Archive for the ‘High Adventure’ Category


Philmont Group 1986In 1986, The Boy Scouts of Melrose Troop 68 went to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico for the first time, but it was a trip that almost did not happen. Here is part 1 of what happened and the problems that needed to be overcome. (Taken from my journal of the adventure.)

Why Philmont? Why now? These were two important questions. Both were considered when the Melrose Troop 68 committee and I began to plan for a high adventure trek for the Scouts of our troop.

It was the spring of 1985 when we become serious about giving the Scouts the opportunity to go to one of the high adventure bases. Several boys had been in the troop for a number of years. The regular program was becoming a bit stale for them. We needed something exciting for them to look forward to. Something for just the older Scouts.

I had been to Philmont Scout Ranch in June, 1994, for a one week scoutmaster training course. While I was there I was captured by the spell of the place. I knew that someday I would have to go back to participate in a trek through the mountain wilderness with the Scouts of my troop.

When the opportunity came for a high adventure trip I strongly suggested Philmont. It was challenging. It was rugged. It was Scouting. And it was reasonably priced. A thirteen day, twelve night stay, would cost each boy only one hundred seventy five dollars. If we had at least five boys attend an adult leader would be able to go along free of charge.

We agreed to commit ourselves to this project. We chose the month of August for three reasons. August was supposed to be the drying of the three months that Philmont was open. It would not interfere with our summer camp plans. And last, I wanted to go in August. But before we could make a definite commitment there were two things that needed to be taken care of. The first was to see if I could get the time off from work. We all knew, though no one really said it, that if I didn’t go neither would the kids. There would be a very slim chance of any of the fathers being able or willing to take the boys on a journey of this magnitude.

I asked my boss about it. It took several days to get a firm answer. There were several things he had to consider. August happened to be the busy season at the lumberyard at which I worked. Would they be able to manage for a couple of weeks without their draftsman and estimator?

Another consideration for me was from looking at the two week period from another angle. I would be gone to Hawaii for the first few days of the year to attend my brother’s wedding. In July I would be gone for a week as I took the Scouts to Wisconsin for summer camp. This, of course, does not include all the weekend camp outs during the course of the year. Within a one year period I would be gone for four weeks. I only received one week of paid vacation during the year.

It was my turn to think about it. Did I want to take all this time off work, time during which I would not be receiving a paycheck? It did not take me long to answer that question. As soon as I received permission from my boss, the committee received my commitment.

It was time to work on the second problem. Did we have enough scouts who wanted to go to Philmont? No, change that. How many Scouts were qualified and wanted to attend?

What were the qualifications? Philmont requires that any Scout who participates in a trek must be thirteen years old by January first of the year the trek is to be made. The committee and I added one more requirement. A Scout must be at least First Class Rank to participate. These two requirements eliminated about two thirds of the troop membership. How many of the remaining Scouts would want to go?

Five boys were both able and willing to go on the trip. They were Scott, Jeff, Robert, Chris and Gerry. Chris was not yet a First Class Scout but we gave him until February, 1986, to earn it.

Things were starting to look good. We sent in our reservation and were approved for arrival on August 4, 1986.

The fall of 1985 saw the collapse of our neighboring troop in Freeport. We extended an invitation to those Scouts to join our troop, but only two Scouts took us up on the offer. One of these boys, Brian, joined the list of Scouts going to Philmont.

Nothing much happened during the winter, but as spring approached the wheels began to spin once again. Every Scout had now earned his First Class Rank. The first half of the fee had been sent to Philmont. We had received the information packet for the 1986 season.

It was time to choose an itinerary of programs that we wished to partake in while we would be on our trek. The choice of itineraries began with fifty mile hikes and ended with a 109 mile hike.I held a meeting with the Scouts and they chose some of the things they wanted to do. These choices included panning for gold, blacksmithing, burro packing, a trip to the cantina, a chuck wagon dinner, rock climbing, and something called the Dean’s Challenge. They then had to decide on how rugged and long of a hike they wanted to partake in while there. They almost immediately turned down all the hikes between the 50-60 mile range.”Those would be too easy,” they said. A hike of over eighty miles would leave us little time for programs and resting. They decided that a 65-70 mile hike should be about right.

Itinerary #15 was their first choice. It was a 66 mile hike that included everything they wanted plus a side hike of the Tooth of Time and Mount Baldy. Their second choice was itinerary #17 which would was pretty much the same as #15 except that the camps would be different ones. We mailed our card with with our five chosen itineraries. A short time later I received a post card from New Mexico stating that we had been given our second choice, #17.

(To be continued…)

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    Josh decided to go to the top of Deer Lake Mesa. It is a side hike that we had talked about doing when we were planning things back in Melrose. No one shows any interest in going along with him so he tries to go off by himself. I put a stop to that idea very quickly. At least three people will have to go. I would prefer four. We need to practice the buddy system out here. There is no telling what could happen, although it should be a safe enough hike.

    Even though I was not planning to go up to the mesa at first I decide to go along with Josh. I was looking forward to side hiking this mesa when I looked over our agenda back home. Tim also expresses interest but backs out for some reason. Pete and Corey finally decide to join us. We grab our rain gear, canteens, and a map and compass. It is cloudy and looks as if it may rain. If it does we will turn around and come right back. If not, we plan to be back at 6:00 p.m.

    It is close to a two kilometer hike to the mesa. Two thirds of it is on a four wheel drive trail. This trail is in extremely poor condition and is very steep. I wander how often a vehicle even comes up this way. By the condition of the ‘road’ I would say not very. The storm clouds above us threaten to soak us the entire journey.

    The mesa takes our breath away as we reach the top. It is a fantastic site, an elevation at over 8200 feet. Kinda reminds me of Shangrala. The mesa is actually slightly concave. The perimeter is lined with a hardy stand of trees that block out most of the view of the mountains that surround us. In the center is a small lake. Seventeen cattle graze in the grassland across the pond. For a while the four of us just stand there and try to absorb the scenery. It is the closest thing to Minnesota that I have seen since we arrived in Philmont.

    Unfortunately, the storm clouds still threaten to drench us so we do not stay more then fifteen minutes. If we are lucky we can make it back to camp before it rains. We all agree that we should have come up sooner. It would have been great to lie back in the grass and take it easy, watching the cattle graze and the birds fly by. We are treated to a spectacular view of Cimarron on the way back.

    We arrive back at camp at 5:45 p.m., fifteen minutes sooner then we thought we would. It still has not rained. The four of us play Frisbee as Ross, Jason, and Al prepare supper. Nathan is sleeping in his tent about twenty feet from us. The flap is partly open. We take turns trying to throw the Frisbee into the tent but are not very successful. Greg comes by as states that he can do it. We do not believe him but let him try. He does it on his first throw. That ends the game.

    Supper is delicious. There is very little mash potatoes, gravy, beef, or lemon pie left over when the group finishes.

    (This was an excerpt of my journal of Troop 68’s trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in 1992.)

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      High Adventure coffee mugs.I sometimes think I do not fit the typical requirements for holding the position of scoutmaster. For example, I do not drink coffee. I do not need to have a cup or three of java to get going in the morning. Yet, I do have a coffee mug collection. Which brings me to today’s memorabilia topic, high adventure coffee mugs. I currently own three mugs from Philmont Scout Ranch, one from the Charles Sommers Canoe Base, and one from the Blue Ridge Mountains High Knoll Trail base.

      And that brings me to the end of today’s Memorabilia Monday, which actually was supposed to be written last week on Monday, but I fell behind on my posting. Happy Scouting!

      100 Days of Scouting: Day 83.

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        Cubmaster Chris and I are co-hosts of a little audio podcast called The Leaders Campfire. We love having guests on our show to talk about Scouting. Last month, we were able to interview Larry McLaughlin, the producer and director of the recently released The Philmont Documentary Collection, which is available on both DVD and BluRay. I asked a lot of questions during the 45 minute interview, including why he took on this very ambitious project, what kind of challenges he faced following a crew at Philmont, and the kind of pressures he felt while creating this collection.

        If you have not seen or bought this dvd yet so really should check it out. The movie can be purchased at the Philmont trading post website. http://www.toothoftimetraders.com/The-Philmont-Documentary-DVD/-7910423645241798416/product

        Be sure to listen to The Leaders Campfire interview (episode #83) which can be found at http://www.ptcmedia.net/the-leaders-campfire/ or through iTunes in the Kids and Family listing ( http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-leaders-campfire-podcast/id204547473 ).

        100 Days of Scouting: Day 3

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          We are in the final week of the Christmas season. This time of year always reminds me of one evening in August of 1992 when I was with my troop on a trek at Philmont Scout Ranch. We decided to spend an evening around the campfire celebrating Christmas and singing songs. Yes, it was odd, but it was also a lot of fun. During the fun each of the twelve of us took one verse and made a new version of the Twelve Days of Christmas. I have written this to the blog during a previous year, but I thought it might be fun to look at it once again.

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          The Philmont Twelve Days of Christmas.
          On the twelfth day at Philmont my ranger gave to me;
          twelve meal packs (Tom)
          eleven Sierra cups (Tim)
          ten hikers hiking (Josh)
          nine bottles of iodine (Nathan)
          eight backpackers packing (Ross)
          seven teriyaki helpings (Corey)
          six good meals (Paul)
          a five mile hike (Jason)
          four hot showers (Al)
          three dirty socks (Peter)
          two Powerbars (Greg)
          and one pemmican bar. (Steve)

          Have you been on a Philmont trek? What would you have added as a verse to the song?

          You can read more about our evening of Christmas at Philmont at
          http://www.melrosetroop68.org/High%20Adventure%20Journals/Philmont92part6.html

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            (This is part 3 of one of the worst days I had at Philmont Scout Ranch. Amazingly, it ended pretty well.)

            Wednesday, August 5, 1992, Day 8

            A buck, two does, and a yearling are grazing in the meadow that borders the east side of our site. Tom is trying to in get close for a good shot with his camera. Corey has grabbed mine and moves in on the yearling. The fawn avoids him but the nine point buck moves closer. Tom sneaks around behind the buck and tries to steer him closer to Corey. We are going to have many pictures of deer when we get home.

            The excitement never ends. Jason’s water bottle has been attacked by a chipmunk. Greg and Paul keep pushing the blame on each other for the sticks being thrown at each other. I wish they would shut up and drop the subject. It is shortly after 5:30 when the crew gathers around the campfire ring. For the last two days Al has been working on his version of how Santa Claus Camp got its name. It has developed into a full fledged story. The group grows quiet as he begins to tell his tale.

            Suddenly, Peter yells. A chipmunk screams. That is right, screams! Everyone turns to see Pete standing halfway up the hill holding a rope in his right hand. Hanging, and I do mean hanging, from the rope by its neck is a chipmunk. Peter has finally caught one after patiently waiting with the noose lying over the burrow hole for the last fifteen minutes. The poor little creature is squirming around like crazy, trying to get get out of its predicament. Finally, after a few seconds, the noose loosens enough for the critter to fall to the ground. In a flash it vanishes. We are not bothered by mini-bears any more that night.

            The laughter dies a few moments later and Al once again begins the story of Santa Claus Camp. Al has written an excellent story. The crew agrees. The meadow is a popular place with the deer this evening. There are even more of them grazing. Maybe they wanted to hear the story of old White Cheeks too.

            Supper was pretty good but several scouts are complaining that there is not enough food. Josh seems to be near starving. If this is any indication then the Spoden monthly grocery bill must be in the thousands of dollars.

            Several of us sit around they campfire and discuss world matters after supper. Others go to the edge of camp to watch the nine deer that are grazing. Four of them are bucks. One of them has a very nice rack on his head. Tim can’t believe what he sees. He sits there with his back against a tree and just watches them.

            This is part of the magic of Philmont. Even in today’s fast paced electronic age boys will sit for over a half hour and watch the deer as they graze only twenty feet away. There are not many places left where a person can do that anymore.

            Greg, Nathan, and Paul walk down to the showers. They want to get some of the Philmont grime off their bodies. Tonight we have our first campfire. Ross seems to the one who actually wanted it. We all sit around it and enjoy its warmth for the next twenty minutes.

            It is time to do Roses and Thorns. Most of the crew agrees that the last thirty minutes of today’s hike was the thorn. Josh and Tim choose their rose and thorn as there being only three days left. Corey surprises everyone by naming today’s hike as his rose. Greg’s rose is taking a shower and being clean again. My thorn is the ‘thirty minute’ hike. My rose is the end of the ‘thirty minute’ hike.

            Most of the crew is in bed by 8:45 p.m. Al, Ross, Pete, and Jason stay up a bit longer to enjoy the fire. The evening is turning cool.

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              (This is part 2 of an excerpt of my 1993 trek at Philmont Scout Ranch, about the day that everyone was exhausted and ornery, and I questioned my own sanity.)

              Wednesday, August 5, 1992, Day 8

              Webster Park is an unstaffed camp with an excellent view of Tooth Ridge. Those who stay here have to entertain themselves. Or do like our crew did and get the animals to provide the entertainment. Jason and a couple other guys try to catch a couple of bold chipmunks who have been trying to get at our food. They have taken one of the ropes, tied it to a stick, and set a pot on it. When a chipmunk tries to take the bait placed under the pot they would pull the rope and have themselves a mini-bear. What they plan on doing with one I have no idea.

              My body is letting me know that it does not appreciate what I have been putting it through these last few days. I have a blister on the big toe of my right foot and another one on the second toe of the left. The right side of my head, from the top, past the ear, to the neck, has been painful the last three days. I have no idea what the problem is but I hope it is not the start of something permanent.

              It started drizzling around 2:30. Time to catch up on some shut eye. It is rather amazing. I am getting more sleep out here on the trail then I do at home but I still feel like taking a nap in the afternoon if the opportunity arises. Maybe it’s the fresh air. Maybe it’s the hard work of hiking. Whatever it is it is rather weird.

              Shortly before 4:30 p.m. there is a bit of a commotion in the camp. I get up just in time to see a seven point mule deer buck walk by the camp. Nathan quickly grabbed his camera and began to stalk it. He was able to get with twenty-five feet of it before it moved on. The pictures he took should be pretty good ones.

              A half hour later it started to rain again. The temperature is down to 57 degrees. Josh and Tim are in their tent. Tim is having fun irritating Josh by passing gas…constantly.

              At this particular moment I would not mind if this trip was over with. I am getting bored. I am tired of backpacking. I am not looking forward to tomorrow. When I look over tomorrow’s hike I begin to wander if we did not make a mistake when we planned our itinerary to include a trip to Harlan Camp.

              To top it all off, the kids are starting to use foul language quite a bit again. This is one of the things that scouts do that really bothers me. And it doesn’t help my point of view on the subject when other advisors use it. I feel so helpless against it. It seems that no matter how often I tell the guys to stop using it, that a good scout refrains from using foul language, it just seems to go in one ear and out the other.

              Why am I here? Why did I come? It is hard to remember why I was so enthusiastic about going on this trip. I want to be home near my own bed, my shower, my chair and my stereo. I am ashamed to say it, but I even miss going to work! THERE ARE FOUR MORE NIGHTS OUT HERE !!!!!!!!

              It is amazing how much a person can miss something when he does not have it anymore. Out here we have too much time to think about things, things at home that we would like to have right now. Things we could be doing.
              Six years ago I was here for the first time. It was new. It was fun. It was exciting! It was with a small group of only five scouts. Three years ago I made another trek with a group that was slightly larger. Why? To see if Philmont really had the magic that I remember.

              Coming a third time is staring to sound like the idea of a lunatic. I always seem to forget the hardships that come along with a trek. The heavy packs. The long strenuous hikes. The complaining and arguing. Yet here I am with ten teenage boys, none of who are mi¡ne, out in the wilderness where practically anything could happen. Why?

              Sure, it is the experience of a lifetime. (How many adult leaders can brag about going to Philmont three times?) Someone has to take the boys. (Parents don’t just jump out of the woodwork to volunteer for a trip like this.) Hopefully, it is a growing experience for the boys. Gee whiz! I am thirty-two years old. I made my first trek when I was twenty-six. How long do I plan to keep doing this?

              Who knows? In four days I will probably start making plans for my fourth trip.

              Yea, right!

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                (The following is an excerpt from my 1992 trek at Philmont Scout Ranch. It was not my best day at Philmont Scout Ranch.)

                Wednesday, August 5, 1992, Day 8

                “Wake up,” Josh yells in the early morning stillness. A new day is upon us. The sky is clear and it is a cool 46 degrees. Breakfast consists of slim jims and granola, a hearty breakfast indeed. We left camp at 7:45 a.m., way ahead of schedule.

                Today would be the longest hike of the trek. It would be a 12 kilometer hike that would start out at an elevation of 7700 feet, take us to over 8400 feet as we climbed Deer Lake Mesa, back down to 8000, and back up to 8600 feet. We would be going through Upper Bench Camp, Deer Lake Mesa Camp, Ute Gulch Commissary, Aspen Springs Camp, and Cimarroncito Camp before arriving at our final destination, Webster Park Camp.

                We hiked along at a good pace. By 9:25 we had reached our mid way point, Devil’s Wash Basin. Somewhere between camps the guys up front saw a deer but it vanished before the rest of us caught sight of it. At 10:15 we arrived at the Ute Gulch Commissary. Here we would be picking up our final four days worth of food. The commissary is equipped with a trading post. Everyone decided it was time to pig out on junk food and stock up for later. We left a lot of money behind in the forty-five minutes we were there.

                Someone once said that this is a small world. We experienced the meaning of that comment when we met a crew from Little Canada, Minnesota as we rested at the commissary. They are also on the eighth day of their trek.

                Shortly before noon we arrived at Cimarroncito Camp. We are exhausted. It was a tough hike and we still have a kilometer to go. As Josh signs up the group for the rock climbing program I look over the staff’s quarters. The building is much the same as any other back country, except for an eerie decoration located at the top of a pole in front of the building. The head of a ten point buck, complete with rib cage, has beêen wired there as its final resting place. Someone has even given it a red bow tie.

                Al got the idea of asking if we could stay at this camp instead of going on to Webster Park. The staff turned us down flat. They explain that they really do not have room for us. Besides, the logistics back at tent city would not let them do it anyway. They have tried this before with other troops. Moral plummets. Everyone had their heart set on being able to stay here. I almost wish Al would have never asked in the first place. The staff member tries to cheer us up by telling us that Webster Park is only fifteen minutes away, but it is uphill.

                There is no reason to stay any longer so we put our packs back on and begin the last leg of today’s hike. The guy was right. It was an uphill journey. He forgot to mention that it was a steep uphill battle. Everyone’s mood is turning foul. I am glad that staff member is not with us. I probably would not be able to stop the crew from tearing him apart.

                We came across a fork in our path. The maps are not clear on which way we should go. Josh and a few of the guys head down the left trail while the rest of us wait. Several minutes later they come back. It is not the one we want. We need to keep going uphill on the right path.

                There have been few times in my life that I was as tired as I was when we finally arrived at Webster Park. Josh actually dropped his pack and let himself fall to the ground. Everyone is fatigued and angry. The fifteen minute hike had become a thirty minute trip through hell. Webster Park is not our favorite camp at the moment.

                Most of the crew takes it easy as we set up camp, until it starts to drizzle. Suddenly a last reserve of energy is found and camp is quickly finished. Everyone was famished so a decision was made to make a supper for lunch. A problem is discovered. Webster Park’s water comes from a pipe in the ground. The water comes out of it at a trickle. I do mean a trickle. It takes us fifteen minutes to collect two quarts of water. It is another reason to hate this camp.

                A few of the guys decide to go back to Cimarroncito Camp to take a shower. They take along a few canteens. Might as well make use of the trip.

                (to be continued…)

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