Boy Scout Troop 68, Melrose, MN

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Melrose Boy Scout Troop 68:
1986 Philmont Journal

Page 4  

August 13
    Today would be the biggest, longest, and busiest day of our Philmont trek.It would begin with a hike to Baldy Camp. From there we would hike up the south side of Baldy Mountain, and stay at Baldy’s peak for a while. Then we would go down the north side of the mountain and around to the east until we arrived at French Henry Camp. Once we finished the programs at French Henry we would hike back to Miranda. The round trip would be over thirteen miles long. Luckily, we would not have to take our backpacks along with us, except for one which would carry food and first aid gear.
    Our plan was to arise at four-thirty that morning. That should allow us enough time to eat breakfast and arrive at Baldy Camp by seven o’clock. We wanted to be at the summit of Baldy by noon so we could eat lunch at the highest point in Philmont.
    At least, that was the plan.
    Four-thirty came and went without anyone waking up as my watch alarm went off. Just by chance, I did wake up from an exciting horror filled dream, that I happened to be enjoying, around five-thirty. We all got up quickly, dressed rapidly, and scarfed down a quick breakfast.
    All of us except Gerry, that is. He did not think he would be able to handle the physical exertion of the thirteen mile hike. To tell the truth, I did not think he would be able to handle it either. Today’s hike would not only be long, but it would take us from an elevation of nine thousand feet above sea level at Miranda to over twelve thousand four hundred feet atop of Baldy Mountain. I honestly did not think that Gerry would be able to handle that much change in elevation that quickly.
    So Gerry decided to stay at camp. He planned to try his luck at gold panning once again, and walk up to the trading post at Baldy Camp after writing a letter home.
    We left Gerry and the campsite at six-thirty. I felt bad about leaving him behind but what could I do about it? I just hoped that he would find enough things to occupy himself while we were gone.

    The trail to Baldy Camp began to climb upward soon after leaving Miranda. Below us we could see the private camp Cimarroncita. When we looked to the east we could see the back side of Tooth Ridge and the Tooth Of Time, now over twenty miles behind us. Ahead us us sat Baldy Mountain, its barren top standing out from the surrounding countryside like a sore thumb.
    As we came around the last corner on the trail to Baldy camp we came across the remains of a car. And I do mean remains! The only thing left of it was its rusty body and frame. It looked older then the camp of Philmont was. Scott, Jeff, Robert, and Brian climbed into the car and sat down for a picture for the scrapbook.
    Baldy Camp was the largest staffed camp we had seen since leaving base camp. The place had a trading post, a commissary, a shower building, and a lodge building for the staff. The shower building looked real tempting to our eyes. The last time we had had a shower was at Clark’s Fork camp, five days ago. And to think that back home we would usually take a shower every day, whether we needed one or not.
    We arrived at Baldy Camp shortly before seven-thirty, only a half hour behind schedule. A sign on the trading post informed us that the store would be opening in just a few minutes so we decided to wait for the chance to buy a few snacks to eat along the way. 
    The crew from Pennsylvania had beaten us to camp this morning. Both of us crews were surprised to see the crew from Iowa walk into camp shortly after we did. The crew from Iowa, which we had nicknamed the “Fisher Crew” due to the caps that each person in the crew wore, was always the first to arrive at any camp of the trek, and the first to leave the campsite in the morning. We were amazed that we had finally arrived before them anywhere.

    The trading post was still closed at eight o’clock. We were beginning to wonder if it was going to open. Here were three crews who had made an effort to arrive early only to be held up and put behind schedule.I found it to be quite irritating. Luckily we waited another five minutes. The trading sold the usual candy, snacks, and supplies. Tee shirts proudly stating that we had made it to Baldy Camp were also available to purchase.
    We left Baldy Camp ten minutes later. The Pennsylvania crew had left a few minutes before us. The Fisher crew was still exploring the camp. Our new goal was now to beat the Iowa crew to the top of Baldy Mountain. Then we could say that we had actually beat to Iowa crew to getting somewhere, which was something we had not done during the trek yet.
    It did not take us long to catch up to the crew from Pennsylvania. Two of their crew members had had knee surgery shortly before their trek to Philmont had begun. They had to take it slow and easy, and therefore it slowed down their crew. We traveled with them for a short distance.
    One of their crew members was really glad that we had stayed with them. He desperately needed to go to the bathroom but no one in his crew had thought to bring the almighty paper along on the climb. We happened to have some along with us so we let him use a bit of it.
    The two crews stayed together until after we walked through an area in which chips of raw green copper lay scattered around. Several Scouts picked up a few pieces to take home. When our two groups split up one of the Pennsylvania Scouts joined us. His nickname was Sailor.
    The trail that goes up Baldy does not go directly up the side of the mountain. We began the climb by hiking up the east side of Touch-Me-Not Mountain which lay south of Baldy. Between the two summit was a saddle. Once we arrived at the saddle we only had another eight hundred feet to climb to be at the top of Baldy Mountain.
    The trail to the saddle was probably the steepest rail we had the pleasure of hiking while at Philmont. The higher we got the steeper it seemed to become. Until now I had never appreciated tree roots in any trail I had hiked. They had always been things to stub toes on and trip over. But on this trail they form a sort of natural stairway which helped to make the climb a bit easier. 
    Scott carried the backpack for most of the climb to the saddle. Brian took care of it shortly before we reached the summit. Inside the pack we had a first aid kit, lunch, our rain gear, and a sleeping bag. We brought the sleeping bag in case anyone began showing signs of hypothermia. We had been informed that it could get quite cold at Baldy’s peak so we were wearing our jackets.

    The forest fell behind us as we reached the saddle. The view that stretched out behind us was fantastic. Almost all of the two hundred forty square miles that made up Philmont laid out before us to see. By looking toward the southeast we were able to see the back of the Tooth of Time. It appeared to distant and small that it was hard to believe we had hiked that whole distance in such a short amount of time. 
    I could not wait to see what sights awaited for us on the west side of the saddle. As I crossed it I felt as Maria must have felt in the movie “The Sound of Music.” That feeling was soon forgotten when the western valley came into view.
    It was amazing. There, at the foot of Touch-Me-Not Mountain, was a lake. A real lake. Full of water. And it was quite large. Around the lake had grown a fair sized town. In the distance sat another mountain range. The local residents, three grouse, did not seem to mind our being there to visit until we got to within fifteen feet of them. As they flew away the saddle became ours alone.
    The summit of Badly rose above us to the north. It appeared to be made of nothing more then a pile of loose rock. A very faint trail, almost undetectable, led almost straight up the side of the mountain. It looked like it would be a fun, but challenging climb.
    I had been warned about the final climb, about how tough it could be, by another adult advisor who had made the climb himself. He said that after every five steps the climber would have to stop and catch his breath. The thin atmosphere could cause even a person in the best of shape to have a tough time of it. We found out how tough the climb was as we began the final stretch, a quick five hundred foot climb. I lead the crew, not so much because I was in the best of shape, but due to a picture I wanted to get of the crew coming up the mountain. Brian came next, followed by Scott, Jeff and Robert. We did stop a couple of times along the way to catch our breath.

    A surprise greeted us as we arrived at our destination. We were the only ones there. We were the “kings of the mountain” and had it all to ourselves. Everyone just stood still for a moment and enjoyed the thrill of being at the top of the world. But it did not last long before we began to explore the mountain top. The crest was almost completely barren. There were several small patches of grass. Several depressions had been formed by previous crews who had piled rocks to form small areas in which several people could sit in comfort out of the wind.
    We chose one of these sheltered areas in which to eat our lunch. Other crews arrived at the summit while we sat there eating and enjoying the view that lay before. Two chipmunks tried joining us for lunch. We threw them a piece of a cracker and were amazed at how close they would come toward us to get the food. Back home you couldn't get within ten feet of a chipmunk, yet here they would come up and get the crackers we laid down by our boots. We also caught sight of a mountain goat.
    I should probably mention that our goal to reach the top of Baldy had been noon. By ten-fifteen we had already made it to the summit. We were way ahead of schedule.
    Several thoughts went through my mind as I sat looking out over hundreds of square miles of New Mexico and Colorado. The two hundred square miles of Philmont did not seem as big up here as it did when we began our trek. And yet, it gave me a real sense of accomplishment to see what we had done during these last few days.
    As I gazed around it occurred to me how fantastic this world was that God had created. The beautiful green valleys, the towering mountains, the fragrant forests, and the clear blue lakes were created by God for us to enjoy. I felt proud to be a member of an organization that was trying to preserve the beauty of our country for future generations to enjoy. It also made me feel ashamed to belong to a society that believes that to progress as a race we must destroy all this God made beauty to serve our own needs.
    Another crew arrived as we ate. They were definitely a rugged batch of Scouts. We realized that as soon as we noticed the full packs on their backs. They had come up the west side, which was steeper then the east side that we had climbed.
    And we thought our climb was tough.

    When the Pennsylvania crew arrived we got up and chatted with them.I talked to their advisor while the Scouts traded stories of their experiences. We where reminded of how cool it could get in the wind as we stood there. T was talking to the advisor about the best way down the west side since it was nothing but loose rock with no path in site. I had my back to the crew members for only three minutes, but when I turned around they were gone.
    The advisor and I were standing at the beginning of a so-called path so I knew they did not come by this way. I walked over to the Pennsylvania Scouts and asked Sailor were my crew had gone. He pointed south and said they went that way. I looked over the south side but did not see them anywhere.
    I was beginning to get irritated. They knew better then to leave like that. There was not anyplace for them to hide because the whole mountain top was nothing but bare rock. I grabbed the backpack, and after another quick look around, I told the Pennsylvania advisor that if he saw my crew to tell them that I had started my way down. Then I left.
    The climb down the west side was a lot more treacherous then I thought it would be. It seemed that every stone had be strategically placed to move as I stepped on it, trying to made me loose my balance and fall. If that happened there would probably be a good chance a tumbling downward for quite a distance before I would be able to stop myself. A person could get hurt quite nicely, I though. The pack on my back did not make things any easier.
    I had not moved more then a hundred yards down the mountain before Brian walked into view from the southwest, a little way down the mountainside from my location. As I changed direction to meet him the other three cane into view and joined him.
    The it occurred to me, why should I change direction to go toward them? It would make my downhill hike that much longer. Besides, I thought, they can come to me. After all, they left me alone on the crest, not visa-versa. I changed back to my original course. My temper was working on a course of its own.
    Jeff yelled something to me but I didn't not understand him. “Shut up!” I roared back to him. How could four Scouts who were First Class Rank or higher be so thoughtless as to leave one of their crew members behind, especially their advisor. When we came together I yelled at them about responsibility and knowing better then to pull a stunt like that. Jeff seemed to think it was pretty comical. He was wearing a slight grin on his face.
    (It so happens, I discovered later, that they had found another trail, one I had not know about. They did not stop to talk with the crew from Pennsylvania as I had thought they did. They had continued on their way, thinking that I was following them, which, of course, I wasn’t.)

    I did not speak to them very much during the next couple of hours. We headed to French Henry Camp to participate in the programs they offered. I did not offer much assistance in finding our way there. I was so upset at the moment that I really did not care if we got lost and had to travel an extra five miles.
    I had also grown quite stubborn. The Scouts had offered to take their turn at carrying the pack but I refused to give it up. We had agreed at the beginning of the day to take half hour turns at carrying the pack. I did not care. I was determined not to let them be nice to me. I decided to carry the pack all the way to French Henry, an hour and a half hike.
    I was in the lead so I set a good fast pace. Let them get tired, I thought to myself. At that moment I had plenty of energy to burn. They tried to involve me in a conversation but I spoke only when I was asked a question, and I kept my answer brief.
    You might say that I was setting an excellent example for my crew.

    We arrived in French Henry Camp at one o’clock, just as the afternoon programs were beginning. A staff member invited us into a small wooden shack that was filled with antiques that were left by the miners over a hundred years ago. The guide explained how the equipment had been used as he gave us a short history lesson. I found the talk to be interesting, but the boys seemed to be paying only partial attention.
    As he finished his talk he gave us two options of what we could do next. We could tour the Aztec Gold Mine or take a trip to the blacksmith shop. The group decided to tour the gold mine first, then come back to the blacksmith shop if we still had time. We had to backtrack down the trail we had arrived on to get to the gold mine. We had noticed a sign marking a trail to the mine on the way in but had not seen the mine from where we were hiking. That was because the sign marked the trail leading toward the mine, not the mine itself.
    The mine’s tour guide was leaving with a crew as we arrived at the signpost. I told our crew to sit and take it easy until he came back for us. The “Fisher” crew arrived about ten minutes later. They sat down and joined us. Their advisor and I began chatting. “Why wait here?” he asked. He suggested going up to the mine and waiting outside its entrance. It sounded like a good idea so we all followed them. They lead us up a short hill which ended at the mine.
    The mine entrance opened into the side of the mountain. The entry was shored up with wood timbers. The land in front if it was pretty flat. A short length of rail began a short distance from the entrance and jutted out over a huge pile of waste rock that was removed from the mine when the search for gold was active. An old ore car sat out near the end of the track. Several concrete foundations provided us with a place to sit as we waited.
    Old pieces of mining equipment was laid out on the foundations. The companies that had mined and logged the mountains of the Philmont area did not care about the wilderness. They came in, made all the money they could, then pulled out, often leaving much of the equipment behind. They also left hundreds of areas of land barren and devoid of any plant life. It would take decades for the land to be reclaimed by Mother Nature and turned back into a beautiful forest once again.
Areas of barren rock, as the hillside outside of the Aztec Mine, now served as a strong reminder how thoughtless mankind can be to nature and the world when making a profit is involved.

    We waited for the tour to come out of the mine. Thirty minutes went by. Two more crews joined us during that time. My watch said it was two o’clock. We would need to make a decision soon about whether we would take this tour or not. We had to be back at Baldy Camp by five thirty to pick up our food supply for the next few days.
    Finally, they came out of the mine. Everyone was wearing hard hats and wear squinting and blinking in the bright afternoon sunlight.
    Our guide was nice, pleasant, and very enthusiastic. It seemed that he thoroughly enjoyed being the tour guide of the mine. He explained the tour rules to us, such as not to touch the support timbers. He had us and the “Fisher” crew put on the hard hats and had those who had brought flashlights to spread themselves out through the group. 
    Then, we entered the mine.
    The Aztec Mine was a gold mine. Before it was closed down there was thirty-seven miles of tunnels that had been carved into the mountain. Most of it had now collapsed and fallen into disrepair. Philmont maintained the first five hundred yards of the mine for the campers to experience.
    Old movies made it look like mining was not such a bad occupation. Some even made it look glamourous. We discovered that that was not true of this mining period at all. The darkness I expected. Turn off the flashlights and it was total and complete blackness, not the tiniest amount of light was available. I also expected the mine to be cool, but not cold. The air temperature felt as if it was only forty degrees Fahrenheit. I was glad that I had worn my sweater and jacket. The dampness was one thing I was not prepared for. Everything was wet and dripping, forming cold puddles on the ground for our feet to slip into.
    The thing that surprised me the most was how small the tunnel was. Most of it was so low that most of us, except for the smaller Scouts,  had to walk hunched over so we would not hit our heads. More then one person was heard to hit a low support beam with their head, making them glad they were wearing the hard hats.
    Our guide let us until we came to the end of the tunnel. Beyond this point it was unsafe, he explained. Much of it had already collapsed. The group gathered in the small cavern, huddling around the one ore car. The light from the flashlights glittered off the bits of real gold that were still embedded in the walls. Once everyone had squeezed into the cavern the guide asked that the lights be turned off. As total darkness surrounded us he began to tell us a story...
    A miner’s life was hard and dangerous. Cave ins were a constant threat. Lung disease and sickness were common place. But one of the most frightening dangers was one that could not be seen, felt, or even smelt. It was a natural gas leak. It was for that reason that many miners would carry a cage with a parakeet along with them and sit it down next to wear they would work that day. It was believed that if the bird suddenly died that a leak of the colorless and odorless gas had occurred.  It had so happened that a miner happened to working his section of the mine. His only companion was his parakeet, who he had sitting next to him. The miner would constantly turn around and check on his pet by the light of his oil lantern.
    Suddenly, the bird stopped its singing. The miner heard something hit the bottom of the cage. As he turned toward the cage he already knew what he would find. The bird was laying on the cage bottom, its feet pointing straight toward the ceiling. The miner quickly extinguished his lantern.
The darkness that surrounded him was absolute. He sat down, not daring to take the risk of moving and accidentally creating a spark. He began thinking of the danger he was in, of what could happen with each passing second. Even the smallest of sounds echoed through his head. If only he had a cup of coffee to take the chill off his bones and sooth his nerves.
    Just a cup of coffee.
    Oh no!
    His coffee was down the tunnel, sitting on a single candle flame to keep it warm. A candle with a single flame that could....
    The miner was running, harder and faster then he had ever run in his entire life. He had to beat the natural gas to the flame. If he didn’t, not only would this portion of the mine cease to exist, but so would he.
    So he ran. The candle was just around the next corner. If only he could make it. Just a little more....

    We all nearly jumped out of our pants. It sounded as if the tunnel was collapsing around us. A couple of Scouts yelled, many gasped. As the lights flickered back on our grinning guide bent over to retrieve the piece of metal he had thrown into the ore car to end his story.
    We arrived back at French Henry with enough time to catch the program at the blacksmith’s shop. The Scouts were about to get hands-on experience working with the tools of a blacksmith. The Scouts were given the choice of making a dining bell, branding iron, or wall hook. They chose the triangle dining bell.
    Brian was volunteered to make the bell itself. Robert made the handle of the ringer and Jeff added a twist to it to give it a little class. The blacksmith watched over everything and helped out when he was needed. When the two pieces were completed to the crew’s satisfaction he heated the items, then cooled them in oil. The oil dip was to create a glossy black finish and to help prevent rust from forming. 
    It was time to head to Baldy Camp to pick up our food supply. A French Henry Camp staff member told us that the hike to Baldy would take us from forty-five to sixty minutes. We made good time. The crew was in good spirits. I was still upset over the Baldy Mountain incident so I was not saying much. I had given up the pack though. Robert was now carrying it.
    A half hour after leaving French Henry we came to a fork in the road. There was not any of the usually trail signs to give us directions as to which way we should go. Out came the maps and compasses, and the confused looks and expressions. I pulled out my map and figured out the direction we should head but I did not inform the crew of my decision. I felt that they should be able to form their own conclusions now that we have lived on the trail for a week. They finally came to a decision and asked me what I thought about it. “We’ll see,” was all I said as I shrugged. Scott took that as meaning definitely yes. He reasoned that if their choice had been the wrong way I would have answered differently. 
    It turned out to be the right way. We arrived at Baldy Camp with plenty of time to spare.  Gerry was sitting by the campfire when we arrived back at our campsite in Miranda. He had not eaten his afternoon lunch yet, so the rest of the crew helped him finish it. Well, help may not be the right word. In fact, Gerry did not even get one cracker of his lunch to eat.

    Every evening, when the weather allowed, the Miranda staff conducted a campfire and invited all crews who were camped there for the evening to join them. They told some comical stories about the miners, sand a few rip-roaring songs, and had a good time doing it. The songs included one about a large bear, and of course, the one about that good ‘ol mountain dew.
    I sat behind my crew and chatted with a Scout I had met during the advisor’s coffee earlier that evening. His father was in the military and was currently stationed in Germany. He and a German Scout had been sent to Philmont to experience a trek themselves, and take lots of pictures. When they arrived back home they were to put together a presentation of their Philmont experience that would be used to promote the high adventure base in Germany. 
    That night we slept without anyone staying up for bear watches. We had taken all the necessary precautions. The staff had stated that a bear had not been sighted around here for a couple of weeks. Besides, we needed our sleep. Tomorrow would be another busy day.
    It was later during the trek, when another advisor and I had been talking about bear watches, that he said, “Why should we stay up all night? We took time off work to bring the boys here. And what do we end up doing? Sitting in the middle of the night watching out for bears. Why can’t a staff member stay up each night and watch for bear so that the crews can sleep in peace?”
    I did not argue with him. After all, it made good sense to me.

End of Page 7.

1986 Philmont Journal:
Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Page 5
Page 6
Page 7
Page 8

1986 Philmont Photo Gallery

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