Above, from left: In August of 2021, Louie Pastore, Lou Gray, Max Pastore, Ted Gray, Ciaran Polanski, Charlie Gray, Joseph Boiquaye, Seamus Polanski, Liam Polanski, Paul Kolarczyk, and Chris Jacobson from Lansing Boy Scout Troop 276 participated in a 50-mile hike through New Mexico mountains. (Photo: Louie Pastore)
by Louie Pastore, Eagle Scout
CIMARRON, NM (December 28, 2021) – In August of 2021, eight scouts and three adult leaders from Troop 276 in Lansing, Illinois, successfully completed a once-in-a-lifetime journey to Philmont Scout Ranch, New Mexico.
With six days’ worth of backpacking and over 50 miles of hiking, the trek included breathtaking views and unforgettable memories.
Owned and operated by the Boy Scouts of America, Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico covers 140,177 acres of wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of the Rocky Mountains. It is a National High Adventure Base where crews of scouts take part in backpacking treks and other outdoor activities. By land area, it is one of the largest youth camps in the world.
Traveling to Philmont
The journey began with a final meeting in the parking lot of St Ann church (3010 Ridge Road, Lansing, Ill.), where the crew received a traveler’s blessing from Father Mark, said goodbye to their families, and loaded up their packs — each of which weighed roughly fifty pounds — before officially taking the first steps toward their destination. A 22-hour train ride took them to New Mexico, over 1,000 miles from home.
A shuttle bus from Philmont picked up the crew from the station and transported them to Philmont’s basecamp, where they spent two days getting acclimated to the significant altitude change, learning trail techniques, and prepping and receiving gear. The scouts also spent time exploring the national scouting museum, enjoying the famous views from base camp, and experiencing Philmont’s opening fire bowl before hitting the trail and beginning their trek.
Day One on the trail
Day one on the trail began with a visit to Rayado, a historic backcountry homestead, where the crew explored the museum and learned about the land. Moving on, they navigated their way to the first stop at lower Bonito, a New Mexican homestead and cantina, where they enjoyed ice-cold root beer and spent some time with the goats and burros. Next, it was time to complete the rest of the six-mile hike to their first campsite, Old Abreu, where they prepared a hot meal and rested up for the following day.
Each night before turning in, all the personal items that had a scent — such as toothpaste and other toiletries, food and cooking supplies, and even some kinds of batteries — had to be hoisted into the air inside “bear bags” to avoid the threat of attracting bears and unwanted wildlife.
The scouts knew that the next day would be significantly more physically demanding than the first, but they also knew that with more challenging terrain comes more beautiful views.
The crew would hike a total distance of only five miles on day two, but they quickly realized that this would be no walk in the park. With an elevation gain of 1,750 feet, countless climbs up and down steep rocky slopes, their packs weighing them down, stream crossings, and other challenging obstacles, this portion of the trek was especially grueling. With gratitude for the past year they spent training back home, and with careful footing and determination, they pushed through to the beautiful valley at Look Out Meadow.
This was the first point, aside from base camp, where the crew experienced the one-of-a-kind “picture perfect” scenery that they had been anticipating since planning the trek. They hiked about halfway through the valley before making their way into the tree line to find their campsite for a rainy second night out on the trail.
Each day grew more scenic, and day three became even more interesting, with an early start towards Beaubien, a staffed camp just outside the valley. The boys arrived early in the day before lunch, set up the campsite, and then headed down to complete a conservation project, guided by Philmont conservation staff. This project was required to complete their trek. After a busy — and once again rainy — afternoon of logging trees and making burn piles, the crew was finally able to relax. The evening was filled with beef stew and biscuits, Frisbee®-playing against an unimaginably scenic background, and a campfire program put on by the staff with songs, stories, and fellowship.
Wrapping up the night with an incredible back-country view of the stars, the phrase “Scouting Paradise” from the Philmont hymn (a song the scouts learned and sang throughout the week) settled into their minds.
Day four quickly became focused on hiking. With roughly 1,700 feet of elevation gain and 6.5 miles of ground to cover, the crew’s focus was to keep a consistent pace. They made a pit stop at Philips Junction, a small staff cabin, to re-outfit themselves with food for the remainder of the trek, followed by a visit to Crooked Creek, another historic homestead. There they learned more history about homesteading, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch break.
Upon arriving, the crew was presented with a challenge – a race to see which crew at Philmont could be the fastest to carry two pails of water up a steep hill using an oxen yoke. The scouts of 276 accepted the challenge and not only set a new record, but also broke the old one three times in a row!
With a sense of pride, they headed off to Wild Horse, a small, peaceful clearing surrounded by evergreens, the peaks of hills and majestic mountains from left to right, the distant haze just barely catching the golden rays of light as the sun set. Surrounded by this spectacular view, the boys passed the time throwing the frisbee, taking photos, and preparing another warm meal for dinner. Afterward they sat around the campfire, telling stories underneath a beautiful view of the Milky Way. It was one of the most cheerful and peaceful evenings felt by the crew – a perfect way to end the night before their most physically challenging day of hiking yet, the ascent to Mount Phillips.
Day five, the culmination of all their hard work and preparation over the last year, was soon to become reality, but not before pushing through to the highest staffed camp at Philmont — Clear Creek. The scouts dropped off their packs in camp, prepared their day bags, and began the rigorous ascent to Philmont’s second highest peak, Mount Philips. Each step of the way revealed new breathtaking scenery, new challenges, and new motivation. Seeing other troops on the trail, hearing their words of encouragement, and climbing closer and closer to the peak were some of the most exciting and momentous portions of the trek.
The height of the trek
At last, the scouts arrive at Mount Phillips’ peak. This moment that had been planned for over a year — trained for and conditioned for — was finally here. Endless views of faded distant mountains, with Mount Baldy in the corner of their eyes, would mark this day, Day Five, as the highlight of the trek.
As it became time to hike back down to Clear Creek, the crew spent their final day of program shooting black powder rifles and throwing tomahawks before setting up the final campsite for the night.
With the height of the trek now behind them, the feelings of relief and accomplishment would have to wait, as an early morning start to the journey home awaited them. An all-downhill, eight-mile hike took them to the Philmont shuttle bus, bound for base camp.
After an afternoon spent at basecamp and visiting the neighboring town of Cimarron, New Mexico, it was time for the scouts to dust off their boots for the train ride home.
All of the ups and downs, rainy days and sunny days, highs and lows came to an end, as each moment played back in the memories of the crew. Arriving home to share the experience with the next generation of scouts, the Philmont Crew from Troop 276 were now, more than ever, prepared for what life has to throw at them, and ready for the next adventure.
- Local boy scouts prepare for the trip of a lifetime (June 2021 article)