After one look Phil recognized the sarcasm and followed suit, “Is that all? Whoohoo, Yippee hooray. Lets jump for joy.”
“Well this is one of the hardest legs of the trip you know,” I said more seriously. “The altitude change is about 3,000 ft. and it is at least 10 miles.”
“I’ll just be happy when it’s over and I’m can sleep.”
We sat there for a few more minutes then I got up and yelled for everyone to get ready to start moving again. I donned my pack and tightened the straps, and after making sure everyone else was ready, started off down the winding trail to the night’s campsite.
It was our fifth day in the Philmont Scout Reservation in New Mexico, the halfway point of the trek. I as the Crew Leader was responsible for the other 11 members of the crew, including 4 adults. I was in charge, and amazingly the adults rarely tried to take over, although they would strongly advise me what to do in some situations. Phil, with the exception of me, the oldest scout and the Chaplain for the trip, was my second.
Together we dealt with problems of making sure everyone carried the right amount of stuff in their pack to who had to cook and cleanup each day. The trip had gone well so far, no injuries, and the worst problem had been a faulty backpack. As I walked I thought about the upcoming campsite. Supposedly this one had running water from a solar powered pumpâ€”so had the last night’s site but the tank was too low to use for anything but cooking because the of how cloudy it had been of late. But today was bright and shinny, and hot, so I didn’t think there would be a problem.
It was simply amazing hiking out there, the mountains covered in tall trees that dug into the rocky soil, the beautiful sky, when visible. Even in the midst of strenuous exercise I still enjoyed it. Especially reaching the peaks of the mountains, today was especially interesting because we spotted Baldy Mountain in the distance, the tallest peak in Philmont 12,500ft., and would be the hardest climb of the trip. It had looked so far away it was hard to believe I would be on top of it in a few days. Besides in the campsites, we only saw one other group of people during the entire 12 day trek and the only human sounds were our own. Each camp was an island of civilization in a great sea of wilderness, and a wonderful solace to end the day’s hike.
We had been walking a long time today. Waking up at 6:00, we had eaten and broken camp down quickly so we would make it to the next campsite before nightfall. We had begun hiking at 7:00 a.m. and besides hourly five minute breaks, and only stopped twiceâ€”for lunch and to put mole skin on Mr. Smith’s feet. Usually I walked up front with Phil but a few times someone would ask to be the lead man and I would let them. We would chat for a good portion of it: complain about soreness or complain about other’s complaining we only complained to each other because leaders can’t show weakness, hehe, talk about home, good food which was non-existent out there, and the day’s activities. And, sometimes we’d walk for an hour in silence. As we rounded a bend and approached the slope up the last small mountain of the days hike, I noticed a flash of light in the distance.
Phil looked at me questioningly.
“Lightening.” I explained.
“Oh Great!” He said moodily, “You think we’ll make it before it hits?”
I looked at it a while appraisingly and replied, “Hope so. Pull out the map real quick.”
He reached into my pack and pulled the large map out, folding it so only today’s hike was shown. By then the adults had come up to see why we stopped.
“What’s going on?” My dad asked.
I pointed at the approaching storm as I measured the distanced left to travel on the map, “That’s a problem, we need to make it over the last ridge before that hits or we’ll have to wait it out, which would mean getting into camp real late, real cold, and real tired.” It may have been hot during the days but the temperature dropped drastically once the sun set, especially after a rain.
Mr. Nick looked at the map, “You’re right, we’ll have to pick up the pace.”
Thunder boomed ominously in the distance as I turned to rest of the crew, most of whom had already taken advantage of the break to sit down, “Guys, I know you’re tired, we all are, but we have to start moving faster if we want to beat that storm over the ridge.” A few groans of protest came but they all got back up. “Lets get moving we can’t waste time.”
We set out at brisk pace, the sky began to darken and I could see the rain falling at a distance, Phil and I were back at the front. We both knew this was pretty serious, if we didn’t get over in time, we could all be in trouble. The storm could force us to wait on this side of the slope, an hour away from camp. If it lasted too long we would be left with a choice of trying to hike at night on wet ground, or trying to set up tents on the side of a mountain. Another problem was food and water. All the food we carried was dehydrated, needing lots of water in order to cook and eat, and we only brought water for the hike, not for cooking. Even if the campsite didn’t have running water, it would have a stream–which was fine since we had filters–but if we didn’t get there we would have no food and little water. I looked back and could see strain in faces, they also new, but that did not change exhaustion. Mr. Watkins was lagging behind so I slowed down a little, there was no point in getting over if we all didn’t make it.
Halfway up it was beginning to look doubtful, the wind was picking up and everyone was getting out rain gear to prepare for the storm. I voiced my doubts to Phil and he said we might as well keep going until the lighting got too close. So we did. The thunder grew in volume and the echoes magnified the noise to a dull roar sometimes. Then suddenly it began to ebb. The wind died down and lightening came less frequently. I exchanged relieved looks with Phil after a bit, but kept the pace up–I didn’t want to take chances. Eventually it hit us, but by then it was nothing more then a heavy rain. We kept moving, if slower, and made it over the ridge with no other problems. That night I enjoyed the meal a little more and slept a little deeper realizing how much is important that easily goes unnoticed until something threatens to take it away.