[Philmont Trek]

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July, 2005, Timothy and I were part of a trek covering well over 50 miles in the back country of Philmont Scout Ranch. I'm ready to go back right now! What a challenge but what a growing experience! God's creation is certainly visible wherever you go when you're in the back country.

My role was as an "advisor" a.k.a. "Old guy who can't keep up with the crew." In that capacity I learned a few things about making a successful trek. Here are some tips I'd like to share. The first set are things that seemed to pay off well. The second set are things that I'd change on the next trip.

  • Taking Big Agnes  as my companion. It's been getting more difficult to get a good night's sleep on a simple sleeping pad. When I found that Timothy needed a more compact sleeping bag I decided to try an inflatable matress/bag combination from Big Agnes. What made this combo work really well is that the bag is designed to fit the mattress inside, assuring that no matter how I wiggle around I'll always be on top of the pad. Another feature I came to appreciate is that since the mattress does its own insulating, the bag has no filling on the bottom side where the mattress fits. This allowed me to stuff the bag in a small compression sack, not to mention saving some valuable weight. I'm really glad that I met Big Agnes!
  • Camp furniture. I began the trek with a three legged folding stool. This particular model is light, sturdy and sits taller than most stools I've seen. As far as I'm concerned, I'll never go on a back packing trip without something to sit on. At a trail side general store, I decided to try a Crazy Creek folding char. It provides back support but you have to sit on whatever is available which might be a rock, log or just the ground. Given the choice between the stool or the Crazy Creek, I think the latter would edge out a win but not by a whole lot. It is worth noting that the Crazy Creek can also serve as a half length sleeping pad for naps or for severely weight concious campers. A third option, one that Don (another advisor) found usefull was to use his folding Thermorest sleeping pad as a seat or as a place to take a nap. I think he wins for getting the most function out of a single piece of equipment.
  • Hydration. This was the first time I ever used one of those hydration packs. I found one from Camel Bak called the "Un Bottle" which is basically a bladder in a bag designed to fit in any back pack. I used the 3 liter model and loved it. Many of our hikes used all 3 liters so I was very thankful for the compact way to carry it. On our day hike to Mt. Baldy, I simply atached a pack strap to the unit and I had a light weight personal hydration system. I also had a wonderful water bottle which died on the trail. I picked up a Nalgene wide mouth bottle but frankly, I don't like it. I prefer the smaller opening but that's all they had. A smart thing I did though was to also bring a 1 liter Power Ade bottle. I prefer this bottle over the quart sized Gatorade even though it was Gatorade we mixed up to put in the bottle. BE SURE to bring a bottle especially for mixing your Gatorade because it becomes a "smellable" and must go up in the bear bag. You don't want all your bottles going up -- what a hassle!
  • Swim wear for hiking!  An experienced hiker mentioned wearing swim trunks for hiking shorts. For me, this was a wonderful idea. Trunks breathe well and dry quickly so chafing was never a problem. I was also able to do laundry in the occaisional shower then simply wring them out and put them back on. I wore a fast drying polyester type shirt as well so I was quickly good to go after any shower whether intentional or by mother nature.


Things I would do differently.

  • I had picked up a light, inexpensive fish scale (up to 50 pounds) for checking pack weights. After ripping out the built in tape measure the unit weighed about 3 ounces. At the last minute I decided to leave it out. On the trail there were a few times it would have been good to compare pack weights. We got by just fine since our crew was pretty easy going but if we had experienced a weight conflict along the way it could have been crucial. I would bring it next time.
  • Small walkie talkies. It would have been nice to keep in better contact with the crew chief and/or other advisors since carrying on a conversation is practically impossible beyond 20 feet or so. (I don't like marching heel to toe -- I want breathing room). Also, the camps are often a half mile long or longer. It would have been nice to keep up with each other while in camp or when a small crew broke away for a side hike.
  • Better camera