Selecting Your Philmont Trek

by Cooper Wright, ASM-Venture, Troop 1519 (Alexandria, VA),
and W.C.Feurtado, Philmont Training Coordinator, Baltimore Area Council

We recognize the important role that program features play in your crew's trek selection process. However, we also understand that the maturity of your crew is another factor that must be considered in trek selection. You do not want to "overtrek" by doing more miles than your crew can physically or emotionally handle, thereby missing planned program opportunities. On the other hand, you do not want to "undertrek" and wind up spending lots of time in camp when you could have had a chance to see more of Philmont.

Before discussing possible trek selections with your crew, assess their abilities and maturity level. It is tough for a fourteen year old scout to perform his camp chores when he is tired after a long hike or immediately after he wakes up. It can take a young crew three to four hours from the time they wake up until they take their first step on the trail. Some crew members may suggest that if they wake up really early (4 am), they can leave camp by 8 am. This doesn't work because the more time a crew gets, the more time they will take. Advisors can take charge and kick butt and get the crew out of camp within an hour. But this does not allow the crew leader to perform his function and it just raises the advisor's blood pressure. With thirteen to fifteen year old scouts, you should select a trek that requires only 5 to 8 miles of hiking per day (50-60 total miles). With fourteen to sixteen year old scouts, longer treks can be selected. By reminding the crew that if they take only two hours to get out of camp, they will be able to hike an additional 1 to 2 miles a day, enabling the crew to hike 6 to 9 miles per day (60-70 total miles). However, with fifteen to seventeen year old scouts, maturity is expected and strenuous and super strenuous (80-110 total miles) treks are more than doable.

One final point about physical and emotional maturity. Both Wally and Coop have seen instances where the behavior of one scout ruined the entire Philmont experience for the rest of the crew simply because he was either not physically or emotionally ready to handle the trek. As an advisor, you may be faced with a similar situation early in your crew development process. Since it is your responsibility to ensure that the entire crew is completely prepared for Philmont, you may have to step in and talk with the scout in question along his parents. In a case like this, we recommend that the scout wait another year or two before attending Philmont, so that his experience and that of the crew will be the best that it can be. Since you will have only one opportunity to do a trek at Philmont (unless you come back for Trail Crew or Rayado), why not make it something really special that you will remember for the rest of your life?

A second factor that should be considered in selecting a trek is scenery. Some areas of Philmont are simply spectacular. We have listed below some of our favorite places to hike:

a. Fish Camp to Abreu - The trail follows along the south side of the Rayado River canyon where the hiker has continual views of the river and the mountains to the north. Be sure and use the caterpillar method (see On The Trail) so that all crew members will have a chance to view the canyon.

b. Ponil, Sioux, and Bent to Pueblano over Wilson Mesa - Several years ago, Wilson Mesa was devastated by a forest fire which destroyed its trees but provided for some exceptional views north into Colorado and west towards Baldy Mountain.

c. Abreu to Crater Lake via Stonewall Pass - This hike has some special views of the Tooth of Time just outside of Bear Caves camp.

d. Miners Park to Shaefers Pass - This trail offers a close up view of the "Grizzly" Tooth.

e. Shaefers Pass to the Tooth of Time - The view from Shaefers Peak is outstanding. The path along Tooth Ridge is exceptional, with huge rock outcroppings and great views. Be sure to look to the north and pick out Baldy Mountain. Once past the Tooth, the trail becomes a hot, dusty walk into Base Camp that never seems to end.

f. Hidden Valley, Window Rock and Cathedral Rock - Although the north and south trail heads to this trail are somewhat hard to find, it provides exceptional views of the Tooth of Time and base camp. Hidden Valley is a special place, soft and quiet.

g. Cimarroncito to Sawmill - This path goes through Grouse Canyon and Sawmill Canyon. The views along the canyon walls are outstanding.

h. Sawmill to Thunder Ridge - About a quarter of a mile north of the radio tower, there is an unmarked side trail that leads 100 meters to some spectacular views of Baldy Mountain, Wheeler Peak (New Mexico's highest mountain), Eagle Nest Lake and Colorado. As you reach treeline at Thunder Ridge, look again to the west for some more great views.

i. Thunder Ridge to Comanche Peak - There are several overlooks that offer views of Baldy Mountain and Wheeler Peak to the west.

j. Visto Grande to Harlan - This hike takes your crew through two beautiful meadows.

k. Harlan to Cimarroncito - Words cannot describe this trail with views of Cathedral Rock, Window Rock and the back side of the Tooth of Time.

l. Dan Beard to Bent via Bonita Canyon - The crew should use the caterpillar (more in the On The Trail section) technique to provide an opportunity to see the view of the canyon.

m. Indian Writings to Dan Beard - Along the trail, there are several outstanding rock formations. The views north to Little Castilla Mountain are unique.

n. Ponil to Indian Writings - The views from Hart Peak are great, but the view from the top of the canyon leading to Indian Writings is exceptional.

o. The High Peaks - Baldy Mountain or Mount Phillips are tough, but the struggle up is well worth the view. The loop from Baldy Town over Baldy Mountain and through Copper Park is particularly impressive.

p. The new trail from Baldy Skyline to Head of Dean provides some exceptional views west to Baldy and Touch Me Not Mountain.

A third factor to consider is whether your crew wants to hike over Baldy Mountain or not. Although we feel that the Northern part of the ranch is not as scenic as the southern part, Baldy is a big attraction for many crews. It seems like no matter where you hike, Baldy is always in the skyline, offering a constant challenge to those who would hike up its steep slopes. By seeing Baldy at every turn, those crews that are not scheduled to hike over it are constantly reminded of what they missed. Approximately half of Philmont's treks provide an opportunity for crews to hike over Baldy. There are only four treks that include both Baldy Mountain and the Tooth of Time. These treks appear to be the most popular and therefore are the most difficult get as your first choice. If you do receive one of these four, you will most likely be hiking with a sister crew. There are also treks that begin in the southern part of the ranch, include a side hike over Baldy Mountain, and finish in the northern part. These treks are great because Baldy Mountain gets bigger and bigger and the anticipation grows as the crew gets closer. However, these treks are usually the most strenuous. Please do not assume that we are promoting the treks that hike over Baldy. On the contrary, hiking in the scenic southern portion with its views from Mount Phillips or Comanche Peak of Baldy and Touch Me Not Mountain is simply spectacular.

When you receive the PEAKS itinerary book in March, there is one final factor that you may want to consider. Hiking into base camp over the Tooth of Time can be pretty special. Twenty of the twenty-seven the treks come in over Tooth Ridge and the scenery is simply spectacular. You can’t beat the feeling of pride and accomplishment that will be your crew’s as they walk the final few miles back into civilization.

It would be great if your crew members could decide on their trek by themselves. However, with twenty-eight to choose from, this can be a very time consuming process. One method that has worked for both of us is to preselect five treks that are within the physical and emotional abilities of the entire crew, including the advisors. These treks are then presented during a crew meeting and the entire crew has a chance to decide what program activities they want to do.

Bill Ruppert from the Baltimore Area Council and Karl Kifer from the Old Kentucky Home Council have both developed computer programs that help to determine which trek best matches their crew's program choices. Crew members rank order their program choices. Bill even includes Baldy and the Tooth of Time as program choices. After entering the crew member's individual choices, the program selects the top five treks. By using computer programs, both Bill's and Karl's crews were able to pick a trek that had a majority of their top rated program choices.

"The Philmont Advisor's Guide" is available for a nominal fee from Cooper Wright, Assistant Scout Master of the Venture Crew of Troop 1519 (Alexandria, VA).

For more information, please contact him directly at <>

See also:

This Web page is maintained by Selden Ball at Wilson Lab.
Please send any comments or corrections to