- Jul 26, 2019 at 4:06 pm #3603547
James ABPL Member
We did trek 18 in the south starting 626 with 8 Scouts and 3 adults. Had an absolute blast! I was expecting it to be pretty, but I can honestly say that Philmont is as beautiful as any of the western National Parks, but with far fewer people. We enjoyed fabulous views every day. The variety of ecosystems is amazing. We were blown away by all the wildflowers and how they varied by elevation.
Great weather for the most part, with of course several afternoon showers. It rained at Clarks Fork from about noon to 2am, so that was a bit of a drag. Mosquitoes were terrible at Toothache Springs, pretty bad at Fish Camp, and a couple other spots. I was very surprised by that. At some point, some chiggers or other buggers bit my ankles just above my sock. That itched on and off for days! Much worse than dealing with a few mosquito bites. Anyway, onto the report.
Day 0: Up at 2:00am and to airport by 3:30am for early flight from Detroit into Denver. Bus to Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Subs for lunch before tour of the chapel, which was gorgeous! On to Garden of the Gods for a way-too-short visit. We only made one stop and walked around by Balanced Rock. Definitely would like more time there. Then on to Cave of the Winds for a 45-minutes cave tour, which was great. Dinner at Famous Daves and in bed early at the hotel.
Day 1: Up early for continental breakfast and 3-hour bus ride to Philmont. Checked in around 10:30. Extremely busy day for me (lead advisor) and our crew leader. The other guys got some downtime and a chance to visit Tooth of Time Traders, but not me. Our Ranger walked us through the whole process, so no need to stress about it. Philmont is super organized, but there’s a lot to do: medical rechecks, logistics (what camps have water, where do we get food, etc.), mail room to get our stoves, gear/food pickup, lockers for our extra stuff, security, etc. Dinner is like 4:30, then we had leadership meetings. The Advisor meeting was a complete waste of time if you came prepared and knew what you were doing. I think the youth meetings were good, though. Then chapel and opening campfire. I enjoyed both, but was still tired from travel.
Day 2: Up early to pack up crew gear and eat before a visit to the National Scouting Museum. This is a can’t-miss, folks. Very well done! On bus by 10:00am and dropped off at Zastro turnaround. The crew decided they wanted to side hike to Zastro camp to do the geocaching program. That was really fun! We had bought patches at ToTT to trade, definitely recommend doing that. Around 2:00pm we left and hiked back to the Zastro turnaround and then up the very hot and dusty road to Toothache Springs. This was one of our harder hikes because we just got there and it was HOT and steep. Toothache was a really pretty camp, with great views of Urraca Mesa, but the mosquitoes were unreal. We were very surprised by that. We ate dinner with our rain jackets on to keep them off of us.
Day 3: Up at 5:30, I think. This was the latest we got up on the trail. We hiked to Abreu and really liked the camp here. The guys made adobe bricks, had root beer, and tried to fend off the goats and chickens while we ate lunch in the shade. Then on to Carson Meadows. The views just as you get up to camp are outstanding, and the far off view of the Tooth from the porch of the cabin is awesome. The guys did a “lost hiker” search and rescue simulation with three other crews. It was too many people and was kind of a disaster. The evening program was much better, a game of Mafia that the guys really loved. Our site at Carson was in the trees, nice but no views really.
Day 4: Absolutely beautiful hike to Fish Camp! Views of the mountains were really good. At Fish Camp, we toured the lodge, then did fly tying and fly fishing. Wish we’d had a little more time for the fishing, but one of the advisors did pull a trout out of Agua Fria Creek. The campsite we had was really pretty, right along the Agua Fria, but there were two stream crossings that you had to get wet in to get to the lodge and water spigot. Advisors got coffee and cookies on the porch while the Scouts played card games inside at about 7:00pm. Highly recommend not missing Advisor coffee, as it gives you some time away from the Scouts and you get to meet people from all over the country and compare notes.
Day 5: After much debate, we all changed into our camp shoes for the hike to Apache Springs. There were something like 12 stream crossings and we decided changing in and out of boots/trail runners would not be efficient. This worked well, and we enjoyed the views of the creek and the chance to dip our hats in the water as it warmed up. Once the trail moved uphill we put back on our regular footwear. Apache was also very pretty. We arrived before 11:00am and signed up for 1:00pm archery. Amazingly, the Scouts took forever setting up camp and missed their time! The camp director gave a stern talk to the Crew Leader for missing their time and taking up a slot that another crew could have used. Definitely something the guys did not want to repeat! We did conservation at 2:00pm, cutting down selected trees, “bucking” them (cutting off branches), and stacking everything to be burned in the winter. Very good conservation talk from the staff, I was impressed and we learned a lot. We got a chance to wash clothes at Apache, and also get a quick hair washing in as well, which was very welcome. (Most nights we “showered” by using Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes, which I recommend very highly.) The evening program was a walk up to the meadow on UU Bar ranch between Apache and Garcia Cow. Only our crew showed up for that, so we had the meadow to ourselves for sunset. Loved this!
Day 6: Up early and again to the meadow. We ate breakfast and admired the elk herd in the distance. We took our time crossing and just really enjoyed ourselves. The wildlife walk, skull talk in the “murder hut,” and the tarp talk about animal hides and trapping were all awesome by the Garcia Cow staff. Very good program here. We then headed north for Wild Horse trail camp. Ate lunch on the way with a beautiful mountain backdrop. Then ran into our most challenging afternoon with a fierce thunderstorm and three hours of driving rain. I detail the experience in another thread. Suffice to say we survived with nobody getting hypothermic, but it was tough!
Day 7: Up at 4:00am for our Mt. Phillips day, something everybody was looking forward to. Stopped at Clear Creek for breakfast and to fill 6 liters of water per person. Don’t bother with program here or you will be risking bad weather on Phillips. We summitted Phillips before 11:00am and briefly had it to ourselves for photos. The hike up was easier than what we had been told, in my opinion. I found the downhill portion much harder (on my knees). We then summitted Commanche, which is in the woods with no view. At the Commanche camp we got set up minutes before rain moved in. It was off and on pretty lightly for an hour or so. While exploring around, I discovered a perfect spot to spend the afternoon and watch the sunset. This became my favorite camp because of the views of Baldy and many other peaks. Amazingly, no other crews joined us. There is also a spot to watch the sunrise that is perfect.
Day 8: Up again at 4:00am so we could watch the sunrise, which was great! We ate breakfast and didn’t see anybody else until a few advisors from another crew wandered out as we were packing up to leave. The hike to Sawmill was again very picturesque, great big mountain views most of the way. We got there early and did cartridge reloading, each getting three carts that we would later shoot. Since we would be camping the next night so close at Whistle Punk, the staff said we needed to shoot the next morning and save afternoon slots for crews passing through. So we spent the afternoon lounging, doing laundry, and taking showers. By the way, don’t expect things to dry super fast at Philmont, especially socks. Shirts do dry quickly if you put them on after washing, but everything else took longer than we were told. You often don’t have great sun, so it can take a long time. One day I did put my socks on a hot rock in the sun and they dried in about 30 minutes, but that was the exception, not the norm.
Day 9: Slept in today since we had to wait to do .30-06 shooting. That was really fun, as we got to shoot at steel cutouts of animals on the side of a hill. We shot our 3 rounds and then each shot 3 factory rounds. Very good experience here. Then we hiked to Whistle Punk, which is only a couple miles away. After setting up camp and eating lunch we decided to day hike down to Cyphers Mine. We got there around 3:00pm and did the mine tour, which was a lot of fun. Some of the guys did gold panning as well. I was hoping they would bring dinner and stay for the Stomp, but they wanted to cook back at Whistle Punk. That ended up being around 9 miles round-trip, so we still got in a lot of hiking this day. Whistle Punk was just a camp in the woods, no views here. We did enjoy the new plastic pilot-to-bombardier toilet. Much better than the wooden ones.
Day 10: Deja vu as we hiked back down to Cyphers to do the Forge. That was a lot of fun and highly recommended. The Scouts made a metal hanger. After patching up some BAD blisters on one of the Scouts, we moved on. (By the way, this Scout admitted that he had ignored hot spots on his feet until it was too late. No matter how much you may stress this, each person needs to be accountable for their own foot health. Also, get each Scout a one-ounce Gold Bond powder bottle, they’ll use it! Leukotape-P was our MVP as far as medical equipment. That stuff is outstanding for covering hotspots, or attaching moleskin.) The hike to Cimarroncito was again gorgeous! We got there around 1:00pm and signed up for 3:00pm rock climbing, which was moved to 4:00 due to storm threat. The rock climbing was a blast, and the view from the top of the burned area was haunting and yet beautiful, especially the Tooth in the distance. We got a campsite facing south away from the burn areas with views of the mountains – this was my favorite campsite. This was the first camp that had an actual “store” where you could buy gear if needed, candy, snacks, etc. Don’t plan on being able to buy things in the backcountry, because there just aren’t many places, from what we found. This wasn’t a big deal, but it’s just nice to be able to buy some jerky and other snacks. At this point in the trek, any food that was different than we had been eating was welcome.
Day 11: Slept in a little since we were hiking to Hunting Lodge and doing a tour and they don’t open till 8:00. Ate breakfast there and got an early tour at 7:45. Very cool stuff! You have to do these tours if you have the chance. Then we hiked a little more to Demonstration Forest and met David, the mad behind all the rubber chickens you may see around Philmont. He’s a forester from Texas, I believe. He is a really genuine, infectious speaker, and told us all about forest preservation at Philmont. This was very good and not to be missed! Also, they had coffee and comfy camp chairs for the advisors. Next we pushed on to Clarks Fork. We got set up before noon, and it’s a good thing, because it rained for about 14 hours after that! Some of the group still went for a horseback ride once the thunder and lightning subsided. The rest huddled on the large porch of the staff cabin. We had an awesome chuckwagon dinner of beef stew, bread, and peach cobbler. This was great, but portions were small. Got to bed pretty early after coffee.
Day 12: Up at 3:00am and hiked a bit in the dark. Dropped our packs and summitted Schaefers Peak and had it to ourselves. Continued on to the Tooth and rock scrambled to the top. This is pure scrambling over boulders with no obvious “path” at all. There were 2 or 3 other crews at the top, so it took awhile to get everybody in place for some nice crew photos. We were on the Tooth for quite a while, and then it took a bit to get back down. Had a snack and then continued on to the switchbacks back to base camp. By this time, it was getting hot and sunny and not much tree cover, so it was quite a slog. After getting a photo under the “Welcome back” gateway, we rolled into camp about 1:30pm. We turned in gear, washed the Philtents, mailed the stoves, picked up award patches at the ToTT, arrowhead patches from registration, etc. Lots to do, but much quicker than day 1. We all got showered and made it to the welcome center in time to catch the (free) 4:00pm shuttle into Cimarron. We got dropped at the St. James Hotel and had a great dinner (steak for me) under the covered area of the patio in back. (One of the advisors called ahead and they had a big table waiting.) We caught the 6:00pm shuttle back to base camp and enjoyed the closing camp fire.
Day 13: Up early to pack up, eat breakfast, and hit ToTT for souvenirs. We had made a tour reservation at the Villa Philmonte for 8:00am back on day 1, so we had to hurry to make our appointment. The Villa was absolutely gorgeous, you definitely don’t want to miss seeing it. We got on our bus around 10:30am, got Pizza Hut buffet on the way back to Denver, and flew out around 9:30pm (flight delay). Home in bed back in Michigan around 3:30am. Luckily I thought ahead and took the next day off.
We had a really wonderful experience and I hope that we can generate enough interest in our troop to return in 2-3 years. I would love to see the north country next time. The Scouts and adults did a great job training, because we hiked FAST and never had anybody lagging. I was really happy with that. We did have the typical squabbles among teenagers that you might expect, but nothing too bad. The staff at Philmont was uniformly excellent and seem to love their jobs. Can’t say that I blame them!
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