Philmont Trek Route #9

by Bill Griffin <> Mon, 30 Mar 1998 09:22:28 -0600

Here is my opinion on Trek 9 based on 22 years experience hiking the Philmont trails. I have hiked route 9 several times, the last time was in 1997 so my recollections are fairly fresh.

Be careful, trails change annually and quite a few were under construction when I was there last year. New trails might not even be on the map yet so be alert and flexible.

Lovers Leap Camp: Good camp, trail goes over the top of Lovers Leap cliff from the stockade bus drop point. The best campsites at Lovers are in the upper meadow, beyond the meadow you enter from the Leap trail. The spring is along the road to your right, just down the road from the meadow. Urraca: Go back down to the lower meadow and to up it towards Stonewall Pass. Just after entering the woods and leaving the meadow you will see the trail branching to your left. It is an old jeep road that is returning to a natural state. This road goes around Urraca Mesa. After a bit you will be out of the heavy trees and into scrub oak and low brush. Good views. About half way around the mesa the road goes pretty straight up the side. Shortly after getting back into the heavy trees and after passing a water tank you will enter Urracca meadow. Go around the meadow to the staff cabin (not across it) to check in. Good program.

Bear Caves: We got up early and didn't eat breakfast in camp. The trail heads west from near the staff cabin. After a 1/4 mi. or so it makes a big switchback to the left. We left the trail there and continued along the relatively open shelf for another short distance. When we saw basalt rocks to our left we went to them and found ourself on an overlook and steep cliff--Inspiration Point. The staff at Uracca can probably point you to t he spot the day you arrive and you can scout it out. We ate breakfast there then continued back to the trail we left and went to the top of the mesa--easy hike and more views. From the top we took the trail along the top to the west, meeting a road that went down to Stonewall Pass. Continuing up the other side (Fowler mesa) you can see segments of the orginal stone wall that separated Rayado and Urraca Ranches. Part way up a new trail heads to the left, switchbacks numerous times and joins the trail that comes around the mesa from Aguila (to your left). Go right around the north face of Fowler to Bear Caves. This is a swampy site with few good campsites and lots of mosquitos. We found an acceptable site, set up camp and side hiked to Crater Lake for the afternoon program. We got there in 45 min. Returning, we had dinner and hit the sack to escape the bugs.

Beaubien: Return to Crater Lake (no time for program today, thats why we did it yesterday on a side hike). From Crater go up the road. At the first major turn of the road to the right, go left up onto the bank and you will be on the trail up Fowler Pass. The trail crosses the road a couple of times (look for the trail across the road--it may not be DIRECTLY across, however). Finally you will hit the road again for the last time, taking it a short distance to the pass. From the pass follow the road to a trai that drops down to pretty Bonita meadow. You can take the meadow trail (up the right side but it finally joins and stays on a jeep road) or take the new trail through the woods. If you take the woods route, go across the meadow, taking the Webster Pass trail that eventually goes down to Fish Camp. Just after leaving the meadow and getting into the trees, a new trail branches to the right. It parallels Bonita meadow all the way into Beaubien camp--a fairly long hike.

Beaubien layover day: Instead of riding the horses (nose to tail for a couple of hours) the kids elected to go on a side hike to Fish Camp. We took some nearly empty packs down to Phillips Junction--go past the staff cabin and take the trail up to the head of the meadow. A trail leaves the road there and is an easy hike down to the junction. We left some packs there and hiked down the road to Fish Camp--easy and interesting--along the Rayado Creek--several fords across the increasingly large creek. After a 45 min. hike we hit Fish Camp, toured the cabins, tied some flys and most of the kids fished. We then returned to the junction, picked up food and returned to Beaubien by 4pm so we could participate in the chuck wagon dinner. There are some other side hikes that can be taken but, remember, you have to go to the junction for food anyway. You could climb Trail Peak near Fowler Pass. It is a very hard climb with no switchbacks. You can also go to Black Mt. camp for program. This is a half day trip.

Crooked Creek: Return to the junction and pick up some more food. You only picked up a day supply the first time. Go upstream on the Rayado through Porcupine Camp. Well on the other side the trail forks. The right trail crosses the creek to the north side. The left fork goes up onto a shelf to Crooked Creek Camp. This is an easy hike day. Crooked Creek as fairly good camps and is interesting. The water sources is a spring almost on the trail as you enter camp.

Clear Creek: Again, you have 2 ways. The hard way is along the fenceline of Philmont's western boundary. Almost as pretty and much easier is the route up the Rayado Creek. Go back down to the fork you took the day before and cross the creek to the other side. The trail to Clear Creek climbs easily and steadily and is quite easy. At Clear Creek you will see the traps in the creek and a mountain man cabin up on the bank on the other side. As you approach you may hear gunfire from the black powder range. This is a nice camp and our coldest one at night as it is about the highest camp at Philmont--a little over 10,000'. I have seen snowflakes there in July! Good program though and usually interesting staff.

Cyphers Mine: Get up early and go up to the upper end of camp where the Philips trail passes through the Philmont fence. You are off scout property now. The trail up isn't long but it is quite steep. We took our breakfast and ate on the first saddle above the camp. There was a suitable view to enjoy as we ate. When you are about done in you will top a ridge and have a level walk for awhile before starting the hardest part, the final climb to the top. Great view from the summit. From there cross the mountain and drop into a saddle on the east side. You will then climb Comanche, which is about 400' lower than Phillips. The top of Comanche is completely wooded, except on the north side where you will descent. You will shortly meet a new trail that is much better than the old and makes a huge traverse around the mountain before it switches back to Thunder Ridge. Cross the road and take the trail down to Cyphers. This is an easy but very long descent that covers a lot of the hills surrounding Cyphers. It eventually drops into camp beside the staff cabin. You will stay in Adarondak cabins here as it is too steep and rocky for tents. Good program and campfire.

Webster Parks: Take the old road around the ridge on the other side of the creek. It meets the main trail going down the creek near Lamberts Mine (no mine or anything there). This is a pleasant hike down the creek to the road beside the Hunting Lodge. From the lodge, take one of the light trails east, up the grassy slope to the Cimarroncito meadow trail. Go up the meadow to the staff cabins. Get the program. We then side hiked to Ute Gulch Commissary (out of food, you know). We went up the left side of the meadow to the head of Grouse Canyon--fastest and prettiest way, better than the right side going to Aspen Springs. At the bottom of the canyon we entered the commissary road. About a mile up the road (on a side road spur) we got to the commissary. We loaded our empty packs (left everything else and other packs behind the staff cabin with an adult guard) and returned the way we camp. We then climbed up the hill to the dry Webster Parks camp. At night from there you can see the lights of that huge metropolis, Cimarron.

Tooth Ridge: We dropped back to Cito and returned to the Hunting Lodge where we ate breakfast. We then went back to the trail on the west side of the Lodge and continued down to the road. Crossing the road we took the trail past Cathedral Rock Reservoir to Clarks Fork. We at a supper there for lunch and this was the last reliable water until base camp. Shaefers Pass spring usually runs but it can go dry rapidly. Don't trust it unless you meet someone who JUST came down and got good water there. After lunch we started up the mountain. 16 or so switchbacks later we entered Shaefers Pass. We had taken a couple of water bags strapped to our packs and drank that water on the way up. At the pass they were about drained but we had full canteens yet. Fortunately we found the springs flowing--it is in the SW corner of the meadow, up the hill--so we drank our fill and left the pass with everyone's canteens brimming. It is a long and tedious hike up onto Tooth Ridge. We dropped our packs at the top and took the very short stroll up to the top of Shaefers Peak. Returning to the packs we hiked the ridge. This is a hard trail, not steep but rocky and fatiguing. Just before the Tooth the trail drops off the ridge to the north to get around the peak. When it rejoins the top of the ridge we were at the Tooth climb. We dropped our packs and scrambled up the peak. Oh and ah. We then went back to our packs and followed the trail east a short distance. Tooth Ridge Camp has sites on either side but I like the site all the way south near the cliff down below. You can sit on the rocks in the evening and see Lovers Leap and where you started. Below to the left is base camp.

Base Camp: All we had left is breakfast. We saved one that we could put in our pockets and eat as we walked. As soon as we could see--about 5 AM-- we packed up and headed east down the ridge trail. We followed the top of the ridge all the way down to base camp. We entered at 7:30AM ready to get our tents, clean up, hit the snack bar. We then decided to take the free bus into Cimarron and pig out on burritos at the Burrito Shack rather than eat in the dining hall.

Good luck and enjoy. This is a good route that makes a great tour of most of the features of the south country. The return to base from the Tooth is also a great way to finish. Pacing is good on this trip. Remember, you will have some tough days and be pretty well done in when you finish.

Bill Griffin

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