All Shall Be Revealed in Due Time
For food, for raiment,
For life, for opportunity
For friendship and fellowship,
We thank thee, O Lord. Amen.
The Philmont Grace
One of the proudest moments of my life was the moment I reached the summit of Baldy Mountain at Philmont Scout Ranch. The summit of Baldy Mountain is located some 12,441 feet above sea level in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The mountain itself is located on the northwest corner of Philmont Scout Ranch, which is in northern New Mexico. It isn’t necessarily an extremely tall mountain by any means, but it challenges a few extremely dedicated and strong hikers every year. Reaching the summit is one of the most extreme tests of preparation, mental strength, willpower, physical strength, determination, and some may even say foolishness. The last step to the summit of the mountain will be the hardest, toughest, most rewarding step you could ever take in your life.
Philmont has been described as a test of manhood. Boys go to Philmont. Men come back. Put on a backpack with 60 pounds of personal gear, clothes, your house, everything you need to live for two weeks, and then put in five or six pounds of food and water. Take all of that seventy miles in six and a half days, down trails that are actually rivers, up mountains that can give you knee problems for life, through valleys and meadows, through mud the consistency of whipped cream and peanut butter, and rocks made for ankle twisting, and you’ve summed up Philmont. What you can’t sum up, however, is the experience.
I can leap into the story of my trek, but I should probably start earlier. I’ve been in the Boy Scouts for most of my life, and recently I was introduced into the Order of the Arrow. Soon afterwards, I reached the rank of Eagle Scout, and I realized that it was time to go out with a bang. I don’t mean I was going to quit scouting, I just mean that I needed to do something to tie up my scouting career. What is it that every serious scout does that truly proves his worth and leaves a lasting memory? Philmont. I was turning 18 that December; I wanted to go as a youth. Summer was coming up soon, so I looked into my options. My scoutmaster informed me of an opportunity called the Order of the Arrow Trail crew, and I decided to look into it. I got all the paperwork done, all the necessary signatures, and I was ready. I started my training program. I was to wake up at 6 AM every day and hike around my neighborhood with a fully loaded pack and all my hiking gear until I hit five miles. Never happened. I reduced it to one mile and bump it up in increments, still never happened. Summer came, I hadn’t trained. I loaded my pack into the motorhome and we left on vacation. We made it to Utah, and I realized that I needed to get into shape. At this point in my life, I weighed nearly 230 pounds and wasn’t much muscle. Well, my legs were solid steel, but nothing else on me was muscle. On a drive through Arches NP, we found a trail to hike. It started out as a paved trail, so I stepped up my pace to a jog, maybe a near run. I had a small pack on me, I had some water, and I had my cowboy hat. I found myself at the end of the trail, and I had some options. I could climb up an intimidating rock feature and continue on, or I could just go back to the car. I decided to climb the rock. I took a few trails after that and hiked a bit, and then I found another big rock. I hopped on top of this one, which was probably 30-40 feet up at the top, and I found myself at the top of the world. I realized I was on top of a huge rock arch, I looked around, gazing at the majestic beauty of Utah, and I suddenly realized how high off the ground I was. Being a guy who won’t get on top of a ladder, I wasn’t exactly happy about this. I got down pretty quick, albeit nervously, and made my way back to the car on adrenaline and shaky knees. I jogged, I ran, I skipped, I hopped, and I finally reached the end of the trail. I had hiked about eight miles that day, and I really wasn’t that tired. I thought I was ready for Philmont. Pretty soon we made it to Durango, Colorado, and I started to acclimate. I can just say here, acclimation is a wonderful phenomenon to have working in your favor. When you’re down in Texas, at an altitude of 1,000 feet above sea level, there’s an abundance of air to breathe. You can hike, climb, do all the normal things you do with ease because you have air to breathe. The altitude of base camp, however, is 6,690 feet above sea level. The first campsite we were at for the night was at 8,920 feet, and the second campsite we were at was at 10,480 feet above sea level. The next day we hiked all the way to 12,441 feet. That can be an increase in 11, 500 feet in under five days if you do it wrong. The base of the ski mountain I was hiking was at 8,793 feet, and the summit was at 10,822 feet. I spent at least a week in Utah and Colorado hiking at higher elevations before I even attempted this. If you aren’t properly acclimated, you can have nosebleeds, you can have nausea, you can even pass out from a lack of air. Acclimation is extremely important. Anyways, I’m done preachin’, back to my story. I climbed the local ski mountain, full pack, and it wore me out. This was about three days before my trek was to start, and when I got out of the car and walked through the parking lot, I realized how great of a thing oxygen is to have when you’re hiking. Having made it to the base of the mountain, I climbed it a bit, but I quickly gave up. Hiked some more on some level ground, trained a little bit, and I was ready. I weighed myself and my pack on a scale, the two of us together weighed 280 pounds. That doesn’t include seven liters of water and five days’ worth of food. Needless to say, my pack and I were extremely overweight.
The work week with your crew starts before you even realize it. The foremen burst out of a building yelling, “We have a bus, we have a bus!!!” You call your mom and dad to tell them goodbye, text your buddies, and within the next 5 minutes you and your crew are on a school bus with all of your gear catching your last glimpses of civilization for the next 14 days. You reach the drop-off point, which just so happens to be located next to a set of dirty stables. You throw your gear out of the bus onto the horse poop covered ground, everyone straps on their packs, and there’s always the few that forgot to pee. You take care of that, and in the meantime learn an important lesson about where to and not to pee, how to not wet your pants while carrying a pack and “taking care of business”, and how not to fall down with a pack on your back and your pants around your ankles. On the trail, you start to get to know your crew a little bit better, everyone talks and sings and messes around, you get to know everybody’s pace with the realization that you may just happen to be a little slow for the group. The first hike is about two or three miles, and your pack weighs in excess of 65 pounds due to the water, large consist of food, and work gear in the pack. It drags on forever, even though you’ve properly acclimated (you spent the last week up in Colorado, you even hiked a ski mountain with the pack), you’re still worn out by the time you reach the camp. Tents get set up, dining fly gets set up, and your home for the next seven days of your life is set up. The foreman set up dinner, and then you line up to eat. One of your comrades volunteer for grace, you remove your beloved cowboy hat and bow your head. You eat heartily, today was a long day and tomorrow will be even longer. You go through what will be your nightly ritual from now until trek week. One or two people tell their life story and how they got to Philmont, you go around the circle telling thorns, roses, and buds, then you end the night on a quote. As everyone drifts off to their respective tents, changes into their sleep clothes, slips into their sleeping bag, you think about that quote and what it really means. You think about the day, and you think about how much fun you are about to have at Philmont. That’s how my first day went at Philmont. In the duration of twelve hours, I had gone from a freshly showered, crisply uniformed scout stepping out of my dad’s car with a backpack to sleeping in the backcountry of the toughest test of manhood in the country.
To be continued...