We just returned last week and thought a few of our experiences may be helpful to the cadre. Caveat emptor, these are solely my opinion and experiences... Despite what may sound negative, I would still go back tomorrow in a second.
1. Management changes at Philmont. According to some of the staffers, management of the backcountry activities used to be under a single person but recently changed to two folks. They have also expanded the number of trekkers by about 1500 without expanding the program support from what we saw. For example, Miranda can only support 8 crews per day for black powder shooting with about 20 passing through each day. We hiked from Head of Dean early and arrived by 0745 to discover that all slots were full that day. We were scheduled to hike Baldy the next day so had to really be creative to get a 0800 slot on our departure day. They only take sign-ups 24 hours in advance and you should be out of Miranda by 0700 to climb Baldy. Don't rely on leaving a note on the porch before you leave to summit Baldy. One of our advisors stayed behind, signed us up and then ran the trail to catch us as we started up the face... FYI, our hike time from Miranda to the summit was 3+30 hours. No need for the crazy 0400 departures!
2. Conservation project coordination. Our primary cons location was at Hunting Lodge to do some trail work between Clark's Fork and HL. Arrived at HL only to discover that all cons work slots were full for the day and day after. Hannah was super in helping us coordinate a slot for base camp and suggested we try to get it done at our secondary, Baldy Town, on Day 8. This option fell out as they too were full. We ended up doing our cons on our hike out day. Not popular with any of us but believe that we were not the only ones forced to do this. Don't expect any exemptions from this requirement.
3. Climbing at Miner's Park. The climbing wall is not at Miner's Park but about a 45 minute hike north of MP. This was not made clear to us or our sister crew. When we arrived at the wall 20 minutes past 1000, the young staffer made a big deal of how he was really doing us a favor to let us climb and emphasized that his lunch started at noon. This made a real impression on our crew (not positively)... At 1157, one scout was tied in to climb and the staffer actually undid the rigging! After all the adults jumped in, he acquiesced and the scout was allowed to climb.
4. Dust and wind. For the UL types who want to sleep on the bare ground (I, too, almost left my tent body behind), go for it but just be prepared as almost every campsite consists of very fine talcum powder-like dirt. Camping above Horse Canyon at Ponil on our last night, I crawled into my tent to find that sand and dirt had infiltrated my fly/body mesh and lined the interior. After ten days without a shower, not a big deal but just be aware. BTW, we had only one rain shower one evening during our whole trek so everything was very dry.
5. Bear Ropes. We took our Amsteel Blue ropes only to find that it would take a written letter from Mark Anderson for us to use them. I spoke with Mark the night before we departed and apparently the problem is that many crews are trying to use cheaper substitutes than the Amsteel. The default solution seems to be to require everyone use the Philmont ropes. Not sure how your ranger will direct you but we bit the bullet and just went with their ropes.
6. Food. Breakfast and lunch generally consist of a mixture of nuts, granola bars, cookies and crackers with some cheese or peanut butter squeeze. Dinner is a dehydrated meal with some pretzel bits and cookies. Not much protein...
7. Smellables. Everyone in our crew had two 2.5 gal ziplocs with their name on them. This would hold each person's share of food and other smellables. This greatly simplified food distribution at the commissaries as well as each morning when unloading the bear bags. Recommend taking a few extras for any "blow outs".
8. Turkey bags, gut sumping and trash compacting. They greatly discouraged us from using our TB cooking method due to the increased amount of trash it introduces. Didn't make any sense to us considering the amount of trash each meal generates. According to more than one staffer, they can no longer require crews to "gut sump" or super compact trash as it is considered hazing. We did so as it just makes good trail sense...
9. Tooth Hike. We had a dry camp at Schaefer's Pass, arriving at ~1430. We decided to hike out to the Tooth that evening rather than the next morning as we expected a long day ahead. We left at 1630 and expected the six-mile RT to take us about four hours. Not quite... We got to the boulder field at the base at about 1845 but with a couple of completely worn out boys, our crew decided to leave the ToT for another time. Proud of the boys to stick together as we saw many other crews splitting up and leaving some behind. Not a good idea... We turned back to the west just as the sun was setting and avoided hiking through the scree on Tooth Ridge in the dark.
10. Crew gear. We only took the bear bags/ropes and sump strainer/scraper in addition to disposable items from services. Our crew gear consisted of three MSR Pocket Rockets (could get by with one and a spare), 5 isobutane cannisters (could probably get by with only 3), one 4 ltr pot, one 6 ltr pot, Kelty Noah 12 tarp and a Platypus Gravity Works filter (The best investment we have probably ever made!) Most of the crew had two hiking shirts, two shorts/convertibles, two sets of socks and two pairs of underwear. Everyone was well under 25% body weight with packs averaging ~30 lbs.
Some final thoughts...
>My fellow adults very much appreciated the Advisor's Coffee time to glean as much info as possible on what lies ahead both from other leaders and staffers.
>Hannah at Hunting Lodge and Tim at Pueblano (as well as their entire staff) were nothing less than OUTSTANDING! They really understand the Philmont experience for our scouts and did everything they could to make it happen.
>Favorite day was the morning hike from Hunting Lodge over Cathedral Rock/Window Rock down through Hidden Valley. Spectacular! We asked the boys hike quietly to enjoy the scenery. As would have it, one of our water stops was just thirty yards from a bear. Everyone enjoyed watching him for a few minutes before we all went on our way...
My apologies for some of the negative tones here but again believe that this information may help some of you deliver a better experience for our scouts.