Philmont Trek 708-A-3
Watchung Area Council Contingent
July 7 - 21, 1979

Day 7 on the Trail : July 15, 1979 - "The Big Climb"

Comanche Camp to Comanche Peak Camp

As usual, it was a beautiful morning. We had to hike up the second highest mountain on Philmont, Mount Phillips. Comanche Camp was at 9,600 feet, and the peak of Mount Phillips was at about 11,700 feet, a climb of 2,100 feet.

We started out earlier than usual to beat the heat. We were to go over the mountain and stop at Comanche Peak Camp, our only dry camp. Dry camps are camps without a water supply.

The sky was a deep blue and the air was dry. I was sweating to the point where it was almost a steady stream running down my nose. My shirt was soaked and I smelled like the inside of a gym locker that hadn’t been cleaned out in a year.

We started climbing at around ten o’clock. At first it was a gentle rise. It gradually got steeper and steeper until it was about a forty-degree slope. With a 50-60 pound pack, the climb was not as easy as some people might think. The footing was not bad because the tree roots just about covered the whole mountain, making irregular steps much of the way.

As we climbed, we noticed that the temperature was dropping. I stopped to catch my breath, turned around and lost my breath again. The view was spectacular! Through the thinning, deep-green trees (we were approaching the tree line at about 10,000 feet) was the bluest sky I had ever seen and snow-capped mountains stretching to the horizon. From then on, every five minutes I turned around and took a picture.

We neared the summit at around 12:15. There was a large pile of snow right near us. That was the first time I had ever seen snow in July. I wrote “SNOW!” in the snow and took a picture of it.

At 12:30 we reached the marker that indicated the highest point on Mount Phillips. We took our packs off and started to eat lunch. We were about to mix the drink when Friz asked Scott, Greg and I to volunteer our mix packets. He walked off with our two quart pot and came back a few minutes later with the pot half full of clean, white snow. He emptied the powdered drink mixes into the pot. Greg mixed it in and the four of us had homemade snow cones. The rest of the crew followed suit.

We finished lunch, saddled up and started downhill to the Comanche Peak Camp, about two miles away. I looked off toward the south east and saw a reflection off a mountaintop. I asked Friz what it was and he told us that it was the remains of a World War II B-24 bomber that crashed on maneuvers during the war. He said that the plane contained state-of-the-art radar equipment that was being tested, and since it was top secret, the Corps of Engineers built a road straight up to the crash site to retrieve it. They left the remains of the plane behind, partly as a memorial and partly because it would have been difficult to remove the debris. He said that crews weren’t allowed to visit the site due to the nature of the debris. (I have recently seen photos of crews around the wreckage, so I suppose that in the ensuing years they have changed the policy.)

As we started down, the ground got rockier until we reached the tree line. We hiked down until we hit a section on the side of the mountain called “the Scar”. Friz told us that three years earlier a monsoon or something similar came through and knocked over all of the trees in this one football field-sized section. Small trees were just beginning to grow through the thick downed timber.

We reached Comanche Peak at around two o’clock and set up our tents and dining fly. Just as Mark Nevitt, Mark Kulick and Frank Pirozzi left for water, a black cloud loomed over our heads. The rest of us put all of the gear under the tarp and it started. But it was more than rain – it started hailing. The hail was about golf ball sized. It collected in pockets on the tarp and we had to dump it every few seconds. It stopped after about three minutes.

Mark, Mark and Frank returned shortly after with the water.

I laid my sleeping bag out in my tent and crawled out to hang up my pack. I looked up, and my jaw almost hit the ground. Across the camp in a clearing was a ram. The ram had a full curl and a blue and yellow tracking collar. I couldn’t say anything. All I could do was point. Everyone looked and immediately scrambled for their cameras. I grabbed my camera with the zoom lens and crept as close as I dared. Friz, Scott and Greg followed me. Then, just as I was focusing, Mike Freedman came running up like a madman and scared it off. I followed it slowly, taking pictures as I walked. Then I lost it in the underbrush. It was spectacular! It had horns like handlebars. I had never seen a ram in the wild like that before.

Everything settled down and at around five we cooked dinner. It’s hard to recall exactly what we had.

After dinner, Greg, Scott and I walked over to a small outcropping devoid of trees. It was rocky. We sat on a log and played War and talked over the day’s events. Scott looked to the side and said “Shhh”. A chipmunk, or mini-bear as they’re called out there, was running past us. Not a terribly impressive display of wildlife, especially after the earlier excitement, but everything intrigued us about Philmont, even the chipmunks.

The sunset was beautiful. As the sun got lower, everything else was blacked out by the shadows of the mountains. All that could be seen was the sun and the clouds that reflected orange light. It took my breath away – it was the most spectacular sunset I had ever seen.

I went to bed and thought about what was up for the next three days. I fell asleep thinking about the ram and the sunset.