Peak performance

Above: David Gregorio on top of the Tooth of Time. Photographed by Sherry Hamilton. 

The sun shines brightly on the Tooth as a hiker carrying a heavy black instrument case pulls himself up to the summit. 

The hiker, fourth-year staffer and Urraca Program Counselor David Gregorio, is accompanied by his cello, whom he affectionately calls Claire. Gregorio has summited five of Philmont’s peaks with Claire on his back. He often hikes with the cello longways on his shoulders, which means he must maneuver the five-foot-long case around trees on narrow trails. 

He got to idea to carry his cello up mountains on a trip to Lovers Leap in 2016. Gregorio and a group of friends decided to sing at the top, and when they finished a crew started clapping for them.

“It was a really wholesome moment, and I was like, ‘Man I just really want to do music in the Backcountry,’” Gregorio said. “I want to play music, not just in the camps, but in the rest of the Backcountry.”

Gregorio has taken his cello to the top of the Tooth of Time, Baldy Mountain, Shaefers Peak, Comanche Peak and Mount Phillips. Gregorio and his traveling cello elicit interesting reactions from crews he passes.

“Most Scouts are confused,” Gregorio said. “Most advisors like to crack some jokes about it. I get a lot of, ‘Did you forget to leave your cello at home?’”

No matter how crews react, there is usually an element of awe evident when Gregorio hikes past them. After all, backpacking is already challenging without carrying a large string instrument. 

But Gregorio enjoys the challenge, and he plays for Scouts he meets on the trail. Hiking with Claire also gives Gregorio a chance to play in the after shows at various campfire camps.

He learned to play the cello in high school, but it was a few years before he obtained his current cello and decided to name it.

“Every cello has its own distinct personality that you can hear when you’re playing it,” he said. “My cello is a very strong and outspoken cello and doesn’t do sweet, dulcet tones. It’s very bold in its notes, and eventually, I chose a name that fit that personality and that’s how it became Claire.”

Gregorio doesn’t have plans for his next adventure yet, but there are four more peaks he is considering summiting with his cello companion. There’s also a number of other camps at lower elevations that he wants to visit, so he’s still debating which to do first. But the peaks still hold some appeal.

“I think that I need to just go ahead and round out the last four peaks,” Gregorio said. “I really would like to get Big Red, Trail Peak, Black and Touch Me Not done by the end of the summer, so catch me up there.”

Picture of Liz Harper

Liz Harper

Liz Harper is a third-year Philmont staffer out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She’s a recent graduate from Ohio University, earning a degree in journalism. Liz came on trek in 2016 and has worked at Philmont every summer since.