Philmont Itinerary 28:
For the Crew that wants something different

This Trek is for the Crew that wants something different, a mix of cross country yet still looking for a traditional Philmont experience





Half the crew flew into Colorado Springs while the other half drove in a RV. Some of the highlights were the Freemont Indian museum and ruins, Arches National Park both in Utah. Visited the State Capitol building in Denver as well as Mile High Stadium. Toured Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Hiked in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Stayed at the Koshare's in LaJunta, Colorado. And then on to Philmont.




Trek 28 is for the Crew that wants something different, a mix of cross country yet still looking for traditional Philmont program. Trek 28 will take you well into the Valle Vidal, back down into a remote canyon OR over a secluded ridge into Philmont proper. From Copper Park your crew can experience various opportunities such as climbing Baldy and other programs normally found in the area. The trail miles start to add up and a busy schedule is in store for those who are in pursuit of this unique trek. The final day gets the crew back before lunch after a Tooth of Time sunrise. For those that are up on land navigation and like to be out there without seeing other crews most of the time and having the opportunity to travel the various lands that northern Philmont and the Val have to offer then 28 is for you.

I think that is why they call it "SPECIAL".

One advantage to trek 28 is that you do not have to follow the prescribed route. Cross-country travel in the Val is the norm anyway but most people tend to follow a suggested route. This trek, you are encouraged to find your own way. As we did.


DAY ONE: Base camp -- Administration, Logistics, Equipment, Outbound Wall Tents, Souvenirs, Museum tours, Advisor meetings, Campfire etc.


DAY TWO: Over breakfast that morning anxious Scouts await departure into the back country. An afternoon bus takes approximately 40 minutes from base camp. The rangers gave us a sort of history tour as we made our way through Cimarron and up Middle Ponil Creek to the drop-off point at the Ponil turnaround. A short walk from there and you pass Philmont's original base camp, Ponil. Here you may want to stop in at the Root Beer bar and get yourselves a quick drink just to remember what the good life had to offer 'cause you will forget, soon enough, what that was.... Ponil is a big camp, could be a mile long from end to end with horses, burros, Trading Post, Root Beer Bar, Branding, Spring water: a real Old West kinda place. Soon you must move on, though, up the trail along the valley floor, cross the creek, past Sioux Camp and cover a quick mile to your first camp at Bent.

BENT -- A quaint streamside trail camp along the Middle Fork of Ponil Creek, flat with good tent sites, great flowers, good bear sign and very bad water. For a pump that is. This is where the moment of truth is. Do you go through the process of straining the creek water, then letting it set for hours to allow the fine silt to settle to the bottom of the bucket.bucket? Then plugging your pumps anyway? OR do you Polar Pure it and let your stomach have it? Aaah we didn't do either. We filled up our Nalgene Canteens at Ponil Camp and packed enough water in.

This is also a Ranger Training Camp. You MUST learn the Philmont way of camping. But you can incorporate your Crew's good experience into the Philmont way and make it work for everyone.


DAY THREE: Our Crew chief convinced the Crew that if we just headed off to Rich Cabins that morning we would be there in no time. It was said that Rich had a pretty good program but that it wasn't to long. We had been advised earlier by some boys from North Carolina that Wilson Mesa would be a appropriate side hike. Of course the conventional way was by trail. We were told that 28 was SPECIAL and cross country was in order. It was voted upon and soon we were on our way. A bearing was taken and straight up we went. We started plenty of deer and elk and of course our heart rates.

On top of WILSON MESA it was soon discovered why this place was such a highlight to many who have laid their eyes upon it. It is really beautiful. Nice backpacking ground, mostly flat with gradual grades spaced Lodge Pole throughout and a lot of animals, birds and reptiles. Not to mention the abundant aroma of flowers. To the west and not too far off, lies one of your goals. At 12,441 feet Mt. Baldy stands in all its awe, grandeur and beauty. To the North lay the rest of the Valle Vidal and Colorado, to the South? Philmont proper. Soon we found ourselves at lunchtime at the famous and beautiful Wilson Mesa Lake. Taking in the sights our Crew saw Spreadables for the first time. Not Bad... Some of us went over to check out the Ruins marked on the map just south of the lake, but did not find them. But we did find an old grave overlooking the lake.

Not discouraged, we then convinced our Ranger that we really do like cross-country travel and we wanted to do some more. Our Crew Chief figured he knew a "Short Cut" to Rich Cabins. I agreed and so did the crew. We headed west for a while (And those trails on the map are not there, but good land to hike). After a bit we headed Northwest then came around to northeast and followed the Wildlife Boundary down to the Middle Ponil. I suggested the next ridge to the north in the beginning but was overruled by the Crew Chief's prudence. Which was good. But it does look interesting.

Soon we came across... or should I say had to cross twice... Middle Ponil Creek. It was late afternoon and we were playing so much on the Mesa we wondered if we had missed the program. We also had to make food pick up before the commissary closed. Just before checking in at the cabin one of our Scouts noticed, by almost walking into it, the RICH CABINS' guard dog or doggie.... A 2500-pound bull that jumped up as the young Scout unknowingly approached it... HELLO DOGGIE! He retreated quite quickly. It was certainly a rip.

A couple of theme dressed women greeted us and were glad that we had met their guard dog(gie). They checked us in, gave us an option to camp back over the two creek crossing or find our way further up creek. Seeing we were going up creek anyway that was where we went. Good water flows from the small creek behind the new log barn (being built at the time). We joined the other crews back at the corral for cow milking, pig calling and chicken catching. The crews from Louisiana and Texas tied, catching six chickens each. We didn't catch one. Our Crew Chief in frustration yells out, "the only thing we catch in California are waves and chicks." We all laughed, had some hot chocolate and made our way back to camp. Next was dinner, more Ranger Training, Leave no Trace camping techniques and bear bag hanging methods used in the Val, where there are no wires hung. After a busy day it was off to sleep.


DAY FOUR: Early to rise and out of camp before 7:30. We forded the Ponil, climbed up onto the bench and on in to see what the VALLE VIDAL was really made of. It is a land full of Elk, Rattlesnakes, Mountain Bikes and Buffalo. The Val, pronounced "Vaul" by some locals, is comparably flat to that of Philmont proper. Lightly treed with few trails it is very comfortable for the art of land navigation.

Just before we reached one of our course adjustments, about half way to Iris Park, the crew was spread out and covering ground at a rapid pace. The Crew Chief was running sweep. All of a sudden he pointed out a snake, a rattlesnake. Of course everyone had to stop and educate themselves. A couple of distant pictures and on we went. Only thing, the pace had slowed down considerably and the crew didn't seem to take their eyes off the ground. Huh...

IRIS PARK -- is a good Camp. Good tent sites around and up from the meadow in the trees, mountain biking is the program and is a good way to see the lay of the land. Good water source located in the middle of the meadow where the windmill used to be (Now(now laying in pieces). In replacement of the windmill is a solar powered shallow water pump station with a five hundred-gallon water tank known to all as the buffalo. Speaking of Buffalo it is said while Mountain biking it is not to uncommon to sight a few of them, Real Buffalo that is, down buy the Beatty lakes.


DAY FIVE: Up before dawn we know it shall be a busy day. Great challenge awaits our crew. The weather has been grand up til now and we hope it to continue. Instead of the suggested route, taking a west-northwest course out then down to the Middle Ponil following it to Greenwood Canyon. Our point man and Crew decided to head straight south to a ridge following up to above Greenwood canyon and then find the bench leading us down to just south of the junction of Greenwood Creek and the Middle Ponil. Great way to go but the problem was it was only nine A.M. Of course decisions had to be made This was the infamous GREENWOOD CANYON route. Many a Crew had stories of peril and despair. whoooo

From the junction it is recommended to camp there for the night and then to follow Greenwood Canyon the next morning. The Crew must head southwest, then hook around to the south and then east up a sizable elevation gain in or around the saddle directly north of Baldy's summit, move over to above Copper Park then follow the flags down to Copper Park as indicated on logistics' Baldy Quad.

I heard from Rich Cabin's staff that a bunch of Crews ventured into Greenwood Canyon with and without the Baldy quad and ended up coming back out, heading down to Rich Cabins. Where they would explain to the staff their death-defying feats like they had just returned from the lost world. That was a quote. They said MANY Crews on 28 pass back through Rich then over the Wilson Mesa down into the South Ponil watershed and back up to Copper Park.... nice hike.

In talking with other Crew Chiefs and Advisors for 28 some suggested moving well down the canyon to make the following day a little more relaxed.

We on the other hand did it a little different. Typically in the Sierras and the Cascades following a ridge up is sometimes a good way to climb a mountain. It could also be the most scenic way. In studying the contours and elevations gains we found a good way to climb to the highest point right above Copper Park via the ridge that leads directly south from the junction of the Middle Ponil and Greenwood Canyon. It is steep in the beginning and at the end but not too bad.

With the strength of the Crew we had, though, there was no way we would be able to do it in one haul. We didn't know terrain, maybe rock cutoffs, weather conditions. Also it would be dry trail camping for 24 hours. Sounds like an Adventure. So a plan had to be devised.

THE RIDGE PLAN Eat dinner for lunch at Greenwood Canyon/Ponil Creek junction. Hydrate till body tanks are full and fill all water containers to pack. Stronger Crew members pack water to support success of whole Crew. Crew Chief explain to each Crew member what they are about to under take and emphasize positive mental attitude.

OK One P.M. we are ready to go. Ohoh a typical Philmont thunder storm, with heavy rain. First rain of the trek it was sort of a novelty. Must wait it out. The Crew played some cards in our dinning fly and occupied themselves for about two hours. Then it was show time. In Scouting the route during the afternoon thunder showers I found an old logging road that gains access to that ridge, which we were not interested in.

We started out the first half mile up at about thirty to forty degrees. It got steeper as we made our way up past the cut bank of the old road, which we crossed maybe three times before it disappeared. The route in the beginning was laced with windfalls but that all cleared up as we climbed. Slow and easy using the rest step all the way up. Nobody rabbited, we all stayed together and we stopped four times to rest. We approached the crest of the ridge and it started to rain again. Oh well.

We had made THE RIDGE now and things looked great: the walking was now near horizontal with gradual grades that were no longer challenging. Our plan was to make the 9658T saddle and Bivy there for the night, which we did. It took us a little more than two hours getting there from the junction. Had a great lunch for dinner, sat tents and saw a great sunset, saw thunderheads move in from the north. Started to rain, then it really started to rain, then it felt like glasses of water were hitting the tent. Hummm Have I seen it rain this hard before? I don't know but it was a pretty heavy rain and then we were rewarded with the most spectacular electrical storm I have seen in years, right above us. Wasn't too hair raising, thank God, but was MOST impressive.


DAY SIX: Awake before the crack of dawn. Good weather, Dry breakfast, refill water bottles, thanked the guys who carried it up and then onward ho. I have to tell ya it was a typical ridge route with good access all the way to the top. The place was full of Deer and Elk, flowers, Aspen, Lodge Pole Pine and much more. It actually was a more than comfortable gradual elevation gain. When it got a little steep the Crew Chief just cadenced off the rest step. Nobody was physically or emotionally stressed. As their Advisor this was one of my fondest memories of our '98 trek and a very satisfying sense of accomplishment for them.

As we reached the summit above COPPER PARK we talked about looking for the airplane wreck and visiting the Old French Henry Mine above French Henry Camp. But the Scouts voted on high tailing it down to Copper then checking out the program at French Henry Camp. We headed down to Copper and so did a rain storm. It beat us there. I was so happy I suggested going back up and look for the airplane wreck but I had no takers. That was OK it gave us time to recoup 'cause we had to climb Baldy the next morning.


DAY SEVEN: Up early and out the door by seven. The Crew had made a Logistic change back at head quarters. Instead of leaving the tents and gear here at Copper, climbing Baldy then going down to Miranda for program then back up to Baldy Camp for food pick-up and return to Copper. They decided to just take everything with them up over Baldy, food pick-up at Baldy Camp, then cruise down to Miranda for program and spend the night. Much more efficient and it worked great.

Oh one other thing. Climbing MT. BALDY with full packs on, up the Copper Park side was not as bad as some would think. Not because we were super hikers, we had some smaller freshman with us that were not considered strong and even had problems, strength wise on their training hikes.

What was the key to their success?

Four things really

  1. Proper acclimation
  2. Proper hydration
  3. The rest step
  4. Positive Mental Attitude

All four items are important. We stopped only twice all the way up, once for one minute and the other for about ten minutes at the bench just below the summit. We surprised a day hiking crew by passing them after they had a twenty-minute head start from Copper. And we were not racing at all, really. The rest step was the key to that. We did not have to stop. Another crew from North Carolina that had followed us up to the bench on our last stop had interesting shirts on. It read "LEAD, FOLLOW OR GET OUT OF THE WAY" Well we were proud to have them follow us up to that point where they passed us after breaking together and we then followed them to the summit. Good guys. It took two hours from start to finish.

I say all this not for bragging rights but for those crews that that are not sure how to climb something like Mt Baldy at over 12,000 ft. Any less than the above mentioned items... Well they just won't have any fun.

Good Mountain, little cloudy to the east but could see Eagle Nest Lake to the southwest. Another proud moment of the trek..

We had Thorn and Roses on top and cleared up a few things. Very positive experience for all involved.

Down we go to Baldy Camp. Lunch there, Trading Post, Museum, Commissary, Attack of the Mini Bears, Sheet Rain. Great view down to the Cimarron River. We waited out the rains and soon after that we headed down to Miranda. Made pretty good time but not enough for program: partly rained out and the boss wasn't there or something. No matter, we needed to take advantage of what was left of the sun to dry things out. The Crew wanted to do program the next morning before we went on to The Head of Dean that was not too far off. That meant this was the first opportunity to sleep in to six. YES.


DAY EIGHT: Got up to deer in the middle of the pasture and a bright sunny morning. We really do become a part of Philmont after so long on the trail. The Crew moved on to blackpowder shooting. They blasted their shirts, hats and anything else that smelled -- for souvenir purposes they said. Hatchet throwing was soon over and we found ourselves on the trail again. We went up the New Trail that leads up to Head of Dean. Nice trail.

HEAD OF DEAN -- Now there is a busy Camp. Staff and Crews everywhere. Good tent sites, good water, good staff, and lots to do. We got there about 11:00 am and wanted to get right on our Conservation Project, which we did right after lunch. Clouds were doing their typical building so we packed along our rain gear. (Good thing.) We were told to meet our Conservation Project Manger (CPM) up at the project site located about three quarters of a mile up the hill on a ridge to the east. We had met a crew coming off their project. One of the Advisors asked if we were heading for our Conservation Project. We cordially responded "Why yes". He said with a whipped look "good luck& quot;. One of the other guys said sarcastically "Have Fun". Woooo what were we in for we wondered.

Soon we were there and Mary Ellen our CPM gave us a most interesting conservation talk about how wild fires are controlled so well now that more saplings tend to grow causing a forest to get a little crowded.

She also talked a little of Philmont History and gave a safety meeting on what we were about to do. That was to thin out chop down trees that had not been marked by a ribbon and carry them to a pick up location. The only rules that Mary Ellen had about picking your own tree were to pick it inside the designated area and you must carry it to the pick up point if you fall it. Philmont would then cut, split and then be corded. Mostly pine averaging five to six inches around sometimes bigger but if smaller they were left where they fell. The cordwood was then trucked to surrounding towns to be sold. Great deal of money? Probably not, just all part of running a ranch I guess. The main thing it did look pretty good, as a forest goes, after the process was done.

Our job was just starting, but so was the rain. We didn't mind after putting our rain gear on. Even when it started to hail. Even when it started lighting and thundering. Mary Ellen was impressed with us guys from California 'cause we seemed to be enjoying the work, all things considered. She did say though, that if the lightening moves to within a mile, well it was icsnay off the ridge.

Our guys found it a novelty to chop down trees. The bigger the better. The problem was they didn't realize two things. One it took a fair bit of time to chop down larger trees. And once they chopped it down they had to carry the tree to the pickup location. (A good hundred + yards) . Well by the time they got through with the trees the hail had turned into marble size and the lightening was flashing the same time the thunder was sounding. IT WAS TIME TO LEAVE. It rained and hailed all the way back to the Head of Dean... Hard.

It was great, all the guys' spirits were high. That is until Mary Ellen informed our Crew Leaders that we had to find time to go back up to the Conservation Site and carry those trees to the pickup area. Oooooh!

I like this girl, she just made it clear that rules are rules, you fall it you move it, no more no less. It was raining pretty hard for the rest of that afternoon. Early evening came and so did about two hours of sunlight.


DAY NINE: The guys thought because our next stop was VISTA GRANDE, a trail camp, it may be prudent to dry out now, get up early the next day and be up to the site by seven (OK'd by Mary Ellen), move the trees. We would have time to do the COPE course well before noon, then move on. Good plan as it was to be.

The crew, on the way down to the trail leading to Santa Claus, wanted to make a slight detour. They decided to go straight south of Head of Dean up atop the ridge. There used to be a trail up there, known as the upper trail to Santa Claus. Apparently things have changed over the years and that trail was moved further down the ridge to the east and there is now a road up there. No matter we followed along the crest of the ridge moving east. The same ridge we had climbed up from Miranda, but up some, a couple miles to the northwest.

It was a nice area that overlooked Ute Creek basin and down to the small community of Cimarroncita. We hiked up to Philmont's border clearly fenced along that ridge. We hit the Santa Claus trail right where the Upper Dean Cow Camp Trail comes up. We then quickly moved on down to Santa Claus.

Abandoned SANTA CLAUS that is. We had run into one of the SC staff guys back at Baldy Camp and he had said they were not staffing it right now because of water problems. I had told him that I was a Plumber and that I could fix it for him on the way by. Besides somebody had mentioned it on the Philmont list that it was a slight wiring problem. He said that he was waiting for a solar pump with a buffalo. OK.

Anyway the camp was all locked up and nobody was in any campsites. We took off and made the head of Bear Canyon with in a half-hour. Weww , these guys are getting good. Of course the nice trail down the canyon to the Cimarron River is a long one. Soon we made the crossing and found our way back up to a welcome VISTA GRANDE. Water was slow but good and steady.


DAY TEN: The next day was to be a fun filled combination hiking, food pick-up, rock climbing, more hiking then a long awaited chuck wagon dinner at CLARKS FORK. Three a.m. came early -- earlier than most of us wanted but we were up and out well before five. Dark, but breaking light at the top of the ridge gave us a glimpse back towards Baldy, up the Ute water shed. Beautiful.

Moving quickly past Upper Bench and across Deer Lake Mesa we found ourselves descending down to the Ute Gulch. We did our food pick up, checked out the Trading Post and probably stayed a little longer than we should have. We started up towards Aspen and were delayed slightly by repairs. From there it didn't take us to long to get to CIMARROCITO for rock climbing. Problem was the last crews just checked in beat us out of the morning program. Next program one o'clock in the afternoon. Oooooh

We were told that showers were there and this would be a good rest for some of the miles we had done the past twenty hours. But we still had an hour and half to two hours (so said a staffer) to CLARKS FORK. We had to have the cooks there by four to have the Chuck Wagon Dinner. We just could miss that. But we were assured that we could hustle down there in time. So we stayed.

The showers seemed to have gone on the blink. AGAIN. THAT IS THE SECOND TIME! ONCE AT BALDY CAMP AND NOW!! And I have to tell you those other two advisors really STUNK. Ahhhh it didn't matter we out of there in a couple of DAYS. Besides Chuck Wagon Dinner tonight! Speaking of which rock climbing was OK. But it was time to leave. We left Cito at 2:00 p.m. and found ourselves passing a crew and getting to Clarks in exactly one hour. Wasn't so bad. Good camp site, good scary bear stories, lots of deer, and a dear, a great dinner with PLENTY to go around, one big rattlesnake right on the trail out. The evening show, with a Western Theme was really really good. Some guy played a mighty fine fiddle and some of the poetry and jokes were good too.


DAY ELEVEN: We stayed for the horseback riding the next morning, then the branding. It was a nice stay.

Onward and upward to SHAFFERS PASS where we ate dinner for lunch and found good water at the Spring. It rained on the way up but by this time it was the norm and nobody seemed to care. Up onto Tooth Ridge we had the pleasure of taking in some of the sights of where we had been to the north and where we were to be the next morning at sunrise. THE TOOTH OF TIME. We made our way to TOOTH RIDGE CAMP and had lunch for dinner. There was no water here as expected, we had carried surplus water for hydration that night and for the never ending trail out to Base Camp the next morning.


DAY TWELVE: Four a.m. and the crowded camp was alive with crews in expectation of junk food in Cimarron before the sun set. But first things first, up to the Tooth for a spectacular sunrise. And it was, as the sun rose the crew was filled with a profound feeling of what we were accomplishing and had accomplished over the past ten days in the back country of Philmont Scout Ranch. The MAGIC was not truly felt, really, until then.

Pictures were snapped, congratulations were abound and I could not help in thinking of the tradition of all the crews that passed before us and the crews that were experiencing that moment then and all the crews that will experience the magic in the future. What a place.


Soon we were off the Tooth down to the trail camp where we had breakfast. Tightening up the pack straps we high tailed it down the ridge. Some people tell me, they think the ridge trail down on this side is long. But soon you can see BASE CAMP and you know now you are soon there. Then you realize you're not. Then you see base camp again and you know you are going to be there anytime. You wave off suggestions to just bushwhack straight down explaining that we are just about there. Then somebody says "There is base camp again BUT IT LOOKS LIKE IT IS FARTHER AWAY!". You know things are starting to go bad when the Crew Chief wants to check his map again.

As an Advisor sometimes you must keep'm together "OK guys don't forget where you guys came from. It is time to focus... While it is well known that this, the final descent into base camp, is the hardest part of this hike YOU CAN DO IT! Now suck it up and lets dig down and GO FOR IT." ;-)

And soon we found ourselves at doorstep of the end of a life long adventure that will not soon be forgotten.

We had made it.


DAY OF DEPARTURE: Half the crew flew back to Los Angeles from Colorado Springs, Colorado. The rest drove.


Travelling back was a three-day excursion through New Mex, Arizona and California in a RV. Some of the highlights were the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon.

It was a Great and Safe Trip for all.

Rick Fraser

Scoutmaster Troop 412

Fountain Valley, California

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