This was the big day. Day seven of our hike was the day that we summited Mt. Baldy. Baldy was so named because it lies at 12,500 ft, just above the tree line, as an imposing bunch of rocky shale that stares at you from every part of the vastness that is Philmont.
Today, we'd climb it. I was wary of heading up this big monster both because of the elevation changes, plus the fact that my feet still hurt, a lot. But we were bolstered this morning by the arrival last night of John Solomon, who had been planning to come on this trek with us, but on day one was informed that his dad died, and had to fly to Texas for the funeral. All week long, John's boys, Zach and Mitchell, had wanted nothing more than to have their dad return, and we adults, with no cell phones nor contact with John, could only guess that there was perhaps a 50% chance we'd see him again on this trek.
But as luck would have it, John strolled into camp last night accompanied by two rangers from French Henry camp to see him safely delivered. John's boys were elated, and we were really happy to see him return. John has an even keeled, gentle likability to him, and he was a welcome addition to our crew.
His return, though, was bittersweet. John had missed out on all the acclimatizing hikes thus far and would be totally unready for ascent to 12,500 today.
I reassured him though, that "John, we'll take as many breaks as you need, and we're in no rush to do this." Perhaps I was selfishly giving myself some much needed pauses, but really, in all honesty, the last thing we needed up here was an adult with a heart attack, and that was a very real possibility.
We set off early, on the trail by six am, since we didn't have to break up camp. Today was another long journey. After summiting Baldy, we'd climb back down into Baldy Town to pick up another three days of provisions, and then make our way on a big winding loop back to Copper Canyon.
There are two ways to get up the mountain: One involves a straight-up ascent on shale and unrelentingly rising rocks. No thank you. The other way is back up those sixteen switchbacks, back to that 11,500 ft pass, and then instead of heading down into Greenwood Canyon, heading UP the trail to Mt. Baldy. This trail went up quickly, and was very difficult, so we stopped every twenty minutes for prescribed two-minute breaks. These were magical in their ability to restore us, both in breath and on our feet. We took many, many of these, until we left the trees altogether and entered the long curving ridge known locally as "The Sound of Music." This was a beautiful and very easy walk along the top of the mountains at 12,000 feet where we could swing our arms, singing "Doe, a deer, a female deer" and take photos and catch our breath.
Several of the boys, my Luke included, felt that it was an appropriate milestone to be able to poop at 12,000 feet, and so they did so here.
At the end of the long C-shaped ridge, we came upon an old abandoned mine. (The entire mountain is criss-crossed internally with mines.) We posed for pictures before setting out on the final ascent.
The last 500 feet were straight up on nothing but hand-over-fist rocky scrabble. I was behind Ethan at this point, which means, with his big clod-hopper feet, I was walking behind a living avalanche.
Every one of Ethan's footsteps would dislodge rocks the size of cantaloupes and send them careening my direction, while I was desperately trying to plan every footfall to minimize sharp corners that sent twinges of pain into my poor feet.
Step after step.
Rock after rock.
Rest a bit, and then continue again.
We finally made it to the top. We arrived on top of Mt. Baldy!!
On the mountain, we were victorious, like conquering heroes. The weather was glorious, and we high-fived and strutted around, and yes, even wept a little with the accomplishment. Ethan and his dad embraced in a long hug. Ethan, earlier, seeing that his dad was struggling, took his dad's heavier pack and carried it up the mountain for him. Max was overwhelmed with the emotion of this. Even I grabbed Luke for some tight hugs and photos on the mountain. We had done it!
Success at hand, we stayed up there for a long time, taking photos and goofing off. I found a small patch of grass, and in the sunny warmth, I laid down and fell fast asleep. I napped for a good 30-40 minutes at least, when I was suddenly awakened by the gentle thudding of tiny footsteps across my legs and chest. Luke cried out, "Hey! A chipmunk just ran across my dad! Did that just happen?!" Indeed it had. I had become one with nature.
We descended Baldy on that treacherous straight-down rocky path, and had to be all the more careful not to slip and fall. One slip, and we'd be unable to catch ourselves, and Max very nearly demonstrated this to us when he slipped. We side-stepped down the mountain, carefully placing our feet. Finally, we reached a point where the trail became more workable, and we came down into the forest once again, and into Baldy Town.
Baldy Town is one of the major provisioning outposts, where we picked up new packs of food for the next three days. We used several packets of mustard, mayo and relish to dress up our tuna into a tuna salad, which we ate for lunch with crackers.
Our biggest joy in Baldy Town, however, was FRESH FRUIT! Max surprised me with a fresh pear, which I devoured in three bites. Then I quickly ate down two more oranges. I had not had much appetite all week long, but this fruit tasted amazing and I ate it greedily.
After Baldy Town, and yet another rainstorm, we headed into the woods once more and made our way back for another night at Copper Canyon camp. We struck up another campfire, ate, and had another really good day, but a long day, of 15 miles of hiking.
And the best part was, it was all downhill from here.