This is a summary for expedition number 614-T, a 7-person Philmont crew from Troop 505, Indianapolis, Indiana, that hiked 52-mile itinerary #5 from June 14-25, 1999. Our crew consisted of 4 boys and 3 adults (advisors).
We traveled by Amtrak from Indianapolis to Raton, NM, leaving around 5:30 AM (50 minutes late) on Amtrak's _Cardinal_ the morning of June 12. The boys (Mike Lamkin, crew leader, Tim Zishka, Jeff Schaunaman, and Ross Gerke) enjoyed the train ride. We arrived in Chicago around 11:00 AM (still around 50 minutes late). We ate lunch at the station food court, then went to Sears Tower for a hazy, overcast, but still memorable view of Chicago. After inspecting the Chicago River outside the station, we proceeded to board our train to Raton, the _Southwest Chief_, at around 3:20 PM.
RECOMMENDATION: If you come by train with a layover in Chicago, please note that Chicago Union Station no longer has "$.50, then pull the key" traditional lockers to store your packs. Instead, they have digital lockers with keypads. You first feed them $1.50 to open them, after which you get a printout with a code to enter on the keypad when you return to get your gear. When you enter this code, you're given the balance you owe for the time you've used the locker. In our case it came to $6.00, for a total of $7.50 per locker. I shared my locker, and thus the cost, with one of the boys, but others didn't do this, so some were hit with the entire $7.50 bill for 4 hours. You also have to have quarters to pay off the lockers, which, with only one change machine provided, created a time crunch before we boarded the train. Either get a bunch of quarters before hand, or, if Raton is accepting checked baggage (which it did at the end of our trip, but not when we started), check your packs through to and from Raton, and either drag your train bags around during the layover or cram them all into only 1 or 2 of the larger of these ripoff lockers.
The trip out was long, and we were ready to cross the Raton Pass tunnel (highest point in the old Santa Fe system) into Raton around 11:00 AM on June 13. We checked into a local Motel 6 we had reserved, had a great meal at a local Mexican restaurant, El Matador, and got a good nights rest.
Contrary to what we had been told over the phone by Philmont, their bus service to and from Raton was able to pick us up at 8:00 AM the next morning (they had said the bus came only at the 11:00 AM train pickup). We then had a 45-minute ride to Philmont (saw our first buffalo on the way). We then spent Monday getting gear issued (tents, Polar Pure, etc.), getting medical recheck, shakedown of our packs by our ranger (Neil Taylor of Alexandria, VA), and other training and preparation. If you can manage the early morning arrival, do it; we really needed the whole day to get everything done. We then ate supper in the dining hall, enjoyed the campfire program on the story of Philmont, then checked into our tents at Tent City and enjoyed our last, though rather chilly, night sleeping up off the ground.
We had breakfast and then rode the bus to a drop off point to hike 2.5 miles to our first camp, Vaca. Vaca is an attractive site, with a scenic view available from a hill behind the camp. Vaca is a trail camp, i.e., no staff, but water available. In Vaca's case, the water came from a solar powered well, but had to be treated with Polar Pure, an iodine water purifier.
RECOMMENDATION: ask for more than the allotted number of bottles of Polar Pure. Polar Pure consists of iodine crystals in a small brown bottle. You fill the bottle with water, shake, and let it sit for an 1 hour, creating an iodine solution with which to treat water (2 capfuls to a quart of water, with a contact time of 1 hour before drinking). At the end of a dry day, you'll quickly drain your Polar Pure bottles making up new canteens of drinking water; the extra bottles make sure you have enough to treat everyone the first time around. We took 6 bottles. Of course cooking water is simply treated through boiling.
Rain and hail began to fall as we entered Vaca. Of course our ranger picked that time to demonstrate how to set up the Philmont backpacking tents with the tent the scoutmaster (Duane Zishka) and I were using, leaving it nice and wet. The rain eventually let up, but it remained cool and overcast throughout the night and into the next day
Our ranger continued various trainings, including how to put up our bear bags, etc.. At supper we had our first experience with the 1-pot cooking we would use throughout the trip, where we threw everything we had into one pot to create some new and interesting tastes. In fact, you will take only 2 large pots and the pot lid (i.e., normally the cook kit frying pan), plus tongs, of the trail cook kit you're issued. However, with dried peas plus turkey/chicken with rice/noodles/potatoes being pretty constant the first 6 or 7 days, the suppers started to taste the same (the addition of the included Herb Ox seasoning didn't help). Our one attempt to prepare a turkey gravy separately in the pot lid to pour over a pea/mashed potato substrate didn't exactly win culinary awards! We then limited the pot lid to some of the desserts included with the suppers, which turned out surprisingly good. We did get a dried "beef stew" and a dried "lasagna" (more like spaghettios) toward the end of our trek.
RECOMMENDATION: definitely take the 2 backpack stoves recommended by Philmont. By the end of our trek one of the stoves clogged to where it was not firing at full temperature. It really helped being able to switch to the 2nd stove to finish supper promptly instead of having to wait to clean the stove.
Our ranger also taught us how to do dishes at Vaca. First, he said we should actually try licking our bowls clean to remove every bit of material from needing to be washed, although later in our trek this soon became just a good cleaning with our spoons. The food in the cook pot also got the same treatment. Then water was heated up in both the cook pot and a second rinse pot, with just 2 drops of Camp Suds going into the cook pot. We then washed our dishes in the cook pot and rinsed them in the second. The dirty wash and rinse water was then strained through a perforated "frisbee" into a sump provided at each camp. Our cleaned pots and dishes were then left at the sump until the next hot meal or until we were ready to leave, so any remaining smells would draw bears to the sump instead of our tents. Then, at the next hot meal, we would bring the cook water for the meal to a rolling boil for 5 minutes to sterilize it, after which we would then dip our bowl, cups and spoons into the boiling water for 30 seconds to sterilize them of any thing they may have picked up in our packs. After that, we poured in the turkey/rice feast of the day and ate!
That evening at Vaca we enjoyed the view from the hill behind our camp.
We hiked 4.5 miles the next day to our next camp site, Ute Springs. It was also a trail camp, with only untreated water available from 2 creeks running on either side of the camp. It remained overcast and cool. The third advisor, Nancy Farmer, also saw a beaver at this camp. That afternoon we took the recommended "side hike" (2 miles, all upgrade) to Cimarroncito, a staffed camp with rock climbing. Because of the rain, our boys were limited to using an indoor rock climbing gym, which was still pretty neat. On our way back to camp at Ute Springs we encountered heavy rain and hail, and light rain continued off and on the rest of the evening. Our ranger also remembered a shortcut on the way back that could have saved us a lot of time getting there; be sure to ask your ranger about this if you elect to go to Cimarroncito as a side trip from Ute Springs.
We next hiked 9.5 miles and up 1500 ft..the next day to Cyphers Mine, a staffed camp with, of course, a mining theme. Our ranger Neil Taylor bid us farewell that morning as we left Ute Springs. We next went to our first commissary stop, Ute Gulch, which was near Ute Springs camp. Although on our ranger's advice we didn't go there the day before while at Ute Springs, we found we could have, which would have saved us time. On our way to Cyphers Mine we also found we went right past Cimarroncito again, so you could save your rock climbing for when you're on the way to Cyphers Mine, although that would add a lot to what is already a long 9.5 mile day.
The trail to Cyphers Mine had much beautiful scenery. The Cyphers Mine area itself is so steep that 8-person Adirondack cabins (cabins open on 1 side) are provided to sleep in instead of tents. It remained so cool (no more than low 70s F) and damp it took until the next day for our gear to dry. Don't miss the Stomp at 8:00 PM in Charlie Cyphers old cabin. We saw our first mule deer there, and the boys enjoyed a mine tour and gold panning the next morning. There's also a neat swing under a bridge you should check out. As at all staffed camps on itinerary 5 (except for Crooked Creek, see below), treated water was available; you can draw it at sinks outside the shower house (yes, with wood-fire heated showers, although they didn't seem to be working during our visit, so we missed the pleasure). Avoid the multiple sampling spigots at the water treatment tank; some are before the chlorine treatment and some after, and could thus confuse a boy to mistakenly pull untreated water.
Because our next camp, Comanche Peak, was a dry camp (i.e., no staff, and no water at all), we stayed through lunch at Cyphers Mine, eating our "wet" supper there in place of the dry lunch we would have normally had, saving it for supper that night. It also took until lunch for all our clothes and gear to finally dry!
Our next goal was Comanche Peak camp, 3 miles and 2000 feet up from Cyphers Mine, and our highest camp at over 11,000 ft. It too bad it's a dry camp; the camp is a scenic area of pines in a comparatively level area (in contrast to the steep, rocky stretch on the lower side of Comanche Peak we hiked through to reach it). The weather remained dry and clear through the day. We all bonked pretty bad that evening, but that didn't prevent us from enjoying a spectacular sunset. Again it was cool, if not cold that night, perhaps getting down to the 30s F.
RECOMMENDATION: Although it may add weight, take the full 3 canteens recommended; the 3rd canteen really helps on dry camp days.
We hiked 4 miles the next morning to Clear Creek camp, a staffed camp with a mountain man theme, ultimately losing a 1,000 ft. of the elevation gain we had made the previous few days. On the way, however, we reached the top of Comanche Peak, dropped down a little, then went up to the top of Mt. Phillips, the highest peak we would climb at over 11,700 ft. The views were spectacular. Bring plenty of film if you have room, at least ten 24- or 36-shot roles; I used up most of a role just at Mt. Phillips. Although you will have 2 commissary/trading post stops where film is sold, they are far apart, plus they will charge you $6.25 for a 24-shot role of Kodak 400- speed Gold film!
The trail down from Mt. Philips is a straight descent, with lots of loose rock, and, when we were there, patches of snow . We also started to encounter blowdown across the trail left by a storm in April. We were glad we didn't have to come up Mt. Phillips that way.
At Clear Creek camp treated water is available from spigots around the site. We shot black powder rifles (which included a certain knit cap shot twice, and a lanyard shot off a certain Columbia expedition cap by an instructor!), threw tomahawks (don't anger the Bog Monster!), toured the mountain man cabin where the staff spend the summer living by lantern and sleeping under buffalo skins, and enjoyed the tall tales told that night at the 8:00 PM campfire (though no fire). Although Clear Creek is not as steep as Cyphers Mine, my tent mate and I enjoyed a night of repeatedly sliding down to the back of our tent.
We hiked out the next morning to Crooked Creek camp, a 5-mile hike that dropped us another 1,000 ft. and started our turn back east to base camp. The descent is comfortable, however, following Rayado Creek. We climbed over the most blowdown on this trail, but we also enjoyed some beautiful scenery along the creek, including a 2-level beaver dam. Our boys also had a post- Cyphers gold panning attack during one of our breaks; the spot in Rayado Creek with the mother lode has been duly marked for future exploitation!
Crooked Creek is a staff camp with a homesteading theme. It is the one staff camp on itinerary 5 without treated water; there is both a spring and creek to pull water from, both of which need Polar Pure (particularly if you pull downstream of the farm animals!). The staff reenact a Virginia family of brothers and sisters dislocated to New Mexico by the Civil War, toughing it out without their parents, in a farm and cabin located in a meadow between the mountains. We enjoyed a tour of their cabin, saw the cow milking that night, but missed the chicken roundup (besides the cow and chickens, the "farm" also consists of ducks, 2 burros, 2 sheep and a garden). The staff use the burros to bring in their weekly supplies from base camp, as they have no full access road, and, like the staff at Cyphers Mine and Clear Creek, live for the summer as much as possible as the people they reenact, including cooking with a wood stove, using kerosene lanterns, etc. Of all the camp programs, this one was probably the weakest, although I don't know how much more a basic farm theme can be made entertaining. There was also a rivalry with the Clear Creek mountain men, who had evidently come over the year before and "borrowed" the 1 flintlock owned by the "good Christian people" of Crooked Creek.
We hiked 4.0 miles the next day to Beaubien, a staffed camp that is sort of a crossroads for many itineraries. It was also the camp for our 2-day layover, which was a welcome rest. On the way we descended to Phillips Junction, which included our next commissary stop and had a propane heated shower house (time prevented us from indulging). We then climbed up to Beaubien camp.
Beaubien has a ranching, horseback riding theme, with the corral located in the meadow of Bonito Canyon near the head of Bonito Creek. The camp has treated water available from spigots and from sinks at the wood-fired shower house. We met a staff member from Indiana, who enjoyed hearing of news from home. She also taught our boys some things about Indiana's card game, euchre!
After setting up camp, those of us under 200 lbs. went on a nearly 2-hr. horseback ride to Black Mountain. Upon returning we went back, relaxed around camp, got a WONDERFUL shower (although I should have let the boiler heat some more before jumping into the open roof shower, it was still cool that afternoon!), and had supper. The advisors then went up at 7:00 PM for the advisors ' coffee (a feature at all the staff camps), where it conveniently rained and hailed while we were under the porch. The campfire was then canceled for the evening, although the weather eventually cleared for a beautiful evening.
The next day, upon some rather strong "advising" by us advisors, we did our 3-hr. service project that morning instead of in the afternoon as the boys had originally planned. As we wound up busting rock and wheelbarrowing it up a new 8% trail to fill and finish some holes, and the weather that day returned to normal temperatures (afternoons in the 80s F), it was good we did our project in the cool of the morning. We started at 8:00 and ended at a little after 11:00, beginning with an excellent talk from our conservationist, Jeff. At the end we almost got to haul some sticky skinned pine trees down a hill to use for trail construction in the meadow, but as there weren't enough people around to manage it, and we were at the end of our 3 hours, we were sent back to camp. On the way, following the meadow trail through a low, wet spot where a cattle herd kept at Beaubien grazed, I sunk my right leg nearly to the knee by following Jeff's admonition to never walk off the trail, even if you have to walk through mud! It was good for a laugh and a picture, and also proved those expensive Gore-Tex boots and overpriced rain pants I bought for the trip actually would keep me dry, even after I repeatedly dunked my foot and leg in Bonito Creek to wash the crud off!
That afternoon we relaxed, did some laundry with the scrub boards and wash tubs at the shower house (with the hot, dry weather that had begun, things now dried quickly), and went to the chuck wagon dinner that night, which consisted of hot, canned stew, Dutch oven bread, and peach & apple cobbler. The stew may have come out of a can, but after 7 days of cereal, beef sticks, Power/Pemican/Boulder/Cliff bars, and dried fruit for breakfast (though occasional instant oatmeal); beef sticks and crackers with either peanut butter/cheese spreadables or ham salad/chicken salad for lunch; and turkey/chicken with rice/noodles/potatoes for supper, it tasted great!
At Beaubien the boys first saw "minibears" (chipmunks) in any numbers cruising the camp for food. In spite of reports of how they would be everywhere, they were absent up until this point, except for spotting 1 or 2 in the woods at a distance.
We broke camp the next morning to hike 7 miles to Bear Caves. We passed on hiking over Trail Peak to see the crashed WWII plane, instead hiking south through the woods on the trail west of Bonito Creek and meadow. We passed Webster Pass, turning east across the meadow & Bonito Creek, after which we ascended, then descended, through Fowler Pass to Crater Lake camp; we got our first views since base camp of the Tooth of Time. At Crater Lake we stopped for the logging activities. Treated water is available there from a spigot at the front of the staff cabin and from a shower house sink behind the cabin. The cabin itself was not built by the Scouts, but by Waite Phillips. The "lake" is more of a pond. At lunch the advisors got their first up close look at minibears while eating lunch.
The boys participated that afternoon in pole climbing at Crater Lake. The "donkey" (boy who held the safety rope) had almost as much fun as the boy climbing the pole. We ran short of time for any of the other activities, so proceeded on to our camp site at Bear Caves camp, a short walk ahead.
Bear Caves is a trail camp with rather hilly campsites surrounding a meadow. Water is available from a spring. and needs to be treated. Of all the trail camps it was our least favorite. The seats had mostly rotted away in the camp's "pilot-to-bombardier" (i.e., open air) toilets, the bear cable was inconveniently located, and our campsite's sump was falling apart.
We hiked 4 miles the next morning to Urraca camp by hiking over Urraca Mesa. The views became more and more spectacular of the Tooth of Time ridge, and the mesa itself was scenic. Urraca is a staffed camp with its main attraction being its "mini-COPE" challenge course. Treated water is available from spigots in the camp, although we had to pull our water from a water buffalo due to a temporary shutdown in the camp's water treatment system. We got our last rain and hail storm that afternoon, although we once again managed to get to the porch of the staff and headquarters cabin when it hit. The program that night was really good, going fuller into the history of Philmont. Those guys could sing pretty well, too! Because a mother bear and her cubs had been sighted, we got a deserved waking up later that night by staff checking the camp for any "smellables" left out of bear bags. Unfortunately (and embarrassingly) we had left out a bag with food,, so our crew leader and another boy had the pleasure of getting out of bed after 10:30 PM to put it in the bear bag.
The next morning we left to make the final 9.5 mile hike back to base camp. Before we left we went early to Inspiration Point back on Urraca Mesa to see a spectacular sunrise. We then hiked up over a lower ridge, then down through a meadow. If you stick with the itinerary you start up the Tooth of Time ridge on a trail located just east of the Tooth at a stockade built by Philmont (the trail is, of course, named Stockade Trail). This trail climbs over 1,000 ft. in little over a 1- mile distance to the top of the ridge, which is at about 8,500 ft. elevation. Once there, you can drop your packs to climb the rest of the way to the top of the Tooth, which is at a little over 9,000 ft. You can also go back to base camp on a level road you cross before the stockade. Although the boys had voted 3 to 1 the night before to go back over ridge, there was a change of heart the next morning by one of the 3, which we then heard about all the way to the stockade. We stuck with the earlier decision, however, and once we started up the ridge, everyone did fine, and we made it to the ridge top in time for lunch. We were also lucky another water buffalo was present at the stockade, and that a staff member was present to let us know we could use it, otherwise we would have run out of water long before the end of the day.
The advisors and 2 boys (Mike Lamkin and Jeff Schaunaman) climbed to the top of the Tooth for some spectacular views. We then proceeded east along the top of the ridge back to base camp. When we got toward the end of the ridge we started on the infamous switchbacks, which which tantalizingly and repeatedly led us down toward base camp for awhile, only then to pull us the opposite direction. Even with our stockade refill, however, many ran out of water before we reached base camp, so it was a welcome sight when we finally got in around 5:30 PM
We ate (and drank) a welcome hot supper at the dining hall, checked into our tents in Tent City, then lathered up in a long, hot shower! We enjoyed our final campfire program, and then got some sleep that night on level bunks.
We finished checking our gear back in on Saturday morning, June 26, after eating breakfast and clearing our tents by 8:30 AM. We then headed to the Trading Post to pick up our souvenirs. The scoutmaster then generously took the boys into Cimarron on the free bus shuttle for lunch (they ate at Hecks, for a "Heck of a burger"), while letting the other advisor and I visit the Seton museum and take the tour of the Villa Philmonte (both highly recommended). We then boarded our bus for Raton at 3:00 PM, got to the train station, checked our baggage through to Chicago, explored beautiful downtown Raton, then joined the mad rush of several Scout crews boarding the train some time after 7:00 PM (over an hour late). We enjoyed a steak dinner that night in the dining car, and arrived in Chicago around 4:00 PM.
Our reserved train back to Indianapolis wasn't going to leave until 8:15 PM and arrive there until 1:15 AM that following morning. We managed, however, to get on an Amtrak-Greyhound thruway connection bus to Indianapolis (which could accept our tickets if room was available) that got us home by 9:05 PM, including a stop for dinner at McDonalds. We were glad to be home, but also glad to have completed one of the greatest experiences in Scouting, a Philmont trek.
Crossroads of America Council
This Web page is maintained by Selden Ball
at Wilson Lab.
Please send any comments or corrections of format to <email@example.com>