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Which is More Challenging Philmont or Northern Tier

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Our troop is doing Sea Base next year.  2019  will be either Philmont or Northern Tier. 

 

Our troop is fairly young.  Before presenting these options to the scouts for them to choose, I'm curious which high adventure camp is more difficult, Northern Tier or Philmont?

 

I know that with Philmont there are a range of trek lengths and once you choose one, that's your trek.  I've heard Northern Tier is more flexible.

 

Whichever one we don't do in 2019 we'll do in 2020.

 

Thanks!!

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When I went to Philmont we covered the 110 miles and caught all 5 of the major peaks.  At age 50, it was rough.  I have heard there are shorter, less peaks treks so it depends on which trek one pics.

 

Northern Tier is pretty much flat.  Duh! :)  BUT, the portages can be quite arduous.  We had a 3 mile portage along with probably another dozen or so getting in our 50 miler.

 

Both are physically demanding, but Northern Tier, with the right planning should be easier on the boys.  Smaller boys will need to double portage probably, once with canoe, once with gear.

 

With Philmont it is a constant exertion of one's whole body and there's also the thin air that makes it more difficult if one is a flat-lander to begin with.  I trained for 9 months before the trek, thought I had it made until I hit the thin air.

 

I never did Northern Tier, but have been to BWCA a half dozen times.  All self-planned or with another experienced scouter to train how to pack correctly for the trip.  Got our own permit and planned our own route.  Packed our own gear and designed our own menus.  It worked out a lot cheaper than Northern Tier.  Our last trip to the BWCA cost us less than summer camp and that included gas for the 1000 miles round trip to get there.

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I agree with Stosh.

 

Our older scouts did Seabase last Spring. We are doing an independent BWCA trip this summer so we can bring younger scouts than NT allows. We have 11 and 12 yos who did a two night canoe trip on the St Croix at camp last Summer. BWCA will be a BIG jump, but manageable with planning. Philmont would be beyond their abilities just based on the sustained exertion.

 

That said, the bases have plenty of experience taking trained 14yos successfully through either Philmont or NT. So while NT has more manageable options, either it or Philmont should be a good choice for your scouts.

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I've only been to Seabase, where burn prevention was the biggest challenge. If your troop is young, you might want to work on the discipline of sunscreen+hat.

I have hiked in the northern Rockies and canoed/kayaked a bit.

I think I would find NT more challenging because of my weaker upper body.

 

BUT, your boys will be at least 15/16 and more than capable for either adventure. I would suggest committing to a couple of weekend trips of both backpacking and canoeing each year until they make up their minds. Fact is, you may have to put your unit number in the lottery for both to see what comes available to you in 2019. So, it may literally be a coin-toss.

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BUT, your boys will be at least 15/16 and more than capable for either adventure. I would suggest committing to a couple of weekend trips of both backpacking and canoeing each year until they make up their minds. Fact is, you may have to put your unit number in the lottery for both to see what comes available to you in 2019. So, it may literally be a coin-toss.

Yes, this is true. However, There are several boy scout camps that lead back packing groups for a week and age is not a requirement. Same goes for canoeing, we do a trip to Canada every other year and just rent our own equipment. We get better gear for less cost. You can hire a guide if you need one. And many of our scouts spent a month getting their scuba license so they could spend a week in Mexico diving every day. So don't let the lottery slow you down if you really want back country adventure.

 

Barry

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I think our scouts want to be able to say they've done the 3 biggies, but I'm aware there are other options.  I just want the scouts to be fully aware of what each entails.  The likely incoming Webelo group that would be high adventure eligible in 2020 is said to enjoy hiking, so that could be a factor, too.

 

We lost some older scouts over something rather stupid that one scout did, or is alleged to have done.  We're only at about 25-30 scouts right now and not many in the upper age range. I'm trying to help out with the research so they can make a wise decision.  We want to do both of these trips in 2019 and 2020.  The best strategy for ordering them is where we are now.

 

We're in the 2019 Philmont lottery.  I put in a dozen dates for 1 crew, 12 day treks starting in mid-July.  We will enter the NT lottery next year when it opens.  Looking at how many 12 day treks are open right now for 2018, I'd think we'd get one of our chosen dates.  I've heard the NT lottery isn't as difficult to get, but I could be wrong.

 

As for Sea Base, I've already purchased long sleeve rash guards and UV protection gaters for me and my son.  Sunburn is very much not joyful.  For myself, I'm more concerned about seasickness.  We're doing the Sea Exploring adventure on the 40 foot sailboat.  I might ask my doc for a prescription for something in addition to Bonine.

 

I'm doing the Monsters of Rock cruise in February (I've done other cruises) so maybe I'll try something for that first.  :)

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It depends. Philmont vs Northern Tier are different activities. Backpacking is a walking activity. Northern Tier is a rowing activity. All things being equal in distance I'd say Northern Tier was harder for me, but we only did 50 miles at NT. I have done two Philmonts, a 65 mile trek and an 85ish mile trek. 

In short, depends on your routes. a 50 mile Philmont or Northern tier trek is achievable for almost any age eligible Scout. 

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It depends. Philmont vs Northern Tier are different activities. Backpacking is a walking activity. Northern Tier is a rowing activity. All things being equal in distance I'd say Northern Tier was harder for me, but we only did 50 miles at NT. I have done two Philmonts, a 65 mile trek and an 85ish mile trek. 

 

In short, depends on your routes. a 50 mile Philmont or Northern tier trek is achievable for almost any age eligible Scout. 

I agree. When we get tired of hiking up hill, we stop and rest. When we get tired of paddling in the wind, we keep paddling. Otherwise the wind would blow us back to where we started. 

 

Barry 

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Our troop is fairly young.  Before presenting these options to the scouts for them to choose, I'm curious which high adventure camp is more difficult, Northern Tier or Philmont?

 

 

It depends. Philmont vs Northern Tier are different activities. Backpacking is a walking activity. Northern Tier is a rowing activity. All things being equal in distance I'd say Northern Tier was harder for me, but we only did 50 miles at NT. I have done two Philmonts, a 65 mile trek and an 85ish mile trek. 

 

In short, depends on your routes. a 50 mile Philmont or Northern tier trek is achievable for almost any age eligible Scout. 

 

This is the correct answer. 

 

You can have very light treks at Philmont and you can have very easy treks at NT. Likewise, you can have tough treks in both places. I did an NT trek with over 20 portages. Rough!!

 

Both guides have details about their treks, distance, elevation climbs, portages, etc. If you troop is young I would go low distance and maximize fun. I have done the 120 mile treks and I have done the 45 mile treks. I enjoyed both but truth be told I enjoyed the fun and social nature of hanging out and relaxing in the wild. 

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Im curious about why you phrased the question as "which is more difficult"?  Do you intend to use our opinion of relative difficulty as part of the research that you present to your youth?  Will the more difficult choice make them want to do that option more or less?  I suggest that the better way to present the differences is by describing the experience.  In fact, if you can find some youth who have been to each, invite them to talk about their experience.  

 

I love Philmont and believe every Scout/Scouter should go at least once.  But, I tell my Scouts that Philmont is kind of like hiking from summer camp to summer camp.  You dont go to Philmont for the backpacking, you go for the program and the Scouting environment / history.  If you want backpacking in the mountains you can do that somewhere else for a whole lot less money.

 

On the flip side, you dont go to BWCAW for the program because there is none.  You go to BWCAW because it is the real wilderness.  If you go through NT you'll have an interpreter along for the whole trek and (the good ones) add a great deal to the experience over self outfitting.

 

Just my $0.02 worth.

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Im curious about why you phrased the question as "which is more difficult"?  Do you intend to use our opinion of relative difficulty as part of the research that you present to your youth?  Will the more difficult choice make them want to do that option more or less?  I suggest that the better way to present the differences is by describing the experience.  In fact, if you can find some youth who have been to each, invite them to talk about their experience.  

 

I love Philmont and believe every Scout/Scouter should go at least once.  But, I tell my Scouts that Philmont is kind of like hiking from summer camp to summer camp.  You dont go to Philmont for the backpacking, you go for the program and the Scouting environment / history.  If you want backpacking in the mountains you can do that somewhere else for a whole lot less money.

 

On the flip side, you dont go to BWCAW for the program because there is none.  You go to BWCAW because it is the real wilderness.  If you go through NT you'll have an interpreter along for the whole trek and (the good ones) add a great deal to the experience over self outfitting.

 

Just my $0.02 worth.

 

The reason I ask is, we don't have anyone in the troop with NT experience.  I wanted to get opinions from people who know both so that I can present that to the scouts who will be age-eligible.  Because our troop has lost many older scouts, the ones who could go are younger.  I want to present them with the wisdom of people with experience so that they can make an informed decision so they'll enjoy it as much as possible.

 

I appreciate all the advice!!

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The reason I ask is, we don't have anyone in the troop with NT experience.  I wanted to get opinions from people who know both so that I can present that to the scouts who will be age-eligible.  Because our troop has lost many older scouts, the ones who could go are younger.  I want to present them with the wisdom of people with experience so that they can make an informed decision so they'll enjoy it as much as possible.

 

I appreciate all the advice!!

 

My question was really about using difficulty of the trek as a measure of which trek they would prefer.  Difficulty is so subjective that I dont think it really gives your Scouts any useful information.  You can certainly choose routes that are longer/shorter and more/less rugged at each place.   For me, "difficulty" determined almost entirely by how much physical training I did before the trip.

 

Regardless, I can say for sure that any Scout that enjoys a good adventure will enjoy both places.  But maybe for different reasons.

Edited by jjlash

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How would one rate "difficulty" at either NT or Philmont? I would suggest the following:

 

  • Philmont Difficulty
    • Distance (affects body, mind and spirit if too difficult)
    • Elevation (terrain) profile of trek (elevation gained and lost daily)
    • Distance between restocking and watering points (means more weight to carry longer)
    • Altitude (higher up, tougher it can get)
    • Program events (So required physical exertion which takes energy away from the trail)
    • Weather
    • Training
  • NT Difficulty
    • Distance (affects body, mind and spirit if too difficult)
    • Number of portages, distance of portages
    • Type of terrain for portages
    • Distance between restocking and watering points (means more weight to paddle longer)
    • Program events (So required physical exertion which takes energy away from the trail)
    • Weather
    • Training

Any other factors we should add to the list?

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Went to NT in 2010 with 2 adults and four 14 year olds.  First High Adventure trip for the boys and the other adult.  Boys were a bit hesitant and were thinking low milage before we arrived.  The Guide assigned to our crew was great with the lads.  The lads were thinking 45 miles max over 7 days.  Guide said 45 miles as a mimimum.  He laid out a loop trek.  I believe they settled on about 65 miles initially.  Part way throught the week, the guide wanted to know if the lads would agree to changing the route so the Guide could complete a task/challenge to earn an award.  The task would take us off the original course and add 15 miles of paddling to the final day.  The boys had built confidence by this point.  It also meant they would paddle 100 miles total over the trip.  The combination of 100 miles and being able to help their beloved Guide earn an award swayed them.  3 of the 4 boys weighed at or less than 100 lbs each.  The 4th was a bit stockier.  85 lb canoes for 100 lb lad are a challenge.  Week of provisions make for heavy packs to portage as well.  In total they paddled 100 miles and portaged 4 miles in 7 days.  Portages as short as 30 feet and as long as 110 yards.  One morning we had 10 portages before noon. 

 

Anyway, Yes, young small inexpierenced scouts can certainly challenge themselves and build confidence at NT.  While it is a physcial and mental challenge, there are lots of opportunity for personal growth and building confidence.  Barring physical injury, as long as they meet the physical requirements for HA, they should be able to complete with little problem. 

 

NT Difficulty

  • Distance (affects body, mind and spirit if too difficult) 
  • Easy to design a shorter trek at the beginning.  Distance is a number that most people can't relate to until they have paddled for several days.  See above regarding distances.  "Big Numbers" are easily accomplished. 
  • Number of portages, distance of portages
  • Portages happen, all day, every day.  Frequently and come in all lengths and difficulty.  Plan you so only need to make one pass at portages.  Doubling will kill your spirit.
  • Type of terrain for portages
  • Portages vary greatly in distance, difficulty and frequency.  So much it is virtually impossible to control.  
  • Distance between restocking and watering points (means more weight to paddle longer)
  • Water is scooped out of the lakes while paddling so quantity and weight is not a problem.  Food is all packed at beginning.  No restocking.  Packs get lighter as trek continues.
  • Program events (So required physical exertion which takes energy away from the trail)
  • Unlike Philmont, no planned events/camps to participate.  We did turn our dining fly and paddles into a sail one day and sailed for an hour or so and did not have to paddle.  We did do a night paddle.  In bed by 3-4pm, get up at 3am, paddle until 6 am to watch sun rise over open lake, paddle rest of day.  We paddled about 12 hours that day.  No complaints from the lads.  We did visit a few sights along the way of old cabins etc.  Side treks off the original course added to total miles over the week. 
  • Weather
  • You will paddle in rain and sun.  Similarly you will hike in all weather at Philmont.  Gotta make the miles to get home on time.
  • Training
  • The lads will adjust quicker than the adults at either location.  Canoe weight is fixed.  Carrying it only seems heavier the farther you carry it.  It may take several lads to lift and place the canoe on the person carrying but all the small lads were able to carry the canoe.  Provision packs get lighter over the time as you eat the food. Personal Gear packs stay same weight.  Both Philmont and NT are endurance challenges, not speed events.  The adults need to improve cardio prior to going.  After a day of paddling for 8 hours, either the lads will figure it out or just flounder.  The lads could not paddle a straight line even after a week of 8 hr days of paddling.  They didnt care.   All 4 had swimming merit badge but only 3 had completed the canoeing merit badge prior to going.  The 4th completed all the tasks one afternoon and earned the MB during the trek.  They did one afternoon paddling on a flat lake at home prior to going.  No real issues with lack of training. 
Edited by resqman
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Philmont Difficulty

  • Distance (affects body, mind and spirit if too difficult)
  • Trek is chosen months before arriving at Philmont.  Philmont has flater treks, mountainous treks, long treks, short treks.  But once chosen, no deviation.  Some crews will revel in the more difficult chalenge.  Others want to spend time fishing.  
  • Elevation (terrain) profile of trek (elevation gained and lost daily)
  • Elevation change is the more difficult part of backpacking.  Less change the easier the trek.  Again chosen and locked before you go. 
  • Distance between restocking and watering points (means more weight to carry longer)
  • Typically only 3 days food is carried.  So pack weight is constantly changing.  There are "dry camps" so extra water has to be carried once or twice turing a trek. 
  • Altitude (higher up, tougher it can get)
  • Altitude cannot really be trained for before hand.  The higher the terrain, the more difficult.   Philmont has several famous peaks that everyone who has ever been asks if you completed.  It is nice to be able to say Yes, I climbed some or all of Baldy, Mt Phillips or the Tooth of Time.
  • Program events (So required physical exertion which takes energy away from the trail)
  • Progam events are offered almost daily.  Assuming the crew gets on the trail by 8am and hikes at 2 mph, the programs can usually be attended in the afternoon and are a welcome change from backpacking.  Late sleepers and dawdling along the trail can make the crew arrive too late in the day to participate.  Crews decide how they want to work their days. 
  • Weather
  • Weather happens all day every day.  Unless active lighting, keep moving.  Hiking in the rain is better than huddled in a tent.
  • Training
  • It takes a couple of shakedown hikes to learn to leave extra stuff at home and pare down pack weight.  It takes a few hikes to learn how to cook as a crew using mostly boil in bag meals.   The more shakedown hikes that have significant elevation change, the better the crew will do at Philmont.  Smaller lads will have a more difficult time because packs should ideally be no more than 30% of body weight.   Larger lads can carry a larger pack weight with less strain. 
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