Monday, August 25, 2014

Philmont Scout Ranch - Day Zero - Base Camp

Arriving at Philmont Scout Ranch base camp was like arriving at a military deployment.  As soon as you walk off the bus, you were instantly met with a coordinator who logs in your crew, and began your journey through the provisioning and training that would ready you for 10 days in the remote backcountry of New Mexico.  The crew was efficiently moved from station to station: the commissary, safety, first aid, orienteering, etc.  The only thing missing was a buzz cut from boot camp.

At base camp, we met  our ranger, Sam Baskins, a young twenty year old scout who would take us on the first two days of hiking and camping.  Sam's job was twofold:  (1) to make sure we knew what we were doing, or in other words, to make sure we didn't die, and (2) to make sure we followed the rules of Leave No Trace camping.  The latter was an important mantra that we would recite and follow each day of our hikes.  We would pack out all of our trash.  We would not pick any plants or molest any animals on the trip.  The only thing we'd take would be photos.  Every campsite had to be left clean as when we entered it.  Pooping had to be done in either a provided latrine or we'd have to dig a cat-hole 200 feet from the nearest trail or stream.  Even our foamy spit from brushing our teeth had to be swallowed and not spit out on the ground.  These principles not only protected the land, but ensured that with 22,000 scouts visiting Philmont, the experience is just as good for the 19,999th scout as it is for scout number one.  They take Leave No Trace very seriously, and it became religion with us too.

For the evening at base camp, we stayed in the typical canvas two-man tents.  This again was a luxury that we would soon miss, as we had a cot and a three-inch mattress, and no need to erect camp.  Our first task with Sam was to check out all of our supplies that we had brought.  Philmont provided a list of camping supplies, including tents, sleeping bags, gloves, knives, etc., but Sam's job was to make sure we weren't complete yutzes and that we brought everything we needed.

Of course, turns out there were things needed that we didn't have.  Luke and I didn't have waterproof pack covers, and Sam really, really suggested we have them.  There were some of our boys who didn't have gloves, or other key items, and again Sam strongly encouraged us to visit the Tooth of Time Trading Post and pick them up (for a hefty surcharge... I mean, convenience fee).  Turns out, Sam wasn't shilling for the camp store, but these items would be key in the coming days.

The weather in Philmont was pretty consistent.  Desert nights were cold, and it was hot during the day.  But every day, at about 1pm, it stormed.  Our first day in base camp, this storm produced a beautiful rainbow, which we though was a great omen for the trip to come.  (The omen being that we were going to get a hell of a lot more storms, we later found out.)

Our last night in base camp had us dining at the dining hall, and then breakfast the next morning.  These would be the last of our hot-cooked meals for 10 days.  Oh, how I wish I had seconds before setting out on the trail.  It would be the last real food I'd see for quite some time.

Tomorrow, we'd set out from Base Camp for Six Mile Gate, our trail head, and begin our journey to our camp in House Canyon.

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