We had a great time on trek 9 from July 27 through August 6. (Our other crew hiked #4 in the south.) This itinerary offered a nice variety of hiking from strenuous to moderate to even easy (on days 1 and 11). And the scenery was awesome -- the lush aspen and spruce forests of the Valle, the surreal moonscape of the burned areas, rocky slopes and peaks of Baldy and the more typical meadows and Ponderosa pine forests. Six nights in trail camps, which we found we preferred to the four in staffed camps. There was also a good selection of activities. Quite a few of the Red Roof Inns were brand new due to the old ones burning in the fire last summer. Many thanks to Greg Smith for providing suggestions on the trek to my son. And thanks to everyone else on the list for answering my many questions. It was nice to meet a few of you -- and your children.
Our 2 crews agreed that our training treks and activities were very appropriate to what we encountered at Philmont.(If any Mid-Atlantic folks would like more details, email me offline.) Our 8 outings covered about 120 miles, mostly on the Appalachian Trail and in Shenandoah National Park, and we camped out for 12 nights. We had done hills just as steep as Philmont, although at lower elevation. That just meant we needed to pause to catch our breath more frequently. We only had a few people with minor symptoms of altitude sickness -- dull headache, mild nausea. Everyone drank lots of water, evidenced by our frequent pee breaks.
Our crew had 12 members: 8 youths ages 18, 16, 3 @ 15, 3 @ 14 and 4 adults ages 49, 46, 2 @ 45.
We worked hard to get our pack weights down before boarding the bus. They ranged from 33 to 44 pounds inclusive of personal and crew gear, 4 liters each of water and all food. Hiker weights ranged from 114 to 218. The lighter people carried at or above 30% body weight and the heavier hikers ended up carrying about 22%. It seemed to work out all right.
We couldn't understand why trek 9 is so unpopular. Sure there are 2 difficult days, but the feeling everyone got from meeting those challenges was well worth it. For those who are going in 2004, I'd suggest you consider 9 if you want a north country trek with Baldy and a few days in Valle Vidal. Save this email and contact me directly in February as you get closer to making a selection.
Here are some day-by-day details. Feel free to forward or post this report anywhere.
Pre-Philmont: We flew into Albuquerque and rented 5 mini-vans for 2 crews from Rent-A-Wreck, removed all but the front seats from one. We camped at Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos the first night. Toured the cliff dwellings the next morning and drove to Cimarron in the afternoon. Spent that night at Kit Carson Inn -- won't stay there again, no AC.
Philmont arrival on 726: We got there around 8:15 am and check in went well although time consuming. The boys had time to shop at TOTT and play frisbee. Our ranger was Timm Hannon.
Trail Day 1 - Base camp to Anasazi: Good lesson in orienting a map as the boys had difficulty finding the trailhead at Six-Mile gate. All the adults kept quiet, despite knowing where we needed to go. Only lost 20 minutes. The hike was only about 2 miles along a trail and not very exciting. One of our advisors had bought a Philmont Field Guide, so some of us tried to find and identify various flora. T-Rex footprint was OK. Anasazi is pretty much right on the trail, so not much seclusion. There were at least two other crews there -- noisy too. Light rain at bed time. Water is from an unpurified well down the hill and across the creek.
Day 2 - Anasazi to Old Camp: We got an early start and arrived at Indian Writings at 8:20, only to learn that the program didn't start until 10, so lots of waiting. The petroglyph and archeological tour was good, but could have been better with some hands on activity like helping with a dig. After lunch we continued along the road to Old Camp. It rained as we set up camp, but passed quickly. Old Camp is beautifully situated in a large valley where you can see the sunrise at one end and the sunset in the opposite. Several campsites, but we were alone. Water is from an unpurified well. Our ranger told us that it was the first time he'd been to Old Camp and that he liked it, although he also felt a bit spooked since it was the site of the bear attack last year. Our ranger was spooked? Didn't make me feel too good either! We were visited by some animal at 1:15 am, although only a couple of us heard it and we don't know what it was. I could hear the treading on the dry grass.
Day 3 - Old Camp to Dan Beard: We decided to abandon the road which was the easiset route in favor of climbing onto a ridge for better views. Saw several large animal footprints -- bear and elk. The hill down into Dan Beard was an extrememly steep 4WD road. I didn't believe a vehicle could actually go up and down it until I saw a couple. Because of the fire we had to camp in a meadow just inside the Valle with three other crews. Unpurified water from a spigot. We did our cons work there -- back up the steep hill to an area in the early stages of reforestation due to the fire. Seth was our cons guy and he was great. We all developed a real good understanding of forest fires and the importance of the work we were to do -- reseeding weeds and grasses, raking, spreading straw. Light rain at night. We did some challenge events the next morning and then the boys challenged the staff to a game of Ultimate Frisbee. Even with several advisors, the staff couldn't pull off a win. It was a real highlight for the boys.
Day 4 - Dan Beard to Rich Cabins: After frisbee and lunch, we set off along the border between Philmont and the Valle. We cut cross country through a burned out area. You really do get tired of seeing charred black trunks and bare rocky ground. Came to a meadow and then went almost vertical down to Rich Cabins. Loved Rich Cabins (Homesteading)! We took the cabin tour and then participated in the Garden Challenge -- the boys beat the record of the last crew for fetching 5-gal. buckets of water (15) from the stream a few hundred feet away and watering all the veggies. At first it sounded like work to them, but when the word "challenge" was used, it became a competition. After dinner they caught chickens and milked the cow. Camping was in a meadow with several other groups. Water from a stream. Free white gas.
Day 5 - Rich Cabins to Greenwood Canyon: The hike along a road and then a trail deeper into the Valle was beautiful. Yes, there are trails and roads in the Valle even though they are not on the maps. The Ponderosa pines thinned out to be replaced by Colorado spruce, fir and quaking aspens. Many more wildflowers as well. We took the second campable site we came to, although there are probably 3 or 4 more futher up the canyon. Ours had a nice log bridge over the stream, level spots for tents and good tree limbs for bear bags. We had a lazy afternoon washing clothes, bathing and the boys played Uno. The hills on either side seemed to go straight up and there was no one around for miles. Water from stream.
Day 6 - Greenwood Canyon to Copper Park: We followed the road for a while then split off to the left. Bushwacked up a steep ravine through many dead trees and several people got their legs bruised and scratched up. Near the top we found an old mining road and decided to follow it. We were aiming for a saddle between two peaks that would then take us down to Copper Park and at that point weren't exactly sure where we were. As we rounded a right turn on the road, Baldy just about reached out and smacked us. It seemed so close. We went straight downhill from there and ended up right at the entrance to Copper Park -- a very compact trail camp that holds many groups, too many for our taste. We went to French Henry for the mine tour, panning for gold and blacksmithing. It was a very long walk with a hefty elevation change. An OA Trail Crew was spending its last night in camp before heading out on the trail and they shared their leftover food -- canned veggies and fruit, fresh fruit. You'd think we'd never seen an apple before!
Day 7 - at Copper Park, sidehike to Baldy: We decided to hike up the south face of Baldy and down the north, so we headed into Baldy Town to pick up the trail. We also needed to pick up food. They let us just take that night's dinner and the following day's breakfast since we needed to come back through the next morning and could pick up the rest. All 8 boys carried packs that were empty except for meals. We left B-Town at 8:45 and made it to the top by 11. The views were absolutely gorgeous. We especially liked seeing Spanish Peaks in Colorado. A little while later we saw a lightening strike on a mountain a few miles south and figured we wouldn't be staying long. By 11:25 a new storm had formed overhead and we, plus the other 100 people up there, hightailed it down the slope. The north face is a rock slide meaning all you can do is slide down the loose rock. Don't even try to take steps -- it won't work. By the time we got to the tree line the rain had come in and we hiked our only hike in the rain. People were cold, wet and tired when we got back to CP, and naps in warm sleeping bags were the afternoon activity. We didn't do burro packing and were happy with that decision, though logistics was not.
Day 8 - Copper Park to Baldy Skyline Camp: Hiked back to B-Town for showers (our only) and food pick-up. Stopped at Miranda for the Mountain Man program. We shot black powder rifles (I hit my target both times), and threw tomahawks (not as good at that). Purified water there, so we filled up. Good thing because when we arrived at Baldy Skyline, the only source was a trough fed by a well. The trough was for the burros, but there was no way to divert clean water. We were fine till morning. The camp is really out of the way and was probably out least favorite. There was at least one other group there and they were loud. We walked up to Baldy Skyline after dinner to catch the sunset.
Day 9 - Baldy Skyline Camp to Pueblano: We stopped at Head of Dean for more Challenge events. Arrived there at 7:40 and Jenn started us right away. We had a great time and did very well, so she handicapped us by not allowing us to speak during the events. A mini-bear attacked my granola, which was in my pack. Purified water available from spigot. Arrived at Pueblano and did spar pole climbing, railroad tie making and caber tossing. Stayed in campsite #8. The staff challenged all scouts there to a game of loggerball. It drizzled during the game and we saw the most beautiful double rainbow! One bow had three sets of colors and a second had the standard set. They arced over an American flag. After the campfire program, which was excellent, the rain stopped and we saw stars for the first time since base camp. It had been cloudy and rained nearly every evening previously. Due to leaks in the plumbing, the only water there was from a very silty stream.
Day 10 - Pueblano to Ponil: Discovered 2 more mini-bear attacks, this time on bite valves for Platypuses. We took our cons guy's advice and hiked over Wilson Mesa. It added a few miles to the day but the views were worth it. We also got to see various stages of reforestation from fires in the 70s, 80s, and within the last 5 years. A mini-bear stood up and posed for pictures, then when he realized he wasn't getting a handout, burrowed back underground. Arrived at Ponil -- the very first Philmont base camp -- in time for lunch and the 1 pm horse back riding. Unfortunately 1/2 mile into the ride, thunder and lightening came and we had to abort. All the Ponil campsites have been moved uphill since the ones on the meadow were washed away in spring floods. The Penthouse up on the rocks looked nice but was already occupied. The boys enjoyed the rootbeer in the Cantina and we had a good time at the Cantina show that evening. Purified water from spigots.
Day 11 - Ponil to basecamp: very short hike outside Ponil gate to Ponil turnaround. Couldn't believe Wednesday 10:30 had come already. Easy check-in since we had used most of our own equipment. Just lost one bottle of Polar Pure ($5 charge).
Wildlife summary: deer, elk, mini-bears, garter snakes, NO bears. Just missed seeing bears on the way to Baldy Skyline. The crew ahead of us from South Jersey saw a mother bear and two cubs going down the hill through the switchbacks. Two members of our other crew saw a mountain lion attack a fawn and carry it off to eat. They won't forget that sight anytime soon!
Oh, on the compacting, our ranger said they're not allowed to teach it, despite the fact the staffed camps ask you to do it. The ranger said the hazing occurred within the crews -- advisors assigning it to boys as punishment. Who knows? We still made a game out of it and impressed each other with our compacting skills.
I have many more details, and if anyone's interested, email me offline.
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