Wednesday, August 4 - Day One in Colorado

See pictures from our first two days in Colorado

After nearly two years of planning, the big trip was finally upon us!  We left Key Food shortly after 6:00 A.M. to arrive at LaGuardia in plenty of time for our 8:40 flight.  The flight to St. Louis and then on to Colorado Springs was pretty uneventful.  We were greeted at the gate in Colorado by Eileen, our friendly and informative Adventure Trails tour guide, who coincidentally happened to be a New Yorker herself.

First on the agenda after leaving the airport was a visit to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  Our group learned a lot here about the rigor of preparing for a career in this division of the military.  After visiting the gift shop and seeing a short movie about the academy, it was on to the hotel to check in.

Dinner on the first night was at the Flying W Ranch, a chuck wagon style meal along with a western show.  Here our group got a dose of Western comedy and true Western music.  This was not too popular with  most of our guys, however, who after a long day of traveling did not have patience for this "old fogie" type of entertainment.  The show ended about 10 P.M., and then it was back to the hotel to sleep.

Thursday, August 5 - Day Two in Colorado

See pictures from our first two days in Colorado  

We woke early on Thursday morning for an activity-packed day in the Colorado Springs area.  After a french toast breakfast at the hotel, our group packed into the Adventure Trails van for a ninety minute ride to the Arkansas River for whitewater rafting.  It had rained the entire night before, but it cleared out nicely before hit the river.  The ride, for those who stayed awake, was very scenic as we headed west into the Colorado Rockies.

The rafting was great -- much more exciting than what we do on the Lehigh back home.  There were several Class IV rapids (on a scale of five) along the way, making for a some great thrills.  The water was chilly -- probably in the 50's -- but that didn't stop our guys from taking a dip as we neared the end of our stretch.  Unlike the rafting we had done in the east, there was a guide assigned to each raft to get us through the tough spots.  These guys really know the river and they got us through some areas where we would have likely been in trouble without them.

The rafting was so much fun that many would have liked to do it the whole day, but there was other stuff on the agenda for the afternoon.  We ate a fast food lunch back in Colorado Springs, and then it was on to the Pikes Peak cog railway.  The views on this train ride up Pikes Peak were incredible.  Unfortunately the 14,110-foot summit itself was covered with clouds, so there wasn't much to see at the top.  The best views were on the way up and on the way back down.  The summit did feature a snack bar and gift shop, which were of course popular with our guys.  It was here that many began to actually feel the effects of the high altitude, something we were going to have to get used to for our Philmont trek.

From the Pikes Peak cog railway station, we proceeded to the Garden of the Gods, a group of huge, oddly-shaped rock formations created over the centuries through natural forces such as erosion.  The rocks are commonly seen to resemble different things, the most famous of which is probably the "kissing camels."  If you let your imagination go, you can find dozens of things that the rocks look like.  This is definetlely a sight to behold.

Dinner on Thursday night was at "The Old Depot," a local Italian restaurant.  The food was great!  After dinner it was back to the hotel, where our group enjoyed the pool and hot tub, ordered pizza, and watched TV.  Such luxeries were soon to be a thing of the past.  Early the next morning we would leave for Philmont...

Friday, August 6 - Base Camp

See the Philmont group photo taken at Base Camp

After breakfast at the hotel, we boarded a large coach bus to take us the 200 miles to Philmont.  The bus had to take several crews back up to Colorado Springs from Philmont, but on the way down we had the bus to ourselves, making for a comfortable ride.  There was a movie on board, and before long we were approaching Philmont and listening to an Adventure Trails staff person tell us all about Philmont and its history.  We pulled into Philmont Camping Headquarters (base camp) around 10 A.M., where we were greeted by Rusty, our ranger who would guide us in all we did for the next three days.

Our day at base camp was long and somewhat tedious.  There was a lot of business to take care of and not much in the way of fun.  After getting checked in to tent city (which would be our home for the first and last nights at Philmont), our group photo was taken.  From there, it was on to the dining hall for lunch.  The food at base camp, except for the salad, is pretty bad.  Some of the stuff you get on the trail is actually better, as we will have learned later.

In the afternoon there was much to do.  Tim and Mr. Carlson (our crew leader and lead advisor, respectively), finalized the route for our trek at Logistics.  Rusty went over map and compass skills with the group, which for most of our guys was a review of what they already knew well.  There was then some free time to visit the trading post, write post cards, etc.  Health re-checks came a little later, and we got a little worried when Mr. Carlson and Mr. Buono both had blood pressure which exceeded the maximum to be allowed out on the trail.  Mr. Buono's came down right away, but Mr. Carlson's remained high until the next morning.  After health checks we moved on to the Services building, where we picked up our crew gear and our first four days' food and were assigned lockers to store all the stuff we wouldn't be carrying on the trail.  It was then time for shakedown.  Rusty volunteered Mike B. to have his stuff unpacked as a demonstration to everyone else as to what should and should not be brought out on the trail.  In the end just about everyone wound up leaving some stuff back.

In the evening, after dinner, were religious services and an opening campfire, which everyone attended.  The campfire's theme was the history of Philmont and the Southwest.  Not long after the fire everyone was back in their tents.  The next day we would hit the trail...

Saturday, August 7 - Anasazi

See pictures from our first five days on the trail

Saturday would be an easy day -- only a two mile hike to our first camp, Anasazi.  The bus to our starting point would leave base camp around 2 P.M., which left the morning open.  We utilized this free time by touring the Villa Philmonte, the former home of Waite Phillips, who in the early part of the century donated a large portion of the land that is Philmont Scout Ranch today.  After the tour, which was kind of interesting, it was time to have lunch and get ready to hit the trail.

Philmont's weather has a definite pattern, not similar to that in the East.  The mornings are almost always sunny and pleasant, but by early to mid afternoon there are thunderstorms scattered about the area.  You don't necessarily get hit by one, but it is rare that a whole afternoon goes by without hearing a rumble of thunder.  Our first day was no exception to this pattern -- and we got hit bad!  Just as we got off the bus at Six Mile Gate, the starting point of our trek, the skies opened up and it poured harder than at any other time throughout the trek.  Everyone stayed relatively dry in their rain gear and waterproof boots until we came to what was supposed to be a small stream crossing.  The recent rainy weather, with the current storm adding to it, brought the water level much higher than normal -- and there was no bridge!  All you could do at this point was deal with it, and we would hike the rest of the two miles to Anasazi with soaking wet boots and socks.

As if the first crossing didn't get our feet wet enough, there were several more crossings before we reached camp.  This was to ensure that no one's boots were not completely immersed in water.  On a positive note, the downpour ended before we reached camp.  Anasazi is a trail camp, one of only three on our trek, meaning that there is no staff, no program, and the water is not purified.  Despite this, it is a beautiful camp, located on the banks of the North Ponil River.  Upon arriving, Rusty went over with our group the procedure for setting up camp.  The first order of business, before personal tents are set up, is putting up the tarp and hanging bear bags.  We later learned what goes up in the bear bag, and it is a lot more than we had ever thought would be necessary.  In addition to food (and that means all food no matter how well sealed it is), personal toiletries such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, camp soap, and the like need to be put up.  Film canisters, first aid kits, and water bottles that at any point in time ever had drink mix in them also needed to be in a bear bag.  Although not edible, these items give off a scent that can make a bear curious enough to come into the campsite and tear up your stuff.  Philmont has a serious bear problem, and this bear bag policy is not just someone being overly cautious -- it is crucial.

Next it was time to set up tents, purify water and cook dinner.  Rusty's main advise on cooking was not to follow the directions on the package.  Instead, you simply mix one cup of water per person (in our case, 12 cups) with all the ingredients in one large pot.  Just put it all together, no matter what it is.  Our first night's dinner was chicken and rice with peas.  For dehydrated trail food, it came out great.  You have to finish it all, because if you don't it ends up having to be put in the bear bag and then packed out.  We never had a problem with this.  While cooking and eating, Rusty informed us, one must be very careful not to drop food on the ground.  In the backcountry, food = bears, so anyone who drops food must eat it, dirt and all.  Not very appetizing, but it's better than having a bear in the campsite in the middle of the night.  Dessert is cooked the same as the meal -- one cup of water per person -- in the same pot.  Who cares if you get a little rice in with your dessert?   It's one pot to clean instead of two.  After dinner the cleanup crew got to work, again with Rusty's instruction.  Because there is only one pot, and everyone licks their bowls clean, this job is not all that hard.

After cleanup the bear bags are brought down, everything goes in, and they are hung for the night.  Rusty reminded the crew of the importance of putting all "smellables" up, as ridiculous as it may seem that a film canister could attract a bear.  Once the bear bags are up and it is getting dark, Philmont tradition dictates that a crew do "Thorns and Roses."  This is where the entire crew gets together and each person tells of one bad point of the day (a thorn) and at least one good point (a rose).  It is done every night, and is intended to build crew unity.  For this particular day, almost everyone cited the stream crossings as a thorn, but many said that it was a rose to have Rusty there to guide us through it.  Rusty would be with us through the next day, and leave our group first thing the following morning.

After Thorns and Roses, most of our group headed to bed, but some stayed up a little while to admire the stars.  Even the clearest night on Long Island does not compare to the magnificence of the night sky at Philmont.  It is truly an awesome sight.

Sunday, August 8 - Indian Writings

See pictures from our first five days on the trail

At Philmont, the main objective in the morning is to get up, get packed, and get out as early as possible.  So, like just about every subsequent morning on the trail, we were up by about 6:00 A.M.  Rusty said it should take no more than a half hour to get packed up, but we were never able to to do that.  This morning was especially long since it was our first and because we ate breakfast in camp rather than on the trail.  One of the more amusing points of the morning was watching Mike B. lick a log that had orange drink spilled on it.  As we learned the night before, nothing that is spilled can be left, even if it means looking silly.

The hike to Indian Writings was short and easy -- about the same length as the day before.  The trail took us further up the North Ponil River canyon, which was blooming with sunflowers because of all the recent rain.  The trail crossed the river a few more times, but unlike the day before, you could get across without getting your feet wet.  By late morning, we had arrived at Indian Writings, our first staffed camp, so named because of the petroglyphs left by the Anasazi Indians who once lived in the canyon.

The program at Indian Writings revolves around the Anasazi Indians.  Soon after we arrived we were given a tour of the Anasazi petroglyphs, markings made on rocks as a means of communication.  We learned much about the tribe's lifestyle and culture through this program, and the staff did a good job of making it interesting.

After the tour it was time for our first lunch on the trail.  The lunches at Philmont always consist of some kind of crackers with something spreadable.  The spreadable item ranges from cheese to ham or chicken salad to peanut butter and jelly.  Beef jerky and raisins usually come with lunch as well.  We got a little rain around lunch time, but it didn't last long.

We were shown to our campsite shortly after lunch.  It was a great site -- right next to the river and completely flat.  This is arguably the best site we got for the entire trek.  After camp was set up, there was some free time, and then it was on to "Archaeology 101," a program on the basics of the archaeology field.  This added to our knowledge of the Anasazis and how archeology was used to gain information about them. Although it was strictly a lecture program, the staff person was very knowledgeable about her subject and was able to keep it interesting.

In the late afternoon and evening, there was free time for frisbee and relaxation.  The cooking crew put together a dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes.  The stuff came out pretty good, by backcountry standards at least.  Unlike last night, Rusty sat back and let the guys do the work, only giving suggestions where needed.  The same is true of the cleanup crew.  In general, everyone was working great together, a trend that would continue throughout the trek.

The evening was cloudy, with scattered sprinkles but no soaking rain.  The guys enjoyed playing frisbee as the advisors went up to the staff cabin for advisors' coffee, something offered at every staffed camp where the adult leaders can get coffee, hot chocolate, and cake or cookies.  Rusty did his final bit of ranger training after dinner, which was on first aid.  Finishing off the evening was a small campfire and our nightly Thorns and Roses session.  As this was Rusty's last night with us, and also his last night at Philmont before returning to his Vermont home, we thanked him for all his help and the direction he had given us during the first two days of our trek.  Tomorrow morning he would head back to base camp, and we would start on the first challenging leg of our trek...

Monday, August 9 - Ponil

See pictures from our first five days on the trail

The hikes on the first two days were nothing to speak of -- short and no real inclines.  Our hike to Ponil would be a bit more challenging, however.  Finding the right trail posed a bit of a problem this morning.  We hiked back and forth on the same trail three times before realizing that the trail we wanted was a two minute hike from where we began.  The trail was overgrown with tall grass, and we later learned that it is in this grass that much of Philmont's rattlesnake population lives.  It was a relief to find that out after the fact.  In all, we probably lost about an hour's hiking time on the search for this trail that was right in front of our faces all along.

Putting the careless navigational error behind us, we proceeded at a nice pace up the trail towards Hart Peak, taking us out of the North Ponil River canyon.  We found a nice spot with a view of the canyon to eat breakfast.  Philmont breakfasts are not exactly the most appetizing.  There is always cereal, which is eaten dry of course, and usually some dried fruit, such as banana or apricot chips.  The worst part of breakfast for most is the breakfast bars.  They look -- and taste -- like bricks.

The view from the summit of Hart Peak was great, and then came the descent into the Middle Ponil River canyon.  Making excellent time, it wasn't long before we arrived at Ponil.  A staffed camp, Ponil is one of the largest on the ranch and was once Philmont's base camp.  It is located along the scenic Middle Ponil River, and running through it is a New Mexico state highway -- a dirt road.

After setting up camp and eating lunch, most of our group enjoyed horseback riding.  The 200 pound weight limit excluded three members of our crew, however.  After riding there was some free time, which was spent visiting the trading post, the "cantina", which offers root beer on tap along with other snacks, and of course, the showers.  This would be our last opportunity to shower until Dean Cow camp, six days later.

After dinner those who hadn't showered earlier did so, and some of the group attended the evening program, which was basically a campfire event without the fire.  The Ponil staff put on some skits and songs, and our guys got the opportunity to put on a show of their own.  Although well-known at district camporees and at Yawgoog, the "Crowbar from K-Mart" skit was completely new to everyone there, and they seemed to enjoy it.

The rest of the evening was routine -- thorns and roses and then bed.  The next day would be a busy one...

Tuesday, August 10 - Pueblano

See pictures from our first five days on the trail

We got an early start Tuesday morning for what would be a long yet fun day.  The hike was about six miles on a trail running west up the Middle Ponil River canyon.  It was a steady incline, but not steep at all.  Although there were no spectacular views, the scenery was nice as we hiked along a ridge just about the whole way.  Making good time once again, we arrived at Pueblano, a staffed camp, by lunch time.  One of the negative points of Pueblano was our campsite -- right on the trail where people would walk through the site.  Some disliked the staff there as well, not a common sentiment about most of Philmont's staff.

We ate lunch in the site, set up camp, and then had a little time to relax a little before going to program.  Pueblano's program revolves around logging.  First, around 3:00, we participated in the railroad tie cutting program.  Here, our crew learned how railroad ties were constructed in the old days and then had the chance to help construct one.  From there, we went directly to the spar pole climbing activity, which was a lot of fun for most.

We had been relatively lucky in that the weather did not present much of a problem for us these past few days.  Upon arriving, we had heard that the previous week was extremely wet, so we were grateful for the dry weather.  This night, however, we got hit pretty bad with a thunderstorm right in the middle of cooking dinner.  The meal was macaroni and cheese and minestrone soup, two things one wouldn't ordinarily combine -- but we did!  Again, the less there is to clean up, the better.  After getting rid of some excess water, it didn't come out all that bad.

The storm hit hard but was short-lived.  It had stopped raining by the time we finished dinner.  For some reason we had a bigger mess to clean that night than normal, so it took longer than usual to get the evening jobs done.  By the time the site was in order, it had gotten dark and there wasn't much left to do besides Thorns and Roses before going to bed.  The next day would be one of the toughest days on the trail.

Wednesday, August 11 - French Henry & Copper Park

See pictures from our first five days on the trail

Wednesday would be one of our toughest days on the trail. We started out early, as usual, and ate breakfast on the trail. The first part of the hike took us further along the South Ponil Creek, and although not terribly steep, it was just about all uphill. We had projected about a seven mile hike to French Henry, but it turned out to be about four, getting us into camp well before noon. French Henry was not our camp for the night, but we stopped there for program before continuing on to Copper Park. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable programs on the trek.

The first activity was gold-panning. We learned that nearby Baldy Mountain has gold and was once a mining site. Although there is still gold in Baldy, the mining operation ended because the cost of the mining exceeded the profits from the gold. Our group came up with a few specks of what they thought might be gold, but they turned out to be nothing. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and a new experience for everyone.

Our crew lived up to the Scout slogan, “Do a Good Turn Daily,” when they assisted in rescuing a hurt advisor from another troop. Although they were in the middle of eating lunch and resting from a long hike, our guys did not hesitate when asked to give help. The advisor had fallen on the trail and hurt his leg about a half mile from camp. Weighing over 200 pounds and unable to walk at all, he needed to be carried on a stretcher into camp, from where he could be transported to base camp for medical attention. Thanks guys!

After lunch we went to the blacksmithing program. This was also a lot of fun. Under the direction of a trained staff member, our group made a letter opener, each Scout completing a different step. The letter opener came out great, and we gained a better understanding of how such items were made in the days of the old West.

The third program at French Henry for us was a tour of the Aztec Mine. We got to the mine entrance about a half hour early, which gave us some free time to relax and for some, to roll each other around on the mine cart. The tour of the mine was very interesting and lots of fun. The crew had the opportunity to appreciate what it was like to work in the mine years ago -- long, hard days with little pay and very dangerous conditions. At the end of the tour, we had to leave the pitch-dark mine without the use of flashlights, each person holding the shoulder of the person in front of him and relying on the person in front to give directions. This ended what was truly a great series of programs at French Henry.

It was already late afternoon once we finished the mine tour and our hike was still not over. It was only another mile or so to Copper Park, but all uphill -- and steep! After a long day of hiking and activities, this last stretch was really hard on our crew -- both physically and mentally. We arrived at Copper Park, a trail camp, with just about enough time to set up, cook, and eat before dark. After this tiring yet fun day, everyone was eager to get right to bed after cleanup and Thorns and Roses were over. The next day would be the ultimate challenge and middle point of our trek -- the hike to the summit of Baldy!

Thursday, August 12 - Baldy

See pictures from the hike to Baldy Mountain

After a good night’s sleep our crew prepared for what would be the most physically demanding part of the trek. The summit of Baldy Mountain, the highest point on Philmont and more than twice as high as New York’s highest peak, stands at 12,440 feet in elevation. We would stay at Copper Park for a second night, so we didn’t need our full packs on the hike to Baldy -- just day packs were enough. Even so, this was by far the most strenuous hike on the trek and the hardest climb this group had ever done in their lives. The view from the summit makes it all worth it though!

Upon leaving camp, we were lucky enough to see a deer in a nearby meadow.  We then began heading down what we soon realized was the wrong trail to Baldy.  We had to backtrack right past our campsite to pick up the right trail.  The first mile or so on the trail to Baldy wasn't all that tough -- certainly no harder than the hikes we do back home.  The second mile would be the killer.

There is no actual trail going up Baldy for the last stretch towards the summit.  Above tree-line, the side of the mountain is covered in nothing but  loose rocks, and the incline is close to 45 degrees.  These conditions, combined with the extremely high altitude, made the going extremely slow and tiring.  We would be able to hike maybe 100 feet at best before having to rest.  The lack of oxygen can really be noticed up there, and some were beginning to feel the early signs of altitude sickness.  The view got better and better the further up we got, however, suppressing any temptations to quit.

As impossible as it may have seemed, it wasn't all that long before we were almost at the summit and found a good spot to eat lunch.  (The summit itself, we thought, would have been too cold and windy for lunch).  We took about an hour here to eat and relax, getting re-energized for the final leg of the climb to the summit.

The summit of Baldy was as magnificent as we expected.  It was early afternoon, a time when thunder clouds typically start to gather in Philmont, but this day was perfectly clear, and you could see for miles.  As we had been told, it was very windy, but there were large rock piles behind which you could sit and be out of the wind.  We spent about an hour at the summit, taking pictures and enjoying the view.

We came down off Baldy the same way we went up, and this was far from easy.  Going up was simply tiring, but going down can be dangerous if you're not careful.  Taking it slow, we were grateful to make it down without anyone hurting themselves.

Copper Park would be our home for a second night.  Upon our arrival back at camp, we found that a Philmont ranger had given us a warning for leaving some sugar and spices out of the bear bags.  Three such violations could be enough to warrant taking a crew off the trail, so we took this seriously and made sure not to let it happen again.

With everything already set up from the night before, there was some free time for relaxation in the afternoon.  This was a trail camp, so there were no activities or programs available.  Everyone enjoyed taking it easy after the strenuous hike up Baldy.

The evening was very routine.  We had a spaghetti dinner (identical to the night before), had some free time, did Thorns and Roses, and then headed to bed.  The next day we would hike to New Dean.  It would be a busy one.

Friday, August 13 - Head of Dean

See pictures from the second half of our trek

The hike to Baldy marked the middle point and western extreme of our trek.  We had been hiking in a westerly direction through the North Ponil, Middle Ponil, and South Ponil canyons, gaining elevation each day.  Now we would begin hiking back east, going mostly downhill through the Dean canyon, hence the name of our next three camps -- Head of Dean, New Dean, and Dean Cow.

Friday morning was one of the chilliest yet -- about 45 degrees.  This is partially due to the fact that Copper Park, being so close to Baldy, sits at over 10,000 feet in elevation.  Our first destination before going to Head of Dean was Baldy Camp for a food pickup.  Once again, there was confusion on the trail as we started our hike.  This time, the map was to blame.  The intersections we came to did not match up with those on the map, so we had to take an educated guess on how to get to Baldy Camp.  Fortunately, another crew that had been there before confirmed that we were right, and we got to camp without having lost too much time.

We ate breakfast at Baldy camp and picked up our last batch of food.  After about an hour, with our packs a lot heavier with the new food, we pushed on towards Head of Dean.  The hike was not difficult at all -- mostly ridges.  There were some nice views on the hike as well; among them was that of Baldy Skyline.  We arrived at Head of Dean shortly after noon, giving us time to eat lunch before our scheduled 1:30 conservation project.

All crews at Philmont are required to participate in three hours of conservation work.  Our crew had it easy.  The only actual work for us was cleaning tools that are used in trail construction and maintenance.  We also heard a talk about how trail construction is done at Philmont.  We learned that building a good trail takes a lot more than just cutting down trees.

We were shown to our campsite after the conservation work.  It was a nice site, aside from the fact that the whole thing was on a hill.  After setting up camp, our guys challenged the camp staff to a game of ultimate frisbee.  One of the staff members was some kind of a professional, making it a true challenge.  Most of our crew played, but not surprisingly, we lost.  It was lots of fun anyway, and we did manage to score some points against them.

In the evening after dinner there was some free time.  Some guys took the opportunity after Thorns and Roses to go out on a nearby meadow and look at the stars.  Because we had to do conservation work, there was no time on Friday for the challenge activities, one of Head of Dean's main program features.  We would do that the next morning before setting out on our short and easy hike to New Dean.

Saturday, August 14 - New Dean

See pictures from the second half of our trek

Saturday morning would be different from most others in that we did program before leaving camp.  We had yet to do Head of Dean's challenge activities.

The first challenge event of the morning was the "trust fall."  A tradition at Philmont, this entails falling backwards off a ledge and relying on your buddies to catch you.  It is entirely a mental challenge, not a physical one.  The sensation of falling backwards into empty space is very disconcerting, but one must put full faith in his friends to make sure he doesn't hit the ground.

We then moved onto the spider web activity.  With this, the whole crew must get through the web without moving the ropes and without using the same hole twice.  Following that, we had to get our whole crew on a small wooden platform with only nine points of contact (there were ten of us).  Not easy, but after several attempts we figured it out.  All of the challenge events are meant to build teamwork and cooperation.

The fourth event required each member of the crew, two with blindfolds, to swing across an imaginary river on a rope without "falling in."  One person had to carry a cup of water across without spilling any.  This took several tries as well, but we eventually did it.  The last event was "the wall."  The object is simply to get the whole crew over the wall as quickly as possible.  Two of the strongest guys went up first on their own, and then stayed at the top to pull everyone else up.  The guys at the bottom served to lift people up and to spot.  This was a lot of fun, so much so that we did it twice, improving our time greatly from the first time to the second.

The challenge course having taken most of the morning, we opted to eat lunch in camp and hike out afterwards.  The hike from Head of Dean to New Dean was very short and easy.  The entire hike, only about three miles, was on a four wheel drive road heading further down the Dean canyon.  We arrived at New Dean by mid-afternoon, just in time for the rain to start!

 It rained on and off for the rest of the afternoon, but luckily was not too heavy.  New Dean being a trail camp, there wasn't much to do but relax under the tarp until dinner time.  As if to make up for the dry weather we had enjoyed for the past three days, it rained into the evening, but this did not stop some of our guys from getting a fire going.  The rain was light enough that we could sit around the fire for a while after all the jobs had been done.  Despite the weather it was an enjoyable evening.

The next day we would push on further down the canyon to Dean Cow...

Sunday, August 15 - Dean Cow

See pictures from the second half of our trek

The hike to Dean Cow on Sunday was very similar to Saturday's hike -- not too long and all downhill.  Breaking camp early, as usual, we ate breakfast on the trail.  We had been hearing a lot about bears in this canyon and in all of Philmont, but when we saw freshly made bear tracks on this dirt road, the reality of the bear problem became ever more apparent.  It had rained the day and night before, so the tracks, which were huge, could not have been made more than a few hours earlier. They extended for a good distance along the trail, meaning that the bear had been following the same route as we were just a few hours - or minutes -  earlier.

Making excellent time, we were in Dean Cow by mid-morning.  Shortly after setting up camp we went to the rock climbing program.  This was a challenging experience, especially for those who chose the hardest course up the side of the mountain.  Once at the top, each person rappelled back down.  This part was not so much challenging as scary, especially for those with a fear of heights.  This was the first time rock climbing for some of our group, and most of the guys were glad they had accomplished it.

The afternoon was a time for relaxation and showers!  This was our first camp since Ponil, six days earlier, that provided shower facilities, and we sure needed it!  Some of our guys spent time by the staff cabin, drinking Gatorade and socializing with the staff. Talking with Philmont staff had become a popular thing to do for some members of our crew.  This was especially true of female staff, of which there was a surprisingly large proportion at Philmont.  One person in particular, whose name will be omitted for the sake of saving him embarrassment, became notorious throughout the trip for flirting with female staff members.

We took it easy for the rest of the afternoon and evening, except of course for the routine jobs around the campsite that need to be done, like cooking, cleanup, and hanging bear bags.  Looking at the map, it became clear that the next day's hike would be a bit tougher than than the past few.  We would be hiking uphill out of the Dean canyon, down into another canyon, and then up again!  A good night's rest was in order.

Monday, August 16 - Harlan

See pictures from the second half of our trek

Just when it seemed like we had gotten past all the tough hikes, the trip from Dean Cow to Harlan, our last camp, was far from easy.  After three straight days of almost all downhill hiking, the first stretch of this day's hike was a steep climb heading roughly south out of Dean Canyon.  We stopped for breakfast at the top, but there wasn't really much to see.  After breakfast the trail almost immediately started going back down, heading into Turkey Creek Canyon.

We hiked for a while on a four wheel drive road along a ridge just above the canyon. Although this part was predominately downhill, the blazing sun was making everyone uncomfortable.  Up until this point most of the trails we hiked on were shaded, so the heat had never really been a problem.  One might think that hiking in New Mexico in August would be unbearable, but until this day, that was not the case.

The last stretch of this long hike (about six miles), was uphill again.  Still there was little shade, and the heat was wearing on us more and more, slowing us down considerably.  When we got close to camp, there was some confusion about which trail to take.  The Philmont maps are not exactly the clearest as far as trail junctions are concerned, and most of our navigational problems (with the exception of the careless mistake at Indian Writings) resulted from this.  We never actually went too far in the wrong direction, but we lost a good half hour or so stopping to consult the map.  Hot and exhausted, we finally arrived at Harlan shortly after noon.

We ate lunch and went straight to the shotgun shooting program.  We would go to our campsite afterwards.  We did trap shooting using 12 gauge shotguns.  Shooting a shotgun is not something most people have the opportunity to do every day, so it was a lot of fun and a new experience for some.

After setting up camp we had the rest of the afternoon free to relax.  In the evening after dinner we did burro racing.  Competing against the other crews in camp, we had to use whatever means possible to move our burro to the finish line and back (a few hundred yards).  These aren't exactly the most cooperative animals, so it takes four people to keep a burro moving fast and straight.  Our crew came in dead last, but it was still a good time.

We returned to the campsite for our last night on the trail.  Although there had been thunderstorms in the distance with some pretty intense lightening, Harlan remained dry, allowing for a campfire.  Many of us stayed up later than usual enjoying the fire since it was our last night and we able to sleep a little later the next morning.  The next day we would hike to the Cimarroncito turnaround, where we be picked up by vans to take us back to base camp.

Tuesday, August 17 - Back to Base Camp

See pictures from the second half of our trek

We hit the trail Tuesday morning for the last stretch of our big adventure.  Figuring on a short and easy hike, we got up a little later than usual -- around 7:00.  Most of it was indeed downhill or flat, but it was longer than we had thought and like the day before, there was little shade to protect us from the intense sun.

The first half of the hike was scenic.  We got a nice view of the famous "Tooth of Time," one of Philmont's most distinctive landmarks.  The entire hike was on a four wheel drive road, and the second half was flat, hot, and boring.  Breaking the monotony, we did see some cattle grazing on the side of the trail.  Philmont is a working cattle ranch, but this was the only time we actually saw any.

We stopped for a late breakfast near Webster Lake.  With plenty of time to spare, we took our time eating, and then hiked the last mile or so to Cimarroncito turnaround, the spot where we thought we were supposed to be picked up.  We waited there for about two hours until 1:00, what we thought was the time of our scheduled pickup, but no bus came.  1:30 came, and still no bus!  It turned out that someone at Logistics.back at base camp on the first day had misinformed Tim on the time and place for our pickup.  We were supposed to be at Webster Lake at 10:00, not Cimarroncito at 1:00.  Luckily the staff realized the possibility that we were waiting in the wrong place and came to Cimarroncito, but not until almost 2:00.

Having eaten nothing but trail food for ten days, the prospect of getting cheeseburger pizza back at base camp had become very attractive.  On the way into Philmont we learned Cimarron's pizza place had good cheeseburger pizza, so upon getting back to base camp this was all some people were thinking about.  Everyone was happy to learn that this place did in fact deliver to Philmont, but there was a lot to do before ordering pizza.  We had to check into tent city, return gear, get our extra stuff out of the lockers, and take showers.  Everyone re-visited the trading post as well for souvenirs and snacks.

We ordered the pizza for dinner, everyone getting at least half a pie.  The pizza was good despite the locale (not New York), and tasted even better after what we had been used to eating.  Our evening consisted of religious services and a closing campfire. It was at the campfire that the crews are recognized for having completed their treks, and the crew leaders receive the crews' pictures and patches.

Not long after the fire everyone had returned to tent city, but actually getting to sleep was a different story.  Over the past few days, several crew members were planning to play a practical joke.  Not only did the initial prank (which involved, among other things, strapping someone to his bunk) fail, but it was met with mass retaliation.  This came in the form of shaving cream on about five peoples' faces.  Later, during the early morning hours, the crew was woken up by screams of fright because of a skunk in one of the tents.  Needless to say, no one really got a good night's sleep.  We would wake early the next morning for the long trip back to New York.

Wednesday, August 18 - The Trip Home

See pictures from the second half of our trek

We woke early Wednesday morning to pack and eat breakfast before our 8:30 departure for Colorado Springs.  We were picked up by Eileen, who had been our tour guide during our first two days in Colorado.  The three and a half hour ride up to Colorado Springs was cramped without the luxury of a coach bus, but this didn't stop most of the group from catching up on some sleep after all the disruptions the night before.

Lunch was at Pizza Hut's all-you-can-eat buffet in Colorado Springs.  With a lousy base camp breakfast and not expecting much of a dinner on the plane, we took full advantage of this opportunity to stuff ourselves.  We moved straight to the airport from Pizza Hut, about a ten minute ride, arriving with about an hour to spare before our flight.

The flight back to New York, again with a brief layover in Saint Louis, was pretty routine.  Dinner was served on the second flight, and although it was only a sandwich, it was surprisingly good for airplane food.  We flew into LaGuardia after dark, giving us the opportunity to see New York City from the air at night -- a great sight.

By around 10:30 eastern time we were in a van on our way back to Kings Park.  The end of this great trip was upon us.  As much fun as these two weeks had been, every one of us was glad to be home.  The prospect of eating a home cooked meal, sleeping in a real bed, taking a real shower, and not having to worry about what "smellables" you leave out for the bears.  The sentiment was about the same for everyone:  "I'd love to do this some time again, but not now."  The last of our crew was dropped off at home around midnight, ending what was truly an experience of a lifetime.


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