff there, the rest of us sat down on the bench under the awning.  A member of the staff came over and introduced himself as Steve.  We told him the story about the rattlesnake, and he told us about one that passed through the camp in front of the Ranger building the evening before.  He also mentioned to Keith about the local bears up on a ridge to the west of where we were going to be spending the night.

Later that day some of us went back up to the Ranger building to take on a riddle challenge course looking for cards. The record was thirty minutes and twenty-five seconds.  So we thought for sure that we could beat that time, considering we've done harder courses before.  Well at first we were moving faster than lightning, getting to our points quickly.  Then for the last part of the course we were supposed to use a GPS (Global Positioning System) to find the last point.  No one on the crew had ever used a GPS before, but we headed back out determined to break the record. Turns out we were going the wrong way and got lost.  We wound up missing the record by thirty minutes.  We were all disappointed and embarrassed and headed back to camp.

When we got back to the campsite it was time for lunch.  The food at Philmont is nasty.  It has to be high in carbohydrates to provide us with enough energy to handle the hiking, so it isn't made for taste. Some days we had peanut butter and jelly in tubes and spread it on crackers, other times we had squeeze cheese in a tube or some other snacks like beef jerky that weren't that bad.  But today we were having Spam on crackers.

After lunch the adults took turns going up to the showers for the first time on the trail.  The rest sat down at the stream and put our feet in the water.  It was freezing, but it felt great.  We watched the mini bears, or as we call them chipmunks, running around looking for food.  When the adults got back a few of the youth went to the showers.  You don't know how good it feels to take a shower after hiking for two days on the trail.

The rest of the day was spent playing cards and walking around the camp till it was time for dinner to be cooked.  The food was always different out here.  That night in the cool of dusk we had 3-bean soup for dinner.  I liked breakfast the best because there was nothing in the meal plan I didn't like.  Two of our crew left early to go up and cook for the cobbler bake-off.  You could smell the cobbler from the site as we walked up to the building.  We chose a blueberry-buttermilk cobbler.  It was extremely hot, yet delicious!

After the cobbler we engaged in a grueling game of Ultimate Frisbee.  We had some of our best players, including myself, on the field against the staff.  In the beginning we were winning, but not by much, then they made a substitution who was better then the previous guy and they came back to win.  After we finished the game, the staff had a closing ceremony up on the top of the ridge.  

During the ceremony they asked us to reflect on how our trek was so far and told us how to prepare for and enjoy what was ahead of us.  During the ceremony someone mentioned that they could hear bears on the other side of the ridge barking back and forth to each other.  We listened for a minute and then we heard them.  At the end of the ceremony we sang the Philmont hymn, which is a song about Philmont.  On the way back to camp, the trail was lit up by thousands of stars, the sky was perfectly clear and you could see for miles into the nights sky.  Guys were pointing out constellations left and right.  When we got back to the campsite we held a thorns and roses ceremony, something we did every night until we left, which is where each person discusses one good thing and one bad thing about that specific day of hiking.

- Billy Davis


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