I read with interest the posts which seem to indicate a great deal of competition for those treks which combine the possibility (more on this later) of an ascent of Baldy with the trek feature of "coming in over the Tooth".
This post is not meant as a criticism of those who have chosen or who plan to choose treks with those two particular features. THERE ARE NO BAD TREKS AT PHILMONT. I am simply providing a contrarian point of view, within certain parameters, which I will detail.
One of these parameters is that I will speak only of terrain and geography, not program features. Program features are for the boys to decide, and there are some program features in the North Country (particularly the burro packing) that are not available in the South Country. My last three Philmont treks, and the trek I plan to lead in September 2006, were Autumn Adventure treks, which have no program features, but allow unlimited variation in itinerary, as there are no "pre-planned" treks, and there is even the opportunity to change course in mid-stream, provided your guide radios the change in to headquarters.
Because I'm an Autumn adventure guy, I'm tuned in to looking for geographical features and routes that are not locked in by considerations of land use and overcrowding (no crowds in the autumn, in fact, barely anyone there at all).
I'm a South Country guy. I admit it. You can't do ALL of the Ranch on any one trip, or even on several. By focusing on the South and Central country, however, (look at the map), you are talking about most of the acreage on Philmont.
As a youth, my 1970 itinerary dropped us off at Ponil, for a hike to Bent for Ranger training. We then hiked to New Dean. The following day took us to what was then known as "The Bench", which was south of highway 64. That was my sole official contact with the North Country.
Unofficially, I stopped by the Ranch in 2000, drove up to Ponil, took another drive up to Maxwell turnaround, and took a short walk (don't try this yourself-Philmont security can and will boot your car) from Six Mile Gate to McBride Canyon camp, where a hailstorm chased me back.
These are my sole contacts with the North Country. I certainly defer to those more familiar as to the desireability of hiking in that portion of the Ranch.
Although we all know that the youth are supposed to pick the itineraries, none of us who have ever been to the Ranch would deny that the boys look for guidance to those who have been there. Although the boys will take a "vote", democracy is a fragile and yet a beautiful thing. LBJ would never allow a vote to be taken unless and until he was sure of the outcome. While I am not suggesting that any potential advisor has ever applied the "Johnson treatment" to influence the trek selection of his crew,. the opportunity is there, consciously or unconsciously. (I have not served as an advisor for a crew of youth, but have put in my two cents, for better or worse, with crews led by others. My Autumn itineraries very definitely reflect my preferences, as well as my aim to bring the whole "Philmont experience" to those who are first-timers). My bad.
Mountains. Mountains are part of what one goes to Philmont to see, and to climb. I have heard advisors extol the North Country to their crews with the sage advice: "That's where the mountains are!". Look at the map. How many mountains above 10,000 feet are there north of Route 64?
The answer is ONE. Baldy.
South of Route 64, however, you have at least a DOZEN peaks over 10,000 feet that DON'T EVEN HAVE NAMES !!! Named peaks include Cimarroncito Peak, 10,470, Comanche Peak, 11,299, Mt. Phillips, 11,741, Big Red, 10,930, Bear Mountain, Black Mountain, Bonita Peak, Garcia Peak, Burn Peak, Trail Peak.
How many mountains above 9000 feet are there north of Route 64? ONE, Baldy. South of Route 64, there are Lookout Peak, Shaeffer's Peak, Crater Peak, Rayado Peak, Apache Peak, the Tooth,and DOZENS of unnamed peaks above 9000 ft., many of which are just short of 10,000 feet.
Streams, particularly trout streams. What could be better than falling asleep beside a gurgling brook? The Ponil creeks in the North do have fish, but not enough, apparently, to support a fly tying and fishing program, which used to be taught in the South Country at both Fish Camp and Porcupine.. While the Rayado and Agua Fria are the premier streams (Apache Springs, Lost Cabin, Agua Fria, Fish Camp, Comanche Camp, Porcupine, PJ, Crags, Abreu-I don't know about Clear Creek and Crooked Creek),the North Fork Urraca also has trout (North Fork Urraca camp, Black Mountain Camp).
Greenery. The South Country is green. North Country still shows the effect of the fires.
It seems to me that Baldy requires a three day investment to climb. One day to get into position, one day to climb, and one day to get out of that far northwest corner of the Ranch. Perhaps my vision is clouded by my Autumn Adventure experiences, where no considerations of program enter into the mix. What if the weather does not cooperate? Your Baldy sidehike would then be cancelled, a result I understand is not so infrequent as to be unusual. This would be a very rare (only if life-threatening) experience in the South.
Hiking in "over the Tooth". Summiting the Tooth of Time is a highlight of any expedition. Many expeditions that do not include Baldy hike in "over the Tooth". My personal preference for a last day on the trail would be those itineraries that spend the last night at Tooth Ridge Camp. This allows a summit of Shaeffer's Peak the day before arriving at Tooth Ridge (DON'T miss Shaeffer's Peak if you get the chance-I MEAN IT- panoramic overview of your entire trek without much effort-easy to walk right by-RESIST THE URGE- climb it, you will be glad you did).
Staying at Tooth Ridge Camp allows an ascent of the Tooth the day before you hike into base, or a "sunrise" ascent, getting you in to base at an early hour.
I have seen some itineraries that put you at Shaeffer's pass (a beautiful place, but not real close to the Tooth) or even farther away at North Fork Urraca (a beautiful camp) or Upper Clark's Fork, the night before hiking in "over the Tooth". Unlike in the '70s or '80's,, you are no longer allowed to change your itinerary to put you at Tooth Ridge rather than the camps your itinerary calls for.
Philmont will also tell you never to hike at night, for those who think that a 3:00 am departure from, say, Upper Clark's Fork will put them on top of the Tooth for sunrise. Regardless of what one thinks about walking a clear trail with flashlights at night, the trail from Shaeffer's Pass to the vicinity of Tooth Ridge camp is anything but clear. In my opinion, you definitely need daylight for this particular trail, as it is boulder-strewn (as opposed to a boulder field, which is how I would describe the trail from the vicinity of Tooth Ridge camp to the summit of the Tooth itself).
My thoughts on this last hike of the trek. You are likely to pass up Shaeffer's Peak, which would be a real shame, unless you do a sidehike from Shaeffer's pass the day before. You will spend precious little time on the Tooth itself, as base camp beckons. You will also get in to basecamp fairly late in the day, when you may be dying for a shower, an icecream or a microwave burger.
All in all, you may wind up much more satisfied with an itinerary that omits Baldy, or which doesn't "come in over the Tooth". It's all a balancing act.
One day, I would like to climb Baldy. I plan to go over the Tooth on my next Autumn trip (from basecamp, in reverse, staying the first night at Tooth Ridge-I've personally climbed it four times already, but want to make sure any "first-timers" in my crew get the experience of the "Summit of Scouting"). I'm just not sure I would put those two items first on my list of "must haves" for an enjoyable and memorable Philmont trip. This observation goes even more strongly for an insistence that an itinerary include both, rather than one or the other.
For more on the "North Country vs. South Country" debate, see Cass, W., Return to the Summit of Scouting, at p. 135, 227-228, 234, 254-255. I once again highly recommend this book (available at Tooth of Time Traders as well as on order through any major bookseller) for those advisors taking a crew to the Ranch and HIGHLY recommend it for those taking their own sons to the Ranch.
All of my Autumn Adventure guides have favored, without reservation, the South Country, for what it's worth.
Well, enough already. Happy trails.
Bill Sheehan, ASM
Troop 55, Pitman, NJ
Philmont '70,'72, Autumn Adventure '01,'03,'05 and hopefully '06
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