On July 25, 15 scouts and 5 adults left from the Santa Barbara train station on their way to Philmont Scout Ranch, New Mexico. We had a long journey ahead of us. Our first train took us from Santa Barbara to LA for about two hours. This train was very nice, with lots of room, free WiFi, and good views out of the window. Once we arrived in LA, after a bit of discussing about who would watch our gear, all of us walked over to Chinatown. As you would expect, with it being downtown LA in the summer, it was sweltering. So, after a few blocks of walking and after buying some jelly cups, Japanese soda, and off-brand Pocky, we turned around and made a beeline for the nearest air-conditioned place, which happened to be a Starbucks right by the entrance to Chinatown. We rested there for a while, until we left for dinner. When we were almost to the dinner spot, however, we realized that we had left an unnamed scout (Cough-Jason-cough) behind! After we resolved that issue, and had dinner we headed back to the station, and we left a few hours after that.
The new train was a serious downgrade from the previous one. It was super crowded, and there was no WiFi on there either! We didn’t let this fact hold us back though, so if any families had any unusually high data usage for July/August, you know whom to blame. That evening was reasonably uneventful, and we all went to bed around 10. In the morning we found our first piece of bad news. The train had been delayed four hours during the night due to electrical problems. This was the first of many, and I believe that by the time that ride was over, we were eight hours behind what we had anticipated. After we arrived in Raton, we took a relatively short bus to Philmont Base camp, signed in, and got to bed around 2 in the morning.
After a 6 am wake up for breakfast, we met our rangers, Curry and Ryan. Throughout the day they took us on fun adventures such and medical form checking, first-aid knowledge checks, gear checks, and pictures. After getting all of our food, gear, and maps, we were ready to go.
DAY 1: Our bus left the next morning with all of the scouts and advisers, and we went to the trail-head. Our first day consisted of a very short hike, about two miles, where we stopped at a staff camp halfway there. There are two different types of camps at Philmont: Staff camps, which have cabins, staff, and activities, and trail camps, which are your regular campsites. Ponil, the name of the camp, had several things for us to do, like branding and hanging out in the cantina, where we got cool root beer. After we talked with the rangers about setting up camp, and the proper procedures for dinner, and of course eating that properly prepared meal, we were able to hike back down to Ponil, as our camp was about a mile past it, and watch a show in the cantina that had songs and great, great (great) acting. Afterwards, we even got Jerrison to play guitar for us!
DAY 2: Our days got steadily longer in distance after that, and our next camp was Pueblano Ruins, stopping at Pueblano along the way. The hike was reasonable, about 4 miles long, and not too steep. At Pueblano we were going to climb spar poles, but they decided to take them down and replace them as soon as we got there. Thus we could not climb the spar poles. The actual campsite was very wet and rainy (I’ll mention here that the first week it rained every single day in the afternoon, with cloudy skies in the morning) but it had running water and flat tent area so we were happy. That night we hiked back to Pueblano for another show, this one with actually good acting and music. We also said goodbye to our rangers that night.
DAY 3 and 4: The next day we followed a trail to Baldytown, which was located near the base of Badly Mountain. The trail was steadily uphill, our first taste of tough hiking, and about 5 miles long. Once we arrived in Baldytown, we were taken to our campsite, which was located in a beautiful aspen forest. We had our first showers on the trail there, as well as our first clothes wash. As expected, it rained that night, so we all ate under our tarps while water fell from the sky outside. The next day we day hiked up to the top of Baldy. There’s not much to say about the hike other than that it was extremely steep and we got some amazing views. The peak was very windy and very rocky. After a brief rest and some pictures, we made our way down a very questionable trail down to French Henry, a mining themed staff camp where we panned for gold, try our hands at blacksmithing, and toured an old mineshaft, before we made our way back to Baldytown (Not back over Baldy thankfully).
DAY 5: Our next part of the trek was to Head of Dean. The hike was a smooth seven-mile hike, with very little elevation gain, so it wasn’t too tough. On the way, we stopped in Miranda, another staff camp, where we managed to shoot black powder rifles and throw tomahawks. After refining our mountain men yells (you have to yell when throwing a tomahawk, or you will have a much harder time hitting the target) we finished our hike. Head of Dean was a very nice campsite, with extremely nice staff and fun activities for the scouts. That night they even read us stories, such as Where the Wild Things Are, although we didn’t get our top choice, Corduroy.
DAY 6: Our next day was our longest distance: 10 miles! It was long and tedious, but after stopping for lunch under a highway, we made it to Upper bench. The campsite was on the edge of a lake full of questionably clean water, and there were a lot of insects to help keep us company. The rest of that day we spent in camp, eating dinner and recovering from the hike.
DAY 7: The next day we did a shorter hike where we picked up food along the way. We ended up in Aspen Springs, but instead of staying, we had to put our stuff down and rush to our service project. Our project consisted of a long line of scouts passing buckets up and down a meadow, watering clumps of glass that had been planted there in order to cover up an old trail. After that was finished, we headed up to Cimmaronicito for showers, washing, climbing, and even yoga.
DAY 8: Next on the list was our most dreaded hike. Although it was not the longest distance wise, it was close, and it had the most elevation gain that we had done with our packs on. We were hiking up and over Shaefer’s Pass. Near the start of our 9 mile hike we stopped at a few staff camps. The first was the Hunting Lodge, where we were offered the chance to tour an original cabin from the 1900s, but due to time constraints we had to decline. Our next stop found us learning about local trees and brush in the area, what we should do to prevent forest fires, and how we ruined the ecosystem by introducing sheep to the area in the early days of colonization. Then we were at Clark’s Fork, where we found the cutest cat and that’s about it. Right after That camp we started up. Around 1500 ft of elevation was between the top and us. It was brutal, with most of the trail in the sun and several unsafe edges we had to pass by. That wasn’t even the end though, as at the top we still had 3 more miles to our camp for the night, Miner’s Park. After a river crossing and what seemed like hundreds of switchbacks we arrived there and found it to be a climbing themed camp. Once our camps were set up several of us went to try the climbing wall that they had. After dinner and several games of Hacky-Sack we went to bed.
DAY 9: We had an earlier than usual wake up, as all of us went rock climbing that morning. The instructors led us to a rock face about half a mile away where they had several climbs ready for us. After an hour of climbing we set off. At this point it hadn’t rained nor had it been cloudy for several days, and so it was hot and dry. Perfect weather for climbing up and over an exposed mesa! Urraca Mesa was the name of the place, and it was tiring, but definitely not bad compared to the previous day. After making it to the top, it was a short hike down to Urraca, our camp for the night. The staff camp was based on Low Cope, and so that is what we did. After our team successfully moved all of us across several flimsy wires attached to trees, we headed back down to the cabin and got pudding. That night we saw a great campfire show by the staff there before going to bed.
DAY 10:This day was our last real day of hiking, and boy it was a nice one. We started off following a trail through a huge sunflower filled meadow, which was absolutely gorgeous. The next beautiful thing we saw was a road. A real, paved road. Unfortunately, we couldn’t follow it, as our stop, Stockade Ridge was not along it. Once we did get to stockade, we set up camp and ate lunch under the flimsy shade of the few trees that were in the camp. Our next endeavor was climbing the Tooth of Time, and although the trail seemed pretty sketchy the entire 1800 feet up (It seemed as if we climbed more than we hiked) the whole way up, the view from the top was absolutely worth it.
That last day was our last day of hiking, and the trip was mainly smooth sailing form there. From our camp we walked to a High Cope Course, where we all participated in teamwork and trust building exercises. These included having one person jump from a 30 ft pole and having the rest of us catch them on belay. After a few hours of this, our bus back to base camp arrived to pick us up. Once we all pilled in, we were off. The rest of the day was a bustle of taking showers, cleaning clothes, checking Instagram and Snapchat, and overall trying to find out what we missed during our time in the backcountry. Dinner tasted amazing after all of the freeze-dried food we had, and drinking something other than water or powdered Gatorade was bliss.
The next day was our last at Philmont, and, after breakfast, we said our goodbyes. Our bus ride to the train station was interrupted only by a stop at a grocery store for train meals. Once we got to the station however, we had a nasty surprise waiting for us. Our train was delayed. Not for long at first, so we kept our hopes up, but after the hours started passing we got more and more discouraged. We were helped out by and old couple who owned and café just down the road, as they offered a nice cool place to wait, with cold drinks and wifi. They even stayed open 2 hours late for us, and we are all so thankful for what they did. After 11 hours of delay, our train finally arrived in Raton, and we were off. The train was exactly the same as the starting train, although they seemed to have gotten their delays out of their system, as we were virtually unstopped the entire way back. After around 24 hours, we arrived in LA, boarded another train, and, late on August 9th, 13 scouts and 7 adults arrived back in Santa Barbara.