Tag Archives: philmont

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 (www.watchu.org) 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, www.watchu.org) 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 (www.PhilSearch.org) 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, (www.watchu.org).


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

WG26 – Rotating vs. Permanent Crew Assignments

An earlier Watchu Gram, “Organizing your Crew,” described the various duties that must be done every day while your crew is on the trail, and provided a sample organization of the crew into teams to accomplish the tasks.  Three of the positions, Crew Chief (Leader), Chaplain Aide, and Wilderness Pledge Guia are specified by Philmont and will be filled by one youth for the duration of the trek – they are permanent assignments (note the Wilderness Pledge Guia is available for another crew assignment).  How all of the other assignments are handled is a crew decision.  The two most common approaches are to rotate them through the crew so that each crew member does each of them a couple of times, or to make permanent assignments so each crew member does the same job the entire trek.  What follows is but one approach for filling the other positions in crew – there are many possibilities.  If you prefer, invent your own process.  However, the following suggestions are known to work.

No matter your choice of “permanent” or “rotating” assignments, a crew starts off using “rotating assignments” and a duty roster.  Each crew member should have the opportunity to perform each position at least once during the months of training.  The Crew Chief, Chaplain Aide, and Wilderness Pledge Guia positions should be included as rotating assignments on the crew duty roster.  This way every member of the crew gets to experience all of the crew assignments, and the crew gets to see each member in the leadership positions.

In the prior Watchu Gram it was strongly recommended to hold your Crew Chief election just before the Watchu Mountain Adventure in May.  The election sets the stage for the last, and most important, seven-to-ten weeks of training and makes for an exciting finish to the Watchu Experience.  Once the Crew Chief is in place, the crew then decides whether they want to use rotating or permanent assignments for the other crew positions – if they choose before the Watchu Mountain Adventure, that weekend will be an opportunity to experience how the choice is working.

If the crew decides to go with “rotating” assignments, simply continue using a duty roster, now prepared by the Crew Chief, throughout the rest of training and during the Philmont trek.  If they go with “permanent” assignments, the elected Crew Chief and the crew members together assign each crew member a position.  The permanent assignments are based on the “capabilities” and “preferences” of the youth members of your crew.  Again, the Scouts make all these decisions.  Since you have trained them well, they will allocate the tasks properly.  They will have worked as a team throughout the months of training and they know who can do what … better than you do, guaranteed.

There are pros and cons to each approach:

Rotating Assignments – the duty roster approach

  1. Pro – Scouts experience all assignments throughout training and the 11 days at Philmont.
  2. Pro – There is a clear sense that the assignments are fairly allocated.
  3. Con – There is considerable variation in performance.  For example, not everyone is a good cook.
  4. Con – Speed of execution will not be optimum, since each crew member has a new job every day.
  5. Con – No matter how well the duty roster is documented, disputes may arise as to who does what.

Permanent Assignments – each crew member has fixed tasks

  1. Pro – Scouts gets to experience all the assignments during the early months of training.
  2. Pro – There is no question who does what, eliminating the Crew Chief’s need to enforce the duty roster.
  3. Pro – Things get done with excellence, quickly.  Each task is performed by an expert.
  4. Pro – Generally there is more time for blue skies and backcountry program.
  5. Con – Scouts do not get to experience all assignments during the final months of training and the 11 days at Philmont.

For some, item #5 under Permanent Assignments is a big “con”, but that is not necessarily so.  In the end, with a well-trained crew, either approach will work very well.  All else being equal, the permanent assignment approach may stand a better chance of guaranteeing the real Philmont experience.  But it is the crew’s choice!  Either way, make sure nothing gets in the way of time spent engaged in the fantastic backcountry program.  Do all you can to provide plenty of time for the most incredible outdoor adventure many will ever experience.


Advisor Question:  The “Organizing Your Crew” Watchu Gram did not include the position Crew Reporter.  What about that assignment?

Answer:  Similar to the Wilderness Pledge Guia, the Crew Reporter(s) can be any of the youth members of the crew.  They will work with your hometown newspaper, the Philmont News and Photo Department, and your crew in order to document your trek for publication in the local news media after you return home.  The Reporter assignment is independent of and in addition to the backcountry crew assignments outlined in the earlier Watchu Gram.  The Crew Reporter position will be described in the upcoming March Advisor Package – look for a flyer in the package which details the work of the Philmont News and Photo Department.  In addition, there will be a briefing for all Crew Reporters at the Watchu Mountain Adventure in May.  Check out the Crew Reports page on the Watchu Web site for articles about treks from the past!


Feedback from 2014 Advisors:  Several advisors reported that the Ranger assigned to their crew insisted that the crew use the “Patrol Method” or rotating assignments.  We are attempting to find out from Philmont what may have prompted that – it is neither a “health and safety” issue or something that would impact the Philmont environment.  For now, simply be aware that your Ranger may dictate rotating assignments for the days he or she is with your crew.


Tip: Many crews produce a memory album to celebrate their Philmont trek.  In recent years these albums have not only been published in paper format, but also on CD or DVD and the unit’s Web site.  If the 12 members of your crew each records a journal of one of your 12 days at Philmont, bingo! – there you have it, the text of your crew album.  Then working with your Crew Reporter(s) and Crew Photographer(s) your crew will find it is a simple matter to create a super memory book for all.


Expedition Openings: The Watchu Administrator reports at the present time there are openings in the 2015 contingents, and an unfortunate fact is that between now and leaving for the airport additional openings will likely develop.  Surely there are Scouts, Venturers, and Scouters you know who would love the opportunity of an adventure at Philmont this summer.  Have them contact Debbie Wickham (phone 973-765-9322 x239, e-mail dwickham@bsamail.org), for details.  In particular, with the fourth payment due next month, a reasonable payment schedule can be worked out for anyone joining up at this time.  The next four months are the heart of the preparation portion of Watchu Experience, and new crew members still have time to get up to speed.


The hills are aspen-covered along the Rayado,

Clay Allison
The St. James Hotel, Cimarron, New Mexico Territory

Train robber, gunfighter, and guest

WG25 – Crew Chief (Crew Leader) Selection

The Crew Chief (Crew Leader) selection is the responsibility of the youth members of the crew.  And what an important responsibility it is!  They need time to see all their crew mates in action before making their choice.  Every youth member of the crew should get a chance to lead.  During your crew training you will find that very new criteria come into play in the selection of the right person to be your Philmont Crew Chief.  So even if all your crew members come from the same troop, it will not be clear who should lead until all are given a chance.  Often the Scout that looked to be the best selection in January is not seen as having the right stuff in May.

So go slow with this Crew Chief selection process.  It is very important.  Let all the Scouts, young and old, try their hand at leading the crew.  All, especially the advisors, will be surprised at the leadership qualities that surface, or don’t surface.  Selecting the right Crew Chief will be your crew’s most important decision.  And that decision will be with you and your crew, for good or not so good, the entire trek.

A successful Philmont experience is absolutely dependent on finding the right youth leader.  We strongly recommend your crew hold off on final selection until just before the Watchu Mountain Adventure in May.  As crew advisor you should provide coaching as the crew works to find their leader.  However, in the end it is the youth members of the crew, not the advisors, who select the Crew Chief.


Note from Chief Watchu – Crew Leader vs. Crew Chief:  “Crew Chief” is early Philmont language for the position that is now called Crew Leader.  In either case the reference is to the youth leader of the crew, who will lead you in the great mountains of New Mexico.  Newcomers to this terminology often confuse the term “Crew Leader” with “Advisor.”  Chief Watchu will use the “Crew Chief” terminology when he wants to be certain all understand him to mean the youth member who leads.


Advisor Note:  I am about half way through reading the Philmanac that was passed out to each crew at the January Advisor Briefing. I am in awe of the size, scope and history of the Philmont backcountry – can’t wait to get out there with my son and the rest of our crew.


Aerial Views of Philmont:  Check out http://vimeo.com/20630196 for some great views of Lovers Leap, the Cimarron Reservoir and Cathedral Rock (that smart-looking crew is Patriots’ Path’s own 2009 630E4), Crater Lake, and the Buffalo Pasture.  Note that even with high-speed broadband connections viewing it in HD can be somewhat choppy – try turning HD off for a smoother presentation.


Phil Fact:  Norton Clapp’s 1963 donation of the Baldy Territory brought Philmont Scout Ranch to its pre-2015 size of 137,493 acres, or almost 215 square miles (this year the purchase of the adjoining Cimarroncita Camp will add 2,678 more acres).  Clapp was a former president of the Boy Scouts of America, chairman of Weyerhaeuser Corporation, and one of the owners of the 1962 World’s Fair Space Needle in Seattle.  Baldy Mountain was once known as Elizabeth Peak, after the four-year old daughter of John W. Moore who built the first house and store in Elizabethtown on the western side of the mountain.  She grew up to be the first schoolteacher in Elizabethtown and lived her entire life there.  The present-day ghost town is estimated to have had as many as 7,000 residents in its heyday.


Hike on, furry Conejo!

Norton Clapp
Medina, Washington


What’s a Conejo?

WG24 – Organizing Your Crew

Yes, Philmont is about big blue skies, fantastic vistas and wonderful backcountry program.  But in order to take it all in your crew must be trained to operate like a Swiss watch.  It is important to be able to execute the necessary tasks with efficiency so the crew can get to what Philmont is all about – fun, excitement, and the best outdoor experience most will ever have.

Daily tasks, such as health, hygiene, camp setup, clean up, navigation and cooking, need to be taken care with excellence and speed.  Hence the crew must be organized and trained around a plan.  There are many ways to make it happen – what follows is but one example, assuming you are working with nine Scouts and three advisors, the recommended crew size;.  The plan is made up of assignments about equal in difficulty and time.  It can be made to work for crews using a duty roster either of rotating or fixed assignments throughout the trek – the pros and cons of rotating versus fixed assignments will be reviewed in a coming Watchu Gram.

Crew Chief (or Crew Leader, one youth crew member):  The Crew Chief, or Crew Leader, is a youth member elected by the youth members of the crew.  The success of the trek is absolutely dependent on the Crew Chief.  The Crew Chief provides leadership for the crew members and is accountable for all crew activity.  The Crew Chief supports all crew members in executing their assignments.  The Chief makes certain the crew is healthy, clean, safe, and eating good food.  The Chief also makes certain the crew accurately navigates the backcountry of Northern New Mexico, and is on time and on schedule.  And most of all, the Chief establishes a social environment that guarantees all crew members an exciting and fun adventure.  In the language of Scouting, the Crew Chief is a “Servant Leader”.  The March package from Philmont will contain more information about this all-important position, and there will be sessions at both May’s Watchu Mountain Adventure and during Day 1 at Philmont to help the Crew Leader understand the position and succeed at it.

Note carefully the use of the word “accountable” as opposed to “responsible.”  The “responsible” crew member has the duty to accomplish a task (see below).  The Crew Chief who is “accountable” provides the leadership to make certain the task is completed by the “responsible” members.  The crew counts on the “a-count-able” person to know all is well.

Cooks (two youth members):  The cooks are responsible for preparing all crew meals in the backcountry.  Most breakfasts and all lunches are cold – the cooks simply distribute them to each crew member.  All suppers have an entrée that must be rehydrated – the cooks boil the necessary water, prepare the ingredients, and distribute the meal when ready.  They must set an example of cleanliness at all times.

Fire and Water Team (three youth members):  This team is responsible for the maintenance of the crew’s water and stoves.  This means knowing where to get water at all times.  This means guaranteeing the crew is carrying enough crew water when going into dry camps.  This means having water available for the cooks when the cooks are ready to cook the evening meal.  The Fire and Water Team is responsible for the crew stoves, and fires them up when the cooks are ready.  Thus, the team must work closely with the cooks.  The Fire and Water Team also is responsible for having water ready and heated for the Clean-Up Team after the evening meal.

Important note:  The Advisor assigned to stove safety and maintenance must be present when the Fire and Water Team is lighting or working with the stoves…at all times.

The Clean-up Team (two youth members):  This team is responsible for crew sanitation.  Their most important duty is to guarantee that the crew cooking utensils and each crew member’s eating utensils are sterile before meals – the method for doing this will be reviewed in a coming Watchu Gram.  The Clean-up Team is also responsible for crew clean up after meals, the Yum Yum Bag (more about this later), disposal of waste liquids, and packing out all crew waste.  Many a crew has been forced back to base camp because of illness caused by an unsanitary approach to these important crew obligations.

Finally, the Clean-up Team is accountable for camp site cleanliness and camp site policing upon leaving in the morning (for which the entire crew is responsible.)  A side benefit of this morning policing is not leaving crew equipment or personal belongings behind.

Chaplain Aide (one youth member):  There will be more about this assignment in an in-depth description of the role of the Chaplain Aide in the package you receive from Philmont in March, as well as a session during May’s Watchu Mountain Adventure.  Also, your Philmont Ranger and a Philmont Chaplain will go over the detailed reflection and meditation process called “Thorns and Roses” used at Philmont and conducted by the Chaplain Aide.  When executed properly, this assignment adds a beautiful and spiritual dimension to a trek.  At check-in, each crew member will be issued a wonderful booklet titled Eagles Soaring High, designed by the Philmont Chaplains to support the mission of the Chaplain Aide.

The Chaplain Aide also assumes the role of assistant to the Crew Chief.  In this role the Chaplain Aide assists the Chief in executing the accountabilities of crew leadership.

Wilderness Pledge Guia (Guide, one youth member):  No, you did not count incorrectly – this role can be filled by any crew member (other than the Crew Leader or Chaplain Aide) in addition to another position.  Like those positions, there will be more about this assignment in an in-depth description of the role of the Wilderness Pledge Guia in the package you receive from Philmont in March, as well as a session during May’s Watchu Mountain Adventure.  Also, your Philmont Ranger will work directly with the Wilderness Pledge Guia to make sure each member of the crew understand the principles of the Philmont Wilderness Pledge and of Leave No Trace.

Navigator (two youth members):  This job can be covered by any crew member except the Crew Chief in addition to another assignment (it can not be the Crew Chief, since he or she is the final arbiter when the navigators are stumped.)  This is a fun and very important assignment for a well-prepared pathfinder.  The crew needs to have, or train, two youth members who can read a map and use a compass … flawlessly.  The Crew Chief should also be an excellent pathfinder – hopefully getting lost will not be included as an element of your Philmont adventure.  If your trek takes you to the Valle Vidal (Carson National Forest), the navigators should also have GPS knowledge.  Many crews going into the Valle bring their own GPS unit, and in certain Valle Vidal circumstances Philmont will provide GPS training for the crew.

Advisors (three adults):  The advisors are responsible for the preparation and training of the crew.  Most importantly, the advisors are accountable for the health and safety of the crew.  These duties are ongoing from the first gathering of your crew until your return home.

No later than the time of your arrival at the airport, the Crew Chief will have assumed leadership of the crew.  From then until return, advisors stand back and let the Scouts make it happen.  Advisors only intervene if the crew’s health and safety are threatened.  You trained ’em, they can do it!  Once at Philmont, the advisors are the crew’s guests.  For example, to emphasize this role, many crews vote to serve their advisors first at meals.

In your supporting role you may wish to carry the crew’s first aid kit, the stoves, and the fuel – items which need a little extra care to insure safety.  The Scouts will carry the remaining crew equipment and food.  Food and fuel are never carried in the same pack.

Finally, it is strongly advised that each advisor focus on one main aspect of crew development.  The “Lead (or Contact) Advisor” should act as mentor to the Crew Chief and Chaplain Aide.  A second advisor, called the “Health and Safety Advisor”, should be the mentor to the Fire and Water Team, the cooks, and the Clean-up Team.  And the third advisor, called the “Trail and Team Advisor”, mentors to those scouts executing those duties and operations not otherwise covered, especially the Navigators.

This is only one of many possible ways to put the crew together.  It is presented here to give you an idea of the required tasks and how the crew can be organized to make a great trek happen.


Phil Fact:  Jesus Abreu and his wife, Carlos Beaubien’s daughter Petra, established the Abreu settlement in 1857 shortly after Lucien Maxwell left the area and built himself a new home in Cimarron.  He is buried in the Abreu Cemetery at Rayado, where the Abreu family to this day still has burial rights.


The old Rayado flows through Abreu camp,

Jesus G. Abreu
Maxwell Land Grant, Rayado, New Mexico Territory


WG23 – Selecting Your Itinerary (Part 2)

This is one of the most exciting times of your Watchu Experience, when EVERY member of the crew learns all they can about the programs, camps, and terrain of Philmont and the youth members of the crew decide what they want to accomplish this summer.  You have approximately two months to accomplish this task – use the time wisely!  Review last year’s PhilmontTREKS – Itinerary Guide and Guidebook to Adventure, discuss both your crew’s abilities and desires, and prepare a preliminary list of the five itineraries that best meet those abilities and desires.  Then when the information about the 2015 itineraries becomes available, simply review the changes to see if a revised route should be considered or if one of your top five needs to be dropped since it no longer meets your criteria.

Treks are designated as Challenging (formally Typical, which erroneously implied they were easy), Rugged, Strenuous, and Super Strenuous.  Itineraries are identified by numbers which reflect a relative rating of their challenge.  Low numbers (1, 2, 3 …) indicate “Challenging” treks and high numbers (… 33, 34, 35) designate Super Strenuous treks.  “Challenging” treks are strong on program and “Super Strenuous” treks are strong on hiking.

Some thoughts for your consideration:

  1. The length of the hike is only one part of how tough it will be.  What matters is the combination of length, change in elevation, and the quality of the trails.  Accept and believe the classifications in the Philmont TREKS – Itinerary Guide .
  1. Philmont is not “just a hike.”  Picking an itinerary that gives your crew an opportunity to experience the outstanding backcountry program is the way to go to get the most from your trek.  If you are working with a crew that has significant Philmont experience, they might want to select a full-blown, all-out 11-day hike with little time for program (Strenuous or Super Strenuous itineraries).  Otherwise, most crews benefit from a balance of hiking and program (Challenging or Rugged itineraries).
  1. Baldy Mountain or the Tooth of Time are great, but there is a lot more to Philmont.  Some of the most beautiful scenery and great views are in the southern part of the Ranch.  Don’t restrict your choices to a few well-known landmarks.
  1. Everyone loves Black Mountain camp…  Crooked Creek is an opportunity to relive days gone by….  You want mining, go to Cypher’s Mine….  A hike through Hidden Valley to Window Rock is never to be forgotten….  How about starting or ending your trek at Kit Carson’s Rayado home?  Don’t forget to use your Philmanac to help your crew select a great trek.
  1. Plus there are the unexpected surprises.  For example:  behind site #6 at Devils Wash Basin you will find one of Philmont’s most spectacular views.  Or it’s hard to beat the view of Mt. Wheeler from the upper meadow above Apache Springs.
  1. If you have a young rookie crew, think about picking treks with a two-night layover.
  1. All Philmont itineraries have tough hikes.  Don’t let your crew come under the notion that the “Challenging” treks are for the weak and feeble.  One of Philmont’s toughest hikes is from Sawmill to Harlan (or Harlan to Sawmill).  That hike and others of similar difficulty often show up in a number of the so called less strenuous itineraries.  They are busters.
  1. If you have been to Philmont before, don’t just go by past experience.  Have your crew carefully consider all the trek write ups in the current Philmont TREKS – Itinerary Guide when you receive it, including any new and outstanding possibilities that may be in this year’s edition.  Again, the Philmanac will be very helpful in selecting a trek that matches your crew’s capability and interest.
  1. If you select a Valle Vidal itinerary in the Carson National Forest, you will need to make certain your crew is well trained in overland navigation.  There are few trails in the Carson National Forest and it is all about navigation.  And it is beautiful!  Chief Watchu suggests using a GPS unit, which can be lots of fun and good training.  But well-trained navigators with a map and compass will do fine as well.


Advisor Question:  “We have a couple of members of our crew who are from outside of Patriots’ Path Council.  The medical form asks for council name.  Should they list Patriots’ Path for their home council name?”

Answer:  Crew members should use their actual home council on all documentation.  However, when at Philmont they should know they are with a Patriots’ Path contingent.  And they should wear our Patriots’ Path Council Philmont patch on their uniforms – get out your sewing kit and put it there now!  And when you are asked about it, be sure to mention there are openings in the contingent for this coming summer; it is not too late to be part of the adventure.


Watchu Question:  “Are you and your crew Clear and Copious?”

Answer:  ???


Phil Fact:  Waite Phillips’ twin brother, Wiate, died at age 19 of appendicitis while the two of them were travelling throughout the West, working a variety of jobs to support themselves.  The location of a memorial to Wiate at Philmont is known only to Chope Phillips.


For friendship,

Wiate Phillips
Conway, Iowa (1883 – 1902)