Finally back from our trip to Philmont (and catching up with much neglected work). I had a much better trip this time, primarily from a couple of reasons.
- Thorns, Roses, and Buds. It really helps to go through this group activity. It defuses problems before they happen, recognizes good things when they do, and builds trust and maturity among all the members of the crew. Our crew of 14 year olds really came together as a working patrol and out-performed many older crews.
- Mature adults and trust. One of the other leaders had blisters far worse than the trouble makers on the last trip, but he dealt with it.
- Skilled Youth. One of the things I like about my son’s troop is the level of skill they have at outdoor activity. By comparison to many other units we did hardly any preparatory trips, but none the less were able to camp well, and hiked 90-100 (100 by the gps) miles, which is a fair bit more than we were scheduled (we had a fire-hazard mandated shift in itinerary).
The food, while still bulky and heavy, was much better than a few years ago. Moving from dehydrated dinners to (mostly) freeze-dried helps a lot. More nuts and trail mix than before (it was mostly food bars and meat sticks), which is dietetically better but gets monotonous quickly. I now really understand how a long-distance hiker can get in trouble if he doesn’t plan for sufficient variety of food – even if it is fully nutritious. Additionally, now the staffed camps all will take hiker’s trash – without hassle – which is a huge improvement in bear, panther, and mini-bear country.
We cooked with the two-pot method our guide recommended (“it builds crew cohesion to cook together”). Basically boil more water than you need in one pot, then carefully ladle the amount you need to rehydrate the food in the other pot. This leaves you with a pot of hot water for cleanup. As long as you are careful not to get too much dirt in the pot with the food (or tip it over), it works very well. We did bring a spice wheel along – which I initially wasn’t keen on – but it made the food taste a lot better. We also sterilized dishes just before eating with the boiling water. Cleanup was the more or less normal “human sump”, followed by camp suds and a rinse.
The bear bags were an interesting story. Other than in the back country, we used the normal bear wires, which are usually low enough for even old dudes like me to throw over. Do not be tempted to put a weight or carabiner on the end of the line as it will wrap around the wire and tie itself in a knot. We watched one crew try its best to untie this, and then did the same the next day. Tying a tent stake to a long pole works to untie the clove hitch you typically make – at a 20 foot distance in the air. (One of my co-leaders and I got very good at this).
The bear bags were necessary as we saw a total of 5 bears, including a mother with 3 cubs who went by our campsite at upper dean canyon.
Another thing we did was to try to stay clean. We adults used bandanna baths and washed our clothes. Pretty soon so did the scouts. (by the way as part of youth protection you move into cover (telling people where you’re going) so that you’re not exposing yourself). So by the end, while we were dirty and stinky, we were being confused with 3-day crews instead of 9-10 day crews.
It was very dry, very very very dry. Even many of the permanent streams were dry (though in a survival situation you could find seeps if you needed). This meant it was dusty and the fire hazard was extreme. We were scheduled to go into the via vidal area – which does not have marked trail and would have been a true pathfinding experience. First we were warned to stay on roads, and then we were re-routed as the forest service land was closed. (we were one of the nine crews re-routed mid-trek so I joked about being a Nazghul, or else who was Frodo?). An idea of the fire hazard can be seen with this picture of down, tinder-dry wood on the Wilson Mesa
I probably didn’t live up to my ultralight status. While my base-weight was 15-17 lbs, I had to carry a few bits of crew gear, giving me a weight of 29 lbs at return (I left with 35 lbs including food and water).The Mountain Laurel Designs quilt worked like a charm. One of the tricks is to not pull it too tight as this causes the insulation to collapse. I lent one of my light weight tents (a shires tarp-tent) to a co-advisor (who returned it cleaner than it has ever been), and used the luna solo I usually use. I only brought a thin fleece-like jacket (a north face TKA stretch jacket), which was fine. The mandatory long pants I used for conservation projects was a pair of REI zip-offs which were a total waste of weight (and to make it worse the dang zipper broke). (next time just bring the legs and make sure you wear a size bigger than you need). I also made sure, by bringing extra ones to base camp, that everyone had at least two 3 liter (nominally 2 liter) platypus bottles, which given the dryness and heat of the trip was important. They really mean it when they say “hydrate or die”. A stick of sun-blocking lip balm is a necessity, and even I used some sunblock when we went up Mt. Baldy.
The 2002 fire damage was still visible (not exactly a surprise). It will take a while to recover, but the scrub oak was beginning to cover the areas. This lead to great views, more sun than ideal, and the occasional feeling of being on the moon.Damage this bad only really occurs when the fuel levels have been allowed to build up to dangerous levels.
My favorite part of this trip was emerging onto the “sound of music” meadow, which is about 300 feet below Mt. Baldy. The climb is not too steep, except that there is no air to speak of (642 hPA at the top, 740 or so at baldytown and 1024 at sea level). One of the things that happens as you age is that your ability to oxygenate goes down, so it was a bit of a struggle – but you know, we stuck together and all made it (me at the end). Anyway, you emerge from a wooded path and there is this wonderful view.with the end in sight.
One of the nicest things about Philmont is exchanging greetings with scouts from all over the USA and indeed the world (the crew next to us at Ute Meadows was from Qatar). Of course, then on the way down Mt. Baldy we ran into scouts from the neighboring troop.