It’s been over two months since I boarded a plane to New Mexico with my Venture Crew, and I still miss hiking with my 35-pound backpack and listening to crazy staffers play banjos. I’ve decided to post my Philmont Journal, which is a collection of scribbles I wrote down during the 66-mile wilderness trek. Hopefully I can return someday as an adult adviser, or go on other amazing Scouting adventures.
Venture Crew 468
Itinerary 12: Challenging, 66 miles
- Celine Chen (chaplain’s aide)
- Nicholas Kung
- Clarissa Kung (wilderness guia)
- Karen Lin
- Ashley Wong
- Renee Yen (crew leader)
- Erin Liao
- Mrs. Jessica Chen
- Mr. James Kung
- Eric Dang (chaplain’s aide)
- James Dang
- Eric Liu
- Jeffrey Shih (wilderness guia)
- Michael Wang (crew leader)
- Benoit Yen
- Bruce Powers
- Mr. Gang Chen
- Mr. Xiaozhong Dang
DAY 1: Opening Campfire @Base Camp
8 AM- Flying to New Mexico. Mr. Kung was late for our 6 AM meetup, packing last-minute items at home. What would we do without him? Boarding the plane, a man told me that instead of “Land of the Free and Brave,” New Mexico is the “Land of Fleas and the Plague.” That doesn’t bode too well…
1:23 PM- After our Subway lunch in Santa Fe, where we entertained the natives by being the only Asian people, let alone Asian crew, to ever cross their paths, our bus’ air-conditioning broke down, forcing us to switch to a party limo bus. The flashing lights and loud music are keeping us unpleasantly awake but thoroughly entertained. So far Bruce has refused to dance on the stripper pole, but is still brave enough to play his curse-word-filled music for all of us, including the Asian parents.
4 PM-Philmont Scout Ranch! The first stop was the dining hall. It was immediately evident that we were the strangest crews, aliens in a sea of 15-year old white boys. Heads turned to stare at the Asian boys and small girls. We raced through dinner to attend meetings for crew leaders, wilderness “guias” (guides) and chaplain’s aides. Our rangers stayed surprisingly absent until we showered and met for the opening campfire. Our insanely cool ranger, Jenna, is from the Naval Academy, and my age. For the campfire, dressed-up staff members taught us about Philmont history. Before bedtime, several crazy people had ice cream in the windy cold.
DAY 2: Ute Springs
Ranger training took almost all day. We were shuttled from a breakfast during which we consumed bacon that seemed to have been simply dumped in the pan and lit on fire, to registration, to shopping in the Tooth of Time trading store. While crew leaders and advisers planned our trek, the rest of us killed time by admiring the Nalgene tree in the shop and playing rock-paper-scissors- splits. Jeffrey only beat me by substituting in Crew 2’s tall and sassy ranger, Chris, who’s practically Michael/Harry’s white twin.
After lunch, we had a medical “re-check,” took the official crew photo, and picked up our food/bear bags/dining fly. As drops of rain began to fall, we ran into another Asian crew from Cupertino who had just finished their trek and were forced to take a photo with them. By the time we had to bring equipment back to the Welcome Center, it was hailing, and the other crews were standing by nonchalantly to watch the rain flood our backpacks. We packed up all the food and equipment, weighed our backpacks, freaked out about the weights, then loaded a bus.
3:30 PM- When we reached Cito Turnaround, our enthusiastic rangers taught us about lightning safety, bathroom etiquette, and orienteering. Then the hike began! I navigated for Crew 1, and we hiked so fast that the boys never caught up with us as we expected them to. Arriving at our first trail camp, Ute Springs, we set up our “Bearmuda Triangle” (bear bags, sump, campfire) our dining fly, and then cooked into the night. I sadly discovered that my spork was already broken. Jenna taught us how to use the sump, deal with all our smellables (items that attract bears), and do the yum-yum dance, which delighted all of us, especially Celine.
DAY 3: Cimarroncito and Webster Parks
We broke camp fifteen minutes after the boys did, arriving at Cimarroncito too late to rock climb with them. We took advantage of the staff camp to wash our clothes, eat lunch, and play First Aid Charades. Our rock-climbing program started at 12:45 and lasted for more than an hour. The main rock wasn’t too bad, but some of us volunteered to climb a taller rock that was flat but for a giant crack that ran all the way to the top. Nick got stuck in a bend in the crack for so long that his dad stopped videotaping him to save batteries, while Jenna practically monkeyed all the way up. By hearsay, only 4-5 of the boys crew got to rock climb, since there were so many people up there at once.
3 PM ish- Off to Webster Parks! I got my first blisters and we got lost on the way there. All was well, though, and we eventually cooked up a pot of Mountain House spaghetti meatballs to devour. Jenna had a surprise dessert for us: a pound cake with frosting to “thank” us for being an awesome crew. The rest of the evening passed in a latrine adventure with Erin and our daily thorns/roses routine.
DAY 4: Sawmill
1:10 PM- We’ll start rifle shooting at 2, but the boys are already at the range, having twice passed us up on the trail. We thought we had a chance to beat them, but we got lost in the beginning and took a 20 minute break shortly after their own 20 minute poop break. So we’re setting up camp here at Sawmill, eating lunch, and swatting annoying flies. I’m so tired.
6:02 PM- The rangers left us this morning, so we’re having our first dinner with the boys, our “sister crew.” Earlier we each made three bullets using a row of machines that resized each cartridge, filled them with powder, etc. We each had nicknames for our bullets. By happy coincidence, I was Catwoman, Clarissa was Batman, and Nick was Clarissa’s sidekick Robin. Our hike to the rifle range was quick, and pretty soon we were shooting at metal animal-shaped plates with eye and ear protection. The guns shot four inches high, so it was rather difficult to sight and aim.
Sawmill Canyon has shower facilities, so we all sent ourselves into near shock by dousing ourselves with ice water. Our dinner was Mexican rice, which Bruce refused to lick clean. Today was a sad day for Nick, who lost Bruce’s “No Shit Challenge” by only a few hours by successfully taking a dump earlier this afternoon. Also, Nick and I were the only two people to show up for the evening Rifle Cleaning program while the advisers had coffee on the main cabin front porch.
DAY 5: Mt. Phillips
1:38 PM- We’re sitting near Comanche Peak, waiting for several valiant members of our crews to fetch water from Comanche Creek camp, praying for it not to rain, and trying to trap a minibear in a bear bag. We’ve been trying to lure a chipmunk into the bag ever since Mr. Kung got a glint in his eye and muttered gleefully, “Time to break the rules!” It’s been a long hike up to Comanche from Sawmill Camp, where we woke up to watch the beautiful sunrise. The two crews started hiking together, so we pretty much stayed together the whole time, taking turns passing each other up during water breaks. At one point, we ran into another crew who asked us girls, “Are you guys with those bozos up there?” It turns out the boys were singing Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber songs all the way up the switchbacks. On the way up, we also met the Juliet sister crews to our Romeos and took a picture with them.
At Comanche Peak, Crew 1 stopped for lunch and got a welcome surprise: cell phone signal! We all called our family. Mom and Dad were happy to hear that we all were doing well and managing to carry the backpack weight.
At 3 or 4 PM we managed to trudge up the steep, rocky mountain and set up camp on top of Mt. Phillips. Our dinner was Thanksgiving-themed, consisting of stuffing, cranberries, and canned turkey. Then while Nick, Celine, and I went to put up the oops bags, everyone else put out the campfire and left to go watch the sunset, leaving us to wander the deserted camp as if we were in a zombie apocalypse. We found them eventually, and took crew/family pictures in front of the beautiful view. I would have loved this camp if we hadn’t nearly frozen to death in our sleeping bags that night.
DAY 6: Clear Creek, Crooked Creek, Porcupine
Downhill all the way to Clear Creek! Tripping and slipping over rocks, we fumbled our way to Rocky Mountain Fur Co. and were welcomed by rangers dressed in mountain men “pelts.” Mr. Kung immediately declared a tomahawk-throwing war on Crew 2, and we set about trying to lodge small axes into wooden “cookies.” We also had an “adults vs. kids” competition and a “Red Bulls + some Hawks vs. Tigers + other Hawks” contest.
Black Powder Rifle shooting was explosive! and so much more accurate than the .3-06 rifles that our crew shot an average of one-two targets per person. Everyone did well, despite all the misfires and hangfires happening everywhere. We had lunch afterwards, and some people made lead bullets near the fire.
Amid the showers and sticky mud, Celine led us to Porcupine. After deciding that it was too dangerous to cross the rushing river to our campsite, we quickly set up camp with the boys and hiked to Crooked Creek for our homesteading program. The sun came out as we ground corn to feed the chickens, swung on a wooden swing, made rope, and pet the friendly burros named Ted and Bill.
Cooking was a noisy affair, as Bruce and James somehow managed to get high off a burnt stick.
DAY 7: Beaubien
The quick hike to Beaubien, led by Nick and Benoit, was nearly painless, though it certainly wasn’t the “gentle uphill” as another crew described it as. Our crew got to Phillips Junction first on the way to pick up more food that weighed down our packs even more. We also chased away the cows on our trail for Crew 2. Beaubien is, after all, a cattle ranch. Poop is everywhere.
Horse rides were amazing, at least for me. After forty-five minutes of safety talk, I met Rooster, one of the wrangler’s “top 5 favorites,” and Rooster’s friend (Nick’s pretty, white, jerkface, aggressive horse) Cue Ball. Every once in a while, someone’s horse would stop to pee, eat grass, or in Michael’s case, trip over a rock and freak the hell out. Mostly, the horses plodded along behind each other on the trail and sniffed each other’s butts. Our knees hurt from riding them with our weight on the balls of our feet. They were so calm that some people even fell asleep during the ride (*ahem, Jeffrey). We returned from the rides to find that Mr. Kung and Bruce had caught two minibears in a bear bag, and we watched them squeal, poop, and grunt until we finally let them escape.
Renee, Clarissa, Eric, and Benoit rushed to prepare our chuckwagon dinner with the other crews (Juliet 1 & 2) while I took a freezing cold shower. Before dinner, we were also able to discuss our “Wilderness Pledge” rules and I branded the back of my hat with the Philmont logo.
The cowboy campfire was rowdy, terrifying, and in-your-face. The staff pulled out guitars, banjos, a bass, and a washboard, and generally made a racket with their instruments and voices. Nick and Bruce volunteered to participate in the “dance-off,” which would have been awkward if Bruce hadn’t pulled out his squat/jig moves. Sometimes the staff was so rowdy that I feared for my life, although some people managed to fall asleep at the end. Again, the night was freezing. I found minibear poop in my mess kit cup and a moth in my bowl. Boo.
DAY 8: Beaubien
We woke up an hour before our conservation project, which entailed chopping up firewood for the “timber stand project-” chopping down/clearing trees to prevent dangerous wildfires from destroying the South Country (crown/ladder fires). Our entertaining staff were entertained by Bruce during debriefing, especially when he asked them, “When do we get to hit stuff?” We indeed got bow saws and other dangerous tools to chop branches and logs. Eric Dang split a log with an impressive front kick, and I sawed branches off for Nick to leisurely pick them up and sort them.
After lunch, the adults and most kids decided to lounge at the camp or visit Phillips Junction, leaving me, Nick, Celine, Ashley, and Erin to hike the extra miles up to Bonito Peak by ourselves. Ashley navigated, and we ended up on a fake peak that was prettier than the actual peak. The only real perk of reaching Bonita Peak was a rain-drenched notebook we found in a bag under a rock, with records of many crews that had passed through and written their names. I wrote a page for the five of us, and we all signed our names. The other fun part was talking about horror movies on the way up. Nick and I were joking that as the oldest ones on the hike, we were the new “advisers.”
Upon returning to Beaubien, we found the rest of our supercrew trying to rope a piece of wood. James, Michael, and Mr. Chen did the best at roping, perhaps foretelling their future careers as cowboys. As we cleaned up, the hail started up, so Benoit, Nick, Mr. Kung, and I stayed behind on the porch to talk to Joe, an Eagle Scout staff member. Back at camp, it was still raining on and off, so we found a “dry” spot to cook mashed potatoes and soup. Halfway through cooking, we had to stop and assume the lightning position. No one got shocked, but we would have at least appreciated warmth.
DAY 9: Abreu
Abreu is a mosquito-infested wannabe Mexican farm. Jeffrey and I navigated today, and today’s trail was indeed a navigating challenge. Trail Peak was our first destination, and everyone trudged up the mountain, up to the remains of the B24 bomber plane that crashed in 1942. Crew 1 stopped on Trail Peak for lunch, then ran into Crew 2 on their lunch break as we slipped/ran down the steep mountain.
We took an out-of-service road through Fowler Mesa, which was green and beautiful. Then came a series of the strangest trails we’ve hiked so far: steep rocks, a random meadow, and desert-like switchbacks, complete with cacti and a resting rattlesnake.
After what Benoit and Jeffrey heard was 11-13 miles, we finally arrived at Abreu. There was a sunflower garden and some pooping goats there to greet us. We had to cross a river and a meadow to get to our campsite, but Nick and I only had time to hang up bear bags before heading up the road to help prepare the Mexican dinner. Our job was to chop three heads of lettuce. Some random adviser told us to chop it in some random yolo way, so we finished way too quickly and left Eric Dang and Benoit to carefully cut their tomatoes. The burritos and churros made a satisfying dinner with all the meat, beans, and vegetables mixed together. Nick and I then took our showers and headed to the cantina to drink root beer ($1 per cup!) and play cards with our crew members. Mosquitoes and flies are everywhere. Lord help us.
DAY 10: Urraca
2 PM: Sadly, we woke up covered in mosquito bites this morning. We’re at Urraca now, about to head down to Challenge Events. The hike here was horrendous, just unrelenting uphill that made us all sweaty and angry. The boys stopped on top of Urraca Mesa for lunch, but we continued down all the switchbacks to Urraca camp. Our Challenge Events time isn’t until 2:30, so we’re using this hour and a half to eat lunch, set up camp, and in my case, listen to Mr. Kung talk about science and leadership.
5:30 PM- Our packs are clinging to the trees, koala style. I just caught a wasp in my nearly empty beef jerky bag. Water is boiling to prepare for our Chili Mac & Beans dinner. Challenge Events were fun enough. We started with some icebreaker games: lowering a hoop with our fingers, “Hug tag,” and “spotting.” Then we headed to the “magic carpet” wood that we all had to balance on, the ropes that we had to walk on with the help of two spotters each, and a lofty wall that we each had to scale. We eventually all got over with the help of each other’s shoulders, a tanbark pedestal, and a belt. Our staff leader said we were the smallest group he’s ever seen get over the wall. The boys did slightly different events, and Bruce didn’t get over the wall. 😦
The campfire was OK; four of the staff just sang songs, played their mandolins/guitars/bass, and told us scary stories. One staff member failed badly at scaring us as the “murderous imp who kills people” by tripping over a log.
DAY 11: Stockade Ridge
3:40 PM- After a late-night discussion about our performance as a team, we all managed to wake up right at 5:30 AM to watch the sunrise from Inspiration Point. The view from up there was beautiful, although the sun was covered by clouds for most of the event. We again had some trouble finding the right trail out of the campsite, but we eventually found our way. At Lover’s Leap, we took a 20-minute break, which was merely a conglomeration of giant rocks jutting out to form a rather terrifying cliff (no one leaped off the edge- no one here’s a lover?). Later, we stopped by the stockade, a cool wooden fort where we could rinse ourselves off and have lunch.
Now we’re sitting in the boys’ campsite, waiting to cook. Benoit found the “Holy Grail” latrine earlier just by randomly walking through the bushes, and we merely had to follow his voice to find the right place to take a dump. Several boys are napping, since we’re waking up early tomorrow to hike Tooth of Time.
Dinner was chicken and rice, but since there was something wrong with our fuel, I had to wait for the boys to finish cooking so I could boil water with their stove. We cleaned up early and had some free time to hang out before bedtime. Before long we got tired of slapping mosquitoes and retired to our tents at the very late time of 8 PM. Renee and I shared a tent, and the other four girls have squeezed themselves into Celine’s “two-man” tent. Hopefully they’re not roasting to death in there.
DAY 12: Base Camp
7 PM: We’re finally back at Base Camp! This morning we woke up at 4 AM and started hiking at 5 AM when it was still pitch black but for some moonlight. Reaching the first intense uphill climb, we each agreed to go at our own pace. Crew 2, Nick, Clarissa, and I were able to make it up to the peak of Tooth of Time to watch the sunrise. The view from the top was amazingly expansive, stretching from Mt. Baldy to the mesas we hiked over, from the glittering Base Camp to the stockade we lunched at yesterday. It was hard to imagine that we had hiked through these blankets of trees and towers of mountain peaks in a mere ten days. After the sun came up, the rest of the crew reached the peak, and we took plenty of pictures. When we bouldered back down, we raced down the switchbacks on the Trail of Tears (so named because you can see your destination the whole way down but can never actually get there). Nick claimed that he almost did shed tears. But we eventually walked through the Philmont “Welcome Back” gateway at 9:30 AM, two whole hours before lunchtime. Finally done backpacking and carrying heavy equipment and bruising our hips and shoulders. We dumped the crew gear: bear bags, pots, dining fly, etc., back at the equipment center, and moved into our tents. We were all dead and slowly trudging across Base Camp, so steep and tiring was the Tooth of Time climb.
First order of business: showers! After three mornings of intense sweating, the warm shower, especially in the deserted Adult Female section, felt wonderful. When I finished, I went with Nick and Mr. Kung to the museum/library to reserve a 2 PM tour for the Villa Philmonte. Then came lunch: real food at last! It wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t trail mix or granola bars at least.
We all met up after lunch for the tour of Villa Philmonte, which was where Waite Phillips, donor of the Philmont land to the Boy Scouts, lived with his family. The charming summer house was fancy and stylish, with real animal furs for rugs.
Nick and I visited the Philmont museum/library afterwards, getting a visual tour of all the Philmont lands and Philmont history. We rested on a bench for quite a while, and the lady who worked there thought we were watching a video that was actually on pause the whole time.
We found the rest of the crews outside the Tooth of Time snack shop, where we bought ice cream and hot cheetos. I finally found a shirt I liked at the Tooth of Time Traders shop and branded my Nalgene. Halfway through my bag of Cheetos, we had to go eat dinner, then prepare for Awards Campfire. Everyone’s Class A uniform smelled slightly weird, since they had gotten wet during Day 2’s storm.
Awards Campfire was an interesting mix of song, plaque presentation to crew leaders/advisers, and slideshows. Apparently it was more interesting than the one from three years ago.
Mr. Kung suggested we forgo Thorns and Roses for the night and speak about what we learned from Philmont. He emphasized always returning to “the basics” as our takeaway point from the trip. And so on a slightly windy night, we ended our daily reflection routine.
DAY 13: Going Home
Now that I’ve cleaned out my backpack, I feel like a turtle without its shell. No matter how much it hurt my hips and shoulders, my backpack, with its numerous pockets and vast carrying capacity, was my ticket to making the grand outdoors my home. Now I have clean clothes, running toilets, and a longing to be back in the wilderness, lighting fires and eating trail food with the people I was with for the past 12 days. It’s so strange to be longing for inconveniences with my comfortable bed just next to me, but perhaps now it’s even stranger to be stuck in front of a computer and eating luxurious crab for dinner when I now know what crazy, wild lives are out there beyond my walls.
We woke at 6:30 this morning, packed everything up, and prepared for breakfast. We managed to get some last minute shopping in (Jessica Ayi generously bought some patches for us) before the bus arrived to take us to the airport. It sadly was not a party bus, but we managed to get some sleep. At the airport, we all gravitated towards Panda Express, the “best, most authentic” Chinese food in New Mexico. It was rather nasty, but represented one step closer to home for us.
We toured the book stand next to our gate A5, lingering on the magazines that spoke of Robin Williams’ death. I spent the plane ride with Jeffrey, Nick, and a guy from a Portland, Oregon troop who had also just finished a Philmont trek and was returning home. His name was Philip, and his crew completed a 100+ mile trek that took them through both North and South country. There was a troop from Livermore also on the plane, but we didn’t get to interact with them much.
We landed spectacularly well and headed through the terminal. The parents greeted us loudly and snapped a billion photos. And just like that, we survived. We thrived. We’re home.
Thus ends the Philmont adventure.
Crew 1 Cheer
Romeo 1, Romeo 1,
Only we have all the fun
Romeo 2, Romeo 2,
That’s our bozo sister crew.
Crew 2 Cheer
North, East, South, West,
Romeo 2 is the best
(need help remembering the rest)
Philmont Grace (said before each dinner)
For food, for raiment,
For life, for opportunity,
For friendship and fellowship,
We thank thee, O Lord
2 thoughts on “Philmont Journal”
Big-time Philmont trekker and staffer here researching stories for an upcoming photobook. Thanks for providing your trail perspective, it was wonderfully told, especially the final day.
It looks like your trek was quite a few years ago as was mine, but I don’t think it’s something we’ll ever forget.
Thanks for reading! I definitely still have fond memories of my Philmont trip, despite it being so long ago!