With a final close-up look at Baldy and farewell to the Baldy Town kitten, our crew departed on a downhill descent to Pueblano where some spar pole climbing awaits us.
We had a fantastic porch talk at Pueblano with a friendly staff that stayed in character (much like the Black Mountain Camp staff) and really engaged the boys. In fact the boys were recruited to pull tape off food supply boxes and then break them down. They earned 8 pudding cups for their trouble. After that they played chess and cards on the porch. Julie and I took a side hike up to Wilson Mesa which is across the creek and up a cliff-side from Pueblano. While it was not as stunningly beautiful as advertised, there was a pretty view of Baldy across a dry lake meadow. It was pretty easy hike – not nearly as steep as Urraca but rocky most of the way.
We met two sister crews from Beaverton, OR (Sunset high school) while spar pole climbing. Julie, Jacob and I climbed the pole (Matthew could not due to his recent elbow surgery). Jacob got mildly chastised by staff for a math-related PG-13 joke he made while climbing. Funny thing was, the comment was “you wouldn’t say that in front of your mother” but of course Julie was right there listening in and laughing.
Next we set off for our trail camp at Elkhorn. Rain was threatening towards end of hike, so we were pushing it and flying along. Once we hit camp, we hurriedly set up tents and dining fly. Weather cleared and had a very relaxing afternoon reading and playing cards (hearts). There was a group of about 7-8 bucks that kept orbiting our camp and the watering hole. After dinner, we played Werewolf then somehow got on the subject of zombies. Jacob says: “If I had to face a zombie horde, I’d want you guys and some people with guns.” Derek then says: “Uh…what about your girlfriend?” to which Jacob responds “Perfect! Two birds with one stone. My girlfriend is great with guns.” The moon was incredible – almost full. We all walked up the hill before bed to look at the moon and planets. This was by far our favorite camp of the week.
We departed camp with our light daypacks on at 6:45am to begin our Baldy ascent. We screamed up the mountain, passing four other crews along the way and reaching the summit at 8:30am.
The climb was not at all technical but did get steep and rocky at times. The weather was perfect and the views were spectacular.
Very often folks experience high winds and thunderstorms at the summit but for us it was calm, just a little cool, and blue skies all around. That is definitely an advantage of starting early.
We hung out on the peak for at least 90 minutes before we started our descent to the northwest. Our path today is a loop where we come up the south side of the peak then head out the northwest, circling back east to French Henry Camp before turning south and west to get back to Baldy Town.
French Henry had our worst porch talk so far but a nice spot to crash and have a relaxing lunch. I was impressed by the vast array of wildflowers near the creek and the assorted colorful insects lurking thereabouts. We signed up for the Aztec mine tour at 1:30pm.
The Aztec Ponil mine was a pleasant treat, though we were fortunate that a few of us had flashlights as it was dark and no lights were supplied. I had to navigate off Jacob’s light in front of me and I hit my head (with helmet) or back (without protection) on the ceiling a few times. Our tour guide was great and we learned much about the history of this silver mine.
Tomorrow we leave for Pueblano and Elkhorn Camp for what will be our very favorite camp site.
Leaving Baldy Skyline we had a choice — swing by the Miranda camp for some program time, or high-tail it to Baldy Town to try and get an early slot for our required conservation project. Each crew is required to complete a three hour service project while out on the trail and ours was due.
We left Baldy Skyline before 7am and arrived in Baldy Town before 9am and managed to secure a 10:30am slot for our conservation project which would be trail building. Our feet were sore and tired but we wanted to get this project work done so that we could relax, do some laundry, and take a shower in the afternoon.
It was a two mile hike each way (heading up towards Baldy), so we quickly setup our camp then set out for the project. We were a trail machine, shaping a rough cut path to the angle of repose on the upslope side and the critical edge on the downslope. Tools we used include hazel hoe, McLeod, spoon, pickmatic, and cuttermatic. We gave it our all, and the conservation project leader said we were one of the hardest working crews he had (maybe he says this to all the crews?).
We got back to camp around 2pm and dove into our laundry and showering. The boys did a few postcards while we anxiously awaited the drying of our laundry, which wasn’t to happen while the sun was still out at the laundry shed. We hauled everything to camp then setup a makeshift drying area there.
This was a special day – Matthew’s birthday! Julie had hauled a number of treats with her for the entire trip and we revealed them after our dinner of Mexican fiesta with tortillas (yummy burritos). We did a birthday cake for Matthew made of 3 cherry pies, 7 ding-dongs and a match on top for the candle.
Just as we were finishing dinner a huge thunderstorm came through with heavy rains, forcing us to quickly grab our drying laundry and take shelter under our Tyvek tarp. We made good use of the time as we had Matthew, wilderness guia, tell us some great stories from his guide book.
Tomorrow we climb Baldy!
On day 6 we departed Deer Lake Mesa at about 6:50am and began our gradual climb down towards the Cimarron River. We saw a buck on the way, keeping our deer-spotting streak alive at 7 straight days.
After crossing over the river and under the highway we took a break. Feet are sore. The mileage isn’t bad (no big climbs) but clearly we’re seeing wear and tear on the feet.
We had a restful lunch in the Santa Claus valley, likely hanging out there too long as it was hard to get moving again.
After climbing out of the valley we entered the wasteland remnants of the Ponil Fire in 2002. In middle of the burn area, Jacob yells “FROG!”. It was actually a squirrel climbing a tree. During the entire hike we were dogged by a crew we passed earlier coming up from the river – it made us keep pushing because we hate to be passed.
Our program area was not the final camp, but Head of Dean where we would try out some team games (or rather, the boys would). They opted for the shorter course with the highlight being Matthew’s face plant into the wall climb (video coming soon).
Our last very long day ended at Baldy Skyline camp. We had an outstanding fire ring area there with good sitting logs, though the camp was too slanted for our taste. Here we had probably our favorite meal: Stovetop stuffing with canned chicken.
As I said before, day 4 was our last easy day. Day 5 would be a true test for our crew, and not in the ways we expected. The day opened with a steep ascent from Black Mountain Camp to the summit of Black Mountain, about a 2,000 foot climb in just over a mile.
Jacob entertained us with lines from U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (i.e., “I have climbed highest mountain”) and we all enjoyed some Mike & Ike’s at the peak. The descent from Black Mountain was long and steep, falling about 3,500 feet as we worked our way to Clark’s Fork.
At Clark’s Fork we ran into crew 2 from our troop for the last time. They had just finished their conservation project doing some trail building and maintenance and looked pretty beat.
We remained in high spirits, thinking the worst was behind us and that it would be a relatively smooth (albeit long) journey to our camp.
The climb to Window Rock caught us off guard. It was only about a 1,000 ft climb but was steep and the sun was beating down on us throughout the ascent. Our goal was to rest on the peak and have lunch there. We succeeded but the heat combined with 10 miles plus two tough climbs were starting to take a toll on our feet. Jacob and I have notoriously rugged feet that may callous but never blister yet we both started seeing signs of hot spots and possible blisters.
Window Rock was amazing though – tremendous 360 views and a great place to crash for a long lunch.
We descended down to Ute Gulch for another food resupply and it was very hard to pack up and keep going after that break. Julie had this to say: “Was going to send a postcard but decided too tired to fill it out. Should have asked for postcard-writing service from staffer!”
After a total time of over 8 hours and 16 miles of distance covered we arrived at Deer Lake Meadow campsite. This was probably our least favorite camp on the trek – crowded and a long hike to our bear lines. The good news is we were close to our water and there was a nice big log to sit on to give ourselves handkerchief baths to clear off the dust and grime. My feet were really starting to show the wear at this point with sizable blisters on both my little toes. Another 15 miles ahead of us on day 6!