Thursday, February 21, 2013

Philmont-Part I

     As the mist hung  over the camp and a light drizzle fell from the sky, adventure awaited. Eight young men and their two adult chaperons accompanied their rugged guide across the desert and to the foothills of the Sangre de Christo mountain range, where they took the plunge at Lovers' Leap. Adorned with ponchos and raincoats and sporting heavy packs, these adventurers set out for their first day of hiking. The ascended the mountain as the sky rumbled above them: it certainly was a depressing beginning to their trek. Little to their knowledge, black powder rifle shooting, blacksmithing, spar pole climbing, rock climbing, gold panning, horseback trail riding, branding, roping, and more awaited them further down the trail. Additionally, dangers such as lightning storms, bears, altitude sickness and hypothermia were also lurking.

Looking back towards the road that leads to base camp. We had begun, and this was our last look back towards civilization for ten days.

Lover's Leap Junction

    These young men began in the moisture of a New Mexican rain, and reached their first night's destination before nightfall. In the evening greyness we learned how to properly hang a bear bag, how to sump your dishes, and where to pitch your tents. (preferably AWAY from the cacti) After battling hypothermia so early in the game, we all gave up on conversation and retired to bed after our meager meal. It was around 8 pm. Two hours or so later our wonderful guide aroused us from our dry and lovely slumber, informing us that there were dishes that were uncleaned. Grudgingly (actually muttering threats against our guide under our breath...) we went back out into the rain, only to search for his missing plate for well nigh half of an hour. (it was later revealed that the plate was in his pack the entire time. It was also revealed that we hadn't eaten all of our food that night. A bag of food had been left in someones pack, so our meal was extra meager) Finally, our guide let us sleep.

Our campsite in the morning! A radically different sight than the previous night. 
Crater Lake
   We woke early the next morning to the bluest sky I had ever seen! Light filtered down upon us from the evergreens as we packed our bags, ate some granola and headed on our way. One of our crew members got his first taste of altitude sickness on that hike, and it slowed us a little bit. But, disregarding the trials, we reached Crater Lake where we were taught several important things about the different types of camps that we would be staying at. (Both staffed and unstaffed) One of the important and useful things that we learned about were the Capitalism Boxes. Travelers who want to dispose of their sunbutter or squeeze cheese can leave it in these, and can take other backwoods delicacies in their stead, if they so desire. It is an ingenious way to acquire more food for your trek and to drop the dead weight of gross food. After pitching camp, we got our flannel on and headed to the spar poles! You see, Crater Lake was a lumberjack camp. The guys there decked out in period lumbermen gear, and could climb the poles with ease. after a demonstration, we were strapped in and began to climb like a Redwood Lumberjack!
At around 40 feet tall, these pine spars pose a tough challenge, but nothing that us young bucks couldn't handle! 
    That night we were treated to a concert by the boys who ran the camp. They gave us a run for our money, playing folk songs and good ole' logging songs on banjo, guitar, harmonica mandolin and fiddle! Though the wind was howling we were regaled by their vivacity. As the evening wound down a bit, they called for a dance off for all of the Crew Leaders. Our leader, Billy, won the dance off by his (*ahem*) skillful moves, and was given a beautiful 3 pound rock which he affectionately named Nancy. Little did I know, Nancy would have a big impact on my trek.
    We woke up at the crack of dawn the next morning and went to the overlook where our campfire had been, intent on one purpose. Even though we were exhausted and cranky at 5:30 am, we still enjoyed the brisk chill of the morning as we watched the sun peak over the plains and smile upon us in the mountains. There, silhouetted in the morning light was our final destination: the Tooth of Time! The iconic emblem of Philmont Scout Ranch stood proud and well worn from the elements. It stood as an inspiration for us, who were only beginning our trek. It would also mark our last day as we crossed over it immediately prior to returning to base camp, eight days later. But this morning we reveled in our fresh start on the trail, still green from civilization. We had not learned all to the backcountry, but we knew that the trail would teach us everything we needed to survive.
Black Mountain
    The next morning I remarked to my comrades "My pack sure feels light today!" I didn't comprehend the reason why they were amused at my statement, and quickly forgot about it. We began the day early, and were going at a fair pace. It was only about 8 miles to our next location. Perhaps it was less, I am not entirely sure. A mile into the trip, disaster struck! Tristan, one of my crew mates began to feel sick, and we correctly diagnosed him with altitude sickness. This slowed our relatively easy trek down to a painfully slow walk. We made it to Black Mountain after a 9 hour hike. Tristan was allowed to go lie down while we began our activities at Black Mountain. Set in a post-civil war frontier camp, the staff there showed us several things. They showed us first about blacksmithing. Their shop was one of the most glorious that I had ever seen! (although I have only seen a few).
The shop, as seen in my previous post. Still gives me goosebumps! I want one. 

   After delving into that ancient craft, we decided to try and see if we could beat the best shooter of the Sharp's carbine. As these were Yankee men returned from the war, I'm sure they'd be interested in whether or not we were better than some Southern Boy. We loaded up our .50 caliber black powder muzzle-loaders and got us some good shootin'!
Loading up that sucker! It was large and heavy, but the recoil wasn't too bad. I was a pretty good shot, and now have several proud holes on my bandanna to prove it!
The powder goes in, and then the musket ball gets tamped down on top! 
 She goes off with a large bang! Its great to hear!
    After we finished our shooting, the sky threatened us with rain and we mixed up a batch of chili. That night I learned an important lesson: Be moderate in the amount of Tabasco Sauce you use in your chili. When you are out on the trail, you do NOT want that kind of fire in your belly. Evening came and morning followed, our fourth day. On this day we found out all about the creatures on God's Green Earth, and most especially a deer. Not any dear, but Martha. We named this friendly deer Martha, and she let us come close!
   After enjoying the morning lazing around camp and tossing a Frisbee around, we took off on our hike after lunch. We passed Black Mountain's cabin, the blacksmith shop and climbed up the hill to our next camp. We passed the coal bin atop the hill and trekked onwards. The day was beautiful as we moved, and we kept up a brisk pace with relatively little complaint. Hydrating ourselves frequently as our elevation changed, we pressed onwards to our next destination where we would spend our first layover.
We were heading for Beaubien, the horse camp!
Stay tuned for Part II of my Philmont Adventure!
P.S. I know this is deviating from my usual topic of blacksmithing and I beg you to forgive me. But A blog should have variety, and my smithing has not been too active recently. If you want to gaze at my work you CAN always go and like my facebook page, if you so care to! (or you can read back issues of my blog.)

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