In August of 1992, I was hiking through Philmont Scout Ranch on my third trek with a crew from Melrose Boy Scout Troop 68. Our crew included ten Scouts and two adult advisers, one of the boy’s father and myself. It was a typical trek through the mountains until we arrived at Harlan Camp. For some unknown reason we got into the Christmas spirit. Here is an excerpt from the journal I wrote about the trek:
Harlan Camp is a welcome site. My right foot has just joined the left in protest. We will be doing shotgun shooting at 3:00 and burro racing at 7:00. Advisor’s coffee will begin at 7:00 also. It this a hint as to what we will be watching? Our campsite for the night is a nice one. It has tall trees and a few big rocks to climb on. It is also fairly flat. We should get a good night’s sleep tonight. The only drawback is that it is a way away from the program areas.
As we finish lunch cleanup I hear Tim singing the Christmas song, Merry Christmas. Did he forget where he was? Did he forget what time of year is was? Did he give me a fantastic idea for something to do tonight? You bet. I talk to Tim about having Christmas at Philmont tonight. We can decorate a tree with rope for tinsel and sierra cups as ornaments. We could sing carols around the fire and have a gift exchange. Tim likes the idea. Josh thinks it sounds like fun. So do most of the others. Tom kind of crinkles his nose at the idea. Ross is not too enthusiastic about it either. I don’t get a chance to talk to Al about it until later.
Supper is delicious. There is very little mash potatoes, gravy, beef, or lemon pie left over when the group finishes.
Al and I both went to advisor’s coffee which began at 7:00. The porch has a swing on it. Al and I claim it for our own as we visit with the advisers and staff. There we discovered that our friends who were with us at the beginning of our trek are back with us after a short split apart. These leaders are the ones who were so sick at the start of their trek.
The burro races, tonight’s activity, are set to begin at 7:30. A few of the older scouts were not very excited about participating in this event. Yet, when the group arrives the whole crew is present. I am glad to see that. They head down to the corral which is just a bit downhill from where we advisers are drinking our coffee and hot chocolate. The races will be held in the open area in front of us. We will not even have to leave the porch.
The crews choose their own burros from the selection in the corral. The first heat, in which two burros will race, does not include us. The second heat does. The gang chose a donkey with the name of Big Louie. According to the odds posted on the lodge the odds on Big Louie are three to one. Not bad. The race consists of three scouts ‘leading’ the burro down the raceway. One scout holds on to his reins while the other two make noise and try to coax the critter along. At mid point three other boys take over and bring the animal back to the starting point which is now the finish line.
We won our fist race, but not because of our amazing speed and animal handling skills. The other team lost control of their burro, providing us with the chance to pass them and win. The third heat had all four teams involved. This will be the championship race. We have Daryl as our steed, four to one odds. Josh, Nathan and Ross will guide the animal through the first half. Tim, Jason, and Corey will lead Daryl through the last half. Tom and I are standing on the sidelines with our cameras to capture the thrill of the event. We win easily. The guys are riding high as we walk back to camp. Tonight’s Christmas party should be a good one since everyone is in such a good mood. Al has stayed behind to wash out our cups.
When Al arrived back at camp he informs the group to go back up to the lodge. It seems that the group which wins gets more then just recognition. There is a prize waiting for us. Spirits soar as we parade to the lodge once again. The staff tries to make a bit of a ceremony out of it as they present Josh with a package of…pinto beans! Ha ha! Josh hands them to Jason as the staff hands over the real prize … a half gallon of cold, fresh milk! It could have been a bottle of champagne as far as the group was concerned. We had not had any milk since we left tent city a week ago. Christmas has truly come to Harlan for the members of 729G.
The crew proudly carried their prize back to camp. The carton will be opened during our Christmas celebration. First we need to decorate the campsite. A short but wide evergreen-like bush next to the campfire ring is chosen to be our Christmas tree. Rope is used for tinsel. Sierra cups, bandannas, caps, and the flag are used for ornaments. Corey donates his extra underwear for the star at the tree top.
Everyone gathered around the fire as the milk carton is opened. Al pores as everyone holds their cup out to be filled. Even Tom, who is allergic to a chemical in the milk, has a glass. Eleven cups clink together as Josh makes a toast. I am busy capturing this Kodak moment. The campfire begins with Al rereading his Christmas story about Santa Claus camp. (As I listen I think to myself that this would be a good Christmas tradition at our troop’s annual Christmas party back home.) Singing Christmas carols follows. The crew has a great time singing Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
The Twelve Days of Christmas has new verses as we begin to sing this favorite carol. Each of the twelve of us takes a verse and made it reflect something we have come across at Philmont. We have a lot of fun doing this and are rather proud of our song when we finish.
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)
We did roses and thorns next. Almost everyone agrees that today’s rose is winning the burro race, teamwork, and the milk. Tom is not feeling very well. He may have what Al had yesterday. The campfire came to a close with us singing Silent Night and the Philmont Hymn. By 9:00 we were in bed. We plan to get up at 6:00 tomorrow morning.
If you would like to read the whole journal about the 1992 Philmont trek then check out the troop’s high adventure page at http://melrosetroop68.org/highadventure.html