Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Philmont Scout Ranch - Day Nine - Ponil

Early the next morning, we struck camp to make our 8am appointment with the Pueblano boys.  We were going to learn how to climb logging poles.  In the center of camp, four fifty-foot tall poles stood like monuments to some long ago logging god.  We sat in the morning sun, and listened as Shane and "Boss" explained to us the proper safety procedures for climbing these poles.

The first step was donning the equipment.  To each leg, we strapped a pair of gaffs, which is basically a three inch knife protruding from your instep.  Then, a harness, which cinches around your crotch like a rappelling harness might.  Finally, a helmet and the safety rope.

To climb the pole required the assistance of a "donkey".  The donkey was the counterweight to each boy climbing the pole, run through a three-point pulley friction block, so that a donkey weighing 100 lbs (i.e. Luke) could keep a climber weighing 210 lbs (i.e. me) from falling to his death.  (Pulleys are such cool machines.)

Everyone took turns climbing and playing donkey for the other climbers.  Donkeys are apparently bad listeners, and get distracted easily, so the climbers were instructed to shower their donkeys with compliments to keep them compliant and aware.

The kids and we adults quickly learned how to climb the poles.  You'd step up about 10 inches, plant your foot, as they said, into a basket of kittens, and then raise the next foot and plant it next to the first on the pole.  Then you'd raise your belt, and do it again.  Pretty soon, you'd get good at getting up the pole, and once at the top, we were required to let out a manly yawp.  This was perhaps the unanimous highlight of the entire trip for the crew. The boys really loved this camp, and the staff here were simply amazing.

Leaving Pueblano, we set out for Ponil.  Ponil turned out to be about four miles away, which was supposed to be an easy hike, but we lost the trail (which was shaded and in the woods), and had to hike the entire day in the hot, baking sun on the access road.  Meanwhile, on the road, Luke accidentally placed his hiking pole on the back of Ethan's foot, and Ethan's foot popped his pole up and hit Luke right in the nose.  It was a fluke accident, and nosebleed number two on the trail.

We were getting tired and sloppy.  It was pretty miserable, walking that road in the hot desert sun all day, but we finally rolled into town dusty, sweaty, cranky and overheated.

Ponil was an entire complex of buildings, like a small town.  Having once been the main base camp for Philmont in the 1930's, Ponil had commissaries, dining halls, showers, and a store, and all kinds of activities. 

The kids immediately hooked up with the cowboys and set out on their horseback rides through Ponil Canyon, while we five adults stayed behind and had blessed, wonderful, Oh-God-it-can't-be-this-good, showers!  And after showers, we did laundry!  My God it felt good to be clean again.  And once clean, we were suitable to now enter the Cantina, where a lovely girl in a gingham dress served draft root beer.  $1 for the first cup, and 50 cents for each refill.  I drank three in the span of ten minutes, they were so good!



After the boys got back from their horse rides, I made them all wash their hands (so I didn't come into contact with the horse dander), and we set off for the shooting range.  We received a brief safety lecture, whereby the boys were instructed in the use of a Colt 45 Peacemaker pistol, a 38 special Winchester rifle, and a 12 gauge double-barrel shotgun.  We each got five shots with the pistol, five shots with the rifle, and two with the shotgun.  I was pleased that I hit all the targets except the first, although later someone remarked that the targets were awfully close.  Hmmph, what a killjoy.

Dinner at Ponil did not disappoint, either.  We were invited to abandon our dehydrated meals for the night and enjoy a chuckwagon dinner of beef stew and fresh made biscuits.  They even had Cholula hot sauce on the tables.  That stew was so delicious, I had two helpings.

I had to hit the first aid station after supper.  My feet had had enough, and I feared I might have to abort the rest of the trip.  Luckily, the good cowboy doctors were able to lance and treat my blisters sufficiently that moleskin and more Vitamin I could get me to the next two camps.

Once dinner was complete and my feet were treated, we set up camp and sent the kids to the showers.  These kids stunk! Most of us had been taking bandanna baths all week, but the kids were largely unwashed and absolutely foul.  Getting them cleaned up was really important!

After the showers, Ponil had a Cantina show, with live performances by the camp staff of piano and fiddle playing and dancing.  I went to bed early, but the kids rolled in later content and laughing with stories of the night.

Tomorrow we'd be heading to our last camp, Dean Cow, and it'd be nearing the end of our trip.  Funny to think how quickly it all went by.

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