I was lucky enough to go on another Philmont trek this summer with 8 Boy Scouts and two other adults. This was very memorable in that out Scoutmaster Lance Kistler (65y/o) was able to go on a trek with his son, John, and grandson, Hayden. Once Hayden called Lance, “Grandpa”, you know what Lance’s nick name was for the whole trek from all the boys.
Over the years a number of people ask me why go to Philmont? Why not hike the Sierra Mountains instead. The biggest advantage at Philmont is the activities the scouts find in each staffed camp along the way. Some of the activities our boys did were navigation, black powder shooting, gold mining, blacksmithing, homesteading, farm animal care, group singing, search and rescue, wilderness medicine, fly tying, fly fishing, team building, and trail building.
Lightweight backpacking was not in evidence at Philmont. You can see from the picture of the pack lines at basecamp that most people were taking much heavier packs than our crew was. I only saw one other Gossamer Gear backpack while out on the trail. My lament on the trail was that we have taught our scouts too well how to lighten their packs and we were now, not able to catch them going down the trail.
When we came off trail 4 of our 11 packs were less than 20 lbs. I was carrying the Gossamer Gear Gorilla which worked extremely well at Philmont and is about the perfect size for the gear and food I had to carry. My base weight was 12 lbs. and with food & water I was 23 lbs. when leaving base camp. Some of the other major items I used were a down sleeping bag from Zpacks, a Skyscape Trekker tent from Six Moon Design, a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pad, and a MontBell U.L. Down Parka.
I’m a bit encouraged by the recent changes to the Philmont 2013 Guide Book to Adventure, but was disappointed with the live instruction provided by our ranger. The 2013 Guide Book says “Check your pack weight. 20-25 pounds without food is preferred.” This is a positive change from their earlier Guidebooks. But when we went out with our ranger who was there to show us the “Philmont Way,” he was carrying 49 pounds which included a 10+ pound tent & 4.5 liters of water, when there is plenty of water all around.
There were so many times when we were laughing so very much that we were crying. We also enjoyed “Thorns & Roses” which is at the end of the day we all get together and tell each other one thing you did not like that day (Thorn), one thing you liked that day (Rose), and something that would be nice for tomorrow (Bud). The scouts sometimes really surprise us with what they say.
I asked a couple boys what they got out of Philmont and I think you might be impressed with their thoughts:
Ben Fraser writes, “The most important thing that I took back from Philmont was the life experiences given to me. For example, hiking over Hart Peak and being that close to hypothermia as well as being nearly struck by lightning or running out of trail and having to navigate back using geographical features around us, presented me with challenges that I had never been faced with before. Some of those situations stuck with me the most because although I’ve had training on what to do in various scenarios, being trained by book is a lot different than being given the challenge and having to act on it in real life. Hiking 18 miles in one day, climbing up the wall on the way to Copper Park the next day, and following it up with the accent up Baldy on our “layover” day were very valuable to me. I think these three days challenged me to find out how far I could push myself, physically and mentally, and showed how far my determination can take me. Most importantly, the leadership and teamwork values I learned at Philmont will be with me for the rest of my life. I learned how important being part of a team really is; being able to rally around the group and use their support to accomplish anything we set our minds too is very important in any situation with challenges being present. I also learned how to be a better leader at Philmont by not only understanding how to gain the respect of my peers, but how to stay calm in a situation and perform under pressure when your team is depending on you. Although there are countless life experiences from Philmont, I feel these are the most important. I hope this helps you with your article.”
Matt Mussoni writes, “One thing I got out of Philmont was that light weight backpacking is a lifesaver, no pun intended. As we hiked around for those 10 days, we encountered many other treks that had upwards of 50 to 60 pounds on their backs. No one enjoys a 10 day trek with that much weight. Some advice I’d give to the future trekkers of Philmont is to only pack what you need or substitute a heavy item with a lighter more conventional one. You don’t need that super heavy mess kit, when a tupperware bowl does the trick. Also unless you plan on carrying a lot of weight or need ankle support, people should stick to trail runners. I wore a pair of New Balance trail runners and they were perfect for the trek, lightweight, breathable, and most of all, I didn’t have any blisters even after that intense rain storm. Light weight backpacking is key in order to have a successful, injury free, and fun Philmont trek.”
Lance, John, & I are privileged to take these boys to Philmont and we hope to continue enjoying it for years to come.
This post was written by former Trail Ambassador Doug Prosser, who is an assistant Scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America.