By the Scouts of Troop 66
The perennial question as everyone returns to school is, “What did you do during your summer vacation?”
Well, if you were part of a group from Davis’ Boy Scout Troop 66, the answer isn’t the same old boring things. It’s, “We went to Philmont!”
Philmont Scout Ranch, in the Sangre Cristo Mountain range near Cimarron, N.M., is known simply as “The Ranch” and is one of four Boy Scouts of America national High Adventure camps.
Waite Phillips, an early conservationist and avid outdoorsman, firmly believed that, “Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without the vision to start, the enthusiasm to continue, and regardless of temporary obstacles, the persistence to complete.”
The 137,493 acres of wilderness establishing Philmont in 1938 were a gift from him.
The visitors from Troop 66 were divided into two crews of five Scouts, each with a crew leader and two adult advisers. They hiked more than 70 miles in 10 days at elevations ranging from 6,500 feet to over 12,000 feet, carrying 50-pound backpacks with all of their water and equipment.
A typical day for the Scouts would include waking up at 4:30 a.m., packing up their tents and belongings, hitting the trail at 6 a.m., arriving in a location and setting up camp in the afternoon.
Camp set-up had to be done quickly to escape getting wet from the afternoon thunderstorms that occurred nearly every day.
But the Philmont experience is more than just hiking in the backcountry, as many of backcountry camps at The Ranch have interpretative programs staffed by college-aged Scouts who dress and live as the early settlers did.
Camp programs included learning about 18th-century settlers and Kit Carson, as well as French fur trappers and traders, cattle ranchers, gold miners and loggers who helped build the railroad.
The Scouts learned about hatchet throwing, how to use 18th-century logging tools, gold mining, how to mountain climb (using modern gear), climbing 50-foot-tall trees (spar-poles) with belts and spurs, horseback riding, blackpowder rifle shooting, cattle roping, western handgun shooting and branding.
In addition to these interpretive programs, Philmont stresses “Leave No Trace (LNT)” principles. Throughout the trek, the crews undergo extensive training and monitoring in LNT techniques by backcountry staff.
“We practice isolated, high-impact, Leave No Traces principles to preserve the land and protect the wild creatures who make this area their home,” said Ranger Sam Ferdon.
Ferdon also noted that, “At any time, Philmont will have nearly 7,000 people hiking in the backcountry.
“Over the course of the 10 weeks of summer operations, The Ranch will host over 23,000 Scouters, making it the seventh largest city in the state of New Mexico.”
The Leave No Trace principles followed by the Troop 66 crews and others allows Philmont’s wild inhabitants, including black bears, elk, white- and black-tailed deer, mountain lions, several varieties of trout, wild turkey and guinea, and many different bird varieties to be protected from both hunting and pollution brought in by human interaction.
Another important Scouting ethic put into action at Philmont is service to the community. Troop 66 crews took part in backcountry conservation projects during their trip, with one crew helping reconstruct a hiking trail and the other removing non-native plants from a backcountry meadow.
Every crew attending The Ranch participates in a minimum of three hour-long service projects. This helps preserve Philmont for future generations.
All of these things help make up the Philmont experience, but the daily experiences are what make special memories. One of the crews learned how to care for and hike with a burro for several days.
“We named him Lupe and he acted like a big, fuzzy dog,” said crew leader Tommy Slabaugh. “Even though he pushed several of us off the trail, he was very well-tempered and a great trail companion.”
After the arduous climb to the top of Mount Baldy (12,441 feet in elevation), the views made up for the effort.
“The vistas were amazing,” said crew leader Andy Schmidl. “You could see into Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas from the top of Mount Baldy.”
Schmidl’s crew included Matt Grabert, Nick Grabert, Andrew Davis and Ryan Bruch as well as advisers Kurt Schmidl and Bill Grabert.
Tommy Slabaugh’s crew included Tom Thornton, Kevin Krupa, Eric Pytel, Josh Gieschen and advisers Michael Thornton and Tom Slabaugh.