Challenge at Chase Cow

Above: Scouts from expedition 701-BB1 and 629-F02 watch Chase Cow staff members as they explain proper techniques of climbing and belaying. Photographed by Alex Fields. 

Sud Dhanabalan was clawing his way up a tricky sandstone climbing route when his crew started chanting words of encouragement from below. 

There was one last obstacle standing between him and the top: a ledge, taller than he was, with only one foothold right at his mid-torso. In order to keep climbing, he would need to take a chance and try reaching the foothold. 

“Since I was the first one, there wasn’t really a set path,” Dhanabalan said. “You have to figure it out for yourself because you don’t know which route to take.”

Luckily, his foot held and he found the power to continue. With one last heave, Dhanabalan hoisted himself up to the top as his crew cheered. 

The victory marked the end of 10 days of hard work for Dhanabalan, who was wrapping up his trek with crew 629-F2 out of John’s Creek, Georgia. In just one day he would be off the trail and heading home. 

Often, Chase Cow is where Dhanabalan and other participants will start and end their treks. The camp is geared toward challenging Scouts one last time before they return home.  

A veteran of Philmont’s climbing camps, Camp Director Vero Salazar is spending his fourth summer here perfecting the program at Chase Cow. 

“There’s always a lot of enthusiasm with the crews here, and that just makes us more excited to be here,” Camp Director Vero Salazar said.

Above: A Scout rappels down a sandstone cliff. Photographed by Alex Fields.

Chase Cow was built in 2019 to replace Dean Cow, a climbing camp that was lost in the Ute Park Fire. Chase Cow is situated in a dry, grassy meadow a few miles north of the Chase Ranch Headquarters.

Salazar spent time on the Chase Ranch property last summer looking for potential climbing locations. Now, those locations have turned into the Chase Cow climbing program. The program is expanding beyond the standard climbing camp to include bouldering for the first time on Philmont property. 

Under Salazar’s experienced eye, participants will soon be able to climb shorter rock faces while relying on crash mats for safety instead of ropes. 

Chase Cow stands ready to challenge any Scout brave enough to take a crack at scaling its pale sandstone routes. Hopefully, for years to come, participants will follow in Dhanabalan’s footholds and find the strength to keep climbing. 

“Keep going, don’t give up,” Dhanabalan said. “It’s the same on the rocks, it’s the same on the trail, too.” 

Mark Cordeiro

Mark Cordeiro

Mark Cordeiro is a second-year Philmont staffer out of Edmond, Oklahoma. He’s currently a senior at the University of Oklahoma studying professional writing. Mark spent several summers of his youth at the PTC’s youth programs and went on his first trek in 2014.