A Philmont Journal – Part 1

Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable A Philmont Journal – Part 1

Viewing 25 posts - 1 through 25 (of 44 total)
  • Author
  • #1305180
    Stephanie Jordan


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to:

    A Philmont Journal – Part 1

    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Right there
    Christopher Brooks


    Great article and looking forward to the next part! My articles:

    Michael Danielson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Middle TN

    Enjoyed the article. Looking forward to the second one. Just came off the trail at Philmont on June 24 for my 5th time. Just a few comments. Surprised that your ranger let you take the longer way. Usually the ranger training needs to be done (Philmont procedure) and the first day is usually minimal on the mileage. FYI – The place you went is one of my favorite places on the ranch. Secondly, grouping the tents together does help keep bigger animals from wondering around the tents. I saw a bear go around spaced out tents in the 2010 Philmont trek. Sounds like that you had a good and flexible ranger. That is usually a plus.
    FYI – I was also at Philmont in 1972 and then in 1974. I do remember those backpacks.

    Bruce Kolkebeck
    BPL Member


    Locale: Uhwarrie National Forest

    Thanks for your article. It made me feel better that I was not the only one booted from logistics. If you get bypassed, with all of your credentials, then a guy who's been to Philmont 5 times like me shouldn't feel bad about it either.

    With the fires in the South Country this year should have been a great disappointment for our crew. Our itinerary was cut from 85 miles to 48. We managed to put in 68 miles and the kids didn't seem to notice the difference. Having been there I knew what they missed but did my best to keep quiet about it.

    As far as rules are concerned you have to remember that Philmont puts about 200 hikers on the trail everyday. They process 22,000 people through the Ranch every summer. Most of these folks are novice at best. Hence the rules.

    I'm sure that the rule regarding the clustering of tents has as much to do with fitting more tents in a spot as it has to do with protection from wildlife.

    Bruce Kolkebeck 618K2

    Josh Brock


    Locale: Outside

    I really cant see why any one would want to go to philmont? Why would you not just bring your scouts out backpacking somewhere else?

    I was in the scouts for all of 2 weeks. But have been backpacking, hunting, fishing, mt bike riding, snow boarding, snow treking, and snow shoeing since I was a boy.

    I am a pretty high strung guy with a little of a short fuse (depending on when I ate last and yes im working on it) and I could not imagine having some one stand over me telling me what I can and cant do. I have a boss already I dont need another to manage my free time. I dont mind advice but orders?

    I havent seen anyone else complain so maybe im alone on this. but to me their is way to much wilderness out there to spend anytime in a place like that.

    It was a good read though, thank you.

    thomas baskin


    Josh ;

    I understand this sentiment very well. There are plenty of places in idaho that are more scenic, remote and free of regulation than Philmont. For me and, I suspect, other BPL readers, the attraction of Philmont is rooted in nostalgia; if you went there as a youth you are interested in seeing it again. I am fond of the place because it figures prominently in my memory. I went back out of curiosity, and to afford my boys an opportunity to understand something about their father. It can be crazy making though, and there are kids underfoot everywhere. The Scouts have taken good care of the Ranch, and it is beautiful in its own right, but if you seek freedom from constraints, it is not the place to go.


    Josh Brock


    Locale: Outside

    Oh I see. yeah I can understand going back for nostalgia. And to show your boy your history. That makes sense to me. I shoot pictures sometimes with a polaroid for fun. It doesnt take great pics compared to todays tec but its fun still.

    Hope you and your boy have great times in the hills.

    Bruce Kolkebeck
    BPL Member


    Locale: Uhwarrie National Forest


    I never got to go to Philmont until I was 47 years old. Now 60 I've gone back every 3 years with my Troop. My kids are grown and now I hike with other people's kids. I just think that our kids get a lot out of it. Philmont changes a person. There's no doubt about it.

    Most kids don't get access to the outdoors like you did and even if they did they might nowadays play video games instead. Its a battle out there for kid's attention and the Scouts do the best they can to get kids out backpacking to appreciate the treasures our country has to offer. I see Philmont as an introduction to a long life of outdoor activity and not the end of it. There's some of our own alumni that have thru hiked the AT, backpacked Alaska and one that was even on an Everest expedition. Several have gone on to serve in Iraq and Afganistan. One has been a Peace Corps volunteer in a secluded village in the deepest jungles of Africa.

    One of the attractions is the different activities like, rock climbing, horseback riding, burro packing, shooting, astrology, mountain biking, historical interpretive camps, archery plus many more. There are many instructional activities of ecological importance concerning LNT, fire protections, fisheries, and forestry. All are separated by many miles of trails.

    Probably the best asset is that it will be cold, hot, wet, dusty, and hard. They will miss junk food, sugary drinks, mom and electronic stimulation. Most kids are protected from dis-comfort by their, well-meaning, folks. At Philmont the kids are challenged. They work together as a crew to overcome problems they would never deal with as a kid at home. Adults are there just to make sure the kids are safe.

    I understand your view about this place. I hate the rules too. I don't even like to go to National Parks because of the rules. I'm a Ray Jardine believer. But I'll take the Troop to Philmont in three years and continue to do so until I'm no longer able because of what it does for the kids.


    michael mercer


    Locale: Northern Virginia

    Agree with the commentary about way better options than Philmont for getting outdoors (at a whole lot less cost than Philmont). Been pushing back with Mark Anderson and the leadership team at Philmont to understand all the crazy rules. They are still incredibly close minded. Here is the text of the latest responses to my questions. My response is also included. Not sure they are interested in adopting any new ways. Very disappointing that these folks call themselves Scouts.

    From Mark Stinnett, Chairman, Philmont Program & Risk Management Task Force, Philmont Ranch Committee Chairman, BSA National Outdoor Programs Committee

    1. Can someone please confirm if there are now rules that prohibit turkey bag cooking, cooking in the foil packs, and cooking in ziplock bags?
    Yes. These practices are not permitted at Philmont for a variety of reasons.
    Regarding “cooking in the foil packs,” the foil food packages issued by Philmont are not designed or approved for direct cooking in the packages. Ziplock bags are also not designed or approved by the manufacturer for direct cooking. Although we are aware that some backpackers choose to disregard manufacturer warnings about such use, we do not teach or condone that sort of safety violation and health risk at Philmont.
    Turkey bags or oven bags, of course, are appropriate for cooking, and we at Philmont are certainly familiar with their use by many backpackers on short-term outings. However, Philmont does not permit their use by crews on its treks for two important reasons, one related to safety of campers and the other to sustainability.
    Use of turkey bags, multiple cooking bags, and similar creative cooking methods are all done solely to reduce cleanup time and to slightly reduce the weight of cook gear to be carried. However, these methods create an increased risk of bear problems in Philmont’ campsites by increasing cooking odors in the campsite and by leaving a food residue on the bag that then becomes a continuing and ongoing source of residual food odor. That food odor problem then persists so long as the bag is in the crew’s possession. The only two methods for disposing of the used cooking bags are to pack them out or dispose of them at one of Philmont’s staffed camps. Most Philmont staffed camps do accept garbage from crews, which must then be hauled out, usually by a commissary truck. These vehicles typically do not visit a staffed camp more than once a week, and in some cases, not that often.
    While this may not seem like a big issue for a single crew like yours, it becomes a major problem for Philmont with hundreds of crews and many thousands of campers each summer. Philmont has made concerted efforts in recent years to promote sustainability and reduce the use of vehicles in its backcountry. Allowing crews to carry and use disposable turkey bags or oven bags multiplies backcountry garbage exponentially. This creates a safety issue for the crew, which has to carry the used
    bags (with attractive food odors) until they are disposed of at a staffed camp or at base, and for the staff in the backcountry camp, which has to collect and store an even greater amount of odorous garbage from passing crews until such time as it can be picked up by a vehicle. Increased trash in backcountry camps requires increased vehicular traffic to pick up and haul out that garbage, and also results in increased filling of our landfill.
    On balance, Philmont management, with the full support of our volunteer Ranch Committee, has determined that the overall benefits of bear safety for all crews and protection of Philmont’s environmental resources outweigh the perceived benefits to individual crews of slightly less weight to carry and easier cleanup after meals. We have found over the years that the Scouts attending Philmont are quite capable of managing the weight of crew cooking gear and individual bowls and cups, and that time spent washing dishes after a single cooked meal each day has not interfered with the Scouts’ abilities to partake of Philmont programs.

    2. Do I understand correctly that Philmont is now requiring two 8-quart pots and one 6-quart pot per crew?
    No. Philmont recommends such equipment for each crew, but recognizes that some crews, because of size, experience or their own equipment, may be able to make do with different sizes or numbers of pots. However, Philmont does teach and require crews to use a 3-step method for dishwashing, which requires immersion of dishes in boiling water for sanitization before the next meal. For most crews, complete immersion of personal eating gear will require at least one 8-quart pot. If your crew members all have bowls and cups that can be fully immersed in a 6-quart pot, your crew may be able to get by without an 8-quart pot.
    This procedure has been reviewed and adopted by Philmont’s Health Lodge Task Force, comprised of Philmont physicians, program staff and volunteer leaders. Again, this is a safety issue for Philmont because of the nature of its operation and the large numbers of campers it accommodates. In some past years, Philmont has had issues with the occasional outbreak and spread of viral illnesses. Experience has taught us that these types of problems are effectively reduced through use of the dishwashing techniques required by Philmont. Once again, while an individual crew might deem these techniques to be excessive or unnecessary for themselves, we must consider the greater good of the thousands of campers using Philmont each summer.

    3. Is Philmont insisting that all food be dumped and cooked directly in the pot?
    Yes. Philmont food packaging is not designed or approved for cooking directly in the package.
    One of your initial emails suggested that use of the foil packs or Ziploc bags for cooking “do not generate very dirty pots that then require introducing grey water waste into the environment.” As with most such issues, a value judgment must be made as to which method poses the least problem for the particular environment involved. For the reasons described above, Philmont has made the determination that cooking in pots, with disposal of waste water in sumps provided in most camps for that specific purpose, is the preferable course for the Philmont environment. While you or your crew may make a different value judgment that is entirely appropriate in some other environment in which you hike, while hiking at Philmont, we do expect and require crews to abide by Philmont policies. This requirement is no different than what would be expected of crews hiking in any national park, national forest, wilderness area, or state or private property, all of which have widely varying policies and requirements for users to follow.

    4. Will the patrol be permitted to cook meals using methods of their own choosing provided that does not introduce additional waste?
    Crews are taught by our rangers and are expected to follow Philmont’s policies as outlined above. Obviously, Philmont has no direct control of what crews choose to do after their ranger leaves them.

    5. What MANDATORY items must the crew check out from PSR? Are we to leave our tents, cooking kits, dining flys, water purification filters and such home?
    There are no mandatory items that a crew must check out from Philmont, so long as the crew brings with them the required crew gear as outlined in the 2013 Guidebook to Adventure. The vast majority of crews coming to Philmont do not have all of the required equipment on hand, so Philmont makes certain items of crew gear, such as tents, dining flies, etc. available for crews.
    Having said that, certain items of equipment that a crew might want to bring would not be acceptable. For example, some crews want to save weight by using “tube tents,” which are little more than an extended garbage bag with no flaps or doors at either end. Such “tents” are no longer acceptable at Philmont because of bear safety precautions initiated years ago. Philmont now requires campers to sleep in a genuine tent with a flap that closes. Likewise, some campers arrive and announce that they want to sleep in hammocks. Philmont prohibits use of hammocks for the same bear safety reasons.

    5. Who will decide if gear we bring is a suitable substitute for PSR gear?
    Initially, that is the responsibility of the crew’s assigned ranger. If an issue arises, ultimately the Philmont Director of Program (Mark Anderson), following policies adopted and approved by the Program and Risk Management Task Force of the Philmont Ranch Committee and the Philmont Health Lodge Task Force, has that responsibility.
    As set forth in the Guidebook to Adventure, these issues are best addressed before the crew arrives at Philmont.

    6. I also asked questions about using our own larger bear bags, bear bag hanging systems that does not require harming the PSR trees by trampling on their roots and wrapping rope around their bark, paint strainer bags for sumping, and smaller 6 and 4 qt pots for cooking.
    Crews are not required to use Philmont bear bags if they bring an adequately sized and strong enough substitute. Crews are expected to use the bear cables installed in most campsites for hanging their bear bags. Without more information on your “bear bag hanging system,” I cannot say whether it would be acceptable or not. However, if it involves hanging your crew’s bags somewhere other than the pre- installed cables provided for that purpose, the answer will be probably not. If you have a description you could provide, that would be helpful.
    Paint strainer bags for sumping are not encouraged because they simply add another bag to the garbage load for each cooked meal. The “sump frisbee” Philmont provides to crews for this purpose is more environmentally friendly because it is reusable. The Philmont professional and volunteer staff certainly recognizes that paint strainer bags are lighter weight than the sump frisbee (which, of course, is not “heavy” by any stretch of the imagination). However, this is a perfect example of how Philmont has made a decision in favor of sustainability rather than convenience or preference of an individual crew.
    These are the types of decisions that allow Philmont to continue to serve more than 20,000 campers every summer.
    As discussed previously, 6 and 4 quart pots are permissible if the crew can meet the sanitization requirements using a 6 quart pot.

    7. The issue here is not the request from our crew to use a specific method for their cooking. It is the attitude at PSR that they know the only “correct” way. . . . I would rather have expected PSR to embrace best practices from their many visiting crews. But alas, the attitude at PSR is that PSR knows the only correct way. Your insistence on a specific cooking technique is just one more example of this culture that has permeated PSR. I would ask you to stop and reevaluate your “rules” in light of the aims and methods of Scouting. We are supposed to be here to Explain, Demonstrate, Guide and Enable our youth using the principles of shared leadership. The PSR “Big Boss” style really has no place in Scouting. Philmont is supposed to be the premier backcountry experience in BSA. Might I suggest you and your staff embrace the constructive creativity of our youth rather than squashing it with your rules?
    As Mr. Anderson said in one of his messages to you, for most matters relating to backpacking techniques, Philmont is not a trial site for new methods. Philmont’s policies and practices have been developed, through experience, over many years to assure a safe and quality experience for many thousands of campers each summer. To successfully operate a camp and backpacking operation of Philmont’s size requires choices that may not seem “the best” to a particular individual or crew, but are made with the overall operation in mind. An individual crew that wants to use different methods or follow its own “rules” may correctly feel that it isn’t causing any problems for Philmont, but if that was multiplied across several thousand crews, Philmont would be seriously impacted. Many Philmont policies and “rules” consider issues like sustainability and environmental protection on a ranch-wide scale that an individual crew simply doesn’t have to face. Philmont does – and those policies have allowed Philmont to continue to offer quality programs to almost a million Scouts over 75 years. If I may quote a line from an old Star Trek movie, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
    Philmont is visited annually by many advisors who have significant skills and expertise in particular program areas, such as climbing, horsemanship, shooting, or as in your case, backpacking. However, Philmont does not make exceptions to allow those individuals to demonstrate their expertise outside the established Philmont program parameters. For example, an expert mountaineer serving as a crew advisor must still sit through Philmont’s climbing safety program, must still climb with a belayer, and must still use the specific rock routes established by the Philmont program staff. An experienced horseman must still wear a helmet, must still ride in a single-file line with other inexperienced riders, and must still follow directions of Philmont’s wranglers. They follow the same rules as all other campers, even though they themselves have the skill and expertise to do the activity differently, or even better. With rare exceptions, our “expert” advisors understand and appreciate the need for policies in an operation like Philmont’s and embrace the program opportunity provided for their Scouts.
    My own troop is blessed to have multiple mountain backpacking opportunities available. Several of our adult leaders are consummate backpackers with hundreds of nights of backpacking experience under their belts. On our troop outings, we use some of the same techniques you advocate (our own bear bags with lighter 550 parachute cord to secure them, 6 quart pots for cooking, paint thinner bags for sumping). However, when we do our own Philmont trek this summer, we’ll be using Philmont’s bigger bear bag ropes, 8-quart pots and sump Frisbees because we are also an experienced Philmont troop. We
    recognize that Philmont’s policies are there for a reason, and that when we camp and hike at Philmont, we are expected to use the “Philmont method,” even if that isn’t the same method we use back home. Using the EDGE method you referenced, we find that Scouts are well able to understand the need for some tradeoffs between individual crew preferences and the overall camper safety and sustainability issues for an operation the size of Philmont.
    This is not at all an issue of Philmont management being “close-minded” or believing that “the Philmont way is the only way.” Rather, we believe that “the Philmont way” is the best way for Philmont, and freely acknowledge that it is not the only way, and certainly not the best way, in other places. Philmont program techniques and teachings are evaluated regularly by experts, and new methods of doing any of our programs (climbing, shooting, backpacking, camping, blacksmithing, archery, mining, really anything) are continually incorporated with consideration given to individual and overall camper safety, protection of Philmont’s scarce resources, and delivery of a quality adventure experience for the many, not just the few.

    My Response


    Thank you for your responses. I appreciate the explanations. But by far the most important action I need to ask of you and the Philmont staff is to update the Philmont web site to make the answers you have provided clear to ALL crews. That is not currently the case for these particular questions.

    I respectfully disagree with you reasoning behind use of turkey bags. The advantages of the turkey bag go well beyond cleanup. The turkey bag enables full hydration of the meal and avoids burnt-on reside in the pots. The Philmont technique of pouring boiling water into a second pot to hydrate the meal rarely if ever fully hydrates the meal and requires unnecessary extra space and weight for a second large pot. Use of turkey bags also permits the crew more time to participate in program rather than meal preparation and cleanup. Philmont includes foods in literally every one of their food packages that leave significant smellable residue. So I find your residue arguments against turkey bags a bit hypocritical.

    Just as some foil packs are and are not rated for boiling, so are Ziplock bags. The Zip'n Steam steam bags informed crews use are fully rated by the manufacturer for boiling. So I would be very careful making statements such as "Ziplock bags are also not designed or approved by the manufacturer for direct cooking."

    Crews should not be permitted to deposit garbage at staff camps. This practice is inconsistent with Leave No Trace principles that we are trying to to teach to our scouts. Insisting on Disposing on Waste Properly will help motivate the scouts to do a better job to Plan Ahead and Prepare. This latter point is a LNT principle not because scouts need to be preparing to go backpacking. It is there because scouts need to be preparing to minimize their backcountry impact. Dropping the practice to allow crews to deposit waste at staff camps would also help you meet your objective to minimize your vehicular traffic.

    Our strainer bags are reused. In fact, only one strainer bag is used by each crew for their entire Philmont trek. They are no more "smellable" than the Philmont frisbee.

    I would call your attention to the bear bagging system initially proposed by Al Geist many years ago. I personally demonstrated a very similar method to the chief ranger and his staff a few years ago. It employs a releasable hook for the bear cable, a block and tackle system with much smaller line, and is tied off with a jamming method that eliminates the need to harm trees. The mechanical advantage of the block and tackle also eliminates the need for a second set of ropes for the "oops" bag.

    Many state and national parks will restrict the types of fires, group sizes, specify human waste practices, and approve certain bear bag containers/methods. But I have yet to come across any park that insisted on policies of pot sizes, cooking techniques, specific sizes of ropes, tent types (short of insisting on clustering all campers for bear safety), etc. The statistics for the Grand Canyon for last year were over 300,000 backcountry campers restricted to far fewer backcountry campsites than are available at Philmont. And the GCNP is a far more sensitive environment than Philmont. The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is probably the most comparable to Philmont in that is is about four times the size and has about four times the annual backcountry user load, albeit with a similar count of established campsites. The user density for most of the state parks is off the scale when compared to Philmont's 22,000 campers. Yet I cannot name a single one of these state or national parks that require the degree of intervention you and Mark Anderson are prescribing for Philmont. And despite backcountry lore, I find our trained Boy Scouts to be far better stewards of the environment than the majority of the users I have encountered on my many trips to state and national parks. So Philmont should really not be having as much trouble as would appear to be the case from the Philmont "rules." I would encourage you to dig a bit deeper to find the root causes of the sustainability challenges at Philmont rather than regulating the symptoms.

    Mike Mercer
    Crew Advisor
    Ultralight Backpacking Instructor
    LNT Master Educator

    M B
    BPL Member


    I have mixed feelings about Philmont.
    It is a nice chunk of land, that the scouts have taken fairly good care of.

    It is not "wilderness" by any stretch, and they should stop referring to it as such. It is part of the imagery they are trying to create in peoples mind.

    It is a working ranch, with vehicles driven all over it every day, with 1000 people crawling over it at any given time. And apparently, horses over every inch of it as well, as the poop on every trail seems to illustrate, fouling every stream and water source for sure.

    But, and this is important, it is the closest thing to a backcountry experience that many scouts will ever have the opportunity to know. Because of this, I have to cut them a lot of slack, they are doing some good for these scouts, who are probably the vast majority of scouts.

    The trails are fair trails too. When you are on a trail and not a road. I expected trails to be better graded, I was pleasantly surprised that some were quite rough, which I consider a good thing.

    It is still a spectacle though, with many people straining to get 55 lb + packs onto their backs. I got some stares when my pack weighed 12 lbs, sans food and water, but including 4 lbs of crew gear while others were weighing in at 50+ with just water.

    I can do without the Philmont "worship" however. The hymn, skits, constant self-praise, cheers, etc. It is more than a bit ridiculous. If Philmont embodies the best that scouting has to offer, it paradoxically also embodies the worst. The type of things you see there are typical of younger scout camps, and are the reasons people make fun of scouts, and cause many boys to drop out as they get older. Some things are just corny, immature, stereotypical, and not at all how many boys want to be thought of by their non-scouting peers, if you know what I mean.

    In regards to backcountry procedures, I feel the same way. Yes, the Philmont ways work for most people. Yes they need some easy ways to teach newbies that dont know any better. But no, they should not be heavy handed, as they are trying to be now.

    Heres how we delt with the heavy handed approach: We checked out gear. We put the gear we did not want to take in the van.

    We did not take any replacements.
    We did not tell our ranger.

    Our ranger was a little bit P.O.'d when he discovered at the first trail camp that we left behind the 8qt pot, one bear rope, one bear bag, the frisbee, and the spatula. In the end, all he could say was we could get by without them, and get replacements at our first food pickup. We took the approach that it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission. We also began using our turkey bags as soon as the ranger left, but thats another story.

    Apparently, requiring campers to compact trash too tightly was considered "hazing", and they no longer do that, so you can dump whatever trash you have at any staffed camp freely. Including turkey bags, so dont be afraid to use them.

    The programs, unfortunately, were about what I expected, kind of lame. Program time is very short, and you really dont get to do very much of any headline activity. Although some tout them as the reason to go to Philmont, I was unimpressed with most we had.

    So , do I want to go back to Philmont?
    No. It really doesnt hold anything for me or my son.
    Once was enough.
    Too controlling, too watered down, too scout-ish

    My son summed it up when he described Philmont as:

    "Mostly a place where fat 50 yr old men go with their sons to pretend they can hike"

    Bruce Kolkebeck
    BPL Member


    Locale: Uhwarrie National Forest

    Yup. In 2010 I "pretended" to hike 96 miles with my crew. I would have liked to have "pretend" to hike more this year but my trek was limited by the fires. All the kids seemed to be smiling and having a good time. Maybe they were "pretending" too?


    M B
    BPL Member


    I dont think you get the point.

    Im speculating, but Id guess 90% of people at philmont have never, and will never, backpack without someone else to hold their hand. Whether its Philmont, or a scout group, or a tour operator, etc.

    Even if they have been to Philmont multiple times.

    Thats why so many go to Philmont with their sons.

    They wont take a real trip on their own terms. They dont know how, and/or they are afraid to do so.

    They are pretending.

    Those that do take trips on their own, will end up being dissapointed in what Philmont is. I didnt harbor any incorrect notions, it pretty much met what I expected.

    My son was beside himself with aggravation over the slowness, whining, requests for water breaks, rest breaks, pee breaks, stops to take off clothing, etc from a other boys as well as adults. He was used to hiking 20 miles per day with me in steep mountains, he did not enjoy hiking in slow motion with inexperienced people… all.

    Bruce Kolkebeck
    BPL Member


    Locale: Uhwarrie National Forest

    Actually I think if you read the article you'll see that there are a good many folks that go to Philmont who have done lots of backpacking. Hence we are often frustrated with the rules. Are there many who have not done some/any backpacking going to Philmont? You bet. Are they pretending? I don't think so. They will have a wonderful memory to take home about the West, the Rockies and also will have the basic fundamentals to take their own kids backpacking some day. Isn't that a good thing?

    Scouting is a team sport. The biggest part of Scouting is learning leadership skills, along with training, to build a crew of people, with different physical makeups and outdoor experience, into a cohesive unit that works together. Getting a crew to work together is a skill that will be used on a daily basis for a lifetime. Sorry your kid missed that.

    As far as adults attending, I have nothing but respect for any Dad or Mom who takes two weeks off from work to sleep on the ground and huff up a mountain. Your kid must be lucky to have a parent that does. Most don't. Maybe he needs to be reminded of that?


    Paul Magnanti
    BPL Member


    Locale: Colorado Plateau

    THE ultimate question, I would think, is how do the scouts themselves like it?

    I know the 12 yo me had a wonderful time hiking up Mt. Lafayette in NH many years ago when I was a Boy Scout.

    It was something I never forgot and kindled my love of the outdoors.

    Though the 39 yo version of me may not like the rules, regulations and bureaucracy of Philmont, I imagine the 12 yo version of me would have loved it.

    If a day hike of Lafayette had that much impact on me, I can only imagine what a week long trek in Philmont would have done for me.

    I am sure many of the scouts who go to Philmont are in a situation similar to my own childhood: Rarely exposed to the outdoor lifestyle and never had the opportunities that some other children may have had.

    To someone who grew up in the outdoors and had parents who had the resources to expose them on a regular basis, Philmont would be constraining.

    To a person who never did outdoor activities and managed to get a spot in Philmont, I am sure the experience would be incredible.

    So, the question must be asked “How do the scouts like Philmont?”

    The other questions aren’t as important at least IMO.

    Corbin Camp


    Locale: Southeast

    I just got back from my first trip to Philmont. Interesting to read the various perspectives and perceptions here. For our trek, we implemented as many UL tactics as we could ($$ being the biggest constraint) for the crew that didn't go too much against what PSR wants you to do. It didn't get us near UL range but I was happy with the results. Overall, we did fairly well with our heaviest pack sans water being 36 lbs and our lightest being 25. That was with 3 days of food (~8 lbs). Compared to the 45-60 lbs we saw in the other crews, that was pretty good. I got quite a few "how did you do that??"'s when I weighed in.

    Tom, you probably know our ranger very well. Good kid. :-)

    There are many reasons someone would want to go to the ranch. For some it is nostalgia. For others it's their only opportunity to have a 10 day backpacking experience that doesn't put a ton of planning stress on working parents. I don't see myself happily doing meal planning and logistics for a 12 person crew on a 10 day trip. No, it's not a true wilderness. It's a controlled outdoor experience where hopefully, a kid gets the bug to go out again using some of the things he learned on the way.

    I do think some of the rules the management imposes are bordering on archaic. Many of the rangers agreed. They could do a lot to encourage crews to use their own creativity to meet a few guidelines vs forcing "their way". If PSR was truly interested in cutting out some of the trash, they would lose the individually wrapped food items and stick with smaller portions. No one needs all the empty calories they are serving. We always had leftovers and it was always one kid's job to gut sump it. It wasn't always easy, but he took care of it. The result was the next day he was checking in to the Red Roof Inn's way too much. Talk about adding waste!!! In Philmont's attempt to force you to cook in the patrol method, they are totally contradicting their request to reduce trash. Meal prep was always the job of two scouts. They got more team building skills out of having to set up the other crew gear while food was being prepared. I feel much better using one bag to store and cook my dinner entree and then combine the bags into one. If PSR didn't allow staff camp trash dumps, they would be forced to lighted up their food items. That just means lighter food loads and lighter pack weights (good things IMO). I think the go a little overboard with the bear threat regarding smellables. Sure you don't store food in your tent EVER. I'd like to see one documented case of a bear going in to an occupied tent because the kid had a spot of chillimac on his pants. Hanging bear bags took way too long and lighter loads would mean less time doing so.

    Philmont often takes a misconception and treats it as a fact. Take for example, tree protection. We got fussed at several times for using a piece of cord (reflective) as a clothesline in the tree because we might damage the bark. What are people doing each time they tie a 40lb bag of food up on a cable? — tying it to a tree. All I was trying to do was dry some clothes and they would prefer me to put them on the tree branches. You could say the same thing for hammocks too. For the miniscule "damage" they do to the bark, the tent crushing vegetation is way worse. I know there were several places I would have loved a level sleeping surface.

    While I agree with some of the sentiments of the corniness of some of the programs, keep in mind you are trying to keep the interest of kids who are, more likely than not, over-stimulated back home with media. Simply hiking from point to point may be paradise for adults, it may get pretty boring for kids and there are days were you don't have a program to do. The programs that our kids like the most were of activities I would never do while on a regular backpacking trip (know of any UL tomahawks or spar pole climbing gear?). If you only want to do hiking, then PSR is not a place you want to go. The scenery is fantastic, but there are much more wild places that offer the same thing for a fraction the cost of admission. Anyone who takes enormous pride in how they can hike 20 miles a day and easily gets annoyed with others who can't or want to take breaks, doesn't really get what the point of doing a PSR trek is. You are there to work as a team and you aren't gaining much by employing the hurry up and wait tactic when you can hike 4 mph and your campsite is only 6 miles away. Maybe your crew mates want to enjoy the scenery and aren't in such a hurry to set up camp and do nothing. It's not a race.

    Pretending to hike??? Really? Sorry, that comes across as incredibly arrogant and counter to what attracts many to activities like backpacking. No one on my trek was pretending the grades on the trails weren't steep in places. I didn't see anyone pretending to be deal with the hail and high winds coming through. Sure we came out healthy, but I wasn't really interested in coming home with an injury – pretend or otherwise. How exactly does one "pretend" to hike 70-100 miles in 10 days with a group of kids at various fitness levels over similar terrain you would find at other mountain ranges?

    I would definitely go back sometime, even with some of the rules. We had a great time and I like the chances of a kid getting hooked on backpacking much more in an environment were he/she can do more than just hike. I know my son's willingness to go out more increased. For that I'm happy.

    M B
    BPL Member


    I fully agree that Philmont is good at what it is.

    But thats all it is.

    The more experienced someone is, the less they will like it. The less they will like the crew approach as well, because you are always waiting on other that simply arent efficient.

    That applies to kids too.

    I was up every day 15 min before everyone else. 10 min after the crew was up and the bearbags down, I was ready to go. I then had to wait around for about 1.5 hrs for everyone else to finally get their stuff together. I never did figure out what the heck took everyone so long. They simply werent efficient at packing their stuff up.

    My son was the same way, except he couldnt take his tent down until the kid sharing it got his stuff out , and he was always the last to be ready. Drove my son nuts.

    Yes, working as a team is a big part of it. There are life lessons to be learned there. But, thats not all Philmont is really about. Thats thinking a bit too deep. Thats a side benefit.

    Its about doing some hiking, combined with some fun, informational, and interesting programs too. The problem is, program time in 1.5-2 hrs is pretty darn superficial for some things.

    The closer a crew is to the same level of fitness and experience, the less internal strife they will have .

    Some like to say that its not a race when you are hiking. They are correct when you are hiking to a trail camp with nothing to do.

    They are wrong in other ways though, and they need to realize it.

    Such as when you are hiking to programs. When lack of preparation or fitness by some crew members impacts the time for program activities of others (that spent ~$1500-$2000 each ), it can become a very big deal to other crew members.

    There is also the consideration of the heat of the day. Its much more desireable to be at your destination by 10-11 am at the latest, than dragging in at 2pm under a scorching sun. Crew members that cause delays, simply wont be very popular.

    Yes, learning to function as a sucessful team is important. That DOES NOT mean that the crew always has to reduce itself to the "comfort" level of the poorest shape member. Its a two-way street. The weaker member should expect to have to work harder than the others as well. Its when they dont want to do that, that problems occur.

    For instance, the second day hiking, a couple of our adults and kids were making us taking 20 min pack off breaks every 30 min on easy trail. In addition to 5 min water breaks in between. We spent more time resting than hiking in the first 3 hrs. It was absurd to anyone that had done much hiking before.

    This wasnt because it was needed, it was because the inexperienced had the wrong expectations of what hiking would be like. They didnt expect to breathe hard for long periods of time, they wanted an easy stroll.

    Fortunately, after suffering thru a very hot day with no shade to take breaks in in the central country, with some sunburn, they got over taking too many un-necessary breaks. After several days into the trek the crew rarely stopped and took breaks. They understood that getting on trail at 530 and getting to destination by 930, was very desireable compared to alternative. They also learned to drink up before hitting trail, and during the limited breaks. That if they didnt, the crew wasnt stopping for them to do so every 15 minutes anymore. Things improved greatly.

    "I'd like to see one documented case of a bear going in to an occupied tent because the kid had a spot of chillimac on his pants. Hanging bear bags took way too long and lighter loads would mean less time doing so."

    Philmont has had bear incidents, and yes a scout has been dragged out of their tent before by a bear by their leg. They always attribute these things to "the scout was playing with deodorant before bed", or " a chapstick was left in tent", but there is no way to know for sure why a bear does what it might. One thing is sure, wildlife is not afraid of humans where it is not hunted. We had a bear with cub walk thru our campsite with scouts sitting there. We saw two others, one a very close range that just sat and looked at us. Bears are not afraid of people at Philmont.

    We found hanging bear bags to be easy and fast. So easy, we didnt contemplate using an oops rope, even though we did have an amsteel blue rope with us "accidentally", we deemed it totally unnecessary. In 90% of the time, 2 scouts could raise bearbags in a couple of minutes once they had them. In fact, it was clear that less people was easier, more just got in the way and gummed up the process.

    There is more to backpacking than walking. It involves responsibility, self-sufficiency, planning for contingencies, LNT, etc. Philmont bypasses much of that. What isnt bypassed, is corrupted thru paranoia about someone getting hurt. Encouraging people to take too man items, too much clothing, too heavy packs. Backpacking the Philmont way, can set people up for failure in the future.

    I dont take "enormous pride" in being able to hike 20 mpd. I can hike much farther, but there are people out there that can do 100 miles in 24 hrs as well, so I certainly dont think I have anything to be proud of. What I am, is experienced enough to know what is hard, and what is not. I can recognize when people are truly being pushed to their limits, and when they are just a little uncomfortable. Backpacking isnt about being comfortable. If someone is pushing their limits, they are breathing very hard, sweating , etc, and wont talk. If they can carry on conversation, they are in a good zone. Simply talking to people while walking will tell you how they are really doing.

    Corbin Camp


    Locale: Southeast

    I know what you mean about some taking forever to get their stuff together. We were always an hour to 90 mins in getting camp put up. We had a few done in 10 minutes and others who simply take forever to drag their butts out of bed and get moving. I know it drives some people nuts but why? That's the hurry up and wait paradox for you. Get there to sit around. If the people who are dragging do get done sooner, there's an expectation to be faster for what reason? It never got that hot for us. For us a lot of the causes of delay were from all of the "Philmont Ways" of doing things. We boil water in pots. Why did those have to sit by the sump? Why was the fuel stored in another location? We had rain every day on our trek and several times it took us time to clean up gear or dry out tents so we weren't hauling 5 lbs of extra water and dirt. Throw in breakfast time and we were always getting out at the same time. We only missed one program the whole time and that happened to be on the day we did our conservation project, then had one of our longest hikes mostly uphill. We weren't really up to doing much more than eating and going to bed then anyhow. Fitness levels are going to vary amongst any crew. Trying to get people who are somewhat close isn't always possible. You may have some dealing with injuries or others who want to take in scenery and enjoy the trip as much as the destination. There's got to be some give and take or conflicts start arising. I suspect most crews work out their break schedules where it works best for them. We used the caterpillar method to give everyone a regular break to do whatever they needed and keep us together. Outside lunch or a nice vista, we didn't stop (diet change induced increases in cathole/latrine visits not withstanding). Any group like that is about team work. You stay together and help out the kid who is struggling. Getting annoyed because one member can't keep up the max pace for whatever reason isn't helping anyone.

    thomas baskin


    Ha ha. Yes Corbin, I believe I do know that Ranger. What a small world. It's very nice of you to say that you thought well of him. Incidentally, I was minding my own business Sunday afternoon when I received a call from him. I was sure he was calling from HQ on his day off, but no, he was calling from the summit of Wheeler Peak, where he was day hiking with a couple of his Ranger buddies. He sounded like he was in the next room! Who would think it possible?


    Tony Ronco
    BPL Member


    Thanks Mike for your efforts.

    RE: LNT –

    I agree with your observations on garbage disposal an LNT method would be better.

    In addition, on our last trip in 2011, the bear bag ropes wrapped around the trees produced very visible bark damage – all the way down to the phleom. In fact, I took several pictures of that at each camp to illustrate what not to do in my LNT presentations. I had hoped to hear that by now at least the use protective stand-off sticks to protect the bark from rope wrap would have been encouraged. (If they are unwilling to step up and utilize a modified PCT method, such as the Al Geist system)

    For a Scout to earn the Leave No Trace Achievement Award, one of the prerequisites that he must have the Environmental Science merit badge … a merit badge that teaches conservation, with water conservation having an prominent role. Too bad Philmont does not fully recognize the need or practice of water conservation in the back country even though ironically, water conservation is one of the commitments in the Philmont Wilderness Pledge … especially when approaching it's cooking method. The cleaning required for that approach wastes water, time, and fuel (from unnecessary boiling of water), in addition to increasing the generation of fossil fuel emissions.
    Philmont unfortunately hasn't recognized that its approach less sustainable.

    RE: Cooking Approach –
    Yes, "Philmont includes foods in literally every one of their meal packages that leave significant smellable residue" and combined with the smellable residue left over rehydrated food from the sump strainer, the Philmont cooking "method" definitely generates odorous garbage and as a by-product of it, renews smellable contamination in the pots themselves after each dinner and the sump strainer itself (which are both avoidable with water conservation methods) …

    Philmont has the potential to be a showcase. Seemingly an unfulfilled potential at this point.

    M B
    BPL Member


    Philmont does require the use of stand off sticks now for ropes. Not sure how much this helps, It will do a different form of damage, but it still will damage the tree. The same trees are being used by everyone repeatedly. When letting bags down, the tree is used for friction to control the rope let down, this is probably where a lot of damage occurs. Perhaps they should just install bear cables, or at least tie-off poles. But the truth is, the tie off trees are sacrificial .

    Nothing at Philmont is LNT, its concentrated impact. Camping areas are well used, well trodden, rock furniture made by scouts, logs to sit on, fire rings, etc.

    I agree Philmont is far from a showcase. It is very heavily used. The most annoying aspect to me, is the fact that horses navigate almost every trail. Almost every trail is covered with horse crap. A constant reminder you are on a ranch. They preach trail conservation, but horses are about the worst thing possible for trails. Not to mention fouling water supplies.

    I observed people standing in and washing up in rivers, rivers that people downstream 200 yds were filling their nalgenes with. The inexperienced people at Philmont have little sense of backcountry etiquette. They behave the same way they do at their local campground.

    Bruce Kolkebeck
    BPL Member


    Locale: Uhwarrie National Forest

    When I went to Philmont in 2000 there were a good number of bear incidents on the Ranch. I was allowed to hang out in the radio room my last night with one of our guys and listened to a few of the reports as they came in. If I remember correctly there were 5 call ins that night about bears. We passed several sumps that were dug out by bears. For some reason that year was bad. Drought, overpopulation of bears, bad mast year could have caused the problems. I don't have a clue why it was bad.

    One call that night was for an attack with injuries. Apparently a kid had thrown up on himself and had some residue on his shirt. The only reason I know a little more about it is that the kid later roomed next to my kid in college. He told the story and we put the facts together to assume he was the scout in the report. The scout in question was bitten in the head which required many stiches. The adult leaders fought the bear off with trekking poles as I understand it.

    Another attack was on a kid who had eaten the Gatorade out of the package like a pixie stick. The bear followed the trail of Gatorade left by the kid right to him. That's all I heard about it.

    I've been to Philmont 5 times. This year I actually saw a glimpse of a bear with cubs. Otherwise I've never seen a bear at Philmont. All I'm saying is I guess incidents happen there. Maybe that's why there's so much attention given to the bear procedures.


    Michael Danielson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Middle TN

    I have been backpacking since 1972 when I went to Philmont for the first time. Growing up in Iowa, there were not many hiking trails to hike on which allowed camping. Thus it was my first true experience "backpacking". Since then I have hiked and lived in many different places in the US and continue to backpack today.

    I am greatly surprised that when thinking about laying done the cash for this kind of trip, that the person does not do their homework. Most people who do not like it like to hike individually or with only one other person. They want to get up and go. Putting 20 to 30 or more miles in per day. That is fine but that is not what Philmont is or is about. Never has been and never will be. The program is set up to introduce numerous things to the youth outside their comfort zone. Also the program is for the youth and not the adults. Period. That seems to get lost in all of this discussion. It is supposed to help build the crew into a team. To work as a team and play as a team. Simple and straight forward. No you do not have to go there to do this but that is a different discussion. Even their individual programs including R.O.C.K.S. and the Rayado program teaches leadership and team building. It is not for the individual(s) who want to do their own thing. They will usually never have a good time and sometimes ruin the trip for the whole group. Most of those people will end up leaving scouting in the long run.

    If you are educated in the ultra light philosophy and your crew is well trained on this, there is usually no problem with the staff. In actuality, you do not have to use any of their gear as long as you have replacements and can explain in detail how it is used. If the crew leader does the talking, then the ranger will know that he has an experienced crew which makes it easier on them. Again education and training is the key.

    The rules at that time were few during my first trek back in 1972. I have been there a total of 5 times (3 in the last 10 years which includes this year). Rules had increased by 10x. Mostly due to accidents and deaths. Some due to stupidity, some due to nature, and some due to health. So it is all about safety and now leave no trace. Also liability is a big issue which has created a lot. So the rules are the rules. If you cannot live with the rules, then do not go. Again this is mainly an adult issue.

    Philmont is not for everyone, but I remember the lives I have changed by taking these boys out of their comfort zones and the thanks I get years later for this type of experience. That is what makes these trips or any other backpacking trip worth it.

    Tony Ronco
    BPL Member


    While it is nice to hear about the stand-off sticks, it is too bad the trees are being used as belay pins to provide enough friction to control the rope when lowering down the bear bags … yup, the tie-off trees are then definitely sacrificial.
    Need either tie-off poles to concentrate the impact or start utilizing a modified PCT method, such as the Al Geist system to eliminate that type of impact.

    Concentrated Impact is apart of LNT. Old school would have it listed as "Concentrate Impacts in High Use Areas", current practice lists it in "Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces", specifically when talking about high use areas such as "camp on sites that are so highly impacted that further careful use will cause no noticeable impact"

    … and there are still the other 6 LNT principles to observe !

    I too, unfortunately have seen your observations. With the Wilderness Pledge and LNT preached, Philmont certainly talks the talk, and it should still strive to develop into a showcase to the boys on how best practices are done … in other words be able to walk the talk.

    Tony Ronco
    BPL Member


    Michael D,
    One line in your post troubled me. That issue raised in this thread are "mainly an adult issue". Let me respectfully suggest that issues such as LNT are not mainly an adult issue, it about role modeling for the youth and developing their sense of "stewardship" (BP's word) for the wilderness.

    Also, going lightweight is not "mainly an adult issue" it is about providing comfortable, safe, physical access to the wilderness experience – being more inclusive to greater cross section of Scouts … by including those Scouts who aren't high school athletes (those athletes are strong enough, to carry whatever they want). If backpacking is not an enjoyable experience, then the wilderness connection to those Scouts won't be made, it won't hook those boys in.

    Philmont has (of course) programs at each camp which greatly helps with the making of a "wilderness" experience for the Scouts … but the backpacking itself should not be a barrier to that because that's what the Scouts will most likely be accessing & doing when they are in the backcountry near their homes (i.e. when they are not at Philmont).

    Providing access to the wilderness experience – that is an adult advisor issue; knowing how to provide Scouts access (comfortable & safe access) and program to the backcountry (= the wilderness experience, which to BP is a key part of the Scouting Experience) … that's the challenge for an adult advisor … and that's also about providing the access to the Scouting Experience to all their Scouts so they can develop their teaming & leadership skills, regardless if they happen to be highly athletic or Not.


Viewing 25 posts - 1 through 25 (of 44 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!