Our 10th day on the trail was a doozy! The morning was a delightful walk across open prairie of Ring Place leaving our feet nice and soaked for the next 14 miles of our Philmont experience. We made our way to Seally Canyon by way of bushwhacking through a most challenging terrain. There’s nothing like starting the morning by crossing a barbwire fence and making straight for the hills, okay mountains. Talk about a wake up at 6am! The rock face and the boulders we walked among were stunning. When we reached the peak we had two choices: 1) go around and add 3-5 miles to our day’s total or 2) go down the rock face straight into Seally Canyon. We were all about covering the distance in the shortest amount of time so rock face it was.
The tricky part about traversing a rock face? Yucca plants, cacti, loose rock and no real trail. But the view across the open expanse of mountains and valleys was a beautiful trade off for an early morning start. There is really nothing more breathtaking as the wide open spaces of Philmont Scout Ranch. We survived the tumbling of rocks and the occasional pricking of a yucca plant and made it into Seally Canyon in record time. We were greeted by an amazing swap box and potable water.
While we waited for our Search and Rescue Program we were entertained by unicycling. There is no end to the surprises Philmont offers its backpackers. Who would have thought to find a staffer with a unicycle!?! Everyone tried their hand at riding this one-wheeled cycle and low and behold a few individuals have hidden talent! We opted for the shorter Search and Rescue Program and what a blast was had by all. It’s not very often you flip your friends upside down, suspend them from the air and don’t get in trouble. The really great thing about programs, it’s always a learning experience encapsulated by fun.
We’d be lying if we said Day 10 was a walk in the park. This was no park and it was no leisurely stroll. The next 10-12 miles to Cook Canyon were some of the longest and hottest we had hiked. The fellas had tired legs from the previous day’s mountain biking and the gals were pushing through blisters and uncomfortable backpacks. Despite the challenges of the day there were numerous highlights. Ross suspended himself across a watering trough to get us water. We met a man and his wife traversing the countryside on horseback and camping along the way. Chopped a couple more miles off our total by crossing a dried up pond turned prairie. Enjoyed a good chuckle at the expense of Tanner and Ross setting up the dinning fly. Shared our highlights of our trek while enjoying our last dehydrated dinner. And made dinner for our sister crew who rolled in quite late. All in all the trek to Cook Canyon brought more memories than woes.
Monday morning was a little surreal. We all knew this would be our final full day on the trail. It’s a little hard to explain, you’re ready for a shower (especially after 10 days without one), to check in with your family, for a cup of ICE water or maybe a bottle Mt. Dew, to sleep in the same place for more than one night and to give your legs and feet a little rest. But you’re not ready to stop living life with these people who have become your family. You share a bond built on challenges faced and conquered. There are inside jokes and a daily rhythms that have become second nature. Finally, there’s the daily sense of accomplishment you feel after hiking for hours when you step back and literally see the mountains and valleys you’ve scaled. The final full day on the trail is bittersweet.
Wanting to take in as much as we could,
we hit the trail by dawn’s early light and lit out for Metcalf Station. Oh how nice it was to finally have a leisurely stroll after days of rugged terrain! Metcalf Station was a pit stop on our way to Ponil and what a great stop! Some of the best programs were offered at Metcalf. More than 100 years ago the train ran through the valley of Metcalf Station. This summer Philmont Scout Ranch made the decision to lay rail and eventually run a hand-pumped push wagon on the tracks through the valley. Scouts and Venturers and Philmont staff laid railway ties and tracks all summer. We were given the opportunity to assist but do to time constraints we only watched a demonstration. And wow, talk about a great program with enthusiastic staff! One of the rails laid was actually fabricated in 1906 in Illinois! It was incredible to see and such an amazing piece of living history to experience.
The afternoon was not nearly as painless as the morning. We went up, and up some more and then, you guessed it, up some more. After every up we assured ourselves it would be the last up. We were wrong. At least eight times. It wouldn’t have been too terrible if we would have been shaded. The out of service utility road lay bare to the arid sun and man could you feel it. The heat was bad but the incline was worse. Every opportunity for a shade break was taken. Even if that meant the one tree shaded two people and then you rotated in and out of the shade. When we finally reached the peak the view was well worth the throbbing calf pain and lack of oxygen. We could see for miles. All around us were the mountains we ascended and a wave of awe overcame us as we took in all we had accomplished. Pretty amazing.
Taking a little break before we began the descent down, down, down the other side of the mountain our sister crew ran into us. We took the chance to grab a couple group photos and remarked on how long the previous day had been. In order to prevent bottle necking we let our fine sister crew take about a 20 minute lead before we tramped our way to Ponil. The river valley was very lovely and shaded, thank goodness. But on the other hand it seemed endless. How could just a few short miles seem to take eons?
We rolled into Ponil early afternoon, branded boots, hats, Nalgenes and anything else we could find, made our way to our campsite and settled in for what would be our last night on the trail. There are two AWESOME attractions at Ponil: 1) Chuck Wagon Dinner and Breakfast and 2) The Cantina. That first non-dehydrated meal is like heaven and then you top it off with a cobbler and then you turn on a faucet and actually WASH your bowl and spoon. What craziness is this? It’s all pretty exciting. At the same time it is a symbol of your time in the back country drawing to a close. The Ponil Cantina is the place to go to get your sarsaparilla fix. There is something quite refreshing about a cold, carbonated drink after 11 days on the trail. We pulled out a deck of cards, found a table, not a rock, a tree stump or a backpack,but a table and enjoyed ice cold rootbeer while waiting for the Cantina Show.
It was a glorious final full day on the trail. The Cantina Show, catching our last back country stars, heading to bed a little later than usual and the promise of a shower the following day had us all a little reminiscent. The previous 11 days rushed by us like a flowing river yet time seemed to stand still for us as we lived in the back country of Philmont Scout Ranch.