I've been lurking here for the last year or so soaking in all of the words of wisdom. (Thanks!) Since someone asked about Trek 26, here's a long synopsis from a Philmont first timer (05 710- E-5). The Guidebook and danyoder.com are nice but don't give you a real sense of what's in store for you....
Do the usual paperwork and pick up your food and gear, just like every other crew. Try to see the Villa if at all possible. It'll give you an idea of how lucky we are to be able to enjoy Philmont. Go to chapel before leaving for your trek. The opening campfire is nice and gives a little history on the lands and its peoples. Grab some fuel bottles from the Advisor's Lounge (leave your extra fuel there when you return from your trek).
Take a bus from Base Camp to the Zastrow Turnaround. During the ride you'll wonder if your Rangers are complete loonies; they were full of funny stories and tall tales (like a staff zip line from the top of the Tooth down to Base Camp).
Once you reach the turnaround you'll make a short hike over to Zastrow for the start of Ranger training. Zastrow has a number of compass courses so the crew can get some orienteering practice before they hit the hard stuff later in the trek. From Zastrow it's a short hike to Rayado River camp. You'll continue your training with campsite setup, tent placement, bearmuda triangle, and bear bags. Will also get your first taste of water purification by getting water from the river. MicroPure was pretty foolproof and left no strange taste, only a slight whiff of chlorine after opening a water bottle.
Depart Rayado River. Hike for less than a mile before coming to Abreu. It's a nice place but don't dawdle like we did or you'll regret it. From Abreu you'll start the long exposed climb up Urraca Mesa. There's little shade during this climb and it gets hot, so try to get it done early in the day. When we reached the (false) top of the mesa one of our sister crew went down with heat exhaustion. I was a little dismayed that their ranger hadn't picked up on it. Lost some time cooling that one kid down and getting him hydrated. Take some pictures from here; you should be able to see the turnaround where you were dropped off the day before. You'll get a sense for how far you've come, and how far there is left to go...
Off into the woods at the top of the mesa and then down into Urraca camp. It was a very pretty place. They have COPE games for your enjoyment. Your ranger will take the first timers (at a minimum) off to Inspiration Point and discuss the Wilderness Pledge.
Wake up early with a couple of crew members. Hike back to Inspiration Point for the sunrise. Watch the sun come up and hit the Tooth. Realize that it'll be many days to go before you climb the Tooth.
Your ranger will probably leave you here as your journey will now take you farther away from Base Camp. Rather than backtracking to the south when leaving Urraca, you can take an abandoned four-wheel drive road down the northeast side of the mesa. This will take you down and across the valley. Grab the trail that takes you to Lover's Leap camp. From there it's a straightforward hike to Miners Park. If possible, get your climbing in on the afternoon you arrive rather than the next day. You might be able to take a shower if the water tank is full (it wasn't for us). Take advantage of the Advisor's Coffee, it's a nice place to sit and yack with the camp staff and your fellow advisors.
If you're climbing on the morning you depart for Black Mountain, I suggest you take your packs to the climb, otherwise you'll lose an hour backtracking to camp. If your crew has climbed before the climbing here is short and not difficult. You may decide to skip it. We ran across a rattlesnake on our way back down from the climbing area. You can also climb at Cito later on in the trek.
Continue on toward Black Mountain. You'll pass through the North Fork Urraca camp; there isn't a level spot in the entire camp. Hike down into the canyon. Here's where you find out that maps are subject to interpretation. If you look at the map you'll note that you'll be hiking upstream toward Black Mountain and you'll cross the stream a number of times. That number of times turned out to be forty-eight! Also, it doesn't look like you cross too many contours during your climb. If I recall correctly, the map has forty foot contours. It doesn't show that the trail frequently goes up and down 39 feet. One of the advisors we ran across that was headed in the other direction called this the PUDS (Pointless Ups and DownS).
The camp itself is lush and green. You can do blacksmithing and black powder here. If you have to make a choice, go for the blacksmithing as you can do black powder at Clear Creek before you climb Mt. Phillips.
Climb up out of Black Mountain. The trail was steep but well maintained. When you get to the top you'll be treated to a newly restored trail to Phillips Junction. For a moment you'll think you're in a park rather than the backcountry; it's that nice. The trail crew did a beautiful job. Continue along the trail until you reach Beaubien Meadow; it's stunningly beautiful; you'll think you're in a Western. You can make a short detour to Beaubien (the staffed camp) if you like. Stay on the trail and you'll descend down to Phillips Junction. Pick up food and fuel (if necessary), grab a shower, wash some clothes, and write some postcards to friends and family.
You're still a couple of miles from camp for the night so leave time to get there. There were cattle along the trail to Comanche Camp; they don't pay much attention to humans. Comanche Camp itself is nothing special, just a level place to bed down for the night.
Depart Comanche Camp for Clear Creek. Since you're about to attempt Mt Phillips and headed to a dry camp, eat your dinner for lunch. Tour the cabin, throw and ax or two, and definitely do black powder; it's a blast (literally and figuratively).
Camel up and fill your water bottles, you won't see water for at least 24 hrs. Start the long climb up Mt Phillips. The trail isn't steep but it's very rocky and make for difficult going if it gets wet. The air gets very thin for a flatlander like me so you'll be going more slowly than you planned.
The top of Phillips has great views; take pictures. You can see forever, including the storms that are headed your way. Thunder in the distance made us shorten our stay. The trail down the back (east) side of Phillips toward Comanche Peak was very sketchy. This was the only time I used my GPS as a primary means of navigation. (We were on the trail but couldn't tell without the GPS.)
Comanche Peak camp was flat with plenty of space. The night here was considerably warmer that the night before and we were a lot higher.
Depart Comanche Peak, take the trail to Sawmill. The trail down into Sawmill is very rocky. Sawmill's cabin looks down a long valley. There was a bluish haze off in the distance. Looks like a postcard picture.
As soon as we arrived a got our pack line set up, the skies opened up. There were several lightning strikes along the ridges around us as we holed up under the eaves of the cabin. The camp staff took off after them to make they didn't start a forest fire. One of the strikes blew a tree into 6 foot long splinters over a 50 foot radius. While it was close to the trail we took the next day, we didn't find it.
Sign up for the 30/06 reloading, especially if you've never done it before. Being a city boy, the biggest thing I ever shot was a .22 (and that was at summer camp) so this was a change of pace. As always, the staff is very safety conscious.
The Advisor's Coffee was the best I attended. With a guitar, fiddle, and some good singers, it was half private concert, half sing along. If you want to get a sense for the songs they sang, get a copy of the Tabasco Donkeys CD.
The camp staff at Sawmill were some of the nicest people I've ever met. The Camp Director thanked us many times for coming; said that we were the reason he had the best job in the world (teaching during the off season was next). Of all the staffed camps, I liked Sawmill the best with Clear Creek a distant second.
Continue your hike down Sawmill Canyon. This is one of the most picturesque places on the ranch, trees all around you with high cliffs at the top of the canyon. There appear to be many great places to climb. Take trail to Ute Gulch. Stop at the river for lunch. Hike to the Ute Gulch Commissary for a food pickup. Backtrack to catch the trail to Cimarroncito. You could take the trail from Ute Gulch to Window Rock but it looked like it would be longer.
We did our conservation project at Cito. We had to ask nicely to get in the last group of the day since they were supposedly filled up. The Cons staff were very informative. We were clearing trees and brush to open up the meadow to increase the flow of water down the watershed into the reservoir and to create a fire break as the area was overdue for a burn. Once the crew received their instructions and picked up their "implements of destruction" they went after their task with gusto. I've never seen boys have so much fun cutting down good sized trees. It was hard work and I was sore afterward but left with a sense of accomplishment.
After finishing the cons project, we hiked down to the Hunting Lodge. The staff said that they'd seen a bear about 45 mins. before our arrival. It was the only time we heard about bear sightings the entire trip.
This trek had no days off but this day wasn't particularly long so we took our time. Walked back to Cimarroncito for a quick shower. Toured the Hunting Lodge and then left for Clark's Fork. Upper Clark's Fork camp is 3/4 mi beyond the staff camp so we walked back for the chuck wagon dinner. Dinty Moore beef stew never tasted so good.
The campfire afterward was quite good. There was a cavalcade crew in camp that night that hailed from Los Angeles. They had a couple of boys that did a 15 minute skit they had written a few years back. These two were absolutely hysterical. I was amazed at how creative a couple of 17-18 year old boys can be.
Start the morning with a hike back down to Clark's Fork for a horse ride. Bring all your water containers with when you come, it's the last place you can get water before returning to Base Camp. Shaefer's Pass did not have water.
The horse ride was very picturesque. The ranch hands look like they've lived on horses all their lives; the rest of us looked like first timers.
Depart Clarks Fork. Pack up your gear at Upper Clark's Fork and start climbing toward Shaefer's Pass. The climb is quite deceiving, with a number of false peaks. As you climb, make sure you look back toward Clark's Fork. You'll see Webster's and Cito Reservoirs off in the distance framed by the V of the mountains around you. Makes a great picture.
Shaefer's Pass itself is a fairly wide saddle. Looks like it would be a nice place to dry camp. Continue on the trail up and around Shaefer's Peak. The trail doesn't summit the peak, but gets pretty close. Then, onto Tooth Ridge.
The trail along Tooth Ridge consists of sediment that has been uplifted at about a 45 degree angle. There isn't a level spot to step for a lot of it. My boots were slippery by that point. Rather than trying to smear my foot on the tilted rock, I found it easiest to place my heel on the point and then pivot as I stepped (in other words, you walk on the points). The only problem with this method is that I wore away the center of my heel. You'll need trekking poles to do this.
Continuing along the trail, you'll encounter the back side of the Tooth. You can climb it now or come back for sunset; it's not far from camp.
Next you'll arrive at Tooth Ridge Camp. From the maps you'll get the impression that it's a small, steep, rocky place. I was pleasantly surprised to find a large open camp; it's still fairly rocky but with trees. If you arrive early enough, get the site near cliff edge that looks down on Base Camp. This site has earned the distinction of having the best latrine on the Ranch. The view was stunning (and the smell wasn't too bad).
If you like, the crew can hike back up the Tooth for sunset / sunrise. I didn't bother as the views along the edge of the camp were wonderful by themselves. Make sure you look back toward Urraca Mesa and realize how far you've come since Day 3. Also, realize how much you've changed during your trek. (It would be a whole lot shorter to hike down Urraca, across the meadow and then up to the Tooth, but that's not the point.)
There's been lots of discussion on the list about how easy / difficult the trail is. Since it switchbacks frequently there are a number of opportunities for crew photos. It can get hot on the descent into Base Camp. Keep in mind that the previous night was at a dry camp so water management is important if you don't want to dehydrate on the way down.
Stop for pictures at the "You Made It" sign. A tripod and a flash would be good here as the sun is over your shoulder (at least it was when we arrived mid-morning).
Since you've now arrived back in civilization, there's paperwork and other stuff to do. Your crew members will probably all bail for the trading post and some non-freeze dried food. Try to take the bus into Cimarron; it's an interesting place.
The closing campfire had all the elements of a great Scout campfire: silly, funny, serious.
One note on bear bags: Apparently the bear bag process changed from previous years. There are still two lines that have been middled with figure eights on a bight. The first line goes over the cable and the eight is lowered to the ground. The second line goes thru the first line's figure eight. To cut down on friction, we used a couple of small 'biners as a pulley. I recommend that you bring a regular large aluminum climbing 'biner (a locker or a wiregate is preferable). We gouged up the little ones and I was afraid that they wouldn't hold the weight of the bags. Hoist and tie off the first line making sure that you can access both sides of the second line. The bear bags are tied to the second line with girth hitches (or larks heads) and then the second line is hoisted up and tied off.
I carried one for use "just in case" (and because I'm a gadget freak). Occasionally we'd get to a fork in the trail and I'd ask the naviguesser / crew where we were and which way we needed to go. I'd walk a few paces away from them and fire up the GPS just to make sure I knew exactly where we were at. After a few minutes I'd walk back and ask them what they'd worked out. The naviguessor for the day usually had the right answer, but if not I could ask a few intelligent "Are you sure?" type questions.
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