Author: Owen Tumperi
Physical. Emotional. Mental. Spiritual. Not once, while preparing for the 10-day trek, did I feel I would encounter any situation where one of these categories was tested to its maximum potential. These four words solely capture the hardships endured by Philmont crews all across the nation.
Whether it was treacherously hiking up the 12,441 foot peak of Baldy Mountain, and realizing you have to somehow dismount this staggering elevation, or if it was constantly checking over your shoulder after sundown in fear of becoming a mountain lion’s next victim. All scouts and adults in expedition 616-X (Troop 175’s expedition number for 2016), were in some way tested by these four “pillars” of hiking on the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico.
Our 8-man expedition was headed by crew leader Alex Kirkland who fearlessly designated daily roles such as cook, camp set-up, KP, and guide, among the scouts every day. An average morning on Philmont would consist of waking up around 5:30 am – 6:30 am and grudgingly packing up our tents. We would then take down the bear bags which became more and more tedious as the week went on because of our growing belief that there were absolutely no bears in the entire state of New Mexico. Next, we would grab our breakfast bags to ultimately find a large quantity of calories in the form of breakfast bars. Occasionally we stumbled across hot chocolate mix which we could never seem to assemble before heading out. On one rare morning, to our pleasure, we uncovered an organic Poptart! However, all meal bags mostly contained disappointment, an increasing distaste for Larabars, and a yearning to get home and eat something that didn’t require the opening of a package and pouring a shady combination of meats and vegetables into a pot of boiling water. All of this was done in the hope of getting out of camp before our sister crew in order to beat them to our next campsite as a friendly competition.
Our hike was normally made up of what appeared to be a confident guide who was most likely praying we were on the right path in fear of what the reaction will be from the seven passengers behind him if it turned out we were lost. On a typical hike we could count on seeing some form of wild life, which in our case turned out to be a massive herd of cattle, a steer, deer, and lots of prairie dog holes. However, all of this excitement was trumped by the once-in-a-lifetime scenery unique to Philmont Scout Ranch. The crew would stop sometimes to wrap our minds around the breath-taking mountains and valleys of the backcountry.
After a day’s hike, scouts and adults alike were most likely worn out by the physically demanding mountains and valleys we recently conquered. So, instead of resting, we would race to the swap box where previous scouts left their unwanted food (which doesn’t sound desirable but you can understand our situation), and scavenge for the possibility of unraveling a trail mix or some sort of treat. But in most cases we would find heaps of Jambalaya, and Larabars. We would then pitch our tents, put up the bear bags, attempt to pay attention during what seemed to be a meaningless activity, and finally, prepare dinner. Preparing dinner sometimes involved regularly checking the sky and figuring out what you were going to do if the threatening rain clouds actually blessed us with a cooling rain, or quickly stomping out pine needles which caught on fire from the defective stove. However time was mostly spent loosely following the packets instructions, creating some sort of soupy mixture of food which turned out to taste pretty good to our surprise. Once the calorie-jacked meal was eaten, cleaned up, and bear bags were hung on a tree, we congregated around our fire place for our evening talk. Walden Hillegass led us in an activity called thorns and roses, where we would share with each other what went well that day, what we look forward to tomorrow, and what could’ve gone better. After this, we were sometimes given a speech about the environment around us by Sam Amick, our wilderness guia. Finally, before going to bed, Alex would go over our evacuation plan if a natural disaster were to occur during the night, if anyone would actually follow this plan, we do not know. Tired, somewhat hungry, and wondering if a bear would come into the tent if we left a “smellable” item in it, we hopped into our tents and get the best possible sleep before the journey ahead of us the next day.
I would recommend Philmont to any scout who wants to enjoy the remarkable scenery of the New Mexico backcountry. This two-week long journey will truly leave a lasting impact on your life for years to come. Whether it’s viewing nature, and getting to know yourself, or if it’s creating meaningful bonds with the members of your crew. Philmont provides unique experiences for every scout that likes an adventure.