Philmont Trek Route #21

by Brian Gannon <> Sat, 18 Apr 1998 20:52:22 -0400

I have been asked to summarize Trek 21, so here it is:

A nice trek, as it includes both Baldy and the Tooth of Time.

McBride Canyon: This is one of the tougher first-day hikes at Philmont, but not too bad. The bus will drop your crew off at 6-mile Gate along the Ponil Road. To get the McBride Trail, you will have to hike about a mile along the road towards Ponil. You will see a gated 4WD road on your right, keep hiking and you will come to the trail. They were working on new trail last year that would avoid hiking along the road, I'm not sure if it is complete yet. The trail will join with the 4WD road and you will follow that into camp. McBride Canyon camp is a little-used camp and is one of the nicer camps I've been to. A solar pumped well provides your water, be sure to purify it.

Cottonwood: The first of this hike is the most difficult part. The trail/road is steep in some places as you continue your hike up McBride Canyon. When you get the top, take the trail to the right and head towards Indian Writings. There is a nice view of the North Ponil Canyon just before you head down into it and IW. The hike down is rocky and fairly steep, it is known as the "Stairmaster." At Indian Writings, take a break and participate in the program. The tour of the petroglyphs and the pit house is quite interesting. If you have time, you might also want to take part in an actual archaeological dig. Continue your hike by following the road out of camp to the north for about a mile and then follow the trail to your right into Cottonwood Camp. Again, it is a seldom-used, nice camp with a solar-pumped well.

Ponil: Backtrack to Indian Writings and go back up the Stairmaster. When you get back to the trail junction, stay on the trail to Hart Peak. The top of Hart Peak has some good views of Baldy and is a nice place for a break. From there it is a short hike downhill into Ponil. Ponil is one of the largest staff camps on Philmont and offers branding, horseback riding, cantina (root beer!), trading post and a chuckwagon dinner. If anyone is interested, they just started a fly-fishing program there last summer. You are also scheduled for a food pickup at the commissary. The campsites are so-so. Last year, the evening "cantina show" was just a bunch of bad jokes.

Pueblano Ruins: You have two choices for today's hike. The first, and easier, route is to head straight west towards Pueblano. Be sure to hike along the ridge trail and not the jeep road. This is the route you want to take if you are doing burro packing. The other route is to hike northwest towards Bent and hike over Wilson Mesa. A more difficult hike, but some beautiful views of Baldy. When you get to Pueblano, everybody always enjoys the spar-pole climbing, so be sure to get there early enough to take part in it. Since Pueblano Ruins is so close to Pueblano, I highly recommend hiking back for the evening campfire. It is always very well done. Since you'll be hiking back to camp after dark, take flashlights and jackets.

Miranda: Follow the stream and you will see a trail on your left which goes up the hill towards the Baldy Skyline Ridge. A fairly steep and rocky climb. When you get to the top, a road drops down the other side. It intersects with the Baldy Town road at the bottom. Go right and short ways up the road, you will see a side trail to the left which goes to Miranda. This is where you'll be staying for the next two nights. Turn in your burros and enjoy the program--Mountain Man Rendezvous and Black Powder Rifle. Miranda is a beautiful camp. Get to bed early, Baldy awaits you tomorrow.

Layover Day: Today is the day you climb Baldy. Get an early start (NLT 7am) to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Take plenty of water, raingear, warm clothing and empty packs to carry your food back from Baldy Town. Head up to Baldy Town, which is about an hour hike. From there, head up the trail on the hill by the commissary. Make sure to enjoy the views on your way up to the top. From the saddle between Baldy and Touch-Me-Not, look to the west to see Wheeler Peak, New Mexico's highest mountain. Enjoy the view at the top--it is beautiful. From the top, there are two ways down. If time and weather are important factors, head back the way you came. Otherwise, go down the back side through Copper Park and to French Henry, where you can take the mine tour and pan for gold. From there, head back to Baldy Town for your food pickup. Showers and a small trading post are also available. It is then a short walk back to Miranda.

Santa Claus: Go back up to Baldy Skyline and take the Skyline trail to the east. This will take you to Head of Dean Camp. From there, take the trail which heads south and east to Santa Claus Camp. Santa Claus is no longer a staffed camp, but it has a nice meadow.

Upper Bench: Head southeast out of camp towards Bear Canyon. I have taken the road down the east side of Bear Canyon. It is hot, rocky and steep but at least you're going down and not up. At the bottom of the canyon, cross under Highway 64 and over the Cimarron River (don't drink the polluted water). Follow the trail up through Cimarron River and Visto Grande Camps. Be sure to look back at the fantastic views of Baldy. Fill up water at the well at Visto Grande as the only water at Upper Bench is small, stagnant pond. To the west of the meadow, there are some nice campsites in the Ponderosa.

Harlan: Continue along the top of the Bench towards Deer Lake Mesa Camp. When you get close to Deer Lake Mesa Camp, there will be a trail to your left that goes towards the camp--take it. Go through the camp and east off Deer Lake Mesa and take the trail to your left into Harlan. Program includes shotgun shooting and evening burro races. Nice camp.

Clark's Fork: Long hike today. Take the trail around the southeast side of Deer Lake Mesa. It will drop you to the road near Ute Springs Camp. Go north along the road to Ute Gulch Commissary for your final food pickup. Then go back down the road. Stay on the road past the Hunting Lodge and there will be a trail for Clark's Fork Camp [An alternative route is to go towards Aspen Springs Camp and go south, via Hidden Valley and Window Rock. This will take you back to the road, right near the trail to Clark's Fork. If you have time, I would recommend this route]. Program here includes horseback riding and branding, pretty much the same as Ponil. Before going to bed, check with the staff about water conditions at Upper Clark's Fork and Shaffer's Pass.

Base Camp: Get as early a start as possible today--you have a fairly long and difficult hike. (Some crews like to be at Shaffer's Peak for sunrise, this would mean leaving by 3am.) Fill up with water before leaving camp. Continue hiking south up to Shaffer's Pass Camp. In the southwest corner of the meadow there, there is a small spring. It is usually fairly dependable but it has been known to dry up. This is your last chance to get water before base camp. Tooth Ridge is a difficult hike, so make sure everyone fills up here. From the camp, take the trail up to the top of Shaffer's Peak. When you get the top, the peak is actually about 100 yards down the trail to the left--nice views. The Tooth Ridge Trail goes off to the right. It is rocky trail with lots of ups and downs--watch your footing. When you get to the base of the tooth, you can drop your packs and take a side hike (really more of a climb) up to the top to enjoy the 360-degree views. From there, it is a two-hour hike back to base camp, downhill all the way. If you didn't get an early start, the afternoon thunderstorms will be chasing you all the way down.

Good Luck,

Brian Gannon

See also: