Jul 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm #1291621
We just returned last week and thought a few of our experiences may be helpful to the cadre. Caveat emptor, these are solely my opinion and experiences… Despite what may sound negative, I would still go back tomorrow in a second.
1. Management changes at Philmont. According to some of the staffers, management of the backcountry activities used to be under a single person but recently changed to two folks. They have also expanded the number of trekkers by about 1500 without expanding the program support from what we saw. For example, Miranda can only support 8 crews per day for black powder shooting with about 20 passing through each day. We hiked from Head of Dean early and arrived by 0745 to discover that all slots were full that day. We were scheduled to hike Baldy the next day so had to really be creative to get a 0800 slot on our departure day. They only take sign-ups 24 hours in advance and you should be out of Miranda by 0700 to climb Baldy. Don't rely on leaving a note on the porch before you leave to summit Baldy. One of our advisors stayed behind, signed us up and then ran the trail to catch us as we started up the face… FYI, our hike time from Miranda to the summit was 3+30 hours. No need for the crazy 0400 departures!
2. Conservation project coordination. Our primary cons location was at Hunting Lodge to do some trail work between Clark's Fork and HL. Arrived at HL only to discover that all cons work slots were full for the day and day after. Hannah was super in helping us coordinate a slot for base camp and suggested we try to get it done at our secondary, Baldy Town, on Day 8. This option fell out as they too were full. We ended up doing our cons on our hike out day. Not popular with any of us but believe that we were not the only ones forced to do this. Don't expect any exemptions from this requirement.
3. Climbing at Miner's Park. The climbing wall is not at Miner's Park but about a 45 minute hike north of MP. This was not made clear to us or our sister crew. When we arrived at the wall 20 minutes past 1000, the young staffer made a big deal of how he was really doing us a favor to let us climb and emphasized that his lunch started at noon. This made a real impression on our crew (not positively)… At 1157, one scout was tied in to climb and the staffer actually undid the rigging! After all the adults jumped in, he acquiesced and the scout was allowed to climb.
4. Dust and wind. For the UL types who want to sleep on the bare ground (I, too, almost left my tent body behind), go for it but just be prepared as almost every campsite consists of very fine talcum powder-like dirt. Camping above Horse Canyon at Ponil on our last night, I crawled into my tent to find that sand and dirt had infiltrated my fly/body mesh and lined the interior. After ten days without a shower, not a big deal but just be aware. BTW, we had only one rain shower one evening during our whole trek so everything was very dry.
5. Bear Ropes. We took our Amsteel Blue ropes only to find that it would take a written letter from Mark Anderson for us to use them. I spoke with Mark the night before we departed and apparently the problem is that many crews are trying to use cheaper substitutes than the Amsteel. The default solution seems to be to require everyone use the Philmont ropes. Not sure how your ranger will direct you but we bit the bullet and just went with their ropes.
6. Food. Breakfast and lunch generally consist of a mixture of nuts, granola bars, cookies and crackers with some cheese or peanut butter squeeze. Dinner is a dehydrated meal with some pretzel bits and cookies. Not much protein…
7. Smellables. Everyone in our crew had two 2.5 gal ziplocs with their name on them. This would hold each person's share of food and other smellables. This greatly simplified food distribution at the commissaries as well as each morning when unloading the bear bags. Recommend taking a few extras for any "blow outs".
8. Turkey bags, gut sumping and trash compacting. They greatly discouraged us from using our TB cooking method due to the increased amount of trash it introduces. Didn't make any sense to us considering the amount of trash each meal generates. According to more than one staffer, they can no longer require crews to "gut sump" or super compact trash as it is considered hazing. We did so as it just makes good trail sense…
9. Tooth Hike. We had a dry camp at Schaefer's Pass, arriving at ~1430. We decided to hike out to the Tooth that evening rather than the next morning as we expected a long day ahead. We left at 1630 and expected the six-mile RT to take us about four hours. Not quite… We got to the boulder field at the base at about 1845 but with a couple of completely worn out boys, our crew decided to leave the ToT for another time. Proud of the boys to stick together as we saw many other crews splitting up and leaving some behind. Not a good idea… We turned back to the west just as the sun was setting and avoided hiking through the scree on Tooth Ridge in the dark.
10. Crew gear. We only took the bear bags/ropes and sump strainer/scraper in addition to disposable items from services. Our crew gear consisted of three MSR Pocket Rockets (could get by with one and a spare), 5 isobutane cannisters (could probably get by with only 3), one 4 ltr pot, one 6 ltr pot, Kelty Noah 12 tarp and a Platypus Gravity Works filter (The best investment we have probably ever made!) Most of the crew had two hiking shirts, two shorts/convertibles, two sets of socks and two pairs of underwear. Everyone was well under 25% body weight with packs averaging ~30 lbs.
Some final thoughts…
>My fellow adults very much appreciated the Advisor's Coffee time to glean as much info as possible on what lies ahead both from other leaders and staffers.
>Hannah at Hunting Lodge and Tim at Pueblano (as well as their entire staff) were nothing less than OUTSTANDING! They really understand the Philmont experience for our scouts and did everything they could to make it happen.
>Favorite day was the morning hike from Hunting Lodge over Cathedral Rock/Window Rock down through Hidden Valley. Spectacular! We asked the boys hike quietly to enjoy the scenery. As would have it, one of our water stops was just thirty yards from a bear. Everyone enjoyed watching him for a few minutes before we all went on our way…
My apologies for some of the negative tones here but again believe that this information may help some of you deliver a better experience for our scouts.Jul 4, 2012 at 5:03 am #1892143
Thank you very much for posting a review of your trip with insight. Greatly appreciated for us going to Philmont in 2013. If they are against the turkey bag method of cooking, were they proposing you do the "philmont" cooking style of dumping stuff into the big pots? My photos from philmont 30 years ago shows me with the 2 big pots strapped to the bottom of my bag and my sleeping bag clam shelled inside of them.
Again, thanks for the postingJul 4, 2012 at 7:38 am #1892166
Jim ColtenBPL Member
no longer require crews to "gut sump" or super compact trash as it is considered hazing.
I'm no friend of hazing … pretty much on the zero tolerance end of that.
BUT … that is a sad situation. Gut sumping is quite outside the everyday "town experience" but I don't consider it hazing if the reasons are well explained and everyone participates (ranger and advisers first). Trash compacting? …. our scouts treated it as a skills contest and enjoyed demonstrating the skill when we got home.Jul 4, 2012 at 10:20 am #1892206
WRT the TB cooking method, our ranger had us use the traditional Philmont method while he was with us. After that, we used our TBs. I believe most will find that the Rangers are required to teach/demonstrate the Philmont way but will have different approaches/attitudes on how their crews have to cook.
As I read somewhere, there are principles and then there are techniques. Philmont principles are completely locked down and must be adhered to for everyone's well-being. These would apply to bear mitigation, crew integrity, camp configuration, etc. (BTW, we saw many crews spread out over 500-1k meters. We just shook our heads as we passed them…) Techniques, however, enter more flexible areas where crews may use what works best for them. These would be how you cook, climb steep ascents, distribute food or crew gear, etc.
A couple other lessons for the cadre…
1. Larabars are hideous! Our ranger warned us but I thought I would be the tough guy… My reaction after taking a bite was the subject of conversation for many days afterwards. I wouldn't even feed them to our burro!
2. Latrines. We had a scout who seemed to have reservations about using them. We discovered on day three that he had yet to go "number two" on the trail. This could have been a significant health issue. Glad we discovered it… Just be wary of your boys…Jul 4, 2012 at 10:58 am #1892212
Thanks Dan, this is great stuff. It sounds like your itinerary is very similar to, if not the same as, ours (#21) so the info about routes and times is very helpful.
We also have an overnight at Shaefers Pass and were thinking about making the trip over to ToT for sunrise. A friend suggested to go as far as Shaefers Peak – it is much closer, a couple hundred feet higher higher and has nearly the same view.Jul 4, 2012 at 11:22 am #1892220
Jim ColtenBPL Member
Getting a pre-sunrise start for hiking into HQ is a VERY good idea if only to avoid a mid-day death march down tooth ridge. My only trip over the ridge started from North Fork Urraca campsite, 1200 feet below Shaefers Pass. A route finding delay and too much time on the tooth resulted in reaching HQ at mid afternoon. UGH!Jul 4, 2012 at 12:30 pm #1892240
Jay, et al-
We hiked Trek 21 and can share some more info on the various camps. WRT Schaeffer's Pass camp (we camped in #8 on the saddle), eat dinner at N Fork Uracca for lunch and then have lunch for dinner. You've probably already seen this elsewhere. I personally would not recommend trying to hike out to the ToT for sunrise. The Tooth Ridge trail is pretty rocky with numerous false summits. Many portions are just scree and perfect for twisting an ankle in the dark. There's a reason why many call the hike in to base over the Tooth the "Trail of Tears"… We passed many crews that were leaving Clark's Fork for the hike in. That would seem to be a very long, hot day.
Trek 21 favorites… Bear Caves #4 (north end of the meadow), Hunting Lodge, and Pueblano camps; hike over Window/Cathedral Rock into Hidden Valley; spar pole climbing; Pistol shooting at Ponil…
BTW… We took photos of each camp's layout sign as we entered. Found that this saved us from having to send someone back to verify locations of water, bear cables, latrines, etc. I was kind of surprised to see how large some of the sites were from one end to the other.
Another helpful item… We purchased 12 2-cup Glad plastic bowls (left lids at home) and 12 Lexan spoons ($0.50 @ Walmart) for crew food service. Kept them all together in our pots and found that this helped meal prep/clean up as well as maybe some crew unity…
Already wish that I was going back…Jul 5, 2012 at 4:15 am #1892337
Nice – we leave in 18 days!
Any lessons learned on the burros? Did you have more than one burro?Jul 5, 2012 at 6:54 am #1892350
You will have one burro. Recommend assigning two scouts for each day you have the burro. We did this to minimize the confusion and keep the burro straight on who his handlers were. Our burro, "Timmy", was a good, gentle animal although we heard many stories of folks getting pushed around, stepped on and kicked. The best advice we got was to just be kind and loving rather than pushy or forceful. I think some of the crews tended to try to show who's the boss rather than just lead them along…
They have one speed… uphill or down… one speed. Timmy's speed was slower than our hiking speed so you may need to plan for some extra travel time between Miranda and Pueblano and Ponil.
We managed to get a couple of oranges from Baldy Town and used them to lead/tease him along the trail. We gave him half in the a.m. and then one of the handlers walked a few yards ahead with the other half. Once we finished the day, he got the second half.
It was a rare and good experience for the boys although he didn't carry very much.Jul 5, 2012 at 7:12 am #1892356
The guys were wondering about how much of their gear the burro would carry.
I think we'll be good on this part – we have one youth who is an accomplished horseman and one who raises a few cattle. Neither are forceful/bossy types and are pretty good at moving animals around. Strangely, the burro is one of the parts the whole crew is really excited about.
Having specific people each day be the handlers is a good suggestion.Jul 5, 2012 at 11:32 am #1892405
The wranglers will give you some guidance on what the burro can/can't carry. Basically, they can carry replaceable items such as tents and food just in case he decides to run away. We had Timmy carry most of our food, a couple of tents and our rain fly. Not much to be honest but it was the experience the boys got with catching, harnessing, loading and caring for a burro that meant the most.
Always more comes to mind as I write…
One of my fellow advisors brought along 12 leather circles (~3.5" diam) for our boys to brand at Ponil. This was pretty popular with the boys as most boots are not leather. One branded his Crocs, a couple branded ball caps, a couple more branded their bandanas (doesn't survive the washing machine as I discovered…doh) Recommend you also have some 550 or leather cord so they can tie them to their packs…
If they have you leaving base camp for Rayado around 1000 or 1100, try to move that up earlier. We got to Rayado at 1100 and then had an hour or so of activities there before lunch and hitting the trail. Hiking through Olympia in the middle of the afternoon was just plain miserable. You have about 1.5 hours of hiking to get to Rayado River…
Best wishes!Jul 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm #1892464
Thanks for the lessons – these are very helpful. I'll be doing itinerary 34 with an arrival of July 24.
Did you have any surprise dry camps, or was water as accessible as you had expected going into your trek?Jul 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm #1892470
We encountered no significant surprises on Trek 21… A couple issues worth mentioning…
1. We photographed the water board in logistics before departure as others have recommended. Some sites that were listed as "ample" consisted of about 1 ltr/minute trickle from a spring. Enough for everyone, just not what we anticipated…
2. Recommend you always verify the status of spigot supplies at staffed camps before drinking. We arrived at Abreu and promptly filled up from the spigot when a staffer told us that we needed to use our micropur (after a few of us had already consumed a liter or more!) We learned our lesson and always asked first…
Each staffed camp uses a chlorination process to purify their sources and tests the water frequently. We just happened to catch them between testing and posting the "purification required" signage. Some of the systems function better than others so just be aware. (BTW, no one had any adverse affects but some consternation…)Jul 5, 2012 at 6:05 pm #1892501
"2. Latrines. We had a scout who seemed to have reservations about using them. We discovered on day three that he had yet to go "number two" on the trail. This could have been a significant health issue. Glad we discovered it… Just be wary of your boys…"
This is worrying about nothing. When eating a diet of nothing but highly refined crap, there isnt much left, ie, no fiber at all. I always go before departure, and might only do a #2 once in 4-5 days on the trail myself.
When you have to go , there isnt any stopping it.Jul 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm #1892505
I generally agree with you but had read a story of an advisor that was not used to the processed food, developed an impacted bowel and had to medivac'd to ABQ for emergency surgery…Jul 5, 2012 at 6:47 pm #1892508
That would ruin your day.
Maybe Philmont should put some metamucil in food dropsJul 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm #1892511
Agreed… believe they hide it in Larabars…Jul 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm #1893256
@markrvpLocale: North Texas
I just got home from our Trek. We had a VERY NEGATIVE experience with Miner's Park. I ended up griping at the Camp Director (Cassie) for about 15 minutes in front of 2 other crews who were also just as upset.
In a nutshell… the Miner's Park cabin staff refused to give us a time to climb… in fact they encouraged us to just forget about climbing and go on to camp. This infuriated me. After waiting from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM we were about to get our turn (finally) and they shut down the whole operation because there was one lightning strike on the west side of Trail Peak. As it turns out, the first slots of the day had been given to the previous days' crews that had been rained out the day before. If they keep doing that, they will always be unable to handle a day's crew load (which is only 8 crews).
In addition to this, they didn't have the climbing tower operating at the Miner's Park cabin because, according the the CD, they were understaffed. Mind you there was one staffer sitting on the porch doing nothing – he was responsible for giving the porch talk to the 8 crews a day that come through, and there was another staffer doing absolutely nothing – he was on standby to help the 3 or 4 crews a day who come through there for food pickup.
Also, at Crooked Creek they couldn't do the woodcutting program because their ONE ax was broken, and at Crater Lake they couldn't do the log cutting program because their ONE cross-cut saw was broken.
I'm not sure why there isn't a backup ax and saw at these camps… it just seems silly not to have backup tools in case one gets broken… especially if it means a whole program is scrapped.
Don't get me wrong, we had a great time, but there are some definite management issues that need to be corrected. I'm curious to know why Philmont isn't more concerned about and/or able to deal with these issues that affect program activities.Jul 9, 2012 at 8:33 am #1893325
Sounds like your crew saw some of the same stuff that we did. I.E. Fly fishing rods hanging on the wall at Hunting Lodge but couldn't be used because no one had provided the necessary flies/tackle.
As I understand the staffers are organized as one dedicated to "the porch", one dedicated to the radio in the cabin and then the third is running the program. Extra staffers could have just been "porch crashing" or visiting from other camps but I share many of your frustrations. I assume that you guys put this on your evaluations?
Seems like the management needs to understand that they're going to kill Philmont's reputation if they don't make meaningful changes… As my boys said, coming from Colorado, we don't need trails or mountains. They went for the program activities that aren't really available here at home. If the program isn't working, then we'll find other venues…
BTW, one senior staffer confided that Philmont generates enough revenue to fund the other HA bases. Maybe some could be dedicated to fixing some of the issues close to home?Jul 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm #1893729
Many thanks for the report, it will surely help us plan for our trek next year. Regarding your para 4., dust and wind. Is that to say individuals are allowed to sleep in the bare ground? I believe policy use to be a traditional double wall tent, or similiar shelter, was required?
I'm considering taking a tarptent w/ a tyvek sheet for a ground cloth. Thanks.
JGJul 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm #1893736
Unbelievable! No back up tools? What about Be Prepared?… As for the rained out crews, if they get the slots for the next morning, how do they then "catch up" with the rest of their program? Are they not late for the next place on their agenda?…guess I can't figure out how that ia able to occur? My thought is you got rained out, onward to the next program for the next day…not that you hang around the same area to complete that activity and then head out to the next place…or am I thinking completely wrong.
Sorry to hear that you had difficulty on what should have been a completely free hassle trip… Maybe they need to send people to Disney/Stew Leonards's for lessons in customer service…Jul 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm #1893749
I can't say if tarp tents or floorless shelters would be authorized as we did not "press to test" this issue. I suspect that it will likely be up to your specific Ranger. My impression is that the Rangers are more likely to hold fast for scouts and avoid confrontation with the adults. Sorry that I can't provide a more definitive answer but suspect some of the folks monitoring this thread may be able to chime in…Oct 8, 2012 at 9:58 am #1919169
Dave EbertBPL Member
@scouterdaveLocale: Midwest transplant to NC
Philmont staff are very nervous of hantavirus and will tell you to only use enclosed tents. No sleeping in the dirt. Mind you, we didn't try because I advised one of my scouts to add a floor with screen to his homemade tarp tent before we left for the Ranch. He did, and the ranger loved it. And it still weighed less than a pound.
Also no bivy sacks or bear burritos. And no hammocks to protect the trees.
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