Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Philmont Scout Ranch - Day Two - House Canyon to Cook Canyon

Before dawn broke, my watch alarm went off with a tiny beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep.  During the trip, I was designated as the human alarm clock for the crew and was responsible for the much-unloved task of announcing to the crew, "It's five am!"  Time to wake up.  Together, we decided to rise early each day because hiking in the morning was best, before the heat of the day made hiking oppressive.

Today, we'd be hiking from House Canyon through Anasazi, Indian Writings, and Metcalf, to arrive at Cook Canyon camp.  This would also be our last day with Sam, our ranger.  After today, we'd be on our own.

One thing we learned this first morning in camp was that nothing dries out overnight in the desert.  Those who had hung a line and set out clothes to dry soon discovered this morning that the falling dew in the desert night made everything sopping wet in the morning.  This included tents, clothes, and anything left out and not under the protective dining fly.  Packing up camp in the wet was absolutely no fun, as everything got dirty and muddy.  Rolling a ground pad, for instance, involved catching all that moisture with all the dirt of the campsite, rolling it tightly like a burrito, and sticking it all into your pack, still wet, and still dirty.  Ah, so be it.  We were roughing it.

Our journey today was an eight or so mile affair down the Metcalf Road trail.  Our first stop after descending from camp was the Anasazi camp, where we had a solar powered water station.  Two solar panels provide just enough power to run a low-voltage pump on a tiny well.  The pump runs and fills a simple aluminum tub whenever it gets below a certain water level.

The water was not potable; however, so Sam gave us instruction on using the water purification tablets to make the water safe. This included the important point of "bleeding the threads", which is a process of washing the threads of our Nalgene lids and our water suction hoses for those of us who used pack bladders.  If you didn't bleed the threads, infected water could contaminate all the good water you've just received.

We were in a dry camp the night before, so we all desperately needed water this morning, and filled up with 4-5 liters per person.

After leaving Anasazi, we headed into our first staffed camp, Indian Writings.  The boys again had a chance to fill up their water, use the bathrooms, and eat lunch.  The camp offered a tour of archaeological ruins and Indian petroglyphs, but we didn't stay long to see them, as we wanted to make our way to Philmont's newest camp, Metcalf Station.  So we pressed onward.

Metcalf Station is a faithful reproduction of a railroad station, with an track under construction that will eventually reach two miles long.  The track is a reproduction of the old Cimmaron R.R. that once sat in this valley.  The new track is actually being built by the boy scouts who visit the camp, and our boys got their turn at laying the ties, aligning the rails, and hammering in the spikes.  Let me tell you, it looks hard, and it was hard.  The boys would strike the spike twenty or thirty times, and the spike wouldn't even move a quarter of an inch.  Experienced railroad workers, we were told, would use no more than eight strikes to land a single spike in the ties.  Wow.

Metcalf was the first station that we realized our programmed activities would be very special at Philmont.  The staff (all twenty-somethings, mostly boys, but a few girls too) would be in period dress, and be acting the part of a period role, in this case, rail workers of the 1800's.  This wasn't done in a schmaltzy Disney kind of way, but in a truly authentic manner with a particular attention to historical details and facts.  We even had a young man from Dublin, Ireland, named Paddy of course, who in his woolen trousers, cotton work shirt and tweed cap, you could just imagine as a new immigrant to the U.S. working the rails.  The boys ate up the history and loved interacting with the older staff. Having the chance to interact with these stations was golden for them.  We adults were really impressed.  Good job on that, Philmont.

After Metcalf and after lunch, we hit the trail again for the last bit of hiking to Cook Canyon.  Here the weather turned wet, and we hit our first afternoon storm.  Donning waterproof pack covers, we hiked on in the rain until we reached camp.  Setting up camp was wet work, made dirtier still by the previous day, and we quickly ate dinner and went straight to bed.

Tomorrow, the journey would continue north into the Valle Vidal.


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