-very dry and dusty (no rain in 12 days at Philmont). Dust permeated everything. The situation was aggravated by very high, gusty winds at times, making breathing more of a challenge.
-water flow was minimal at some springs (Visto Grande, Shaeffers Pass, Ewells Park). I recommend that you have 3 qt/lt bottles. Take the third bottle to fill on longer days or with dry camps (Deer Lake Mesa). River flow was excellent for water filling (our Ranger recommended against using from the Cimmarron River)
-The MSR Dragonfly stoves worked great. We had two of them and two 22 oz fuel bottles. The fuel lasted the entire trek (only used for dinners). The stoves were very stable, even with the 8qt pots. Our Ranger was impressed with their stability, ease of use and ability to simmer.
-We modified the one-pot cooking when the soup course (Minestrone, etc) was a good stand-alone pick me-upper. For the dinners, we put in the soup base first in order to dissolve it more easily. We then added the meat packet to rehydrate, followed by the other dehydrated items in order of chewability. We then simmered the whole meal for about 10 minutes. This system worked very well.
- Be sure and get the 60th anniversary patch when you return to base camp.
Day 1 - We were dropped off at the Ponil turnaround and hiked up to Sioux Camp for the first night and Ranger training. You can save a few steps by picking up water from the Ponil Creek as you cross it on the way to Sioux.
Day 2 - Hike down from Sioux back to Ponil Creek and head down the creek on the upper side trail towards Bent Camp. Be sure and fill up with water at the creek before you head up towards Wilson Mesa. There was no water between the creek and the spring on the far side of the mesa. We had lunch by the small lake on the west side of the mesa. We hiked into Pueblano Camp, a short distance from the lake. The program includes railroad tie making and spar pole climbing. Both were a hit with the boys. They also had one of the better camp fire programs.
Day 3 - We hiked up the trail through Pueblano Ruins straight to Ewells Park Camp. It was a more direct route than Baldy Skyline since we did not get the burros. By all accounts, the burros were more trouble than their novelty on the trek. We then set up camp at Ewells Park (we liked the southwestern side since it was close to the water and latrines.) The water at Ewells Park is from a spring and ran very slowly. We side hiked to Miranda and took in the program of tomahawk throwing and black powder rifle shooting. Be sure and fill up with water at Ewells Park and Miranda. It was a hot afternoon hike. Ewells Park is an unstaffed Camp. There was plenty of signs of bears at Ewells Park. There were fresh dropping and the bark on the birch trees were being chewed by the bears, apparently for the minerals.
Day 4- Side hiked Baldy. There was still snow on the ground on the south side of Baldy just before you start the ascent up the rock face. We reprovisoned at the Baldy commissary on the way down and also took showers. The wind was very high on Baldy the day of our hike and the rain jackets proved very worthwhile to cut the wind.
Day 5 - Hiked Baldy Skyline from Ewells Park to Head of Dean Camp and took in challenge course program. It was a good program for team building. Had lunch at Head of Dean and hiked to Santa Claus Camp. Get water at Head of Dean before your leave. The water flow at Santa Claus Camp was down to a trickle and the pump did not appear to be working. It turned out the solar panels were not wired correctly and I fixed them. Note that the wires in the back of the panel are a push-in fit and had come loose. In case you encounter the same thing, try pushing the wires firmly back into their sockets on the back of the panel. The red wire coming from the pump housing should go to a + terminal on one of the panels. From the bottom of that panel, a wire should go from the - box to the top of the other terminal and connect to the + terminal. The black lead from the pump housing should then be connected to - terminal at the bottom of the second panel.
Note: Another crew killed a small rattlesnake in the latrine (on the floor) of the latrine located to the left of the staff lodge. I suspect his mom and dad are still in the neighborhood.
Day 6 - We hiked down the new trail in Bear Canyon to the bottom. It is a great trail with easy grades and a lot of switchbacks. We did our conservation project at the bottom of the trail. Matt was our conservationist and we was very helpful and friendly. Bear Canyon is hot. Try to get up early and get through the project. We hiked across to the Cimmarron River to Visto Grande Camp and made dinner for lunch. Visto Grande was the only water source, other than the River, between Santa Claus Camp and Deer Lake Mesa. The Visto Grande spring was slow and took about a minute to fill a one liter bottle. The spring at Deer Lake Mesa was reported to be dry and we did not look for it. There was water in Deer Lake if you get desperate. We saw a lot of mule deer around the lake.
Day 7 - We hiked past Devil's Wash Basin Camp to Ute Gulch Commissary where we reprovisioned. The water at Ute Gulch was "purified" and tasted awful. It was more like swimming pool water, with a heavy clorox taste. We then headed to Cimarroncito Camp where we had lunch, took in the rock climbing program, washed clothes and took showers. The water was good at Cito, however it had a slight sulfur taste which comes and goes according to the staff. The camp director is Julie Smith, a school teacher from Franklin, Tennessee, a neighboring community to Nashville. We left Cito and hiked into Clarks Fork Camp in time for dinner. Clarks Fork has roping, horse shoes and branding. Note that they stopped branding around 4:30 pm and do not open back up till 8:00 am. Since we were up early, we missed the branding the next morning. Both the branding and the chuck wagon dinner were heated with propane since there is a fire band. Instead of the traditional cobbler and biscuits, we got canned peaches and crackers. They tasted great after a few days of trail food. The water flow is very low at Clarks Fork and they are very protective of it. Be sure and fill up before you head out the next day.
Day 8 - We hiked back towards Cito and took the trail from the Hunting Lodge, up the Middle Fork to Cyphers Mine Camp. The Upper Fork trail is closed. From the Hunting Lodge, it is a long uphill trail to Cyphers. We got there before noon, had lunch, took a nap in the Adirondack shelters and were ready for the excellent program when it opened up at 1:00 in the afternoon. The boys had plenty of time to pan for gold, visit the gold mine and try their hands at iron mongery. The Middle Fork provided water and Cyphers had purified water. The showers were operational and cold since the hot water heater was wood fired and could not be used. We had the worst sleeping night in the Adirondack shelters because of the wind-whipped dust. The tents provided significantly more shelter from the wind and dust. Several times during the night, I pulled the sleeping bag over my head to protect my face from flying dust.
Day 9 - We left Cyphers and headed up the mountain to Thunder Ridge Camp. We took the left fork of the four wheel drive road to the trail down to Red Hills Camp. The road was rough and you might want to consider going to Red Hills via Comanche Peak Camp. The creek through Red Hills Camp had plenty of water. You can side hike Mt. Phillips easily from the Red Hills Camp.
Day 10 - The hike up from Red Hills to Big Red is a tough way to start the day. The trail is steep and very rocky. We decided to follow the trail down the creek to the southwest of Big Red to Black Mountain Camp. We were gun shy over water and wanted to be assured of a source. There was almost no one in Black Mountain Camp and we had it to ourselves to take in the mountaineering program. We had dinner for lunch at Black Mountain Camp because of the ready access to the stream water. Reports of no water at Shaefers Pass Camp made us gun shy of trying to hike over Black Mountain and come into Shaefers Pass with no water. We decided to hike down the river from Black Mountain Camp to the southern trail to Shaefers Pass (near Miners Park). We filled up with water at the creek and headed up to Shaefers Pass for the night. The trail was relatively new with a lot of switch backs, making the ascent easier. The water at Shaefers Pass turned out to be a slow trickle from the Spring, slightly less than at Visto Grande, but adequate.
Day 11 - Be sure and top off with water before you leave Shaefers Pass. It is the last water source until base camp. We left Shaefers Pass early and hiked up the new trail to the peak. It has a number of switch backs and is a much easier ascent than the old trail that went straight up. We had breakfast on the peak and enjoyed the view. We headed over to the Tooth of Time, dropped our packs at the bottom and climbed up. What great views! In fact, the trail from Shaefers to the Tooth offered some of the best views of the trek. We picked up our packs and headed down the long mountain trail to base camp. The last mile or so is through scrub oak and has no overhead protection from the sun. It was very hot and dry. We were all parched by the time we reached base camp.
Have a great Trek.