Tag Archives: watchugram

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