All posts by troop59

WG36 – Water (Part 2)

The prior Watchu Gram mentioned that the sources and availability of water may well dictate what your crew does on the trail days where water is not readily available.  During your crew’s Trail Planning session at the Watchu Mountain Adventure your trail planner will discuss this issue regarding your assigned itinerary.  General considerations include:

The Philmont TREKS – Itinerary Guide and Philmanac identify which camps are “dry” with no immediate water source, or one that can not be relied on at all times.  Your crew will need to carry water, often a considerable distance, to such camps.  Day 1 at Philmont in Logistics, check the “Water Board” for the latest conditions at all camps.

All staffed camps have water, which is usually (but not always) treated.  Is there one (or a trail camp with water) along the way, or almost along the way, as you hike to your dry camp?  One where it would be easy to set up and cook your evening meal for lunch and maybe even take part in the program, saving your lunch for dinner and eliminating the need for hauling cooking water into the dry camp.  Since dry camps are trail camps without staff or program, there is little need to rush to one.

If there is no camp along the way, how close is your dry camp to the nearest water source?  Check your navigational section map for water clues.  Also, Philmanac will often help you find a nearby water source, such as another camp, natural spring, or small stream.

Itineraries which end by camping the last night at Tooth Ridge camp, which is always dry, provide an example of the above.  IF water is available at Shaefers Pass (the spring there is not always flowing) consider pulling into Shaefers Pass camp about noon, finding an open campsite, setting-up, and cooking your evening meal where the water is.  At about 2:00pm (assuming the skies are clear – lightning is definitely an issue on Tooth Ridge, which is very exposed) set out on an afternoon hike after a leisurely meal and rest period.  But if water is not available at Shaefers Pass, your crew will need to carry it either from North Fork Urraca or Clarks Fork camps, a considerable distance.

If you must carry water a distance to a dry camp, the question is what type of containers to use.  The “Equipment Supplied by the Crew” list in the Guidebook to Adventure includes “two or three 2.5 gallon collapsible water containers.”  Such a container filled with water weighs 20 pounds and is awkward to carry.  Two would only be appropriate for a crew much smaller than 12 members; three such containers is 30 quarts, or 2.5 quarts per crew member in a crew with 12.  Many crews elect to distribute that weight among all the crew members using a number of smaller three- or four-quart containers with the equivalent total capacity, and realizing that all the containers do not necessarily need to be completely filled.  Check out Water Containers (crew) in the Equipment section of Training Videos page of the Watchu Experience Web site to see some examples of container other crews use.

Even if you do not have any dry camps on your itinerary, you will need containers for crew water.  If you only need to carry water a short distance from a source to your camp site, those 2.5 gallon containers become a lot more manageable and possibly are more convenient for purifying with Micropur, cooking, and cleanup.


Tip:  Unless specifically told otherwise by a staff member, you must treat all water in the Philmont backcountry prior to drinking it.  Since 2005, the treatment system has been chlorine-based Micropur tablets (rather than the iodine-based Polar Pure used prior to that time.)  Check out Water Purification in the On the Trail section of Training Videos page of the Watchu Experience Web site to see what the Micropur tablets look like and the process to purify water, including how to “bleed the threads” of your Nalgene bottle.


Watchu Mountain Outfitters Water Bottles:  The Watchu Mountain Outfitters are offering a 1-quart non-BPA plastic water bottle with the WMO logo.  Check it out (and all the other great WMO gear) at the WMO Trading Post the Watchu Experience Web site.  Complete and submit a WMO Order Form by fax to Debbie Wickham at 973-765-9143 and you will be contacted when your order is ready to be picked up at the Council office or at May’s Watchu Mountain Adventure.


Advisor Question:  The Guidebook to Adventure lists “2 or 3 water purifiers / filters” in the list of equipment to be provided by the crew, but the Watchu Web site’s Crew Equipment FAQ#4 states that they are an optional item.  Can you elaborate on that?

Answer:  This is one area where the Equipment Lists in the Guidebook can be modified.  As discussed in the FAQ answer, Philmont will not allow a crew to rely solely on purifiers or filters – the Philmont supplied water treatment chemicals (Micropur) must be carried in addition to the mechanical units.  Of course, the treatment chemical only deals with biological contaminants in the water, while the filters also treat physical contaminants, which is an issue for some crews.  Purifiers deal with biological contaminants, and may or may not include a filter for a two-stage treatment.  Many water filters/purifiers may also have an advantage in drawing water from very shallow sources, compared to filling water bottles.  Ultimately, it is a crew decision if the benefit of filtering is worth the effort of carrying and operating the filters/purifiers.


Advisor Question:  On the trail I was planning on shaving regularly.  I found some airline miniature size shaving cream cans.  However they are pressurized.  Will this present a problem at the higher altitudes?  If so what do you recommend to use?

Answer:  Aerosol cans are not allowed in the Philmont backcountry.  Camp Suds, a concentrated all-purpose biodegradable soap perfect for backpacking use, can be used to create lather for shaving and you will be carrying it already – multiple uses is a key backpacking principle to reduce the weight of your pack.  Like teeth brushing, shaving should be done at the sump.  Shakedown hikes are the perfect opportunity to experiment with this and other procedures prior to arrival at Philmont.


Phil Fact:  Gretchen Chase Sammis, the last owner of the historic Chase Ranch, was a member of both the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and the Philmont Ranch Committee.  She died in August 2012.  In October 2013 Philmont entered into an agreement with the Chase Ranch Foundation to manage the property as a model historic ranch (in accordance with Sammis’ will) in return for having access to the land for some of its own Scouting programs.  Since 2014 itineraries include trail camps on the Chase Ranch, and it is understood a Staff Camp will be developed in the future in addition to a museum operation about ranching.


From Baldy to Car-Max, the country that we love,

Gretchen Chase Sammis
Chase Ranch, Cimarron, New Mexico

WG35 – Water (Part 1)

The sources and availability of water is a key component of any backpacking trek, including Philmont, and you will see in future Watchu Grams about trail planning that water may well dictate what your crew does on the trail.  Keep in mind that when you are at a water source, whether a stream or a spigot, you must assume it is possibly contaminated and needs to be treated unless a Philmont staff member tells you otherwise.  Yes, Philmont has clear fresh mountain streams, but it is a working ranch with cows and horses.  And we all know what they like to do, and they don’t care where they do it.  Wow!

In previous Watchu Grams we have discussed that proper water consumption is essential at Philmont.  Dehydration is the most likely reason a crew member will end up being taken off the trail and sent to the Philmont infirmary; in some cases for intravenous treatment.  “Clear and Copious” are the watchwords for adequate water consumption, but like all good things, it is possible to over-do it.  Fortunately, excessive water consumption is rare and usually only seen in extreme circumstances – for instance, a few years ago a person died during a radio show water-drinking contest.  And water intoxication is more than just about drinking too much water – it is drinking water without food, salt or electrolytes, and to some extent not urinating.  The following guidelines will keep you and your crew safely hydrated:

  1. Proper food intake is equally essential to good health and proper hydration.
  2. Six to eight liters of water a day is generally adequate.
  3. One liter per hour when hiking is a good rule of thumb.
  4. “Clear” urine indicates you are on the right track, as does
  5. Regular or “Copious” urination.

Note that practices from the past like “cameling-up” or a “chug-a-lug” approach where a quart of water is drunk at one time prior setting out on the day’s hike are no longer appropriate – the intake of water should be spread out both over the day and activities like hiking.  Also, only drinking water and not replenishing the electrolytes is bad – Gatorade or similar sport drinks help prevent that situation.  The Philmont diet of food and liquid is well-balanced for the job at hand because it is full of salt: crackers, peanuts, jerky, beef sticks, cheese, peanut butter, cookies and not to mention the dehydrated food which is predominately seasoned with salt.  Advisors, the Crew Leader, and all crew members all need to be watching that every member of the crew is both drinking enough water and eating enough food.

In addition to drinking and being used for cooking and clean-up, water of course is also used for bathing and laundry.  Many staffed camps have shower facilities, with water heated by a variety of sources including wood stoves and propane heaters.  Realize that while a camp may have shower facilities, there are times when they are not available (for example, conserving water during a drought or a fire ban when the heat source is a wood stove) or when your crew’s schedule and the posted hours do not coincide.  Shower facilities also have large trough-style sinks, washtubs and scrub boards for cleaning clothes.  Camp Suds, issued by Philmont for purposes of dishwashing, can also be used for virtually all clean-up purposes, including showering, shaving and clothes washing.  It is unscented so you won’t be considered a smellable to the bears at night.  It is concentrated, so only drops are needed for any use.  Most crews prefer each member of the crew carry their own small bottle of Camp Suds, reserving the Philmont issued larger bottle for kitchen clean up.

A Scout is clean, and being at a staff camp without shower facilities or a trail camp is no excuse.  A small container and a trail towel is all you need for a quick and refreshing clean-up of the dust and sweat from the day’s hike.  And clothes can be washed in a portable Philmont “washing machine” (a gallon-size zip lock bag) – put in an article of clothing, a little water, a couple drops of Camp Suds, close the bag (expelling any air) and start squeezing!


Ranger Tip:  Does the cap on your Nalgene bottle get in the way when you are trying to fill the bottle or drinking?  If so, remove the ring holding it to the bottle, flip it over, and put it back on – there will now be a half-twist in the strap between the ring and the cap, and the cap will fall away when you open the bottle.


2015 TREKS Itinerary Guide:  Philmont intends to mail the Advisor packages with the TREKS Itinerary Guide, Guidebook to Adventure, and other information this week.  The itinerary information is already available online.  A separate e-mail will follow the mailing with the crew-specific passcode necessary for the online trek selection process that will open April 1.  If you are not familiar with navigating the Philmont Web site, it is suggested you visit it BEFORE the data is posted.  From the Camping tab, select “12-Day and 7-Day Trek Planning” from the left sidebar, then either “Online Itinerary Registration” from the left sidebar or “Itinerary Registration” at the bottom of the page.  You will also need to complete the Itinerary Selection Worksheet (note the currently posted version is last year’s) prior to logging on to the system in April.


Phil Fact:  Manly and Theresa Chase founded the historic Chase Ranch in 1867.  Located south of Philmont’s Six Mile Gate, all crews starting there or at Ponil will pass through that famous ranch.  Civil War general and territorial governor Lew Wallace was a frequent guest in the summer of 1879, needing privacy to finish his epic novel, Ben Hur.


Are you and your crew clear and copious?

Manly and Theresa Chase
Chase Ranch, Cimarron, New Mexico Territory

WG34 – Setting up Camp

Nothing better than pulling into a beautiful mountain camp after a tough hike.  Reaching camp is always an exciting and welcome event.  The crew spirit soars.  It will be your home for another night in the fantastic New Mexican backcountry.

If you have arrived at a staffed camp for the night, the crew makes a pack line near the staff cabin (look for the flagpole in front) and takes a break.  The Crew Chief checks-in with a member of the camp staff, who usually will be on the porch of the staff cabin, and normally invites the crew up for an orientation and maybe a drink (keep your cups readily accessible in your pack!)  A staff member will then take you and your crew to your assigned site for the night, pointing out the location of the latrine as well as the bear bag cables, the sump, and fire ring (cooking area) – your BEARmuda Triangle!

If you are staying at a trail (un-staffed) camp you will usually find a campsite map attached to a tree or post along the trail as you enter the camp.  The new trail camp maps are GPS accurate.  The map will identify all facilities at that camp – the camp sites (which are numbered – there will be a corresponding small wooden marker with the site number on a tree near the fire ring), the bear bag cables, latrines and the water sources.  If you are the first crew in, you get your pick.  Otherwise you pick from what is vacant.

Don’t blindly pick the most convenient site, something Scouts might want to do after a long day on the trail – train the Crew Chief to have the crew look for the BEST site.  For example, at Devils Wash Basin there are some spectacular sites hidden from view as you enter that few people ever discover.  Behind site #6 there is a rock ledge overlooking the beautiful Ute Valley.  From the ledge you get one of the best morning views Philmont has to offer.  Spectacular!  You can see the entire panorama from the Tooth of Time to Baldy Mountain.  Get up early, sit on the ledge, and see the morning sun dance through the Magic Mountains.

Other considerations:

  • Are you one of the first crews arriving at the camp?  Especially for camps on a number of treks and thus with more crews staying there, selecting a more central site leaves the outlying ones for late-arriving crews.
  • Do you have a very early start tomorrow?  Selecting a site at the opposite end of the camp means that you can be on your way without hiking past other crews who may be sleeping in.
  • Sites in close proximity to the bear bags or latrines see some traffic to those facilities, and sometimes are “overused.”

Once the crew is in its site, all crew equipment and smellables are extracted from the packs.  Then the Crew Campsite Setup Dance (CCSD) begins.  For experienced crews the CCSD time is usually well under half an hour.  First item up is the crew tarp (dining fly), within the BEARmuda Triangle and usually close to the fire ring.  With practice, six Scouts can put this up in two minutes flat.  All non-smellable crew equipment is placed under the tarp: stoves, toilet paper, pots, fuel containers, etc.

The rest of the crew is simultaneously putting up the bear bags.  The bags are loaded with the crew’s food and all crew and personal smellables.  The bags are hoisted up on the bear bag cables.  This usually takes four persons, and should include one advisor.  Sometimes these bags can get very heavy; especially just after collecting four days of food at a commissary pickup.  In those cases it may take a few more crew members to get the bags up.

Now the crew is ready to set up the tents – personal items wait until all the crew ones have been taken care of.  Each pair of tent mates sets up their own tent.  In great crews, when the “quick” finish they jump right in to help the others.  Tents are grouped together 50 feet or so outside the BEARmuda triangle.  Do not set them up in a circle which could trap and frighten a curious bear – a nice arrangement is two groups of three tents each, side by side.  The groups should be reasonably compact, and never with a lone tent separated from the others.  With practice and attention to the task at hand, the whole crew camp site setup will be completed quickly and then is the time for fun – program, side hike, food, or relaxation.

When morning comes and it is time to pack up and leave, the above tasks are completed in reverse order.  Individual tents down first, personal equipment packed, bear bags down, and finally tarp down and all crew stuff and food packed.  As each crew member finishes packing, the packs are placed in Philmont-style pack line.  When all the packs are stacked the Crew Chief knows the crew is ready to go, and asks “Is anyone NOT ready?”  Don’t forget the final task – police your camp site and the BEARmuda triangle!  Guarantee nothing is left behind except a beautiful campsite.

IMPORTANT: This whole show belongs to the Scouts and is led by the Crew Chief.  Advisors are a silent resource, always watching out for health and safety issues.  When the Crew Chief needs your help, he will ask.  How about practicing the setup dance on your next outing?  Bring your stop watch!


Note:  The entire camp setup can be accomplished with only four knots: the larks head (tarp and bear bags), two half hitches (tarp, tent, and bear bags), the bowline (tent and tarp), and the taut-line hitch (tent and tarp).  Everyone in the crew should know these important camping knots.


Airline Ticketing Information – the Airline Ticketing Information form was due last week.  Several crews have not submitted this form – it must be completed and e‑mailed to Debbie Wickham IMMEDIATELY.  The price of airline tickets is subject to change (in particular, a fuel surcharge) until they are paid for.  Airline tickets cannot be purchased without the data on the form – names that match the photo IDs crew members will use to clear airport security.  HINT:  While the form has a column for Frequent Flyer numbers, it is not necessary to those numbers at this time.  At check-in, Frequent Flyers can (and should) give their number to the ticketing agent to make certain they get credit for the flights.


Tip:  Have you checked out the Training Videos page of the Watchu Experience Web site?  There in the On the Trail section you will find a video demonstrating how to hang your bear bags as well as other camp site topics like fire rings, sumps, and pack lines.  In the Equipment section there are videos on how to setup Philmont dining flys and tents.


Advisor Question:  Why do they call it a dining fly if we are not expected to eat under it?

Answer:  Why do you think you are not expected to eat under the dining fly?  Yes, when the weather is nice, there is no need to gather under the fly.  However when it is raining and lightning is not a concern, the dining fly is the very best place to be.  It also serves to keep the weather off your crew gear that may be stashed under it at night.


Tip:  If someone in your crew uses trekking poles, leave the poles issued by Philmont in your locker and use the trekking poles to support the dining fly instead; again, a multiple use to save weight.


Advisor Question:  With the cold weather at night, the question of what goes into the tents at Philmont resurfaced.  We have heard a variety of opinions.  With an occasional cold night, people may need to supplement their sleeping clothes with additional layers such as long underwear, a fleece top, stocking cap and wool socks.  What about a “pee bottle” for the adults?

Answer:  The short answer is ONLY what you need to sleep goes in the tent, since tents and the contents should not be used for any reason other than sleeping.

Obviously, what you need includes a sleeping bag (and its stuff sack), a sleeping pad, and sleeping clothes (shirt and shorts) not worn at any other time, though suitable to be seen in if you are outside the tent at night.  These are the “Sleeping” items in the “Your Personal Equipment” list in the Guidebook to Adventure.  Many people store the sleeping clothes in the sleeping bag stuff sack so that they are never used elsewhere.

However, the practical answer is longer, and less precise.  You must have footwear to put on to leave the tent – that should be in a closed plastic bag just outside of the tent.  You must have light – a flashlight in the bag outside.  Some medical conditions require equipment to be readily available – asthma inhalers, for instance.  Your Ranger will instruct on what to do in such situations – in the recent past, that has been to put the item inside the boots in the bag outside, covered by “smelly socks” uncontaminated by food.

Then further considerations.  Cold nights at elevation might require the long underwear and the stocking cap from the Clothing Layers B and C of the equipment list in your Guidebook.  As neither of these are likely to be contaminated by food, they are acceptable in the tent (except, of course, if they are KNOWN to be food contaminated.)  Socks used on the trail should not be worn in the sleeping bag and an EXTRA pair for sleeping is normally not carried.  However if you are a cold sleeper with a light sleeping bag you might want to include a pair as part of your sleeping clothes.

Most people want a pillow for a comfortable night’s sleep.  A small backpacking pillow is a good choice.  Those looking to shave weight might consider a stuff-able pillow, but the question then is “What to stuff in it?”  Trail clothes should never be used.  An item such as a fleece top, only if it is known to be clean and uncontaminated by food, would be acceptable.  Clearly this option requires a fair amount of care and responsibility.

Rain is typically an afternoon event, and normally rain gear is stowed overnight in one’s pack.  If it is raining when it is time to turn in, or you expect rain, rain gear can be put in the plastic bag with footwear.

If one normally drinks water during the night, a water bottle that has NEVER contained anything but water can be left just outside the tent.  Should you need to make a midnight run for relief you must leave the tent.  No portable restrooms allowed at Philmont.


Phil Fact:  The Reverend F.J. Tolby was a Methodist minister who served churches in Elizabethtown and Cimarron.  He was murdered on September 14, 1875, during the Colfax County War between squatters on the land and the new Dutch owners of the Maxwell Land Grant Company.  He is buried in the Cimarron cemetery.


Tolby Peak rises against an azure sky!

Reverend F.J. Tolby
Elizabethtown and Cimarron, New Mexico Territory

WG33 – Philmont Trail Food

Over the years the Philmont trail meals have become very healthy, tasty, filling, and efficient.  Each lunch and most breakfasts are designed such that you need not use stoves.  Each supper has a dehydrated entrée that will require boiling water to re-hydrate.  Many of the items in the meals are exactly what you would see in any grocery store.

If any members of your crew have food allergies, they will need to review the ingredients of the current Trail Menu when it is available in April or May.  But before that, they can get an idea of what is in the items on the menu by reviewing the one from last year, posted on the Watchu Experience Web site ( in the Medical section of the Trek Preparation page.

Procedures for providing substitute food items to accommodate allergies are spelled out in the Guidebook to Adventure included in the Advisor’s Package from Philmont as well as the “Dining in the Backcountry” page of the Philmont Web site (  In general, they consist of separately packaging and identifying the items by meal, and delivering the packages to Logistics on Day 1 at Philmont.  The Logistics department will have the packages delivered to the appropriate backcountry commissary for pickup with the crew’s regular food re-supply.  See Medical FAQ #11 for an outline of how special dietary needs are handled while on the Colorado Tour and at Philmont.


Watchu Mountain Adventure meals:  During the Watchu Mountain Adventure you will be eating Philmont backcountry food:  Breakfast #7, Breakfast #10, Lunch #3, Lunch #7, and Dinner #6 from the 2014 Philmont Trail Food Menu.  If any member of your crew has allergies to items in those meals, you will need to bring suitable substitutes, the same as you will do at Philmont.


Tip:  Every crew should carry an ample quantity of two-inch duct tape.  Not an entire roll – maybe three or four yards.  Outside of zip lock bags and rubber bands, duct tape has got to be the greatest backcountry tool yet invented.  For example, you can even use it for first aid – it is especially good for taping up those blistered feet.  It can’t be beat for general-purpose repairs of tents, tarps, backpacks, and rain suits.  And at every meal you will use it to help compact your Paper, Cardboard, and Plastic (PCP) waste.

During the Watchu Mountain Adventure you will get a chance to practice this PCP skill with official Philmont food and packaging.  With a little effort, a crew should be able to pack the entire Watchu weekend’s PCP waste into the equivalent of three or four small individual breakfast cereal boxes taped together.  Give it a try!  Bring your tape.  At Philmont, compacting your trash and reducing its bulk benefits your crew by making room in your pack and the staff by minimizing the volume stored in backcountry trash containers.  Check out Trash Compacting in the On the Trail section of the Training Videos page on the Watchu Experience Web site to see how it is done.

Oh yes, the rubber bands come in handy for all kinds of trail applications and repair – the crew should have a handful of various sizes.  One use is to create a waterproof seal when securing a plastic bag with a gooseneck, such as the one you will use to seal your sleeping bag.  Or the one you will use to protect your boots at night outside your tent.  Check out this tip at Watchu.  There will be a few examples for those with sharp eyes.


Bonus Tip #1: Never tear the corner completely off food packages.  For example, when opening an oatmeal package, simply tear the corner so the oatmeal can be removed, yet the corner tab remains connected to the package.  This way the backcountry will not be littered with thousands of small corner tabs.


Bonus Tip #2:  The Crew Chief and crew members should take note of who has that day’s lunch if it will be eaten on the trail – there is nothing worse than having everyone unpack on the trail to find a missing meal.  One method is to distribute the lunch to each pair of tentmates at breakfast – they then know the bag is in one of their packs, and hopefully they will place it near the top!


Bonus Tip #3:  New in 2008, packets of pickle relish and mayonnaise were available at Services in Base Camp, but you had to ask for them.  Also, all items in the Services’ “goodie bag” could be replenished at any backcountry commissary, including “yum-yum” bags, green scrubbies, matches, salt, pepper, sugar, Camp Suds, and Purell.

Chief Watchu comment:  Each crewmember should carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer and Camp Suds.  The Camp Suds provided by Philmont is normally used for meal clean-up, not individual laundry, etc.  And it is good for each crewmember to have a personal supply of hand sanitizer for immediate use rather than looking for the one in the crew supply that should be used by the cooks.


2015 Trek Itineraries are posted on Philmont’s Web site ( and the printed material will be sent to the Lead Advisor of each crew next weekThe online trek selection process will open the first week in April, as it has the past several years.


Phil Fact:  Philmont staff has road access to all but two staffed camps.  Everything at Crooked Creek and Black Mountain camps must be packed in by burro.


For food,

Billy Wetsel
Philturn Scout Reservation, Cimarron, New Mexico
Chuck Wagon Cook (1939)

WG32 – Physically Fit for the Trail

Do you know there are only 118 days to go until first liftoff?  That means you are well past the half way mark of training and crew development.  How is your crew doing?  Are you using the “Watchu 55 Training Plan” outlined in an earlier Watchu Gram (Physically Fit)?  Probably the most important item to check now is the status of your crew’s physical fitness.

First:  Do you and all advisors know the health status of each crew member, both youth and adults?  Are all Medical Records completed and in your hands?  Does everyone meet the height/weight and blood pressure (FAQ #10) requirements?

Second:  Does everyone understand the need to be working on their hydration – NOW?  Are you and your crew “clear and copious”?

Third:  We all know that one or two hard hikes a month are NOT good enough for Philmont.  Is every person in the crew working daily to bring themselves to peak physical condition?  What is the fitness plan for each member of your crew?

Many crews underestimate the need to address these individual and crew conditioning issues.  They pay the price on the trail.  If your crew is physically ready for the challenge of Philmont you have a 99% chance of having an extraordinary experience.  If not, you have a 99% chance of having a poor experience.  Or worse yet, no experience at all.  Many an advisor has not made it past the first few days on the trail.  With some work that will not be you.

Although, in general, Scouts and Venturers don’t require as much work as Advisors to be ready, they are definitely not exempt.  Most often youth in poor condition don’t leave the trail, they just have a miserable time.  They also cause you and the rest of the crew to have a miserable time.  Save yourself lots of pain – make certain all members of your crew are working to get conditioned for the rigors of Philmont.  Remember there are no “easy” Philmont itineraries – the lowest rating is “challenging.”


Great Tip:  An article entitled “Fit for the Trail” from the March-April 1997 edition of Scouting Magazine is in the back issues index on their Web site (  It gives a good summary of what you should have accomplished to this point and what you should be working on now.  If you haven’t started yet, it’s not too late to catch up IF you begin immediately.  But don’t wait another minute!


Advisor Question:  Does everything on the list of “Crew Equipment Issued at Philmont” need to be taken on the trail, or can some of it be left behind in Base Camp?

Answer:  During the gear shakedown with your Philmont Ranger, he or she will suggest leaving specific items in Base Camp.  Usually this includes one of the issued pots and a section of each collapsible pole for the dining fly, or all the poles if a crew member is using trekking poles that can serve double duty holding up the fly in camp.


Advisor Question:  Do you have any suggestions on what type of phone to take into the backcountry?

Answer:  Philmont has recently changed its policy on cell phones in the backcountry.  While they were permitted, until 2010 crews were not encouraged to carry one.  Philmont’s recommendation has changed to a suggestion that crews carry two fully charged phones (using different providers) that should be kept off except in case of an emergency.  Understand that cell phone coverage is very limited in the backcountry and likely will only be available at higher elevations.  We are not aware of any one type being better than another, and thus have no specific suggestion.


Feedback from prior advisors:  Yes, Philmont is expensive.  However, when you talk to other advisors at Philmont, you will discover that Patriots’ Path’s outstanding Colorado Tour and travel arrangements are often hundreds of dollars less than the cost for similar (or even with fewer activities) tours offered by other Councils.  And everything included in Your Watchu Experience, such as second-to-none preparation and services like Wilderness First Aid training, is in addition to that!  The entire Watchu team is committed to allowing you to participate in the life-changing experience called Philmont at the lowest possible cost, and the near unanimous consensus in the past has been the value received exceeded the fee charged.


Visit the Watchu Mountain Outfitters Trading Post online and at the March Briefing.  They are well-stocked with a full selection of items, including the moisture-wicking backcountry T-Shirts, bandannas, and zipper-pull thermometers in addition to Base Camp T-shirts, baseball caps and the popular ‘booney’-style hats, all with the official WMO logo.  Every purchase of merchandise helps to contain costs for all Patriots’ Path contingent crews.  Profits go directly into the Watchu program; strictly for the benefit of Watchu/Philmont participants.  Items ordered at the January Briefing are now available for pickup at the Council office.


Phil Fact:  The Santa Fe Trail runs through Philmont.  There is a historical marker near the Seton Library, wagon ruts can still be seen just south of Philmont’s Cattle Headquarters., and the Rayado settlement served the passing wagons.  The Tooth of Time was an important milestone – when it was sighted, Santa Fe was only three weeks away.  William Becknell established the route in 1821, was the first to travel it with wagons in 1822, and is credited as the “Father of the Santa Fe Trail.”  Philmont is working with various historical groups to both make the portion of the trail between Cimarron and Rayado more accessible and to provide interpretative information about it.


The skies are always star-lit along the Santa Fe Trail!

William Becknell
Missouri Trader

WG31 – The BEARmuda Triangle and Smellables

At both the Watchu Mountain Adventure and Philmont you are going to hear much about the “BEARmuda Triangle” and “smellables.”  The BEARmuda Triangle refers to the space enclosed within the triangle defined by the location of your camp site’s “fire ring” (cooking area), your site’s liquid waste “sump,” and your “bear bag cable” (shared with several other sites.)  This space belongs to the bears.  Activities that produce smells are all conducted within the BEARmuda Triangle – cooking at the fire ring, cleanup (both cooking and human, like brushing your teeth) at the sump, and all smellables in bear bags, hanging from the bear bag cable.  Hence, no tents should be pitched within the triangle and where possible, it is best to pitch the tents 50 feet or so outside of the triangle.  Pitch your tents in small groups but not forming a closed group which could trap and confuse a visiting bear.  Your crew tarp (dining fly) will be pitched inside the BEARmuda triangle, usually near the fire ring.

A smellable is anything which has an odor that might attract a visiting bear to investigate further as a possible snack.  Items such as food, toothpaste, film, etc., all go into the bear bags to be hung from the bear bag cables – note that these items do not need to smell good, just smell with anything other than a human scent (bears know what that is!)  The equipment lists in your Guidebook to Adventure  denote such item with a “BB” for “bear bag”.  It is a good idea for crew members to keep all their smellables in a zip lock plastic bag for easy storage in the crew’s bear bags.  The No Smellables rule states that campers WILL NOT bring anything into their tent that might attract bears.  Uncontaminated clothing and personal equipment will stay well outside your tent in your rain-covered backpack.  Sleeping gear, including sleeping bag, pad and sleeping clothes are the only items in the tent with you.  Your sleeping clothes are only worn in the tent and never used as evening clothing in your camp.

When you are ready to turn in for the night, put all your non-smellables and uncontaminated belongings into your backpack, including all but the last few items of clothing you are wearing.  Backpacks are kept away from the tents (usually inside the BEARmuda Triangle), with rain covers on to protect them from an overnight shower.  Change into your sleeping clothes while standing on a plastic trash bag just outside your tent.  Place the last few items of uncontaminated clothing you were wearing, including your footwear, into the trash bag.  You might even put your rain suit in the trash bag.  Seal it with rubber band and “goose neck”.  Toss the bag of uncontaminated clothing a few yards or so from the tent, not so far that it will be hard to retrieve in a tough morning rain.  That’s it; now you are ready for a deep and wonderful fresh air backcountry sleep.

Caution: The Philmont bear protection rules are ever changing.  At Philmont, your Ranger will give you the latest bear protection and safety procedure information developed by the Philmont bear researchers.  Listen well!  And let Chief Watchu know of any changes when you return home.


Bear Bags for the Watchu Mountain Adventure:  You know that New Jersey, like Philmont, is bear country.  At Philmont, for the most part the bear encounters are few and far between because the Philmont Staff vigorously promotes the bear protection rules.  Likewise, at the Watchu Mountain Adventure we will review these procedures and you will get to practice them.  Smellables will be hung in bear bags, which you must supply – old duffel bag or mesh sport equipment bags will work fine – along with two 100 foot lengths of 1/4″ rope to hang them.  During Watchu #8 we were fortunate to get a real chance to evaluate the quality of our bear protection.  Eight bears stopped by during the evening, but found nothing that attracted their interest.  They are being contacted regarding their availability for another live practice session this year.


Tip:  Both at the Watchu Mountain Adventure and at Philmont, several crews will be sharing a single bear cable.  Something tied to your ropes, like a bandana or a short piece of surveyor’s flagging, will quickly identify which ropes are yours, and even more importantly, stop someone else from assuming the ropes for your bags are theirs.


Bonus Tip:  Even though you have a rain cover for your backpack, it is a good idea to cover the backpack at night with a big lightweight plastic trash bag, which will protect all sides.


Phil Fact:  Wyatt Earp, a gambler and lawman, and his brother Morgan stayed with their wives at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron for three days on their way to Tombstone, Arizona and the gunfight at the OK Corral several years later.


The eagles soar over Urraca Mesa,

Wyatt Earp
Tombstone, Arizona Territory

WG30 – Maps, Compass, and GPS

Your crew will be one of about 300 in the Philmont backcountry at any given time.  With almost 215 square miles plus adjoining lands such as the Valle Vidal and the Barker Wildlife Area, you will not see many crews except when you are in camps.  Good map and compass skills are essential for successfully navigating between camps.

Yes, except for the Valle Vidal there are trails, and usually there will be a signpost at a trail junction.  The marker may be the new style (a simple post with coordinates routered on the sides) or old (arrows with names of camps or other features, hopefully pointing toward the correct trail).  In either case, you need to be able to identify on the map where you are.  Shakedown hikes are an opportunity to brush up on your map and compass skills, as well as to learn how to use a GPS unit if you choose.

While a crew will have a designated Navigator, navigation is the responsibility of each crew member.  If the crew gets lost, it is not the fault of the navigator.  Rather, everyone is at fault for not paying attention to the surroundings and realizing what they actually see around them is not what the map indicates they should be seeing.  If the crew does get lost and cannot figure out where they are on the map, they must backtrack until they reach a location that can be identified on the map.

So, what do you need to know?  At a minimum, all crew members should be able to:

  • Read and understand the symbols on a topographic map.
  • Understand contour lines, and what the spacing between them means.
  • Use a compass to orient a map to magnetic north and understand declination.
  • Triangulate from three visible references to establish your position on the map.
  • Take and follow a bearing.
  • Determine the UTM coordinates of a location.

The Watchu GPS and Maps page, linked from the Resources section of the Crew Development page of the Watchu Experience Web site, contains a wealth of information on how to use a map, compass and GPS, as well as GPS waypoint data for both the Watchu Mountain Adventure and Philmont.  Check it out!


Phil Fact:  Paul Zastrow was a Russian immigrant who settled on 600 acres along the Rayado River west of the Abreu homestead in the 1910’s.  In 1949 Zastrow Camp, east of the Abreu homestead, was the site for the second-ever Wood Badge course for adult Scouters (the first was offered at New Jersey’s Schiff Reservation in 1948).  Zastrow was used as a summer trek camp during the Ponil Complex fire of 2002, and it was decided to continue to use it for the Land Navigation program.


Out in God’s country,

Paul Zastrow
Rayado, New Mexico

WG29 – Personal Gear and Crew Equipment

Carefully check the personal and crew equipment in the Philmont Guidebook to AdventureThese are the result of 60 years of Philmont backcountry planning.  They work!  Although, there are always possibilities for minor variations, you will be well advised to follow these equipment lists religiously.  But remember the prior Watchu Gram; the objective is to collect the lightest combination of these required items.

You will have an equipment shakedown at the Watchu Mountain Adventure as well as a shakedown by your Ranger during your Philmont check in.  However, before Watchu, and again before you leave for New Mexico, you and your crew should run complete crew member personal gear and crew equipment shakedowns using the equipment lists of your Guidebook to make sure everyone and everything is covered.

Each crew member should be assigned specific items of the crew gear to carry in their pack and be responsible for throughout the entire trek.  This is one way to reduce loss – the person carrying the bear ropes knows that they were not left on the ground at the bear cable.  It also eliminate frustration of not knowing “who has what” when a need comes up while hiking, for example, “Who has the toilet paper?”  Don’t forget to weigh all crew items so the load can be fairly shared.  As noted in the Guidebook, your pack weight should not exceed 25 to 30% of your body weight.  At Philmont your Ranger will help you distribute the load so that the “big guys” and “not so big guys” carry appropriate loads.


Feedback from MANY prior advisors:  Believe the equipment lists in the Guidebook to Adventure !!  If something is on the list, you need it, and if it is not, you don’t.


Advisor Questions:  The “Every Ounce Counts” Watchu Gram included “a good target for overall pack weight, without crew gear, food and water, but including your backpack and everything else is 20 to 25 pounds.”  Does the 20 to 25 pound guideline include the tent, or is that included with the crew gear?  What about clothes you are wearing, including boots?  It looks like crew gear (not counting the tent), 4 liters of water and 3 or 4 days of food will add 17 to 19 pounds to each pack.  Does that sound about right?

Answers:  The 20 to 25 pound range would be for all personal equipment in the list in the Guidebook to Adventure.  Tents are listed with “Crew Equipment Issued at Philmont,” and would not be included in that target.  While boots are on the “Personal Equipment” list, they rarely, if ever, are in the pack and most would not include them in evaluating the weight of personal gear.  On the other hand, while one set of clothes will be on your back and not in the pack, most would put all the clothes from the personal equipment list in the pack when weighing it.

Regarding the additional weight that will be added to that of the personal gear, the Guidebook to Adventure list of “Crew Equipment Issued at Philmont” includes approximate weight for most items, including tents.  Water is a significant weight item – a quart is two pounds.  While there will be times you will want to have 4 quarts of personal water, that will vary day by day and must be evaluated based on your specific itinerary.  Philmont meals are as much a bulk issue as weight – they take up a lot of room.  Breakfasts and suppers weight about a pound each, lunches about a pound and a half – and that 3-1/2 pound total for a day would be divided in half for one person since the meals are all packed for two.  Adding it all up, 7 pounds for a 4-day meal pickup, 3 pounds for half a tent, 6 pounds for 3 quarts of water plus a few pounds of other crew gear would be a little more (including the tent) than your 17-19 pound estimate.


Advisor Question:  I’ve seen conflicting information on the Web that indicates the Philmont-issued tents are heavy and recommendations to bring your own tents.  What is your opinion?

Answer.  Philmont issues excellent tents of the “Explorer” type, designed specifically for the conditions at Philmont.  They are rugged, stable in high winds, kid friendly, provide plenty of room for two adults, and meet the current state of the art weight target of approximately 3 pounds per person.  There will be Philmont tents on display for inspection at the Watchu Mountain Adventure.  While we highly recommend them, in the end whether to use the Philmont-supplied tents or to bring your own is a crew decision.


Advisor Questions:  In the Guidebook to Adventure, I see we are supposed to have 10 tent pins per person.  Are these tent stakes?  Do we really need twenty of them per two-man tent?  If every ounce counts, that seems excessive.

Answers:  Yes, “pins” are tent stakes.  Philmont-issued tents rely on guy lines for stability and require 14 to 20 pins (the lowest number if two lines are run to a single pin in six cases).  In addition 8 more of these pins are needed for the Philmont tarp.  A few spares to replace ones bent or gobbled by a stake eating creature that lives high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains results in the total of 10 per person.  If you bring your own tents and /or tarp, you will need to reconsider the number of stakes you need.


Fantastic Tent Tip:  If you use Philmont tents you must supply, and use, a ground cloth.  If you use your own tents you should use a ground cloth as well.  Camping store versions can be $10 to $15, and are heavy.  Save your crew some money and a lot of weight – use a very lightweight plastic party table cloth, cut to size listed in the Guidebook to Adventure.  The cost is a dollar or two at any party shop or supermarket.  A green one is environmentally and Leave No Trace correct.


Leave No Trace:  At Philmont, like on all outdoor BSA activities, every crew member should know and practice Leave No Trace (LNT).  The principles of LNT are listed below; check out Leave No Trace, linked from the Scouting tab of the Favorite Links page of the Watchu Experience Web site ( for more information.  The crew’s Wilderness Pledge Guia will help each crew member to understand and implement these principles, as well as those of Phlmont’s Wilderness Pledge.


Plan Ahead and Prepare – research your destination. Know the regulations and be ready when you get there.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces – stay on trails and use existing campsites whenever you can.
Dispose of Waste Properly – there are safe ways to get rid of dishwater and human waste.  Use them.
Leave What You Find – future visitors will want to enjoy the same environment you do.  Help them out.
Minimize Campfire Impacts – follow local guidelines on when and how to use open fires.  Camp stoves are always a good option.
Respect Wildlife– give animals the space and quiet they need to stay safe.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors – a Scout is Courteous and Kind.  Be aware of others on the trail and in camp grounds, and show them that Scouts know how to behave.


Phil Fact:  Jesse James, the notorious bank robber and outlaw, was a guest at the St. James Hotel several times, always staying in Room 14 and registering using his alias, R. H. Howard.


Leaving no trace,

Jesse James
St. James Hotel, Cimarron, New Mexico Territory


Bonus Question:  What should be on an ideal “Leave No Trace” uniform patch?

Answer:  How about “Nothing”?

WG28 – Every Ounce Counts!

The equipment needed for a Philmont trek is listed in the Guidebook to Adventure.   The March package from Philmont will have a current Guidebook for each member of your crew, but you can review the lists in last year’s Guidebook; they change little, if at all, year to year.  A good target for overall pack weight, without crew gear, food and water, but including your backpack and everything else is 20 to 25 pounds.  The Watchu “Personal Gear Tips” (or use the quick link on the Watchu Experience Web site, discusses things to look for when choosing gear on the personal gear equipment list.

Every ounce counts!  Weigh each item you are considering carrying in your pack and use 3″x5″ file cards to record the weights.  For example, you might own two flashlights – you will have one card titled “Red Flashlight – 5 oz” and one titled “Blue Flashlight – 3 oz”.  When all your candidate items are recorded on cards it becomes a fun game of picking and choosing what you really want to carry and what you don’t.

The idea is to carry the lightest “acceptable” pack, not necessarily the lightest individual items.  For example, you might prefer the heavier red flashlight, but then that forces you to look to other areas to reduce weight.  Maybe, to compensate for the heavier flashlight, you decide to leave your heavy basketball shoes at home in favor of a light pair of tennis shoes.

Also realize that weight can be saved by crew members sharing items.  Maybe instead of each crew member carrying extra flashlight batteries, say 4 per person or 48 per crew, the crew as a whole packs fewer extras, say 24 per crew.  Maybe tentmates share a flashlight.  Does each crew member need a pocket knife, digital camera, or GPS unit?  You get the idea, “backpacking is a team sport”.  The file cards will tell how much you and your team gain or loose with each decision.


Double Duty Helps Make Every Ounce Count!:  The “Personal Gear” checklist includes one pair of long pants.  They are required while working on your Conservation project as well as both the horse ride and spar pole climbing programs.  While some suggest using your rainpants for these activities, they are not a good choice for spar poles.  For the horse ride, your wrangler may decide the material has too much of a “swoosh” sound and could spook the horses.  The BSA Switchback pants are a great solution; lightweight, very serviceable, and with the legs removed replace one of the two pairs of shorts on the gear list.  Equipment that serves double duty is a key part of making every ounce count.


By now all crew members should have acquired the “Four Expensive Essentials”:

  1. A good pair of light weight backpacking boots.  “Light weight” is stressed, and the boots must fit well with two pairs of socks – heavy outer wool and light inner polypropylene.  Although not necessary, waterproof boots are nice to have if you can afford them.
  1. A good synthetic sleeping bag rated for 25 to 30 degrees and weighing 3 pounds or less.  The bag should stuff into a small stuff bag.  Don’t forget to line the stuff bag with a plastic kitchen trash bag for extra protection against getting wet.  And remember you must have an insulating ground pad.
  1. A sturdy rain suit with jacket and pants.  Remember NO ponchos – they won’t do in the high mountains of New Mexico.  You must have a rain suit.  The rain pants can also be used to double as the required long pants.  Keep in mind; if your crew selects horseback riding you may need another pair of light weight long pants.  You will not be allowed to ride without long pants and you can’t ride with pants that swoosh for fear of spooking the horse.  Long pants are also needed for spar pole climbing, and you probably do not want to use your rain pants there.  Check with your Ranger.
  1. A rugged backpack with plenty of capacity for carrying your personal gear as well as food, water and your share of the crew gear.  When selecting a backpack, weight of the backpack itself is very important and often overlooked; good packs weigh about 5 pounds or less.  Also, you need lots of capacity – about 4,000 cubic inches for external frame packs and 5,000 cubic inches for internal frame packs (taking into account external frame packs have the capability of adding considerable volume by attaching items to the frame.)  Philmont rents very good external frame packs for about $20.  If you don’t care to buy a pack, borrow one from a friend for training and rent one at Philmont.

After acquiring these “Four Expensive Essentials,” you can use the next few months to gather the other equipment outlined in the Guidebook to Adventure.  You will find most of the required gear is already in your closet or down in the basement.  The exercise is to find the lightest combination of gear possible.


Tip: Philmont will issue tents at check-in.  They are excellent backcountry two person tents weighing about 6 pounds each.  The current “best practice” target for tent weight is 3-pounds per person, which the Philmont tents meet.  Should you decide to bring your own tents, consider this 3-pound per person target.  If your tents are heavier, use your file cards to find something to eliminate to make up for this extra weight.  If your tents are lighter, it gives you an opportunity to include a little extra in your pack.


Phil Fact:  Black Jack Ketchum was a train robber who was captured and hung in 1901 at Clayton, New Mexico.  You can see a likeness of his face on a rock along the path to the Seton Library, and a small exhibit about his hanging in the Old Mill Museum in Cimarron.


It’s quiet in Black Jacks camp these days!

Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum
Cimarron Canyon hideout, New Mexico Territory

WG27 – Adult Leadership

Wonderful advice from a good Philmont friend, Jim Thompson of Chester County Council, BSA, and developer of the PhilSearch ( Web site:

“Plenty of crews go to the ranch each year without knowing a lot about it and they get that mountain top experience.  Plenty of crews go with lots of training and have a bad experience.  I’ve seen both.

“In the end, my opinion is that it’s about the adults.  The successful crews have adults who get it – they are behind boy-led, they ensure the right learning and coaching moments occur, they ask the probing questions, and they don’t drag the crew down being selfish, immature or out of shape.  In short, they are part of the crew and understand their role.  You have to remember that being boy-led does not absolve one of responsibility, it’s about leadership.  There is a reason the roles are called ‘advisor’ and ‘Crew Leader’.”

Chief Watchu comments: Chester County Council has been our partner in the development of the Watchu Experience.  In 1997, Patriots’ Path Council was invited by Bill Cass (another good Philmont friend from Chester County and author of Return to the Summit of Scouting) to participate in their Philmont Training.  The Watchu Experience grew out of that opportunity.  Bill’s paintings of the last flight of the B‑24 Liberator 41-1133 were hung in the back of the old Advisor Briefing room (are they in the new one?).  What remains of the wreckage of that plane’s crash is still on Trail Peak.  If your crew has the chance to see it, be respectful of the men who died there serving our country.


Tip: We know we are broadcasting much detailed information.  We don’t expect any one person to be responsible for all of this knowledge.  Put all members of your crew to work.  Give each member an area of responsibility.  And guess what? – in no time flat you will have developed your own set of Philmont camping experts.  Don’t forget all Watchu Grams are posted on the Watchu Experience Web site, (


Phil Fact?:  Local legend is that Buffalo Bill Cody was the manager of Lucien Maxwell’s goat ranch, met Annie Oakley at the St. James Hotel, and began his Wild West Show in Cimarron.


For fellowship,

William “Buffalo Bill” Cody
Cimarron, New Mexico Territory