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Philmont Bear ropes
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Bruce Tolley

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
LNT and Philmont Bear Rope Practice on 07/09/2010 23:02:22 MDT Print View

Does anyone know if Philmont has ever considered building bear boxes like you find at some back country sites in the Sierras or adopting the use of hard sided bear cannisters?

During my 2007 Trek I was a bit shocked at the damage to trees and soil caused at the bear bag hanging sites, the latter of which is evident in the photo by the original poster. I asked our ranger and one or two other staffers the same question and they did not know what bear boxes or bear cannisters were.

Nate Ward
(tdaward) - F

Locale: The woods of the South
BB on 07/10/2010 12:06:48 MDT Print View

I put on my suggestion questionar that they should put posts in the ground at the cables to avoid the damage to the trees. They try to keep the damage to a minimum and in a consolidated area. It is a well kept place for having 21,000 people a year go through it....

George Geist
(geist) - M

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Bear Bag Pulley System used at Philmont on 07/13/2010 19:38:24 MDT Print View

> To all it may concern:
> I spoke with one crew advisor on the phone about the bear bag system as proposed by Al Geist.

Hi Mike.

I just heard back from Philmont Crew 627-B-13 who used my bear bag pulley system for their entire trek. Here is their report:

Just returned from Philmont this past weekend, and used your
Bear Bag Rope system, or a variation of it, during the whole trek.

A few comments:

On the whole, yours is a great system. We replaced the inexpensive
"Harbor Freight" pulleys with smaller and higher-quality sailboat tackle,
but used your hook design and am-steel rope exactly as shown.

Like your crew, we found the mechanical advantage of the four pulleys
allowed us do away with the "Oops Bag" entirely, as the largest loads
(even on food pick-up days) could be easily hoisted by two youth crew members

We did have minor problems in two areas:

  • Low Bear Bag Cables: Several Philmont bear bag cables are too low
    to allow for the required drop when using the string spool toggle as the
    jam mechanism. On cables minimally only 15'-16' above the ground,
    the bottoms of our lowest bear bags would hang 12'-13' above the ground
    when fully raised, but then drop to an unacceptable 8'-9' as the toggle
    rose and the bags descended (at a 4:1 ratio).

    Solution: In these instances, we merely placed our release spool and
    twine into our rope bag, and tied off the rope and bag to a single tree
    using the standard Philmont wrap method. This kept our bottom pulley
    and the bear bags fully against the low bear bag cable.

  • Hook Release Twine Issues:
    Occasionally, other crews would entangle
    our hook release string, rendering it unusable.
    In these situations, we found that the hook could still be easily
    and reliably released as long as there was any other bear bag still
    hanging on the cable. All that was required was to drop our bags, and
    while holding our bottom pulley at ground level, walk the hook and
    upper pulley along the bear bag cable until it contacted another crew's
    tie-off line. At that point, the hook would readily rotate off the cable
    and onto that line, and slide down the other crew's line to the level where
    it was tied off.

    Occasionally, tugging on the release twine failed to release the hook.
    In these cases, simply throwing the twine spool back over the bear cable
    (in the reverse of the direction from which it originally came)
    allowed dropping the hook with a simple tug.

All-in-all, it is a great system. The trade-off in weight, and
particularly in ease of raising heavy loads, was well worth the effort.
I would definitely use the system again!

Bob (Crew 627-B-13)

Edited by geist on 07/13/2010 19:40:55 MDT.

michael mercer

Locale: Northern Virginia
Philmont on 08/03/2010 13:58:46 MDT Print View

Well we got back from out trek. I did get a chance to demonstrate Al's technique to Adam and a good part of his staff before we went out on the trail. Had a little trouble engaging the hook but it came off beautifully. (We have since modified Al's technique to just tie the lead line to the end of the hook. It goes on easier and releases by throwing the lead line back over the cable.)

Unfortunately Adam and his staff were entirely closed minded about any deviations from the Philmont way. The lawyers have them so spooked they were not even rational claiming the technique to hang the bags would somehow increase the incidence of bear attacks. They even rejected the use of our Amsteel rope claiming it was too thin, not as strong, and could not be held by scouts despite my explanations and demonstrations to the contrary. Adam suggested we would have to appeal directly to the PSR professionals not the rangers.

I was most disappointed that neither Adam or any of his senior staff had any idea about the AT or PCT bear bagging methods. They seem to have an attitude that there are only two ways to do things - the PSR way and the wrong way. I was at least hoping they were on top of all the techniques and had some good reason for rejecting these other approaches. Alas not.

I might recommend that the individuals rangers (not the chief ranger or his senior staff) were much more rational and receptive to new ideas. For example we checked out the mandatory frisbee and spatula and promptly deposited them in our locker. We went out on the trail with two paint strainer bags and our ranger thought they were just great. It might suggest you also check out the PSR bear ropes and chuck them into the locker also and take the Amsteel/pully system on the trail. The trees could sure use a break from the LNT-unfriendly PSR method.

We did have a good time despite the bear bagging method disappointments and the heavy rains. The PSR bear ropes get really heavy with all the waterlogging - another reason to switch to the Amsteel. Regardless, we had 8 in the crew with fully loaded weights between 24 and 30 pounds and the remaining three all at 35 pounds. From what we observed that was about half the weight of the next lightest crew in our 721 group. No blisters or sprains unlike our sister crew that had three pulled off the trail for those reasons.

Dan Stelluto
(dstelluto) - F

Locale: NE Ohio
Re: Philmont on 01/11/2012 17:48:10 MST Print View


August 2012 will be our first trip to Philmont. We need to get our bear bag equipment lined up now - for our conditioning campouts. Although I embrace everything about Al's PCT method, I will stick to the heavy 150' 1/4" rope that Philmont recommends (just to be safe). First time out - I don't want any surprises from staff, so I'd better get my boys ready for Philmont's method.

That being said, I'll also avoid the lighter Amsteel Blue option too. What rope would you recommend? Everything REI has is metric (no 1/4 inch). Also, should we get accustomed to packing an extra 1/4" length of rope for the oops bag?

Thanks in advance,

michael mercer

Locale: Northern Virginia
PSR Rope Choices on 01/11/2012 20:32:17 MST Print View

If you don't want to use Al's pulley system you might at least choose the Amsteel rope to save a lot of weight and bulk. The Amsteel will certainly not water log nearly as bad as the PSR ropes. You will need one 150' length and can probably get by with the oops bag rope perhaps only 100' long. Amsteel comes in many diameters. Al suggested the 7/64" diameter which we use. They make more diameters than you can shake a stick at. If you want 1/4 inch they have it. It is probably strong enough to lift two cars off the ground and may not be cheap. But it will probably hold up better than anything you will get at pricey REI. Do take note that you have to think completely differently about your bear bagging technique if you select a trek in the Valle. There are apparently no pre-strung cables. So you are back to teaching the boys the PCT or AT methods for those treks. You will have a great time no matter what bear bagging technique you choose.

Sarah Kuhn
(SCKuhn) - MLife

Locale: Mountainous Ohio
Bear Ropes on 01/12/2012 07:35:12 MST Print View

Dan -
Philmont will issue you 2 - 150' ropes (assuming you stay on PHilmont property and do not enter the Valle). One of these ropes functions as the line for your oops bag. the 1/4" rope that Philmont lists for you to bring is for the dining fly and other uses.
Any easy on the hands rope will do that has a test strength of atleast several hundred pounds (not that you will be lifting several hundred pounds, but the boys can exert several hundred pounds of force on the rope in their attempts to houst bear bags.... cartoon plays here.... pull on rope... rope snaps.... boys go rolling!)
You may not want to purchase the Amsteel blue, but Redden Marine offers it at quite a discounted price, plus if you enter BPL in the coupon code you get an additional 5% off.
Shop around see what you find, contact you local camp if they have a High COPE to utilize there high wires as 'test' bear cables.... not knowing how far into NE Ohio you are... Firelands Scout Reservation in north central Ohio has some cables they might let you use... plus you can always reserve the COPE course for a great team building day!
155 days til we are on the train westbound!!!

Donald Howard
(DonH) - F
Bear Bagging on 04/09/2012 19:48:32 MDT Print View

Can someone direct me to the articles on bear bagging by Al Geist?

George Geist
(geist) - M

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Re: Bear Bagging on 04/09/2012 21:07:43 MDT Print View

Here is the link to Al's Philmont Innovations page


Edited by geist on 04/09/2012 21:09:19 MDT.