In 2000 on trek 30 our next to the last day was Red Hills to Shaefers Pass Camp. Since one of the goals of the crew was to conquer as many of the high peaks as possible, our route was over Big Red, Commanche Pass, and over Black Mountain. I have heard a ranger refer to that route as "The Black Death" hike. It could certainly turn out that way. The trail out of Red Hills up Big Red goes straight up a (then dry) drainage with no switchbacks. This was the only trail at Philmont I can remember having blazes on the trees marking the trail. We guessed this was because any runoff down the drainage would obliterate the trail. The sister crew on our same route missed the trail up the drainage and hiked down Commanche Creek for about half an hour before figuring our their mistake.
Before you leave Red Hills, camel up on water. The water at Red Hills was the best tasting water we have encountered at Philmont. We got it out of the stream that flows through the northern campsites along the trail that leads to Mt. Phillips. The entire route to Shaffers Pass is dry. Shaffers Pass spring was a trickle (less than a quart a minute) on July 31. Crews passing through may be stopping for water here also, if it even flows at all this summer.
Ascending Black from the west, the trail is difficult to find at times due to infrequent use. Rock cairns were our only guide at times. One stretch going up Black required using both hands and literally climbing. Others have commented about finding the trail down from Black Mountain to Shaffers. We scratched our heads for awhile before descending, but figured correctly. The descent is steep with loose gravel on the trail. My son slipped, fell backwards, and cut his hand badly.
This route is not for everyone. We had a young crew, but all were determined to do this hike. We discussed how hard it would be the day before. Would I do it again? Yes!! It was one of the toughest and most rewarding and most scenic hikes I have done at Philmont! The view from Black Mountain is spectacular and one very few see at Philmont.
But you say you must continue on to Clarks Fork. As I said we had a young crew, we were not fast hikers. But combined with the extra time needed for careful trail locating work, a lot of enjoying the views, and remember most of the time you are at 10,000+ feet, we spent about 8 hours covering the 6-7 miles i believe it is. You could be jeopardizing getting into Clark Fork in time to participate in the Chuckwagon dinner, if you encounter problems. Either way, at Clarks Fork in 2000, crews were served the dinner in order of arrival at the staffs cabin for check in earlier in the day. We were one of the last crews to arrive at Clarks a few days earlier, and had to watch everyone else get that real stew & biscuits ahead of us. It was agonizing and we prayed there would be some left by the time they called our crew number.
I cannot comment on Commanche Pass to Lamberts Mine, but Lamberts Mine to Hunting Lodge is an easy gradual downhill along the creek (about 20 some crossings, but shallow & narrow each time I've been there in July/Aug.) A tour of the Hunting Lodge is great. In 2000, we hiked from Clarks Fork to Cyphers Mine in a little over 3 hours. That was a good pace for us as the boys wanted to get in as much program at Cyphers as possible. Hunting Lodge to Clarks Fork should take less than an hour. If you are heading north from Clarks Fork the next day, try to get one of the nothern campsites. They are about a 10 minute hike from the cabin along the trail to Hunting Lodge, and you are away from the crowd. The sunrise from there is great too, I think they actually have a different name for this camping area.
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