The next day was going to be another long, hard slog. I reckoned it at nine kilometers (over five and a half miles), but we were going over Mt. Phillips, at 11,736’ the second-highest peak at Philmont. That would be a total gain in altitude of over 1,300’. Then, we would be staying overnight on Mt. Phillips itself at a dry camp, which meant bringing all our water with us. To top it off, I had a headache to start the day.
Our whole day was spent over 10,000’, which requires heavy exertion. There was little or no talk amongst the crew on the trail this morning. We left camp at 7:45 and dropped by the spring to fill our water bottles and purify the water; my filter was clogged from the grit and was of little use. By 8:30 we were on our way toward Clear Creek camp, which we reached at 10:35 a.m.
Clear Creek is the home of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and the staff welcomed us to the Republic of Mexico! In other words, the staff here portrayed fur trappers from the 1840s. The youth immediately joined in with a staffer who was casting rifle bullets, and they got to cast some for themselves, though we would not have time to shoot the black powder rifles at the Clear Creek range.
To save water, we again cooked our dinner for lunch at a campsite where my wife Deanne and I camped twelve years ago. We were entering parts of the ranch I had hiked over from previous treks, and I found Deanne was very much with me at Crooked Creek and Clear Creek and Phillips. I missed her very much. Our trek in ’98 was a very stressful one. We had a difficult crew and at least one significant health crisis among them. But the stresses of that time are of no importance now; all that remains is the memory of a shared adventure – one shared with my best beloved.
By 1:25, we were packed up and headed up the trail to the summit of Mt. Phillips. The northside trail goes outside the Philmont boundary and loops around in a great arc from west to east and then straight for the summit. It is a very steep and difficult trail, especially when loaded up with gear and food. We had to caterpillar in many places. Though Baldy Mountain is taller than Phillips, the ascent of Phillips is to my mind much more difficult.
To make matters worse, it started to rain. Then lightning hit nearby, and we had to scatter and go through the proper lightning drill before continuing. The rain increased, the wind started to blow, and people began to get cold and wet. At 4:45, we stopped so that Scott could loan Melodie some rain paints. At that point, Makayla began to go down with hypothermia, and soon several others began to suffer from cold. I immediately called for the dining fly and began to rig an emergency shelter. We unlimbered a stove and made some hot, double-strength Gatorade. Hand warmers were fetched from the first aid kit. Scott and Kaleb and I (the ones with the –ahem – most advantageous surface-to-mass ratio) tended to the needs of the others until everyone was warm and functional again.
Our emergency stop took an hour, and when we started up again, we still had a couple of groggy crew members. Ben kept insisting that he was fine. I pressed gloves and other things on him, since he still seemed a little blank. But Connor was the hardest hit of all. He was very unsteady on his feet, even after warming up. Perhaps a bit of shock was afflicting him in the aftermath of the emergency; certainly, the altitude was also getting to him, and he was, of course, near exhaustion. He was giddy and grinning even as he stumbled. Not to put too fine a point on it, he was acting drunk – even without consuming any alcohol. Still, he was a happy drunk, and that helped. We watched him very closely as we slowly made our way to the top.
We summitted at 6:15, and the whole country – all the way to Colorado – opened up all around us. We sat in a circle and piled stones, it being a custom to make stone circles of remembrance upon summitting. We took pictures. We had to hold Ben and Connor’s hands at times to keep them from stumbling. As I stood on the very summit, I called out,
Explorer Post 697!
Venturing Crew 699!
Venturing Crew 119!
Rougher! Tougher! Buffer!
Tears were in my eyes as I stepped down. Those were/are the groups I’ve led to Philmont. There were so many memories of trek companions that were crowding in on me at that moment. Once all the pix were snapped, we ambled into Phillips camp, at 11,640’ the highest overnight camp at Philmont.
Phillips is a dry camp, so we were being careful with our water. We prepared to eat our lunch for dinner. Jordan tangled the bear rope trying to hang bags, so I tied a bowline-on-a-bight for Makayla to sit in, then tied her into a chest hitch. We hoisted her up with the other rope some thirty feet in the air to disentangle the knot in the first. Life is full of all kinds of adventures, and we were just glad that Makayla is so petite.
We built a campfire to stay warm and celebrate our triumph. I had bought some chocolates at the PJ commissary, which I now took out to share around. Connor was still being goofy, but Ben was now fully recovered and and grateful to have been so cared for by the crew.