Philmont: The adventure of a lifetime

Adventure. It is a word often associated with the Scouting movement, and it especially includes the four high adventure bases scattered across the nation: Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, NM; Florida Sea Base in the Florida Keys; Northern Tier in Ely, MN; and the Summit Bechtel Reserve in WV which hosts the National Scout Jamborees.

The former of these bases is where two Chief Cornplanter Council contingents spent 12 days in the backcountry hiking, climbing, camping and generally enjoying the great wilderness that Philmont has to offer.

Our journey began in base camp, basically the HQ of all Philmont operations; it runs like a small town even with its own stores, laundromat, dining halls, infirmaries, churches and recreational centers. After getting prepared from our ranger, we set out into the real adventure on the second day of our itinerary.

The beginning days of the trek took us from the captivating sights through the canyons near our starting point: Six Mile Gate to the mountainsides where we performed our mandatory conservation effort building trail near the Indian Writings program.

Program here showed us ancient native writings on the rock faces and also a new type of sport, formerly a hunting method called atlatl throwing where we launched darts at certain targets in a field. After this, the crews decided to split at the variety of options before us with my crew deciding to surmount our first of four peaks on our trip: Hart Peak. Let me say it was quite a hull up a mountain with the average pack weighing 40 pounds and sometimes more.

Quarter way through our trip is when our ranger left us, but the future still had much in store for us, including COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) courses in which our crews’ teamwork was further enhanced. Obstacles like lifting a tire onto a “giant’s finger” or pole without touching it or figuring out a way to get an entire group into an elevated cargo net really emphasized the principles of communication and leadership.

Eventually we were led into our first of the staff camps: Ponil. Horseshoes became a popular sport for us here but just almost as popular as the Ponil Cantina which featured traditional pickles, root beer and especially the riveting cantina show, complete with extremely talented vocalists, guitarists and more. Here, it was also where we ran into Mark Risinger, the head cook of Ponil who is also from our home council Chief Cornplanter.

The following morning is when we picked up what would be a pleasant surprise: our burros (horse-donkey mixes) Pedro and Tony. Our loyal new friends carried some of our food for the journey and joined us in our travels for two days. Pedro even turned out to be one year of age, making the trip we took him on his first Philmont excursion.

Camp Pueblano was home to some interesting activities as well. These included spar pole climbing, an activity in which we climbed up telephone pole-like structures with spurs attached to our boots, and loggerball, a sick and twisted version of baseball in which the staff seemingly made their own rules in a game where we hit an electric tape ball with an axe handle. Pueblano was also home to a particularly hilarious campfire show.

One of the highlights of the trip was definitely climbing up Mt. Baldy at 12,441 ft. above sea level, the tallest peak in Philmont and one of the highest points in all of New Mexico. The going was tough, steep, rocky and unsteady, but we all made it to the top which was great because we all had a lot left to go in the longest day of the trek being approximately 22 miles.

The views form the top of Baldy were incredible as we saw the entirety of the Scout Ranch stretching out for miles and the rocky mountains of Colorado far off into the distance. We commemorated the moment even further by leaving our names in a time capsule, memorializing the life of passed scouter Dan Wolboldt and presenting my dad with his woodbadge beads award.

The remainder of this momentous day took us to the abandoned French Henry Aztec mine, which upon exploring we learned of all the hardships of working in mines like these. Other camps we would visit like Harlan and Cimarroncito harbored programs such as shotgun shooting and climbing respectively, each featuring as usual an extremely enthusiastic set of staff members.

The last full day at Philmont took us through Clark’s Fork, a very western themed staff camp that was also home to our third and final evening show. One skit in particular had me in tears of laughter and infectious energy as we could see the flickering lights of Cimarron in the distance, ever nearing our destination.

The next morning had some early rising in store as we reached Schaefer’s Peak around sunrise. We then hiked and bouldered our way through Tooth Ridge and up the Tooth of Time, our fourth and final mountain surmounted on the trek. The views were again spectacular, but this time there was a lot less room to stand as the peak was a thin section of craggy rock big enough for only a couple of crews to be at the top at one time.

Personally, this adventure exceeded my high expectations that I already had for Philmont Scout Ranch. Living and travelling through 130 miles of camps and trails for an extended period of time was unmatched by anything I have ever done. The sights were incredible and the trek, while daunting at times, was most of all unforgettable and definitely worth the time.

Overall, it was the journey through the backcountry and not the final destination that yielded true adventure and the real spirit of scouting. All 16 of us formed memories that will last forever about that trek we had in August of 2014. I highly encourage others from Chief Cornplanter Council and beyond to make their own memories at Philmont Scout Ranch. This place holds something special for everyone just like all scouts can use a little more adventure.