Echoes on the mountains

“Philmont Scout Ranch is 140,171 acres of trails, camps and untouched wilderness”

Illustration+of+the+Tooth+of+Time%2C+one+of+the+major+peaks+at+Philmont.

David Gaither

Illustration of the Tooth of Time, one of the major peaks at Philmont.

It’s already hard to breathe as he steps off of the bus. At 6,700 feet above sea level, the entrance to camp is higher than anywhere in Missouri, and he is at one of the lowest places on the ranch. It is 12,441 feet at the peak of Mount Baldy, the highest peak on the property. Junior Levi Simpson and his trekking crew will hike 90 miles over 12 days, with 40 pounds on their backs. Philmont Scout Ranch is 140,171 acres of trails, camps and untouched wilderness, and he will only see a little over a quarter of it. This year, Simpson and two other KHS students from Scouts BSA troop 313 in Des Peres took an Amtrak to the Cimarron Valley, New Mexico to enjoy two weeks of traveling and backpacking as part of crew 710-Golf, named for the first day of their trek, July 10.

“Philmont Scout Ranch is 140,171 acres of trails, camps and untouched wilderness””

According to the Philmont official website, around 23,000 people hike in the backcountry each summer. It is a hub of activity for the Scouts BSA organization. Not only does it contain the National Scouting Museum, but it is the largest and most visited property owned by the BSA. The mountainous geography of Philmont creates weather patterns that are not commonly seen in Missouri. According to the Philmont Shakedown guide, the days crew 710-G spent in New Mexico are during the monsoon season. This one month period is defined by short, violent and often sudden storm cycles.

“You could see the storm clouds moving in and out, but the crazy thing about Philmont is that it’s incredibly dry,” Simpson said.  “One day, as we were walking into camp, it began to thunder, but the sky was still clear. Five minutes later, there were these big clouds right above [us]. It starts hailing and raining for 5 minutes, and then it just stops. Two minutes later, the ground is dry.”

Due to the unpredictable weather in Philmont’s backcountry, staff members ask hikers to keep essential items on hand, such as rain gear, trail food, pack covers and headlamps. Backpacks also have to be lined with waterproof material to keep clothes and sleeping bags dry. According to Eddie Ernst, freshman, each pack already weighs around 40 pounds.

“Honestly, once I was used to it, it didn’t feel as heavy as I thought it was going to be,” Ernst said. “It didn’t weigh me down so much when I was making jokes with the people in my crew and just having a good time.”

Crew 710-G was only one of dozens of crews at Philmont this summer. Most of them were not even in the same area at any given time, much less hiking the same trails or doing the same activities.”

A trek through the backcountry is not all about hiking. In fact, Philmont is a place where scouts can take part in many different activities. Some of the programs offered at Philmont include fly fishing, bouldering and atlatl throwing, which consists of launching an arrow or dart with a sling or stick.

“We did archery, horseback riding and branding,” Mason van Horn, freshman, said. “We did homesteading where we got to take care of animals and live life like people in 1911.”

Crew 710-G was only one of dozens of crews at Philmont this summer. Most of them were not even in the same area at any given time, much less hiking the same trails or doing the same activities.

“Over the course of two weeks we formed a friendship that other people do not really have,” Simpson said. “Now, we all have these experiences that no one else can really say that they got to do and we did it together.”