At least once in your lifetime, you've probably gone on a family camping trip. Maybe even a scouts camping trip.
You know the drill:
Campfire, tents, marshmallows, a guitar, bug spray, animals. And if things get too extreme, there's always the car to hide in during the middle of the night in case things get too cold or uncomfortable in the tent.
But what if I told you that you could go on a camping trip so challenging and extraordinary, that your own life may depend on wilderness skills.
The camping trip I went on in the Summer of 2013 was exactly that with the two week Philmont expedition in the middle of New Mexico. It had been about half a year since I turned 18 and earned the highest honor in the Boy Scouts with the Eagle Scout rank. But with this Philmont expedition opportunity, I knew that my full potential as a Boy Scout had yet been reached.
My Philmont Boy Scout group included my brother, members of our Scout Troop 149, and a few other Pennsylvania-based Boy Scouts. Our journey actually did not start in New Mexico, but in Denver, Colorado where our flight landed. The first adventure we embarked on was going down the Colorado Rapids. It was such an exciting raft trip through the rivers of Colorado and the rocky landscape surrounding us was fantastic.
I'll never forget being in the hotel the night before our arrival at the campsite and seeing the mountains in the distance. You could see the lightning strike in the distance and could count long it took for the sound of thunder to arrive, indicating how close the lightning actually was.
What was a typical day like during our never-ending hike through the mountains?
It consisted of hiking while carrying huge backpacks, carrying our concealed meals for every day of the week. There were no convenient stores or grocery markets nearby, we had to carry every meal with us during our 10-day journey and having them exposed to the air was not an option.
Any trace of smell, or smellables as we called them, had to be captured and contained in a bag which we had to tie up and suspend in the air as it dangled from a tree. That was important because it prevented bears or any form of wildlife from finding us while we slept overnight. It was not only a procedure we had to follow to save us, but also to save the animals because if they found the scent of a smellable item then they're lives were in jeopardy too. Philmont authorities may be forced to execute animals who discovered and were used to a new scent exposed by the Boy Scouts.
The only time we caught sight of a bear was when my brother spotted one in the distance while we hiked. We were extremely quiet in trying not to disturb it and could also see a cub with it.
I also recall getting out of my tent one morning and all-of-the-sudden a deer, a doe, and a fawn all sprinted in line across the woods, about thirty feet in front of me.
Our favorite animals in Philmont, however, were called Mini-bears. Too big to be considered squirrels, but too small to be bears, mini-bears were all over the hiking trail as an advanced type of squirrel. They were the most likely to find and eat our food, but we loved them nonetheless for being consistently around.
Even brushing your teeth was a chore. You couldn't slab on a typical amount of toothpaste and brush, you had to put a small dab of the toothpaste on the brush and had to swallow it all. No sinks or toilets to spit into, no trash cans. If you had to throw up, you better swallow that too because you'd be screwed.
Wanna drink some water? You gotta find a streaming river and fill it against the current, then put in a tab to dissolve in and make it clean. How about a travel mule? Just kidding we didn't take one, but it was an option.
We had to wear reusable clothes, there was no laundry, everything down to socks and underwear had to be conserved. The closest thing to cleaning them was hanging them to dry at our campsite. (All the clothes I wore in Philmont I use to this day, they're perfect for exercise.)
The height of the trip was the opportunity to climb the highest peak in the Philmont mountain range with Mount Baldy. It was such a long trek up the peak of the mountain that my group and other teams were singing songs like Taylor Swift's "Love Story" and "Bohemian Rhapsody." When we finally reached the top of Baldy, the view spoke for itself. We could see clouds near us and saw the lands below us like pictures on a map. It was simply breathtaking.
Despite the challenges and incredible circumstances we faced on a daily basis, Philmont was the greatest bonding experience I had ever been a part of. Our entire group came together fully understanding that we as a group were as strong as our weakest member and that the slowest person would lead the trail, no man was left behind (that guy was occasionally me.)
We went on plenty of adventures and met plenty of great people working throughout the mountains. Some were pretending to be living in the early 20th century, others were guiding us through challenges like pole climbing (THE WORST) and rock climbing.
The days were long but well spent, the weather was almost always nice, and the views down the trail were often breathtaking. When our trip finally ended we were glad to finally shower and get comfortable back in our own homes, but wouldn't have changed a thing about the experience.
Philmont was the greatest adventure of my life (so far) because it felt living through a J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy novel with me playing the role of Bilbo Baggins. All that was missing were orcs, dragons, an epic battle and Enya music.