A Philmont Journal - Part 1

Relive the exciting experience that is Philmont.

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by Tom Baskin | 2013-07-09 00:00:00-06

This article is broken into 5 parts:

  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • Part 4
  • Part 5
  •  - 1
    Philmont.

    Dedication

    This brief remembrance is dedicated to my friends, Scouts and Scouters all, in whose company I had the good fortune to travel as a member of crew 618-Q:

    • Gary Fujino
    • Terry Heslin
    • Dave Wagers
    • Aaron Rosenthal
    • Kade Wagers
    • Tomio Fujino
    • Matt Spence
    • Robert Fosburg
    • Sam Baskin
    • Jim Baskin
    • Malcolm Heslin

    It is also dedicated to Jeff Dias, my Ranger in 1972, whose kindness, patience and good humor I have never forgotten. Jeff, if you’re still knocking about, there aren’t many days that go by in my role as Scoutmaster of Troop 100 that I do not think of you.

    Those of my companions who look for a perfect agreement between what I have written and what they remember should stop looking. Life sometimes moves in ways that do nothing to advance the narrative arc, so it is possible that certain things may have been massaged a bit. It’s mostly honest though. Cheers fellows.

    TB

    3/28/13

     - 2
    a stunning view.

    Author’s Preface

    I first set foot on Philmont Scout Ranch in 1972. I was 16 years old, skinny and all by myself. I am embarrassed to admit it now, but I did not want to be there, my attendance owing only to the intervention of my father who thought that Philmont would be just the ticket. I was assigned to a crew of similarly situated strangers and with them I hiked the Ranch from south to north, covering over 130 miles during the two weeks of my trek. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. I was ill equipped and suffered for it, but I also got an inkling that equipment was available that would allow more comfortable travel in the backcountry.

    In far off Sun Valley California (or so the label said) Dick Kelty was making iconic frame packs coveted by every Philmont ranger I met. My ranger sported an olive green D4, and soon after my return to Lewiston, Idaho I was to have my own Kelty, a red B4, purchased on advice of another ranger who advocated an undivided pack sack, deriding the compartmentalized pack of the D4 as a marketing gimmick. This guy may have been the first minimalist I met in the backpacking world. Other gear was added incrementally, and before long I realized that backpacking did not need to be physically punishing.

    My memories of my 1972 trek are no longer entirely reliable, and what I do remember of that summer I recall through the filter of an undeniable nostalgia. But I know that in many ways that trek kindled my love affair with travel by foot, and it opened my eyes to what is possible for a thoughtfully equipped walker. Forty years later my enthusiasm for hiking is undiminished, especially as the means to carry less have evolved. However, I find that I do not have any desire to cut my base weight to single digit figures, as seems to be the trend among the ascetics. There are a handful of small items which, though technically not “essential”, I won’t do without, and as the poet said, “what I would not part with, I have kept.”

    In the summer of 2010 I returned to the Ranch as an adult advisor, accompanied by my oldest son and ten other scouts and scouters from Troop 100 out of Boise, Idaho. I have written about that trip elsewhere, devoting a good deal of attention to discussion of gear choices and techniques, but very little to the trip itself.

    In the summer of 2012 I again returned to Philmont with Troop 100, accompanied by both of my sons as we tackled Itinerary 11 as part of crew 618-Q. To pass the time, and as part of an effort to observe things more closely, I kept a daily journal of our experiences on the trail. This trip report is drawn from those entries, in places verbatim. In addition, I have prepared the attached appendices containing descriptions and comments on the crew and individual gear we used.

    Our preparations for this trek were made much easier by the attention we paid to doing things the “Philmont Way” in 2010. Our gear choices were informed and refined by our 2010 experience, and long before we began to train, our scouts had gear recommendations in hand. Three of our Scouts, including my oldest son, were veterans of our 2010 trek, and we relied on them to mentor the younger scouts in all things Philmont. Of the four adult advisors on our Trek, only I had been to the Ranch before. My three companions are experienced backpackers, and have led Troop 100 scouts on many great adventures in Idaho’s backcountry. Paradoxically, this gave me some pause; what would they make of the “Philmont Way”? I warned them what was coming and assured them that our time at the Ranch would pass merrily if they would get their minds right, set aside their notions of how things should be done and accede to the direction of higher authority. In one case this good advice either was not believed or did not sink in. The morning after our disorganized night at Ute Springs camp one of my companions confided that the internal struggle he endured to follow what he regarded as nonsensical instruction from our Ranger made for the worst night he had ever had backpacking.

    Things got better.

     - 3
    Philmont Compass.

    6/18/12: Arriving

    We left Boise at 6 a.m. on June 17, and drove nonstop to the F.E. warren AFB outside of Cheyenne Wyoming. The base is home to 150 Minuteman III ICBMs, which explains both the puzzling absence of runways as well as why the facility nevertheless qualifies as an Air Force Base. The base has a scouting program, and maintains a scout hut to house scouting activities. We arranged to use it as a flop, even though this required us to leave Cheyenne by 4:45 the next morning in order to arrive at Philmont by 11:00 a.m.

    We arrived at the Philmont welcome center at 10:45 a.m. on June 18, a full 15 minutes before our deadline. We were met by an enthusiastic staff who seemed pleased that we had decided to spend part of our summer on the Ranch. After some preliminary paper shuffling our assigned Ranger, JS, appeared, and we were directed to our tent assignments in the “trail Bound” section of tent city. Tent city is quite a sight, and it is easy to get lost in it if one forgets, as I did, to note the row and number of the tent to which you are assigned. Interspersed through this field of platform tents are a number of permanent bath houses, each specifically signed for youth males, youth females, adult males and adult females. Due to drought, water conservation practices were in force, and we were all encouraged to take Navy showers.

     - 4
    Headquarters seen from Tooth Ridge. Tent city is readily visible on the right.

    In the first day at HQ a lot of scurrying about must be done, for that is the only day to complete paperwork, pick up supplies and check gear before the Philmont system inexorably pushes you onto the trail to begin the first day of your trek. It is easy to forget that everyday new crews arrive to begin this process, and everyday Philmont must empty tent city to make room for them. First though, there is lunch, and much to my surprise HQ meals seem to have improved since my last visit. Querying JS about this pleasant development she explained that staff and scouts now eat the same meals at HQ, and I do not doubt that this fact accounts for the improvement I noted. The kitchen staff is full of fun and happy chatter. Sullen drudges they are not, and it is a hopeful sign that we can expect the same attitude from staff on the trail.

    After lunch our crew leader, MH, and I made a quick tour of the camp registration office where all our documents were perused, including our tour plan, wilderness first aid certifications, CPR certifications, medical forms, crew roster, and talent release. With everything in order we appeared at the medical lodge where blood pressure and medications were checked and medical forms gathered.

     - 5
    Philmont dining hall. The food isn’t half bad.

    I was looking forward to our next meeting at Logistics Services, where we would receive detailed advice about our chosen itinerary. There we were introduced to Tom, a Philmont veteran who first set foot on the Ranch as a scout in 1974. We were contemporaries, but rather than turn back the clock with me, he made it clear that his limited time would be spent talking over our trek with MH. I was invited to take a seat in the corner while he and MH pored over the Philmont map I produced from my valise. When I tried to peer over MH’s shoulder to better visualize what was being discussed, I was firmly shooed back to my corner and there I sat until they finished. I got the message. Tom’s dismissal of an adult advisor, who he knew full well, had planned every step of the trip to this moment, unmistakably signaled that from Philmont’s perspective our trek had nothing to do with the four adults in tow. We were incidental. We were hangers on. The show would be run by MH and his crew. Tom’s dismissal was arguably not the most diplomatic way to convey this message, although it was a way. The only time he directed comments to me was when he told me that if we had a scout or scouter who was having “issues”, who was homesick, or who was a troublemaker, it was on us. Philmont would not, under any circumstances, intercede to facilitate retrieval of such a person from the trail. We would simply have to make it work. At any rate, from my corner I was able to listen as Tom took MH step by step through our itinerary, pointing out our resupply points, where to stock up on water for our three dry camps, where to squeeze in our conservation project, where our layover day would be and how to capitalize on program opportunities at each of our staffed camps. It was a concise tutorial, military in its style. I think it snapped MH out of his somnolent travel state.

    At the commissary the crew picked up our first supply of trail food and any crew gear that we had not brought with us. As in 2010, the only Philmont gear we could be troubled to take were the bear bags, which appear to be repurposed grain sacks. There are probably better alternatives to these bags, but they are so abused in the course of a trek that I cannot imagine wanting to substitute something that actually cost money. Because of the peculiarities of our itinerary, we picked up only one day’s worth of food at HQ commissary. We will hit our first resupply on trail day 2 when we reach Ute gulch commissary.

     - 6
    Hoisting bear bags, a daily ritual.

    After picking up these supplies we went back to tent city where JS had us drag our cots outside and spread out all our gear for an item by item pack check. Her list differed from mine, but not by much, and she was fine with our gear selections once she heard our explanations.

    Of course, Philmont would not tie up so much of our time that the boys would not have an opportunity to visit Tooth of Time Traders, and the attached snack bar. It’s an interesting place, representing, on the one hand, a top notch outdoor shop that would make any backpacker salivate, and on the other, a souvenir store full to bursting with Philmont branded kitsch. I purchased a few small gifts and a reproduction of an Ansel Adams photograph of the Ranch taken in 1961.

     - 7
    JS presides over pack check at tent city.

    Late in the afternoon, Mark Anderson, Philmont’s Director of Program, met with all adult advisors scheduled to begin their trek the next day. Among other things, he spoke about current trail conditions, the extended weather forecast and warned us about Philmont’s delicate relationship with bears and mountain lions. By way of illustration, he recounted that in 2011 a Philmont crew on Tooth ridge dropped packs for the quick scramble to the summit of the Tooth of Time. They failed to take any precaution against curious bears and as soon as they abandoned their packs, a curious bear arrived and helped herself. From the signal failure of that crew, this sow and her cub learned to associate food with scout packs, and the pair has been a problem in Tooth Ridge camp ever since. For the rest of the 2011 season Philmont dispatched a pair of slingshot equipped rangers to Tooth Ridge camp every night to dissuade these bears.

    Anderson also reiterated the message delivered by Tom in Logistics, although with more tact. He warned that adult impatience with adolescent dithering would manifest as adult interference in crew decision making. This is assuredly a bad thing, since the whole point of the drill is to make the boys figure everything out. He gave us a mantra to recite, “we are on vacation”, and suggested that any time we felt the need to butt in we should assume a contemplative stance, wander over to the nearest ponderosa pine and concentrate on trying to figure out whether the bark smells of butterscotch or vanilla. In the end, the only important function adults serve is to keep the scouts safe from harm, should their attempts to figure things out lead them into dangerous territory.

    Later, we enjoyed a perfectly acceptable dinner, followed by chapel. Our first day at HQ concluded with the opening campfire which included a number of short set pieces portraying historic figures associated with the Ranch. We were down by 9:30 p.m. looking forward to getting out of HQ and into the backcountry.

     - 8
    Opening Campfire.

     - 9
    Philmont Compass.

    6/19/12: HQ to Ute Springs camp

     - 10
    Waite Phillip’s favorite view.

    Immediately after breakfast we convened for our crew photograph, with the Tooth of Time as a backdrop. I expected to be plopped on a bus to ‘Cito turnaround that morning, but our sister crew was allotted the first slot, so we got to cool our heels at HQ until 2:00 p.m. We used this time to take a tour of the Villa Philmonte, the summer home built by Waite Phillips in the 1920s. All visitors to the Ranch should find time to tour this historic structure. No uninhabited monument to ego, the Villa is clearly a place that was lived in and loved by its builder. The first time I visited Window rock as a scout in 1972 I assumed that the formation was so named because of the many pockets and cavities eroded into its surface. However, I have since come to understand that it was Phillips’ favorite feature on the Ranch, and that he arranged for a round window to be installed in the villa from which he could admire the whiteness of the stone, albeit at a considerable remove; hence the name, Window Rock. I have even heard it suggested that the window has some magnifying power, but this seems apocryphal and wasn’t apparent in the few moments I had to peer through it, although how would you know without some way to blink between it and an unfiltered view? Perhaps there really is a devilishly figured optic tucked into this window frame. This would not surprise me in view of some of the other custom embellishments lavished upon the Villa by Phillips. Sadly, Waite Phillips’ favorite view is now partially obscured by mature landscaping.

     - 11
    Western scenes in stained glass grace Villa Philmonte.

    We boarded the bus to ‘Cito turnaround at 2 p.m., and endured the good natured hollering of the two rangers on board as they attempted to keep us entertained for the duration of the short trip. At ‘Cito turnaround we dithered for awhile as JS and another ranger gave us the “red roof” i.e. latrine talk, and introduced our scouts to the available seating options; pilot-to-copilot and pilot-to-bombardier (my favorite). Current protocol no longer calls for rattling a stick around the circumference of the latrine hole before assuming the position. This practice was intended to dislodge spiders that might be waiting in the dark for a chance to bite this or that, but also led to piles of sticks growing at the door to latrines. This was thought to be unsightly and create a fire hazard (!), so policy was revised to discourage spiders by sharply slamming the seat lid a few times before sitting down.

     - 12
    Pilot to Co-pilot, at Carson Meadows. Not my favorite potty, but still quite scenic.

    At 3:00 p.m., we were finally ready to depart, and chose to hike to Ute Springs via Hidden Valley, instead of by the most direct route. The trail to Cathedral Rock and Cimarroncito reservoir roiled with fine dust, and it became clear that the adults in our group were more sensitive to this than our scouts. We hiked 75 to 100 feet behind the boys in order to give the dust kicked up by their shuffling feet a chance to settle. On our 2010 trek, we were chastised by staffers at Clear Creek for allowing our crew to become separated while hiking from Crooked Creek camp. (In fact, someone from Crooked Creek radioed ahead to Clear Creek to rat us out.) Talking to JS about appropriate spacing, she felt that as long as we had the boys in sight, we were probably OK. She also recognized that there was great variability in hiking prowess among the boys, and she had no problem with faster scouts trekking ahead “a little bit” so that they could keep their natural rhythm while surmounting a particular obstacle. She made it clear however, that the crew must regroup frequently, and that Philmont would not tolerate a crew strung out over any significant distance. Generally, she advocated assigning one of the slower scouts as pacesetter. In our group, it quickly became clear that MS and RF were our slowest hikers, while KW and SB were among our fastest. From the very outset it was a struggle to keep the crew together and MH eventually put MS in front as pacesetter, though this engendered some grumbling from faster hikers.

     - 13
    Bristlecone pine and a view up Cimarroncito Creek.

    We spent a few moments chatting up the forester at Philmont’s demonstration forest before starting the familiar climb to Hidden Valley. Hidden Valley is a wonderful and unlikely spot, and seems to exude a good vibe, at least for me. Just before we got to Window rock we stopped to admire the view from the rim, capturing good views of Black and Bear Mountains, Cimarroncito creek up which we will hike in a couple of days and lower ‘Cito meadow. TH identified a bristlecone pine growing on the rim’s edge, not to be confused with a limber pine, which has bunches of only four needles.

     - 14
    A bird of prey roosts on Window Rock.

    A few hundred feet further up the trail we came to Window Rock where we enjoyed expansive views of the land to the south, as well as the east side of Tooth ridge, including a good view of Arrowhead rock, which is depicted on the Philmont arrowhead award patch. Shadows were lengthening by this time so we did not linger, and continued north through hidden valley. JS directed our attention to RF’s footwear which she thought inadequate. His shoes, a pair of Keens, though closed at the toe, were vented along the sides with wide openings, which exposed his socks to all the fines kicked up while hiking. They also appeared to be too big for him, and were already causing him to develop hot spots. What to do? JS suggested that we might find a solution at Ute Gulch Commissary tomorrow morning.

    I am writing now from Ute Springs camp where we arrived at approximately 7:20 p.m., most of us out of water and thirsty. A group of scouts and scouters took water containers to the nearby spring while JS gave us directions about the hoisting of bear bags, and so missed important detail about what goes in bear bags and what goes in the “oops” bag. Preparatory to hoisting bear bags she directed us to remove all food from our packs and toss the meals in the fire circle. This caused a flicker of resentment among certain fastidious adults; “Wait a minute, throw our food in the dirt?” Next, although the campsite afforded plenty of space for tents, they would have to be pitched in two groups since neither of the two flat areas would accommodate all tents. This was deemed unacceptable by JS, who directed us to use only one of the flat spots and cram all of the tents within its radius, in fact touching in a couple of instances. This caused more grumbling, although JS’s direction was entirely consistent with Philmont Leave No Trace practices. Philmont requires that camping be concentrated on durable surfaces, and that sprawl be discouraged by making sure tents are pitched as close together as possible. In practice this means that the attractive meadow you would like to camp in must be ignored in favor of the well used dust pit just outside the “Bearmuda triangle”. To her credit, JS pitched her tent on the rockiest part of our little tent platform.

     - 15
    At Window Rock. Tooth Ridge and Arrowhead Rock are in the background.

    By the time the tents were pitched it was dark. This surprised all of us from northern climes, who are used to a lingering twilight during summer months. At Philmont, the sun doesn’t exactly sink like a rock, but full darkness comes sooner than expected. So, we got to cook in the dark while educating Philmont novices about the cooking method we had used successfully in 2010, a process I adopted after reading a BPL article by Al Geist. Compounding these frustrations, mixed signals about bear bag and oops bag preparation led to one of our dinners being misplaced, and we struggled to get the bags properly hoisted in the dark.


    Citation

    "A Philmont Journal - Part 1," by Tom Baskin. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
    http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/baskin-philmont-journal-part-1.html, 2013-07-09 00:00:00-06.

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    Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » A Philmont Journal - Part 1


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    Maia
    (maia) - MLife

    Locale: Rocky Mountains
    A Philmont Journal - Part 1 on 07/09/2013 13:49:52 MDT Print View

    Companion forum thread to:

    A Philmont Journal - Part 1

    Ken Thompson
    (kthompson) - MLife
    Re: A Philmont Journal - Part 1 on 07/09/2013 18:49:06 MDT Print View

    Tom's other article.

    http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/philmont_redux_returning_scout_report.html#.Udyu3hanqDY

    Christopher Brooks
    (brookscl)
    I also wrote about my adventures as an adult advisor in 2012 on 07/10/2013 10:01:27 MDT Print View

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

    http://chrisbrooks.org/blog/2012/11/25/philmont-2012-summary

    Michael Danielson
    (mcd57) - MLife

    Locale: Middle TN
    A Philmont Journal - Part 1 on 07/10/2013 18:09:24 MDT Print View

    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
    (cjcanoe) - M

    Locale: Uhwarrie National Forest
    The Philmont Way on 07/11/2013 08:34:12 MDT Print View

    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
    (needsAbath)

    Locale: Outside
    Hmm on 07/12/2013 09:43:16 MDT Print View

    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.

    Edited by needsAbath on 07/12/2013 09:44:17 MDT.

    thomas baskin
    (tombaskin) - M
    Hmmm on 07/14/2013 21:54:57 MDT Print View

    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.

    Cheers,
    TB

    Josh Brock
    (needsAbath)

    Locale: Outside
    I see on 07/15/2013 08:43:56 MDT Print View

    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
    (cjcanoe) - M

    Locale: Uhwarrie National Forest
    Philmont redux on 07/15/2013 13:23:09 MDT Print View

    Josh,

    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.

    BK

    michael mercer
    (mmercer) - M

    Locale: Northern Virginia
    Philmont Rules on 07/16/2013 19:14:47 MDT Print View

    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

    Mark;

    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
    (livingontheroad) - M
    philmont on 07/16/2013 23:09:56 MDT Print View

    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"

    Edited by livingontheroad on 07/16/2013 23:18:34 MDT.

    Bruce Kolkebeck
    (cjcanoe) - M

    Locale: Uhwarrie National Forest
    Philmont on 07/17/2013 07:52:20 MDT Print View

    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?

    BK

    M B
    (livingontheroad) - M
    pretend on 07/18/2013 19:04:56 MDT Print View

    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.....at all.

    Edited by livingontheroad on 07/18/2013 19:26:30 MDT.

    Bruce Kolkebeck
    (cjcanoe) - M

    Locale: Uhwarrie National Forest
    Philmont on 07/19/2013 10:44:00 MDT Print View

    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?

    BK

    Paul Magnanti
    (PaulMags) - MLife

    Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
    Philmont on 07/19/2013 13:21:54 MDT Print View

    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
    (heycorb) - F

    Locale: Southeast
    Just returned on 07/19/2013 16:32:24 MDT Print View

    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
    (livingontheroad) - M
    philmont on 07/19/2013 20:02:05 MDT Print View

    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.

    Edited by livingontheroad on 07/20/2013 07:48:37 MDT.

    Corbin Camp
    (heycorb) - F

    Locale: Southeast
    Speed hiking on 07/19/2013 21:59:17 MDT Print View

    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
    (tombaskin) - M
    Just returned on 07/19/2013 23:54:41 MDT Print View

    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?

    Cheers,
    TB

    Tony Ronco
    (tr-browsing) - MLife
    RE: Philmont Rules on 07/19/2013 23:59:10 MDT Print View

    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 not stepping up to 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 recognize the need or practice of water conservation in the back country ... especially when approaching it's cooking method.

    RE: Cooking Approach -
    Yes, "Philmont includes foods in literally every one of their food packages that leaves significant smellable residue" and with the left over rehydrated food residue from the sump strainer, the Philmont approach definitely generates odorous garbage and also as a by-product of it, renews smellable residue in the pots themselves after each dinner (which is avoidable with water conservation methods) ...

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