Troop 868 in Action

Expedition # 713-O     Trek # 13

Troop 868 Home Page      Troop 868 in Action

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Without question, a visit to the Boy Scouts' High-Adventure base at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico is a high point for any scout or scout leader lucky enough to have the opportunity.  Philmont (openly referred to as "God's Country") is certainly that and more.  

Philmont Ranch is nothing like a traditional Boy Scout summer resident camp.  Scout advancement such as earning merit badges is not part of the program at Philmont, but personal growth cannot be avoided by either scouts or their adult leaders ("advisors").

For good reason, all participants must be in good physical condition to hike 60~100+ miles in rugged mountain terrain carrying 40~60 pound backpacks for 11 days/10 nights at elevations ranging from 6,000~12,400 feet.  Scouts must generally be at least 14 years old since maturity and self-discipline is demanded in addition to physical stamina.  Philmont is a place for young men to test themselves and is definitely not a place for wimps.

Troop 868 attended Philmont as a "troop contingent" meaning a crew composed entirely of scouts from our unit.  Many boys attend Philmont as part of a "council contingent" in which individual scouts from many different troops in a local council are grouped together to form one or more trail crews.  While the Philmont experience is wonderful for boys in both situations, being able to attend as a troop crew with friends was extra special.  It also spared our crew from going through the "norming process" since everyone already knew everyone else in the group --- their personality, strengths, and weaknesses --- starting out.

A typical Philmont Trek is 13 days/12 nights that includes 1 day/1 night at base camp on each end of the trip for check-in/opening campfire and check-out/closing campfire, respectively.  Crews spend 11 days/10 nights hiking/camping in the "back country."

Crews must number between 7~12 hikers of which the majority must be youth (under 21) and no more than 4 may be adults (21 or older).  Troop 868's crew consisted of 10 hikers ranging in age from 13~54 and included 8 youth and 2 adults.  Five of the 10 members of our crew were Eagle Scouts, 2 were Life, 2 were Star, and 1 was First Class.  No one in our group had any difficulty completing the trek.  Nor did we experience any significant personality conflicts or temper flare-ups that are common in crews under stress.  Life Scout Trey served as our Crew Leader and under his direction our crew functioned well together and our Philmont Experience was universally positive end enjoyable.

The members of our 2008 crew were as follows:

First Class Scout Jon Age 13
Star Scout Nick Age 14
Life Scout Trey Age 15  (Crew Leader)
Life Scout Chris Age 15
Star Scout Alex Age 15
Eagle Scout Clinton Vissers Age 18
Eagle Scout Patrick Smith Age 19
Eagle Scout Philip McClure Age 19
Eagle Scout Paul Guzman Age 22  (MC, Adult Advisor)
Eagle Scout Bob Meek Age 54  (SM, Adult Advisor)

Our expedition began with a 2 AM EDT departure on Saturday morning July 12 aboard our troop bus for a 2 hour drive to Indianapolis where we boarded an Amtrak train to Chicago at 6:30 AM EDT.  Arriving at Chicago Union Station around 10 AM CDT, we had a 5 hour layover that we used to visit the Sears Tower (currently the tallest building in the United States) and to eat lunch.  We boarded Amtrak's Southwest Chief train around 3 PM CDT Saturday afternoon and arrived in Raton, New Mexico around 12:30 PM Mountain Time on Sunday.  A Philmont bus met us at the train depot and made a brief stop at a local fast food restaurant so we could get lunch before the 45-minute drive to camping headquarters.

The check-in process at Philmont was amazingly efficient; complicated a bit for us only because our Amtrak train had arrived nearly an hour behind schedule and we were unable to complete all check-in tasks before Sunday's evening meal.  The remaining tasks were easily completed the following morning.  Philmont assigned a staff ranger who ushered us through each step of the check-in process.

Philmont had approximately 300 trail-bound campers arriving and another 300 home-bound campers departing each day, so they fed the two groups separately in shifts.  Trail-bound campers ate first and then home-bound campers ate during a second seating.

Housing accommodations at base camp were in "tent city."  This was an area that consisted of several hundred canvas wall tents on concrete platforms clustered around shower houses.  Again, trail-bound and home-bound campers were in separate areas.

After completing our remaining check-in tasks and a final pack "shake down" with our assigned ranger, the official expedition photo was taken with the Tooth of Time (Philmont's icon peak near base camp) in the background.  We then had some free time to visit the Philmont trading post, Tooth of Time Traders, to pick up any last minute equipment needs before lunch.  While Tooth of Time Traders offered plenty of souvenir-type merchandise (some of which was kind of pricey), they also had a great selection of high-quality, lightweight camping gear at very reasonable prices.  Among the "must have" items that every crew needed to purchase for themselves were trail maps.

Our actual trek began early afternoon on "Day 2" with a short bus ride from base camp to the Zastrow Turn-Around.  Our ranger accompanied us for the first part of our trek and conducted "on the job" training for the group in animal avoidance (most notably bear protection) and camp sanitation procedures.  We camped our first night on the trail at a trail camp with our ranger.  Our ranger stayed with us for Day 3 and camped with us a second night before leaving us to fend for ourselves the morning of Day 4.

In the "back country" at Philmont, there are two types of camps --- trail camps and staffed camps.  Trail camps are designated camping areas that offer 8~12 separate campsites, 2~3 latrines, sumps for disposal of cooking liquids, and (in most cases) a water source that may be a solar-powered pump/purification system, a spring, or a stream.  Trail camps without any water source are called dry camps and crews must either plan in advance to carry sufficient water or make a side hike of several miles to reach the nearest water source.  Staffed camps are those that have Philmont staff stationed at the site and generally offer some type of optional program activities as well as a water source.

We found the program activities at the various staffed camps we visited to vary widely in terms of quality and interest to our group.  The black powder musket and blacksmithing programs we did at Black Mountain Camp were the highlight of our trek --- absolutely outstanding due to the enthusiasm and positive attitude of that camp's staff.  At the other end of the spectrum, the staff at Cypher's Mine didn't seem to give a heck about us or other campers --- they shut down the program area 2 hours early on the day we visited in order to prepare for a staff party that evening.  We had all been looking forward to touring an abandoned gold mine and doing some gold-panning --- but were unable to do either of those activities.  We found that to be very poor customer service and reported it on our evaluation at the end of our trek.  Other staffed camps fell between these two extremes.  We enjoyed milking goats and visiting the Cantina at the Abreu Homestead Camp but were unable to do adobe brick-making because we didn't have time to wait around.  The fly-tying class at Fish Camp was excellent as was the basic fly fishing instruction, but we didn't have time to stick around and actually do any actual fly fishing for the mountain trout that were supposedly abundant in the 3 rivers near the camp.

(Back L to R):  Patrick, Philip, Alex, Mr. Meek, and Trey.
(Front L to R):  Nick, Jon, Clinton, and Chris.
The troop traveled on Amtrak for most of the 2,000+ mile journey to and from Philmont.
The group poses outside the Sears Tower in Chicago as we prepared to go up to the Skydeck on the top floor. Moving into tent city shortly after our arrival.
Official expedition photos are always taken with the famous Tooth of Time in the background (the peak in the center). The first staffed camp on our trek was the old Abreu Family Homestead where staff in period costume welcomed us.
Everyone, including Nick, enjoyed milking goats at Abreu. Trey and Paul enjoy climbing a rock formation along the trail to fully enjoy the fantastic scenery.
Alex, Nick, Trey, and Clinton enjoyed learning to tie fishing flies during a stop at Fish Camp. The trails at Philmont were strictly single-file and our crew hiked in close formation as shown above.
Water and rest breaks were taken as needed; typically about every 45 minutes for our group. Crew Leader Trey consulted with Jon, Chris, and a trail map at an intersection.  Navigator and Hike Leader duties rotated daily.

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