Philmont Advice: 2002


Date: Wed, 31 Jul 2002 21:28:23 -0400
From: "Dr. Bob Klein" <drbob@troop111.org>
Subject: [Philmont]: Generic Comments and Advice
A little late in the season, but what the Hell.... I have tried to hit some of the general threads I saw while doing a quick review of the hundreds of Philmont messages I had when I returned. Some of this is probably repetitive. Hopefully it will help the last few Crews of the season, and maybe next year's Crews.

Alphabetical, but otherwise unorganized:


Backpack Fitting
Bear Bags I
Bear Bags II
Bears
Bear Safety I
Bear Safety II
Clothes Lines (Clothes Drying)
Fire Zones I
Fire Zones II
Food I
Food II
Homebound Tent Platforms
Philmont Challenge Index
Polar Pure
Rangers
Trek Modifications
Trading Posts
Water I
Water II (Shaefers Pass)
Water III (Showers)
Water IV (Streams)

Backpack Fitting - The value of a properly fitted backpack was discussed in one thread. An improperly fitted backpack significantly increases its apparent weight and carrying difficulty. Fitting is something we do on our first shakedown, but you can do it even at Basecamp if you haven't done so yet. If you don't know how, ask your Ranger - he/she should know, and if they don't, they can find someone who does; it will make an amazing difference in both your level of comfort and effort. I saw several Crews that were absolutely atrociously fitted - in the most egregious case, a coed Crew just starting up The Wall at French Henry (whom I will not identify further, though I know where they were from) were literally staggering from side to side as they walked, and had two members fall down as they passed us (we were pulled over to let them by). My quick offer to help adjust their packs was brusquely refused by an overweight, out-of-shape advisor who looked to be (already) on the verge of a heart attack. Oh well....

Bear Bags I - The significant increase in food, and the more stringent bear safety requirements, mean a lot more stuff going up every night. We used 5 bear bags after each of of Commissary pickups (we use large nylon laundry bags). Most Crews using Philmont sacks were using 6 on their first nights after commissary pickups.

Bear Bags II - The "oops" bag is now mandatory. Therefore, a useful item to bring is a small carabiner and about 60 feet of quality parachute cord. FWIW, we used our bear bag and bear rope stuff sack as our "oops" bag. It was only rarely used, but that's still better than having to re-haul up the heavier than usual bear bag assembly.

Bears - We didn't see a one, but most Crews saw 1 - 3 during their treks. No one I talked to reported any problems with aggressively behaving bears. However, the Ute Gulch Commissary was broken into, and the Clark's Fork horsefeed storage area was partially broken into, by bears. Some of the backcountry buildings are now clad in very heavy duty steel mesh, and some also have electrified ribbons to augment the mesh. My Ranger indicated that the bear researchers felt that the loss of food due to the hard frost in the late spring of 2001, combined with the continuing severe drought (and the fires), had resulted in a significant die-off of the bear population over the past winter, and that most of the remaining bears were large males. Several people I talked to said the bears they saw were clearly thinner than usual.

Bear Safety I - The Ranch has really gone after this in a big way. Most of this you have already heard: A) Tents should be grouped all together, but not in a circular arrangement, and well outside the Bearmuda Triangle; B) Backpacks should be stored each night within the Bearmuda Triangle, and covered with pack covers regardless of weather (even if stored under your tarp); C) All water bottles that have EVER contained a flavored drink go up in the bear bags each night; D) All water bottles that have only contained water for their entire lifetimes do not have to go into the bear bags; however, they have to be placed in the firepits and covered with a tarp, or stored in your backpacks under the pack covers (i.e., they want them out of sight); E) All eating and cooking gear has to be stored at the sump; F) If you use flushable wipes and/or Desitin with your toilet kit, the wipes and Desitin-smeared toilet paper cannot be placed in the latrine, but now has to be packed out (use a zip-lock bag); G) Only Philmont supplied toilet paper can be used (apparently, it is a scent-free and more biodegradable variety than anything commercially available); H) Any food- or (especially) vomit-stained/contaminated clothing, including boots, has to go up in the bear bags, every night, until cleaned; I) Trekkers need to make a real effort not to contaminate themselves with food dust when opening packages; J) As noted above, all bear-bag assemblies must have an "oops" bag; K) All trekkers now MUST have and use "night clothes" that are dedicated to inside-the-tent use only; L) Trekkers must strip off their day clothes OUTSIDE their tents; M) All food and personal smellables MUST be put up in the bear bags as soon as you arrive at your campsite, or whenever you drop your packs for a side-hike (the only exception was when you are forming a pack-line outside a Staff cabin). I think that's it....

Bear Safety II - Conversely, I personally witnessed a lot of bone-headed behavior by both Scouts and Advisors. By far, the most egregious offense involves self-dusting with food powders - especially drink mixes being poured into canteens, or while opening dinner main courses. A lot of Scouts and some Advisors think nothing of stuffing food packaging into their pockets. Canteens containing drink mixes were routinely left out at many camps. I found a hardened wad of gum stuck to a tree next to my tent at Harlan, and my Crew found at least half a dozen food wrappers stashed under rocks at various campsites and overlooks. None of the Crews I witnessed made any efforts to make noise when approaching their bear-bags, regardless of whether it was 5:00 pm - or 5:00 am. All in all, it's amazing that we don't have more problems than we do.

Clothes Lines (Clothes Drying) - Philmont is now forbidding use of clothes lines on trees, and is similarly forbidding hanging clothes on live tree limbs or shrubs. [BTW, this was without question the single most violated rule during my stay at the Ranch.] We dried clothes on rocks and on multiple lines stretched between our tarp poles. Note that the standard trick of using diaper pins to hang clothes off the backs of packs while hiking was not effective this year - the clothes got dirty from trail dust as fast as they dried.

Fire Zones I - The damage varied all over the map. In some areas, the fire was limited to a ground "creeper". In other areas, it was a raging crowning fire that consumed everything, leaving only blackened spires. In the latter areas, the trails are an inch deep with black powdery soot, and we used our bandannas over our mouths as we walked through them (and I recommend you do the same). If it's really bad, you may wish to soak your bandannas in water first. Also in the latter areas, it was clear that the lack of ground cover is resulting in flash-flooding in the lower parts of the watersheds, so be cognizant of this possibility if you're hiking in heavy rain anywhere near the burned off sections north of Rt 64.

Fire Zones II - Although the North Country is "open", there are restrictions in place, at least as of mid-July. Everything north of Ponil (Bent, Sioux, Dan Beard, Wilson Mesa) and east of that line (McBride Canyon, Anasazi, Hart Peak, Indian Writings, Cottonwood Canyon, Old Camp, Cook Canyon) is closed. In nearby areas, you can only walk on designated trails and/or jeep roads. Everything closed is so marked, so you can't really screw up, but there are no real options on what trails to use until you get west of the Middle Ponil Canyon.

Food I - As a number of folks have pointed out, Philmont is now giving out a nearly ridiculous amount of food. Based on the overwhelmed swap/swipe boxes, I suspect they will be rethinking this somewhat for next year. My understanding is that they went from about 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day per trekker. Unfortunately, a lot of the calories are just sugary crap (for example, the drink mixes were flat out excessive). However, the Richmoor based meal items were pretty good, and well proportioned. Most dinner items required minimal cooking - just add boiling water, stir thoroughly, and wait. However, we found that waiting 10 - 15 more minutes than the packaging recommended resulted in superior food quality.

Food II - We did our usual meal stripping, and saved a metric buttload of weight. We also found it necessary to re-distribute items between meals. Some Breakfasts and Lunches were really flush, while others were pretty thin. Oddly, some Dinners had no drink mixes at all, or had weird items like hot chocolate to drink, while others had far more drink mix than needed. It was fairly easy to consolidate some stripped meals into a smaller number of packages. And BTW, although duct tape was mentioned as a good aid for meal stripping, we find a roll of electrical tape to be easier to use, lighter, and just as effective.

Homebound Tent Platforms - The homebound tents are now set up on concrete pads - cleaner and more level. However, this also means the Basecamp critters now come *inside* your tent looking for goodies instead of being content to rummage around under the wooden platforms on the trailbound side. Worth a warning to your Scouts - don't keep any junk food in your tents. I had a skunk in my tent on homebound night; not sure what he was looking for.... BTW, you are now also not allowed to load your initial commissary pickup into your packs the night before you leave for the trail - all food and smellables are to be stored in your lockers overnight, and packed the morning you leave. BTW-2, most Crews are being given two lockers.

Philmont Challenge Index - A few Advisors and Rangers commented to me that although they really like the Index, it is difficult to use in advance (when you need to) because you can't know *a priori* what your pack weight will be at Philmont. FWIW, our personal pack weights, no water, 3 sets of hiking clothes, averaged 21 pounds per man. Our departure pack weight (Trail Day I, 3 1/2 days worth of food, two liters of water, 2 sets of hiking clothes (we were wearing the third), and all necessary gear, averaged 39 pounds per man. Our average was a little heavier than usual this time around because of all the extra food in this year's meals. Since we bring all our own gear, I'm not sure what the equivalent would be for a Crew using all Philmont gear. If anyone using all Philmont gear made any equivalent measurements, I'd like to hear from you. I will think some more on this issue.

Polar Pure - You have to take Polar Pure (1 bottle for each pair of trekkers) whether you want or need it or not. No ifs, ands, or buts....

Rangers - I read a few posts commenting on unmotivated Rangers. Be aware, the Ranger Staff is short about 20 - 25 Rangers this summer, and most of the trek Rangers are getting very few days off (average is 6 days off for the entire summer, and some aren't even getting that many). Many Rangers are being given Crews when they hike in after departing their last Crew (they have a term for this which I had never heard before: "cracked" or "crackered"). Anyway, *some* of them are pretty worn out and a little dispirited right now, so please make some allowances if your's isn't (or wasn't) exactly perky. In general, I found most of the Rangers and virtually all of the staff (basecamp and backcountry both) to be enthusiastic and motivated, and bending over backwards to accommodate every Crew. The least we can do in return is lend a sympathetic ear to the few who are running on empty.

Trek Modifications - Treks are being continuously modified, though I suspect things are settling down now. We had Trek 32-NFM-2, meaning New Fire Modification # 2. There was a 32-M, 32-NFM-1, and (by the time I left) a 32-NFM-3. Some of the starter camps are pretty crowded, and the closure of many camps and the crowding at others mandates a need to spread Crews out more quickly than usual. Thus, the usual second day diaper hikes are out for a number of treks. That's fine with me, but it took a number of Crews by surprise. In addition, some rarely used camps (like Upper and Lower Sawmill Canyon camps) are open for business; some of these are in pretty rough shape. Finally, there are some pretty long hikes on some of the treks; for example, 32-NFM-2 had us go from Baldy Skyline to Upper Bench (a dry camp) in one day, with program at Head of Dean on the way; the "normal" Trek 32 is Santa Claus to Upper Bench, so the modification made for a really long day. But all in all, I was very happy with our trek, and really I heard minimal bitching from other Advisors on their modifications. The Logistics staff really earned their pay this year.

Trading Posts - We hit only Baldytown and Ute Gulch on our trek. Neither had any 35 mm film left (only Advantix), and it also appears that there is an unstated ban on candy bars and similar junk food items (which is just fine with me, though some of my Scouts were disappointed). All commissaries and a few staff camps were offering apples and/or oranges to all Crews.

Water I - With few exceptions (see Water III and IV), water at all camps was for drinking and cooking only - no clothes cleaning and no personal washing, not even bandanna baths. We were able to compensate somewhat by collecting rainwater off our tarp, and you may wish to consider doing likewise. I was able to shave myself twice with collected rainwater. I also got several free (but very cold) water-only showers by intentionally standing outside in heavy downpours. Not something for the faint of heart, that's for sure....

Water II (Shaefers Pass) - Is dry, dry, dry, as the proverbial bone. The staffs at Clark's Fork, Miners Park, and Black Mountain are really pushing every Crew to leave for Basecamp or Tooth Ridge with as much water as they can carry, yet many Crews aren't listening, and as a result are coming into Basecamp dry and hurting. My personal recommendation is 5 - 6 liters per man if you're hiking directly to Basecamp (with a ToT sidehike) from any of the above named camps, and add 2 more liters per man if you're staying at Shaefers Pass or Tooth Ridge for the night. [And of course, cook dinner for lunch before leaving your last water source.]

Water III (Showers) - I believe I read a post indicating that only Baldytown, 'Cito, and Clark's Fork are offering showers. For this reason, the Rangers are recommending that trekkers not bother bringing pack towels, and just use bandannas (and air) to dry off if they're lucky enough to get a shower. Of note, at least twice during the past 2 weeks, showers were cut off in the early afternoon at Baldytown for lack of water because certain assholes decided to take 45 minute long showers and to Hell with everyone else. If you are fortunate enough to get to a camp that is offering showers, please educate your Scouts as to what a "Navy Shower" is, and ask them to not abuse the privilege - they are not the only ones who have a "dirt tan" and stink like a NFL Locker Room.

Water IV (Streams) - Only major streams have anything running in them. BTW, three times we saw Crews washing clothes and themselves in streams. Once we had a Crew at one of our camps (allegedly) open the top of a water buffalo and clean their clothes in the tank (fortunately, I did not witness this, or I'd be looking at 20-to-Life right now, though I think I could make a pretty good case for temporary insanity). Need I say more???

That's it for tonight. Hope you all found at least some of this to be useful.

- Dr. Bob Klein, SM-111, Arlington, VA


Backpack Fitting
Bear Bags I
Bear Bags II
Bears
Bear Safety I
Bear Safety II
Clothes Lines (Clothes Drying)
Fire Zones I
Fire Zones II
Food I
Food II
Homebound Tent Platforms
Philmont Challenge Index
Polar Pure
Rangers
Trek Modifications
Trading Posts
Water I
Water II (Shaefers Pass)
Water III (Showers)
Water IV (Streams)

See also:

The content of this Web page was provided by Dr. Bob Klein. Please contact him at <drbob@troop111.org>
for more information.

This Web page is maintained by Selden Ball at Wilson Lab.
Please send any comments or corrections to seb@lns.cornell.edu