A group of Weston Boy Scouts in Troop 788 recently spent nearly two weeks living outdoors, hiking more than 100 miles, and climbing the highest peak in the Cimarron Range.
The experience was part of a Boy Scout high adventure at the Philmont Scout Ranch in northeastern New Mexico.
Making the trek to Philmont in August were Scouts Sam Augustyn, Brian Babyak, Previn Edwards, Reed Klein, Mikey Light, Zef Koffsky, Patrick McGrath and Russell Phillips. They were accompanied by adults Eric Augustyn, Dan Klein, Bruce Koffsky and Rick Phillips.
The high adventure consisted of a 12-day outdoor camping trip encompassing 84 miles of trail hiking and 25 additional miles of side trips. The troop’s itinerary included stops at Flume Canyon, Copper Park and Clarks Fork.
During the trip, the Scouts engaged in horseback riding, burro racing, blacksmithing, rock climbing and rappelling, shotgun shooting, and team-building challenge events.
The group climbed Baldy Mountain in Philmont, which at 12,441 feet is the highest peak in the Cimarron Range of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. They also scaled the Tooth of Time, a granite monolith that was featured in the TV series Lonesome Dove.
The Scouts greatly enjoyed their high adventure. Adult leader Rick Phillips called Philmont a “once in a lifetime” experience.
Life Scout Mikey Light said Philmont was amazing but not easy to define. “After a few days at Philmont we got into a routine that was very different from Weston. But it’s hard to define and put into a box. Everyone has their own personal experience,” he said.
Life Scout Zef Koffsky agreed. “Everything about Philmont was different,” he said.
Largest youth camp
The Philmont Scout Ranch is on approximately 137,500 acres, about 214 square miles, in northeastern New Mexico, and is the world’s largest youth camp. It has 315 miles of trails and 770 campsites.
In addition to campsites and hiking trails, Philmont has a working cattle ranch with horses, burros, cattle and buffalo. More than 300 tons of hay is produced there every year. The only documented Tyrannosaurus Rex track in the world was discovered within the camp’s boundaries in 1993.
The Philmont property was donated to the Boy Scouts of America in 1938 by Tulsa oilman Waite Phillips. He designated his summer home, the Villa Philmonte, to be used as a training center for the Scouts. He also provided an endowment for the maintenance and improvement of the property and to provide scholarships for needy Scouts.
This summer, more than 22,000 Scouts and leaders participated on 12-day high adventure backpacking treks in Philmont, according to philmontscoutranch.org. The treks are monitored by rangers and food is provided at Philmont commissaries.
Weston Scouts could choose from 35 different itineraries, which varied in difficulty from the easiest level — challenging — to rugged, strenuous, and super strenuous. The Weston Scouts chose a strenuous trek geared towards physically fit Scouts and able adults.
Navigating their way
The 12-day trek started at a base camp with guidance by a ranger who advised the adult leaders to let the boys figure out things, like orienteering, for themselves. The Scouts had to navigate their way each day from one campsite to the next, and averaged eight to 10 miles of hiking per day. The Scouts rotated their responsibilities, with each assuming a different task each day.
Over the course of the trek, the group saw bears, a rattlesnake and a mountain lion across a canyon.
Of the activities they participated in, Zef Koffsky said his favorite was climbing Mt. Baldy and the Tooth of Time.
“The knowledge that we had conquered two of the most famous peaks in the camp, at times on our hands and feet, was amazing,” he said.
Mikey Light said the climate changed dramatically as they climbed Mt. Baldy. It started out hot at the base and by the time they got to the top there were no trees and it was “ridiculously” windy and barren like Arctic tundra. “It was incredible. You were so high that you couldn’t see any point higher than you,” he said.
Mikey especially enjoyed some of the team-building activities like climbing a spar pole, where the Scouts had to climb up a tall, branchless tree-like structure with spiked boots, and climbing a straight wall that had no handles to grasp.
There was a humorous moment during the burro racing, where several burros were not so keen on running and had to be led to the finish by the Scouts.
As good a time as the Scouts had with the hiking and activities at Philmont, Mikey and Zef said there was much more depth to the overall experience. “I wasn’t having such a great time the first couple days,” Mikey confided.
But as the trek wore on he found himself getting more immersed into the adventure and working as a team with the other Scouts in natural surroundings. “After a few days, this felt like your way of life. In the tent at night when I was going to sleep, I couldn’t imagine going home. My regular way of life seemed foreign to me,” he said.
Zef said Philmont was a good bonding experience with the other Scouts. “We were friends to begin with but by the end we were very close,” he said.
Adult chaperone Bruce Koffsky said the growth of the eight Scouts could be measured in miles, not inches. “I saw growth in their ability to work individually and together and to understand they had common goals and needed to help each other and themselves to reach those goals,” he said.
This was the first visit to Philmont for Troop 788. Because high adventures at Philmont are in great demand, Scout troops are limited to going every two years. Troops may apply and are chosen by lottery. Based on the success of this trip, Mr. Phillips said the troop has put in to go again in 2014.
A slide show and discussion of the trip will be presented at an upcoming Scout meeting.