Fire at Philmont

My first trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in 2002 turned out to be something of a disaster. A forest fire broke out the week before our arrival and closed most of the Ranch. When we arrived, everyone got crowded into the southern section. Campsites were overflowing with Scouts and activities were impacted. A draught meant no swimming or showers for the entire trek (12 days without bathing, think about it!) Our Ranger was an idiot. There were long lines at every Red Roof Inn. My son and his buddy crawled around the Tooth of Time to perch precariously on a small granite ledge with his feet dangling above the Valley Floor a thousand feet below (the picture still scares me!). And then two days of rain led to mudslides which caused even more hiking problems. Inevitably, all the Scouts got bored and turned on each other and then the adults. It was, by all measures, a miserable trip.

Kevin and Tom on the Rock
Kevin and Tom Perched On The Tooth of Time

Despite the drama and discomfort, however, hiking in Philmont is a backpacking memory I wouldn’t trade for the world. It is a unique environment, filled with enthusiastic people, doing amazing things. You really don’t grasp the grandeur or scope of the activities until you stand next to the Welcome Center and watch thousands of Scouts getting ready to hit the trail. Every Scout backpacker should go there at least once.

Some information about Philmont from their web site:
• Philmont Scout Ranch is the Boy Scouts of America’s oldest national high-adventure base. It was born in 1938 as Philturn Rockymountain Scoutcamp.
• More than 930,000 Scouts, Venturers, and leaders have experienced the adventure of Philmont since the first camping season in 1939. Now, there are 22,000 backpackers every summer.
• Philmont has 34 staffed camps and 55 trail camps within its 214 square miles of rugged northern New Mexico wilderness
• 1,000 staff members are employed each year to maintain the camps and help the hikers
• Most activity takes place during the summer, but Philmont also offers Fall and Winter programs

Several books have been written about the Philmont experience and countless blogs and newspaper articles. This year, a documentary about Philmont was produced by Black Mountain Films. The director spent several summers on staff and even met his future wife at Philmont. The movie starts with a history of the Ranch, using old photos, clips, and interviews. Then viewers follow an actual trek as they work their way through the ups and downs of their expedition. For perspective, there are interviews with the Phillips Family, who donated the land to the Boy Scouts.

Philmont Movie
Movie About Philmont Brings Back Memories

We didn’t take enough pictures on our visit and the movie is a nice reminder of the experience. And if you wonder what Philmont is like, just take a look at the clips posted on this website ( The clips are impressive and entertaining, but don’t even come close to conveying what you experience on an actual Philmont backpacking trip. (It would also make a great Christmas present for your Philmont trek leader.)

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3 thoughts on “Fire at Philmont”

  1. Went to Philmont over 20 years ago. I have to say that without the forest fires, it really was an incredible experience. I’d go back again if I ever have the opportunity.

    However, the picture! I have a sinking feeling in my gut just looking at it! That is a long way down!


  2. Philmont certainly had more downs than ups for me. It was hard for me to adjust to their style of backpacking. You really have to think of it more like a summer camp, with strict rules, where you walk around most of the time. That picture was pretty awesome, and a total turning point in how I viewed the trip (and it’s still one of the most epic pictures I’ve ever been a part of). The views and the terrain in Philmont are really nothing like what our Sierra’s have to offer, if you approach Philmont with an open mind it really can be an amazing trip.

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