Trail Day 8: Greenwood Canyon to Pueblano

Creek Crossing    Hiking Middle Ponil Creek

Today’s hike would take the Brumbys down Middle Ponil Creek, crossing several times as the trail wound back and forth across the valley, through Rich Cabins, then up over Wilson Mesa, and down to Pueblano on South Ponil.

The first part of the trail was fast, following an old road through grassy meadows.

Rich Cabins Food Pickup    Baby Burro at Rich Cabins

The crew made a quick stop at Rich Cabins for a final food pickup and to watch a newborn burro and its mother in the farmstead corral. Since this was a fairly remote food pickup only 4-person meal packs were available, so we got food for 12 people to feed the nine of us. Although we hadn’t gone hungry on the first part of our trek, we ate better for the rest of the trip.

Take This Trowel

Personal sanitation is something you don’t want to have to think about, but when the time comes, just haul out the orange trowel and the imoprtant papers and head for a clump of trees away from the trail.

Cottonwood Trees    Passing Crews on the Trail

Middle Ponil is a fairly broad valley, with cottonwoods along the creek that meandered through the grassy meadows. Hiking was easy here. We passed other crews heading the opposite direction on the trail, but rarely lingered in conversation.

Hiking Up Wilson Mesa    Lunch on Wilson Mesa

The climb up from Middle Ponil to Wilson Mesa was 1,000 feet of hot, rocky trail. We again used the caterpillar to keep the crew moving while giving everyone a chance to rest along the way. It felt like we were crawling, but it only took an hour to get to the top. That’s a decent speed uphill with full packs.

Once on top of the mesa we stopped for lunch in the shade of a few big Ponderosas. Squeeze cheese, crackers, beef jerkey, and Oreos — yum yum.

Wilson Mesa

The mesa has a broad, shallow lake rimmed with rushes and a view to Baldy in the distance. We lingered a while to enjoy the view, check out a solitary gravestone, and explore whether the rush stems were edible.

Hiking Down from Wilson Mesa

What goes up must come down, in this case a steeper trail down the south side of the mesa to Pueblano. We crossed over an invisible line and returned to Philmont proper near the top of our descent.

Hitch up those Burros

Pueblano Camp exhibits an old logging camp theme, complete with a place to hitch your burros. The staff were dressed in period costumes and hosted an entertaining campfire later in the evening, as well as a big trash baseball game.

The big activity here was spar pole climbing, which the Brumbys had been looking forward to since planning the trip. The idea is to climb straight up the pole.

First you strap on a pair of gaffs — spiky things that go on your boots. Then you loop a leather strap around the pole. It’s attached to your harness so you can lean back on it. Done right, it’s fast and looks easy. There’s a rhythm — pelvic thrust and throw the loop, left gaff, right gaff, pelvic thrust and throw the loop, left gaff, right gaff.

For we beginners, getting the pelvic thrust motion right and throwing the loop was hard. We inched rather than flew up the pole. Eventually we all made it up and rang the bell at the top. Definitely one of the all-time fun activities at Philmont.

We skipped using adzes to turn logs into railroad ties. That didn’t sound like a whole lot of fun.

Aspen Grove

We camped a mile up the trail at Pueblano Ruins among an aspen grove filled with wildflowers. Just across a little creek from our bear bag wire we found a fairly fresh elk skeleton, probably killed the previous winter.

On our hike back down to Pueblano for the campfire we rounded a corner and saw our second bear on the hillside above the trail. Fortunately we didn’t encounter it again on the way back to camp in the dark. Philmont doesn’t want crews hiking after dark, but there’s an exception for getting back to camp from an evening program.