Philmont Program Survey
Philmont offers about three-dozen different treks or itineraries. They are detailed in the Philmont Itinerary Guide that is mailed to advisors in March.
Note: The Philmont Itinerary Guide lists treks in several formats: Itineraries at a Glance, Itineraries in Brief, Maps and Itineraries. If there are inconsistencies between the various parts of the Itinerary Guide, the right answer is the information contained in the Maps and Itineraries section.
Treks differ in:
- Degree of Challenge (level of difficulty)
- Program Objectives (Activities)
- Route (scenery)
The challenge is to select the best trek for your crew. But first, relax. Regardless of which trek your crew finally goes on, it’s going to be great. Every trek offers:
- A challenging hike
- Excellent program features.
- Enables crews to enjoy some of Philmont’s unique features
- A once in a lifetime wilderness experience that bonds a crew in Scouting spirit.
And, remember that every trek can be made more challenging with side hikes. The itenary tells you where you need to camp at night, not how to get there. So, if the spirit moves, feel free to detour along the way to take in another activity center or scenic vista.
So, from that perspective, there are no “bad” treks offered. Thus, when in doubt, it’s better to pick an “under-trek” rather than “over-trek.”
Degree of Challenge
The first step is to access the physical abilities and maturity of your crewmembers. A good trek challenges every one in the crew, but isn’t more than they can handle.
Most teenagers are fully capable of mastering the physical challenge. Adults with sedentary lifestyles often have difficulty. All treks are tough. The difference is in the degree of toughness.
Maturity of crewmembers is equally important factor. There is a tremendous amount of maturity growth between a fourteen year old and a fifteen year old. Likewise, sixteen year olds will have continued growth as well.
A “Challenging” trek allows the maximum opportunity to participate in backcountry programs or activities. They are generally suitable for fourteen and fifteen year old crewmembers. Over 40% of the treks offered are classified as “typical.” And, like all treks, a typical trek can be made more challenging by taking side hikes.
A “Rugged” trek provides a good mix of program opportunities and hiking. These treks are designed to meet the needs and desires of most crews. They are generally suitable for fifteen and sixteen year old crewmembers.
Most crews choose either a “Challenging” or “Rugged” trek.
A “Strenuous” trek provided hiking with some program time. It is for crews that enjoy rugged mountain hiking and are in good physical condition. These treks are recommended for:
- Smaller crews of chartered units.
- Older crews (fifteen to seventeen years old)
- Crews whose advisors and some crew members have previously taken a Philmont trek
A “Super Strenuous” trek is the most difficult. Highlights include climbing many of Philmont’s highest peaks. Program time is limited because more time every day is spent hiking. These treks are recommended only for:
- Smaller crews of chartered units
- Crews whose advisors and some crew members have previously taken a Philmont trek
- Experienced crews with seasoned backpackers at least fifteen years of age.
- Everyone (including advisors) is in top physical condition and capable of hiking great distances at high elevations.
So, the first step would be to select a group of treks that are best suited for your crew’s physical abilities and maturity. If in doubt, it’s better to preserve your flexibility by “under trekking” rather than “over trekking.” Any trek can be made more challenging with side hikes. Look beyond level of challenge to other factors.
Second, are there any “must do’s” while at in Philmont? For example, does your crew want to hike over Baldy Mountain or not? Baldy is the highest peak in Philmont, and among the highest in New Mexico. About one third of the treks include Baldy.
Also, hiking into Base Camp over Tooth of Time can be very special. Now, it may seem like a long dry hike between Tooth of Time and Base Camp on a hot day with the sun beating down on you. But you can’t beat the feeling of pride and accomplishment as everyone hikes the final few miles back into civilization. More than half of the treks come into Base Camp over Tooth of Time Ridge and the scenery is simply spectacular.
Does your crew want to hike both Baldy and Tooth of Time? Four treks offer this (one rugged, two strenuous, and one super strenuous). These treks appear to be the most popular and therefore the most difficult to get as your first choice. If you do receive one of these four, then you will most likely be hiking with a sister crew.
Are there other “must-do’s?” Chuck Wagon dinner is popular and is offered on most treks. It’s a nice respite from the freeze-dried faire, especially towards the end of a trek. Western Lore and horseback riding is also popular and is offered on most treks.
So, if there are “must do’s” for your crew, then you can further cull the list of potential treks.
Conversely, are there any activities that, in the opinion of the advisors, are to be avoided at all cost?
Burro packing frequently comes to mind (and should not be confused with Burro Racing, a fun activity). Although it is a unique opportunity to work with burros, it does require taking care of the animals, and burros are known for being stubborn. Do your homework and read other posting on various websites before committing to a trek with this activity. The crew will either love it, or hate it, and the ones that you read about frequently appear to be the latter rather than the former.
Fourth, consider activities. Philmont offers about three-dozen different activities at various staffed camps. And more than anything else, it’s the programs at these various staffed camps that make the Philmont experience unique, and more than a 50 mile hike. As much as we would like to do them all, there is only time for a portion of all that is offered. What activities are the most appealing to the Scouts? We suggest a survey to find out their interest. See Philmont Program Survey. Try to select treks that match at least the #1 interest for each crewmember.
Finally, consider scenery. Some areas of Philmont, mainly in the southern section, are simply spectacular. Some favorites (as listed in Cooper Wright’s Philmont Advisor’s Guide) include:
- Fish Camp to Abreu – The trail follows along the south side of the Rayado River canyon where the hiker has continual views of the river and the mountains to the north.
- Ponil, Sioux, and Bent to Pueblano over Wilson Mesa. Several years ago, Wilson Mesa was devastated by a wildfire that destroyed its trees and now provides for some exceptional views north into Colorado and west towards Baldy Mountain. The views from Wilson Mesa are some of the best in the Ranch.
- Abreu to Crater Lake via Stonewall Pass – This hike has some special views of the Tooth of Time just outside of Bear Caves camp. Be sure to get out of camp early because this trail is very unsheltered and has no water.
- Miners Park to Shafers Pass – This trail offers a close up view of the “Grizzley” Tooth.
- Shafers Pass to the Tooth of Time – The view from Shaefers Peak is outstanding. The path along Tooth Ridge is exceptional, with huge rock outcroppings and great views. The trail between Shafers Peak and the Tooth is very rocky and you can turn an ankle if you are not careful. Be sure to look to the north and pick out Baldy Mountain. Once past the Tooth, the trail becomes a hot, dusty walk into Base Camp that never seems to end. Be sure to have plenty of water.
- Hidden Valley, Window Rock, and Cathedral Rock – Although the north and south trailheads to this trail are somewhat hard to find, it provides exceptional views of the Tooth of Time and Base Camp. Hidden Valley is a special place, soft and quiet. Ranger Christian Braunlich says “Hidden Valley is never the same every time he sees it.”
- West side of Cimmarroncito Reservoir – probably the second most photographed scene at Philmont.
- Cimarroncito to Sawmill – This path goes through Grouse Canyon and Sawmill Canyon. The views along the canyon walls are outstanding. The section of Grouse Canyon from Ute Gulch commissary to Cimarroncito has some great views also.
- Sawmill to Thunder Ridge – There are some spectacular views of Baldy Mountain, Wheeler Peak (New Mexico’s highest mountain), Eagle Nest Lake, and Colorado. As you reach tree line at Thunder ridge, look again to the west for some more great views.
- Thunder Ridge to Comanche Peak – There are several outlooks that offer views of Baldy Mountain and Wheeler Peak to the west. Comanche Peak camp offers an incredible sunrise view.
- Visto Grande to Harlan – This hike takes your crew through two beautiful meadows.
- Harlan to Cimarroncito – Words cannot describe this trail with views of Cathedral Rock, Window Rock and the backside of the Tooth of Time.
- Dan Beard to Bent via Bonita Canyon – Great views of the canyon.
- Indian Writings to Dan Beard – There are several outstanding rock formations along the trail. The views north to Little Castilla Mountain are unique.
- Ponil to Indian Writings – The views from Hart Peak are great, but the view from the top of the canyon leading to Indian Writings is exceptional.
- The High Peaks – Baldy Mountain and Mount Phillips are tough, but the struggle up is well worth the view. The loop from Baldy Town over Baldy Mountain and through Copper Park is particularly impressive. The hikes up Phillips from the south and up Baldy from the north are particularly tough.
- Baldy Skyline to Head of Dean – This newer trail provides some exceptional views west to Baldy and Touch Me Not Mountain.
- Inspiration Point – Located at the top of Urraca Mesa, Inspiration Point is another special sunrise spot.
- Lover’s Leap Turnaround to Lover’s Leap Camp – This is the very best starting hike at Philmont. From Lover’s Leap, there are great views of the Tooth of Time.
- Rayado River to Lookout Meadow – The hike to Lookout Meadow is one of the most strenuous second day hikes, but well worth the challenge. The day begins with a short work to Abreu, where the crew and stop and help with morning chores. The hike continues along Rayado Creek with the trail splits and goes up Bonito Canyon. Once out of the canyon, you will come to a meadow framed by pines and aspens. Depending on the amount of rain, the filed may be filled with mountain iris, yarrow, and other wildflowers. Look for deer, bears, elk, and mountain lions here. Once at Lookout Meadow, sit on the grassy reservoir wall at dusk to watch birds swoop up insects while deer come to water.
So, with so many good choices, how do you make a decision? While it would be great (and ideal) if your crewmembers could decide by themselves, we suspect it’s a bit overwhelming.
First, we suggest that the advisors make a frank assessment of the Degree of Difficulty for everyone involved, and limit trek choices to those that are appropriate for all, including advisors.
Second, do an interest survey (Philmont Program Survey) to determine who is interested in what.
Third, select five or six itineraries that are within the physical and emotional abilities of the entire crew, including advisors. Present these itineraries to the entire crew at a crew meeting and encourage the Scouts to reach a consensus on which trek.
No matter what, there are no bad treks offered. It’s going to be a once in a lifetime wilderness experience for all involved.
- There are no bad treks at Philmont. (Or to say it another way: A bad day on the trail is still better than a good day at work.)
- Any trek can be made more challenging with side hikes.
- Better to under trek than over trek.
- Finally, it’s the journey, not the destination.