Trail Day 2: Anasazi Camp to Ponil

Checking the Map

The Fourth of July dawned clear and warm after the brief thunderstorm the night before. The Brumbys arose early and made pretty quick work of retrieving the bear bags, breaking camp, having breakfast, and packing up.

Not far up the trail, a somewhat obscure junction called for a quick map check. Were we at the turnoff to go up and over Hart Peak? Nope. The junction was still ahead.

Dig at Indian Writings

The hiking was easy as we continued up the North Ponil Creek valley through open grassy meadows to Indian Writings Camp. We passed a covered archaeological dig and stopped to check it out. No staff were around so we didn’t get the full story.

    Hart Peak Turnoff

At Indian Writings we asked for and received permission to fill our water bottles from the camp spigot. Even though it came from a tap, we still had to treat it with Polar Pure. We took a modest break among a clump of trees just up the trail from the turnoff to Hart Peak to build our reserves for the 900-foot climb to the summit.

Hart Peak was our first climb in the Philmont heat and high elevation. We kept the pace modest, and less than an hour later were on top. We got a bit confused about where we actually were because of a new fire road that wiped out part of the trail. The map showed a short spur trail to the south leading to the actual peak, so we headed that way.

Climbing Heart Peak Trail    Resting on Hart Peak

We found interesting exposed rocks shaded by towering Ponderosa Pines and with a distant view of Baldy. It was too early for lunch, but we took a long break for water, snacks, and to rest our feet. Because of the new fire road, which led to a large burn to the north, we had trouble finding where the trail took off down the other side of the mountain toward Ponil. It took us almost an hour to find it.

The trail down the west side of Hart Peak to Ponil was steeper and shorter than we had come up. It was also rocky and sunny.

    Incredulous Trash

Ponil is a big staffed camp. In the early days of Philmont, it was the base camp. We found it to be dry, dusty, hot, and not particularly hospitable. We were supposed to have a horseback ride, but all the wranglers were out to the rodeo in Cimarron for the holiday. The crew did impress the staffer who accepted our compressed garbage — he couldn’t believe this was our second night on the trail.

Every Philmont crew is expected to perform three hours of conservation or trail work some time during their trek. Daniel had arranged for us to do ours at Ponil, so after a very quick lunch we met the conservation staffers. They had us spend the afternoon building a low rock wall blocking a road to one of the wrangler’s cabins. We had to quarry the rocks from the adjacent hillside and cart them to the site by wheelbarrow or rolling. Some of the crew had the great idea to use a giant boulder, but it proved to be too big even for them to move. Nick came down with heat exhaustion in the 100° heat and had to be treated in the shade. We got our wall built, and it didn’t look too bad.

Constructing a rock wall

We then had to rush to set up camp, seemingly at the far end of the valley, and get our cooks to the chuckwagon dinner where they were to help make beef stew and peach cobbler. The cobbler never happened, so we and the rest of the crews at Ponil that night had stew and canned peaches. At least we didn’t have to cook it. After dinner there was time to visit the cantina for a root beer.

Reflecting at Ponil

As dusk descended we gathered around Ranger Doug for a final evening of reflection together. The next morning Doug would catch a bus back to base and prepare to meet another crew. The Brumbys were confident, capable, and working well as a team. We were sorry to see Doug leave, but sure of our ability to complete our trek and have a lot of fun along the way.

Hanging Bear Bags

Bear bags were part of our daily routine. We had many of these large, tough bags in which to hang our food and other "smellables" every night and every time we left camp unattended. Tossing the rope was sometimes challenging, and always a sport. The bags were heavy and required teamwork to hang and retrieve.