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disney4dan

Philmont 2016

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It has been a long time since I have posted a trip report on this board, but wanted to share some of the trip that my son and I took to Philmont last summer.  For those who don't know, this is a high adventure scout camp run by the Boy Scouts of America.  For those of you who have kids in scouting, I highly recommend it!

Let's get this trip going!

First off is our stop at the group sales check in counter for Southwest Airlines in Boston's Logan International airport.  We got there before the Dunkin Donuts was open!  SWA took really good care of us and gave all of us pre-check status so we could go through the shorter security line.  Great start!

 

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That is my son with the purple day bag on his back and several other scouts from our crew.

 

On the plane and barely able to contain the excitement!

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Boots on the ground in Albuquerque!

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At the hotel before driving 3 hours to Cimarron and our first day. Our charter company took good care of us with a great dinner, hotel and a quick meeting about what to expect.  Thousands of scouts travel through Denver and Albuquerque to get to Philmont each summer. They have this system set up nice.

 

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Headed out the next morning!  Ready for a 3 hour tour, but no Skipper or Gilligan.

 

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The bus was comfortable, but slowed to about 40 miles per hour on the uphill climbs.  Ugh.

We stopped at a rest area along the way, part of the former Santa Fe trail

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We finally made it!  That is the Tooth of Time mountain in the background - one of the most famous mountains in camp, but not the tallest.  We would not be hiking this mountain, but a nearby peak called Mt. Baldy that is 12,400 feet + in elevation.  All scouts have to be in uniform when arriving at Philmont.  No exceptions.

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Now that we are here, on to get checked in and get our gear.  The crew chief has to sign us in, get our paperwork, deliver all our medical forms, and then our ranger is assigned.

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The good news, after logistics was lunch!! School cafeteria food at it's finest!  They have to serve about 500 to 600 scouts who are arriving each day a lunch.  That is for kids about to head out on the trail, not including the ones coming back inbound from the trail.

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After lunch, off to get some crew provided camping gear and our first 4 days of food.

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That is two garbage cans full of food rations in bags labeled by the day, which meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) that somehow has to fit into our packs. Some of the finest dehydrated food with nuts, granola bars and dried fruit.

The panic begins to set in.....

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Near the limit, will post more later!

 

Edited by disney4dan
Hoping to fix the links for pictures!

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More from the first day at camp.

The crew chief (on right in the photo) is inspecting the cooking utensils provided to us.  Those two large aluminum pots will be our way of boiling water and then rehydrating dinners over the next two weeks.  The crew chief is an older scout who is the designated leader of our crew.  This is a boy lead trip, the adults are just there to resolve conflicts that might come up and to ensure safety.  We have to have at least two adults with wilderness first aid training, navigation skills and the ability to drink lots of strong coffee. 

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We are assigned tents in the outbound area.  Our ranger will go through all of our packs and help to weed out items that are not needed to reduce weight.  They also make sure that each scout has the minimum requirements to stay safe in the backcountry.  The ranger will stay with us for two nights and provide basic skills and rules for keeping this area as pristine as is possible.

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After checking in and getting our gear checked, we are off to dinner at the cafeteria again.  It doesn't look like much, but it will be the best dinner for the next 12 days!

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After dinner, off for more required check ins. All of us need to bring our medical forms to the medical check in area and get cleared by the staff nurses for backcountry.  We also signed  up for a medical screening study to check blood pressure at three points along the trail as part of a research program.  There were lots of deer in the camp that are used to the kids.

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You need to drink lots of water in order to help fight of potential altitude sickness because we were at sea level yesterday, at around 7,000 feet at base camp and headed for 12,400 feet in just a couple of days.  Plus it is hot and dry in this area during July and August.

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The sunsets in Philmont are fantastic.  The air starts to cool off quickly once the sun goes down.  We will soon be headed for the outbound ceremonial fire presentation and get the history of the area as told by camp rangers - great show.

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That brings us to the end of day 1 in camp, headed to the tents.  In the background you can see the large bathhouses needed; our last chance to use indoor plumbing for a while!

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Edited by disney4dan
repairing links for pictures

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Day 2 - time to rise and shine. We got up pre-dawn to get some hot showers in long before having to compete for space in the bathhouse. I grabbed this shot of the sun shining on camp.  Love the scenery around here.

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These jackrabbits were running around camp early in the morning.  When coming back from the showers you would just see groups of shadows skampering around in the grassy areas. 

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Waiting for our bus to the trail head.  We would be jumping into an old school bus that has the last few rows of seats removed to allow packs to be thrown in, and then packed us in three to a seat for a bumpy ride.

In the waiting area for the trailbound bus.Notice the water bottles.  We had to drink about 4 liters per day, and the focus was to get the water in early in the day to hydrate muscles before they can get cramps.

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Group shot!

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And we are off!  Philmont is a group of donated lands that consist of a lot of cattle ranches. These are still working cattle farms, so they have areas like this to cross over fences. Look at all that weight on our backs.  It is possible to travel much lighter, but there are minimum requirements at Philmont that keep the load kind of heavy. My pack weighed 50 pounds when I added the 4 liters of water to it.  I was so glad to have dropped the 25 pounds before the trip or my knees would have been barking.

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Our first few miles were in Ponil canyon, headed to a horse camp.  This is a lot like the old westerns I grew up with. Dry, dusty, about 90 degrees but we were staying cool with the dry air.

More water

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Finally at Ponil!

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Everytime you arrive in camp you must line up the packs to keep things neat.  It also helps the darn red squirrels (mini bears) find them faster. More on that later.

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Energy gels as part of the lunch.  Those floppy hats are great at keeping the sun and rain off your neck and shoulders.

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From there we hike off to our first tent site a few miles northwest.  Total miles today was only about 4 or 5 miles because the ranger needed to spend a lot of time training us on the rules and methods of backcountry Philmont. Here we are learning about hanging up the food and anything that smells like food so that no bears would steal it.  Apparently it is OK to leave smelly scouts in tents, but the food must be protected! Our ranger is wearing the dark green polo shirt (all rangers have the same outfit for easy spotting). They are always at the end of the line while hiking.  Rule number 1, if you see the ranger running to the front of the line it means a bear or mountain lion is chasing and you better be faster than the ranger!

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First trail camp set up.  We were hit with the usual afternoon shower and the air cooled off quickly.This was Bent camp, located near a creek just east of Wilson Mesa. 

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Trail dinner! 

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Edited by disney4dan
repairing links for pictures

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Next morning, heading from Bent camp to Pueblano.  We will be climbing up to the top of Wilson Mesa and then hiking along the ridge with fantastic views before going back down into the next canyon. This is Gary, veteren of 6 trips to Philmont over the years and valuable resource for experience for us!  Because of his help with getting ready, our ranger gave us a lot of slack and we had an easy first couple of days.  Behind Gary is the top of Mt. Baldy, stripped of vegetation by former mining operations decades ago. We have already gained 1500 feet in elevation since Bent camp.

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The boys taking in the scenery and great breeze.  About 80 degrees and a nice hike. Matt has one of the cook pots hanging beneath his pack.  It had been tied beneath his green camp chair, but things shift around a lot while hiking and it gets super annoying!

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Loved this section with the Ponderosa pines. Prime mountain lion territory.

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Lunch with a view. Again, Mt. Baldy looms in the distance. We will be at the top of that mountain in two days!

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My pack for the trip with solar charger to boost the batteries for my cell phone/camera. The pack wasn't as big as it should be for this hike, based on all the gear that they want you to have, but it did the job.

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Side note, I have been having to switch between photobucket and Google photos to try and load to this page.  For some reason, some links won't work - must be a problem with image size I guess, but we'll keep posting what I can!  Some cool photos won't load though ;-(

Typical trail lunch for scouters!

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Let's try this again....Mt. Baldy close up using Google Photos

 

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Trail lunch left behind by a mountain lion (apparently I can't get this photo to link..)

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Earlier shot of the group on Wilson Mesa

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Edited by disney4dan
repairing links for pictures

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As we get into Pueblano, we are into higher elevation and the scenery is beginning to change

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This type of vegetation is much more like what we have in New England.  This is after leaving Pueblano (none of those photos will load) and we are now headed out toward French Henry mining camp. Gaining more and more elevation as we go.  Our ranger departed this morning after saying his goodbyes!  Our water for this day was taken from a mountain stream and treated with tablets.  Nothing quite like chunky water that tastes like chlorine tabs ;-P

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Edited by disney4dan
repairing links for pictures

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Let me see if I can get a few of the other photos to link here

This is one I wanted to post earlier about water from the stream - chunky style.  You can see the other scouts in the background sanitizing the threads on the bottle.  What you do is fill the bottle and drop in a tablet.  Let said tablet dissolve for about 30 seconds and start purifying the water (killing anything that lives in the water).  Turn the bottle upside down and let some of the water drain out through the opening and coat the threads on the cap, purifying the water along the mouth of the bottle.  You get used to it. 

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And finally, the remains of something that a mountain lion had eaten up in this tree.  They carry their prey up into a tree to keep it away from other predators, and then just let the bones drop.  And yes, we ate lunch right here next to these bleached bones.

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Edited by disney4dan
repairing links for pictures

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I think the trick to this is to only post one or two photos at a time, and then do another reply.  Let's try that for a while!

So, we have departed Pueblano on our way up the foothills into the mountains now and are headed to our first historic mining camp.  We are headed for French Henry camp. We spent that night at Pueblano Ruins, elevation 8,300 and will climb to French Henry at 9,600 feet in elevation. This trail is very scenic and follows the creek that was used for the camps power.

Arriving at French Henry

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Here we are checking in with the staff at the camp and getting the introduction and list of activities. The boys went and worked at a blacksmith shop while I stayed with the packs and used my water filter to fill up our water bottles.  This gets 99.999% of the crud out of the creek water, and the purifying tablets kill any viruses that might have passed through.  Most of the time you don't need to worry about viruses, but apparently we have some new pathogens that can survive for a few hours outside of the body and could have been passed into this creek (lots of scouts bladders could have been emptied anywhere in the valley).

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Lets see if I can fit one more photo

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And one more - my check on the elevation on our way up to camp earlier in the morning:

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Edited by disney4dan
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After relaxing at French Henry (I spent a few hours chasing mini bears - chipmunks - away from our packs), we headed uphill even more to the Aztec mine area for a tour.  This had been one of many working mines on Mt. Baldy.  This cart would bring ore rock out to the tailings pile at the mouth of the mine entrance.

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Matt taking a photo down the valley from the mine tailing pile.

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And then the boys and other adults went in.  I am not a fan of caves, tunnels or tight spaces, so I stayed outside and relaxed in the shade while they got the tour. Matt shared one of his photos from inside. I should add that I was able to get one bar of ATT cell service from here and got a text to go out after about ten minutes of retrying - let the other parents know all was well and we were having a blast.

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Edited by disney4dan
repairing links for pictures

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After the mine tour, we head out and up at about 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon.  We must travel several more miles to get to our next camp at a place called Baldy Town.  One of the things you can count on in this area are afternoon thunderstorms.  We are at an exposed elevation with not many trees, around 10,000 feet in elevation and we needed to get moving and set up our next camp. This photo was taken to show what was either a bear claw mark to mark his territory or the rubbing of an antler on the tree for the same reason.  A fresh one at that. We were beginning to feel the effects of altitude and had to take frequent short breaks to let our blood get some more oxygen to our muscles. Altitude sickness was starting to hit some of the crew, but not too bad.

 

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Edited by disney4dan
repairing links for pictures

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Now it is late afternoon on July 21, near the end of our fourth day on the trail and we arrive at Baldy Town at the end of our first food stash, tired, stinky and ready to rest.  Luckily, they have cold showers at Baldy Town and we will be spending two days here.  To be fair, they have hot showers, but the water heater can't keep up with  the demand. Kids are instructed to take military showers where you just use the water to get wet, shut off the valve at the shower head and soap up. After washing in suds, open the showerhead valve again and rinse off quickly.  They have separate rooms for adults, boys and each section has a sign where you can flip it over when women/girls are in the room (yes, it is a co-ed camp and lots of co-ed crews come through).  We could hear other scouts just letting the water run in the other room, wasting all the hot water, so we all got to have cold showers.  I think that is known as a First World Problem.  Either way, I wanted to be clean again and wash my clothes that I had been wearing for four days (you bring three pairs of underwear and socks, but only one set of pants, one set of shorts, two t-shirts, a sweater and a rain jacket).  I could not wait to put on clean underwear and socks, change into my shorts and wash everything.

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They also have an outpost commissary here (cabin to left) where I was able to replace a small backpacking stove that I needed. Most of our cooking was being done on my son's MSR Whisperlite stove that had been handed down to him by his grandfather's friend (a rugged and dependable stove, but I wanted something to carry on my tradition the next day when we summited Mt. Baldy).  So I got an MSR PocketRocket stove.

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Our campsite was designated in an Aspen grove about one mile from the main area along with about 4 other crews.  A scenic area, but we are on a mountainside here.  And what is it about mountains?  They are not level.  And there are lots of rocks.  This was not going to be a comfortable nights sleep.  I was looking at all these nice trees and dreaming of my hammock set up that I use in New England.  They aren't allowed in Philmont, so I slept on rocks.  And I was so tired that I slept great all night.  In this photo you can see the American flag on one pack.  Each crew chief is provided the same flag and must display it on his/her pack to be quickly identified. Scouting has organizational rules similar to the military. If the staff have an issue or need to quickly get a message out in an emergency, they go straight to the crew chief and not the adults.

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Edited by disney4dan
repairing links for pictures

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Here we are at the end of day four, and I had gotten my second wind. I  was in hiker heaven right here and I decided to go back to the main area with another scout to get our water for cooking, Just another three mile round trip hike at the end of a long day, including another 400 feet in elevation change, but I was feeling fine and getting adrenaline about the next days climb.  This photo was taken near sunset showing the valley below, and the area we would be heading into next after we leave Baldy Town.

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One of our crew heading to the ranger cabin while Rick, one of the other adults in our crew enjoys the view from the porch. The staff serve coffee and hot chocolate to the adults each evening at camp.  A welcome treat at the end of a long day.  Temps were falling into the 40s tonight and it would be chilly.

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Edited by disney4dan
repairing links for pictures

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The morning of day five.  Bright and early we get up and for once we can put on a light day pack instead of the heavy 50 pound packs we had been carrying.  Today we will summit Mt. Baldy.  First we throw down a quick, cold breakfast of granola bars and fruit snacks, then we head into Baldy Town for water.  It is a crisp, bright day with no clouds.  The goal is to summit the mountain by noon because afternoon thunderstorms are common and dangerous.  Many crews are turned back before summitting due to an approaching storm so we want to get an early start.

Fortunately, the two veteran scout masters who have done this before know the right way to do this.  A slow and steady pace with frequent breaks is needed for us flat landers who are not used to the elevation.  We might only go 300 to 400 yards and take a 5 minute break.  Any longer of a break and we must wait at least 20 minutes for the muscles to relax completely.  They call it the 5 or 20 rule.  Anything between those minutes and you risk massive leg cramps and stomach cramps.  So we steadily plod on.

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The going is pretty quick due to our light pack weights.

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Edited by disney4dan
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Eventually we reach the saddle, an open field at about 11,500 feet in elevation that is used for cattle.  I find it amazing the a cow would ever want to climb up here, but there was enough evidence that they had been there recently. This is Matt posing with the summit right behind him, just a few hundred yards through some trees and then the final push up a steep slope of broken shale to reach the top.  Making good time, and as you can see, weather is perfect.

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Up we go! Our boys resting in the shade while another crew takes a break a few yards uphill.

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This will probably be my stopping point for today, too many times that a photo won't link right now so I am taking a coffee break until tomorrow.  Until then, I will leave you in suspense.  Do we make it to the summit?  Does my tradition continue?  Where exactly is Conjunction Junction and what's it's function?

Edited by disney4dan
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Went to Philmont in 2008 with my son. One of the best times I've ever had. He is married with kids now and still has map of our trek on wall of living room. Hoping to go back with the grandkids.

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My son did Philmont about 9 years ago and had a great time, they even fit a whitewater rafting trip on a section of the river called the racecourse, funny thing is he now lives in the Taos area so he must have really liked it out there. We drove out last year with the rv to visit and drove thru Cimmaron and some of the worst storms of our whole trip and all we thought about were the boys out there hiking.

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20 hours ago, momof3kids-Yvonne said:

I'm in.

Sent from my SM-G900V using Tapatalk

That was quick!  Welcome aboard and enjoy the hike.

13 hours ago, NJBruce said:

Went to Philmont in 2008 with my son. One of the best times I've ever had. He is married with kids now and still has map of our trek on wall of living room. Hoping to go back with the grandkids.

I agree, so glad I got to do this with my son.  i debated about even posting this on FF net because it is not WDW related. But I know that there are some scout families out here who might not be considering this type of trip with or for their scout. I know I always thought of it as a "for other scouts" and "way too expensive for my taste" type of trip.  But when I got a chance to go I thought about this is the only time I could do this with my son.  We made it work somehow. Luckily, I have lots of coworkers in scouts, and my line manager is also in scouts with his kids. I had used a lot of time off over the prior two years for health issues with another child, and he told me not to worry about it - we found a way. 

Short answer, if you can do this with your kid I would find a way. 

27 minutes ago, dblr....Rennie said:

My son did Philmont about 9 years ago and had a great time, they even fit a whitewater rafting trip on a section of the river called the racecourse, funny thing is he now lives in the Taos area so he must have really liked it out there. We drove out last year with the rv to visit and drove thru Cimmaron and some of the worst storms of our whole trip and all we thought about were the boys out there hiking.

Those thunderstorms are brutal. And it is amazing how quickly it brings the cold air down from high altitude so you go from a 90+ day to about 45 - 50 degree wet afternoon or evening. I think I have some photos coming up that might show that. I just wish I had more video.  Most of the images were on my iPhone which, despite being fairly new, was one of the phones with the bad batteries and it was failing fast on my trip.

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I hope the images are showing up in the posts. I checked on my phone earlier today and it seems like the only images that I could see were the ones that are posted on photobucket. I reached my limit on photobucket and have also discovered that my Malwarebytes software was having fits over that site and was fighting off a lot of malicious stuff, so I put all the photos on Google. The google images were not showing through on my phone, so raise your hand and let me know if nobody else can see those photos either. I can see all of them from the desktop.

Alright, let's pick this up again, shall we? 

We left off yesterday about 500 feet from the summit. We were making good time with a slow and steady pace and the best weather we could hope for.  The altitude was slowing most of us down. The night before one of the adults was hit with one of the lesser known side effects - confusion.  He spent about 30 minutes trying to figure out how to set up his tent before his kids came over and helped him out.  He was better by morning, luckily.  Now, here we are at the last push for the top and one of the kids was hit with an emotional outburst.  Totally unexpected and out of the blue and he was sobbing.  Of course, being a teenage boy just made it worse.  Luckily, it passed fairly quickly and he was good to go soon.  These are things that most people don't suffer from, and it is hard to predict.  The veteran adult scout leaders who had been many times before said that they have been hit with it as well, but not every time.  But, what I liked about our crew is that we all stuck together and waited it out.  We were going to summit the mountain as a crew and celebrate when we got there. 

Finally, everyone gathered for the last push and we hit the top with about 50 other scouts already there. The summit is the highest peak in this range (not the highest in NM) and the wind was coming in very strong from the north. We had been sheltered from it on the southern side all morning, and the gusts were pretty intense.  Luckily, it was not too cold and there were almost no clouds around. We hunkered down for lunch, photos, and a quick call home to let family know where we were.  My son couldn't wait to call his sister.

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And then I got to keep my tradition alive and celebrate with a cup of hot strong coffee at the summit. I started this tradition in around 2010 on scouting adventures and have had one at every summit since then. In this view, the camera is facing east southeast toward the plains.  Behind me are mountains in Colorado. To my right, southwest of this peak are the slopes of Angel Fire ski area.

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As you can see, the weather was great. There are lots of on-line videos and photos from other scouts to show that it can be pretty cold, windy and cloudy up here, but we won the lottery this day! We stayed around for a while and then had to head back down.  We needed to get into Baldy Town to pick up our food supplies for the next 5 days on the trail and get well rested for some longer hikes.  But from here, it is mostly downhill!

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Edited by disney4dan
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One of the crew decided to create a rock statue

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And down we went. I forgot to grab a photo of my watch showing the altitude at the summit, but remembered a little way back down the trail.

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If only there was a way to show how steep this trail is. My knees were so happy to not have an additional 50 pounds on my back today!

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Edited by disney4dan
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We had an uneventful afternoon, nice and relaxing hike down, we grabbed our supplies and took it easy. The best part of the resupply days is getting a piece of fresh fruit for that day. I can still remember how good that orange was after eating meat sticks, envelopes of tuna, crackers, energy gel packs and dried fruit.  There is always a crowd around the building where food is handed out.  I have to say, the rangers have the whole food distribution thing running like a well oiled machine. And as much as I like to complain about the trail food, they did provide some high quality items. There is just so much you can do for that many scouts covering that many miles on the trail.

We got up early again the next morning for a fairly long hike to our next staffed camp where the kids can participate in an organized activity.  Here is what a typical breakfast was like before heading out on the trail. And yes, it was "Oh-dark-thirty am" before much daylight.

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But the sun did come up quick.

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And on the road we go!  Head of Dean camp coming up in the afternoon.

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Edited by disney4dan
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More pictures from along the trail. I should have invested in a camera that could do a better job of capturing the colors.

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In this next photo, taken mid-day, you can see how the clouds always build up in the afternoon and it will rain somewhere in Philmont. It was also around this point that we encountered our first military jet fly by.  There is a military base not far from here, and the pilots know that there are lots of scouts out during the summer.  We got to see a good size bomber screaming over this canyon at low altitude. Amazing how the canyon isolated us from the sound until the jet was almost over us.

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Edited by disney4dan
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13 minutes ago, DaveInTN said:

Enjoying this Dan! Thanks for sharing.

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G930A using Tapatalk

Welcome Dave!  Amazing how fast the kids grow up, isn't it?  Hope we get to meet up again some day either in the parks or maybe on a trail sometime.  With college tuition looming, it might be a while before we get a chance to visit the Fort.

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