Philmont Trek Route #15

by Bill Griffin <wgriffin@uwf.edu> Mon, 13 Apr 1998 09:52:52 -0500

Bent: The bus will drop you off just down the road from Ponil. It is about a miles up the road to Ponil camp. There is a root beer cantina and commissary there. Also a trading post next to the cantina. Continue up the valley road/trail to Bent, just above Ponil. This is a short and fairly easy walk. The camp is off the road and across the meadow from the cabin (used for various training activities). You are close enough to visit the cantina in the evening.

Pueblano: The easiest route is back through Ponil. You can head northwest up onto Wilson Mesa then drop down to the trail between Pueblano and Pueblano Ruins. You then have to go back down the valley a mile to Pueblano. This is a longer route but interesting and has pretty views. If you go back to Ponil, I recommend picking up burros. They slow you down but carry about 100 lbs of gear each and without exception my kids enjoyed the cantankerous and stubborn animals. They have provided us with more aggravation and laughs than almost anything at Philmont--besides, where else do you get an opportunity to hike with them? If you pick up the burros, cross the road and push them up it towards Pueblano. There is a trail that goes up the bank to the left, just across the stream from the cantina. It parallels the road below, finally dropping back down to it near Pueblano. It is a little easier walking and has more shade than the road. At Pueblano you take your burros to your campsite and unload them. The burro pen is just down the road from Pueblano (you probably passed it). Put them in there and feed them. Good program and usually a good campfire at Pueblano.

Ute Meadows: If you have burros, go get them and bring them to camp to load. Go up the stream until you spot a trail heading up the hill to your left. This is a steep and rocky climb up onto Baldy Skyline Ridge. At the top a road drops steeply down the other side. It intersects the Baldy Town road at the bottom. Just up the road is a side trail to the left going to the burro pens (listen, you can hear them--sniff, you can smell them). Turn your burros in there and take the trail up to Miranda Meadow. Stop for the program. Then head up the meadow and take the road at the top back out towards the Baldy Town road. After crossing the second small stream you will see a trail going to the left off the road. It goes up to Ute Meadows about a half hour hike away. The trail camp is above the old earthen dam and several campsites spread up the valley above.

Layover day: You climb Baldy today. Take your side hike gear and some empty packs and continue up the trail to Baldy Town. This is a good trail and not a tough climb. In about an hour you'll be at Baldy Town. An early start is recommended so you can get off the top of the mountain by noon (afternoon thunder storms). Plan on leaving Baldy Town around 7AM at the latest. Take the trail up the hill by the commissary. An old mine road slowly turns into a steep trail with few switchbacks. After a final steep traverse you will break out onto a saddle between Touch-Me-Not and Baldy mountains. This spot is worth a few moments enjoying the view to the west. The snow-capped peaks to the west are Wheeler Peak (highest in NM). You can see the top of Baldy to the north. Take the trail to the top. The fastest way down is the way you came. We always go down the west side then follow the gully immediately beside Baldy, going down the talus slope. Finally, well down the rock slide area we meet a trail on the left side of the gully. It is easier from there. At Copper Park we go out to the meadow. In the far left corner is a trail going down to French Henry. A short distance down a creek forms and becomes increasingly large. After a steady drop we watch for a trail on the opposite (right) bank. Crossing the creek and taking the trail we climb about 100 yards to a mine entrance. This is the Ponil mine. We take the tour through it then take the road up the other side to the Aztec Ridge perimeter road. This road goes around the ridge and is a level and easy walk all the way back to Baldy Town. We get food, visit the trading post, take a shower and head back down the way we came up. In less than an hour you will be back at Ute Meadows, suitably pooped.

Upper Dean Cow: The best way to the Dean is to go out to the Baldy Town Road from Ute Meadows. Across the road is a good trail that heads up onto Baldy Skyline Ridge. At the top, turn to your right following along the ridge top towards the east. After a while you will arrive at the road that you took down to the Baldy Town Road a couple of days ago. Continue along the ridge following this road to Head of Dean. Stop for the program and rest a bit. Then continue down Dean Canyon (named after the foreman of a ranch that operated there) to Upper Dean Cow. This is a good trail camp with few other crews. There is a solar panel providing pressure for a well. Purify the water, though.

Upper Bench: Long hike today. A trail goes from the upper part of Upper Dean Cow camp. Take it up onto the ridge. At the top it will meet a road. Another trail goes to the east, around the ridge and down to Santa Claus Camp. This is a new trail and is a pleasant walk down. Santa Claus is a pretty meadow. Used to be a staffed camp but not enough water to support one. Continue to the SE taking a trail/road down to Bear Canyon. A new trail is being built down. I don't know if it is finished yet--check. We took the road down the east side of the canyon. It is a steep, rocky and hot drop down to the Cimarron River. But, it wasn't too bad. At the bottom, go through the culvert under the highway then climb up onto the suspension bridge across the river. Don't be tempted to take water from the river, even if you purify it. Nasty! Take the trail up to the old railroad grade. Follow it to the trail through the fence on your left. This goes up the hill, through Cimarron River Camp then to Vista Grande. There is a good but weak well there. Pretty reliable. Continue up the trail through the camp. It is a short climb up onto the Bench. At the top stop to look back towards Baldy. Fantastic view. We looked for an hour. Continue along the nearly level Bench to Upper Bench Camp. It is dry so I hope you brought lots of water from Vista Grande. There is a bog there so expect some mosquitoes in the evening.

Vaca: Continue along the top of the Bench. Near Deer Lake Mesa camp you will see a trail branching to the left to the camp. Go through it, taking the trail east down off Deer Lake Mesa. You will pass Harlan, get water then drop down to Vaca Camp. You might want to stop for program at Harlan, it is pretty close to Vaca. This is a starting camp for some routes.

Cimarroncito: Take the trail by Harlan around the southeast side of Deer Lake Mesa. You will drop to the commissary road on the other side. Just up the road a trail branches to the left and goes through Ute Springs Camp. Continue along this trail, eventually breaking back out onto the road. About a mile up the road a side road goes up to your right to the commissary. After getting food, snacks and water, head back down the road. Stay on the road all the way this time. At about opposite the middle of Ute Springs Camp below you in the gully to the left, is a trail that goes up the bank on your right. Take it. A 100 yards or so a side trail branches to the left. Take the right branch into Grouse Canyon. It is pretty. Soon you will enter the top of Cimarroncito Meadow. Leave the Grouse Canyon trail, taking a side trail to the left into the meadow. Go down the meadow to the staff cabin on the right side.

Layover day: You're lucky. You have two layover days. If you can schedule the rock climbing yesterday or early today, you can take a side hike. Two good ones come to mind. A popular one is to hike up Cathedral Rock (go down to the foot of the meadow and take the trail up that is just off the road) then go to Window Rock and hike down Hidden Valley to Aspen Springs. From the Springs camp, take the trail back around the ridge to Cimarroncito Meadow. Another good but longer hike is to go down to the Hunting Lodge at the bottom of Cimarroncito Meadow and take the trail up to Cyphers Mine. With only side hike gear, this is an easy hike up with gradual climbs. I have done it in a little over an hour. Take the mine tour (another one for you) then hike back down to your camp. There is evening indoor and outdoor rock climbing walls at Cito.

Upper Clarks Fork: Hike down the meadow trail to the road. Cross it and take the trail below the Hunting Lodge to Clarks Fork. This is a good place to have a supper for lunch. You should have been planning to get down to only breakfasts and lunches for the final two days. Check on the mini-stream at Upper Clarks Fork. To be sure, you might want to fill canteens and water jugs to take up. Upper Clarks Fork is several campsites spread for about a mile along the trail. Near the upper one is a small stream that is usually flowing. Just don't count on it unless someone has seen it in the last couple of days.

Base Camp: Your last day is a long one. Forget stoves and cooking from now on. Hope you have a couple of good, easy meals left. Climb up onto Shaefers Pass. Check for the spring in the SW corner of the pass meadow, up the slope to your right and just in the woods there. It usually is reliable but has been known to dry up without notice. There is no other water until you get to base camp. At this point you will need at least 2 qts each to get there. Head up the trail to Tooth Ridge. It goes a long way around Shaefers Peak, makes a switchback and goes a long way back around the west side of the peak before hitting the ridge trail just below the east side of Shaefers Peak summit. You can drop your packs and take the 100 climb up to the top for another summit and view spot. Then continue along the difficult ridge trail. It is rocky and goes up and down. A new trail has been started this year and will eventually help. Just before the Tooth you will drop down the north side of the ridge a short distance to get around a slide area. When you get back to the crest of the ridge, you will see the trail that goes up the east side of the Tooth to the top. Scramble up the steep trail and oh an ah as you see where you have been. Go back to the packs and follow the ridge trail all the way down to base camp--a couple of hours down.

Good luck,
Bill Griffin


See also: