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First time Philmont advisor - Observations and Lessons Learned


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We are recently(ish) back from our Philmont expedition this year, and I thought I'd write up a few things I learned/realized/observed/thought along the way.

 

For context our Troop is based in Southern California, near sea level but with good access to mountains, altitude and steep climbs. But not a lot of rain. We have a Troop that is a little heavier on the 14-16yo right now, maybe 20-30 active members. We typically go to Philmont every other year, and took 2 crews this year for the first time in recent memory. Off years we normally do a trek in the Sierra Nevada. During the year we do a few weekend backpack trips, plus obviously extras for shakedowns.

 

I personally had never been to Philmont before but have always been a keen outdoorsy person.

We had 2 crews on 7-31. One crew did itinerary 12-9 and my crew did 12-17

Obviously, hike your own hike. But maybe some of this would be useful....


1. Team Chair the whole way. Having something off the floor to sit was was a godsend and worth the minimal extra weight. All the Scouts had chairs too and loved them. You are out for 2 weeks, might as well be happier.

 

2. Team Trailrunners. They dried so much faster than boots. I was on the fence on taking them as my ankles roll easily, and I was considering that I needed the extra support of a bigger boot. However in the end I took them. I found that I felt I could react faster to unstable ground or a poor foot position with them than with boots when my ankle started to roll. One day we had almost 50 stream crossings and everyones shoes/boot got drenched. Mine were dry in half an hour. I never got blisters.


3. Team Rain Kilt over pants. So much easier to put on/off


4. Tooth of Time at sunrise was the absolute highlight. If you can select an itinerary that ends on the tooth of time, do so. If you finish there, absolutely get up early to make it for sunrise. We were up at 2am, out of camp at 2:45 and to the peak by 4:45. Enjoyed the sunrise and were in basecamp by 9:30am. Enough time to relax, get showers, go to the Villa Philamonte and the Scouting museum, deal with all the paperwork, buy souvenirs.

 

5. Don't skip the Villa Philamonte (unless you have been before),. Book before you go on trek though.


6. Fake it until you make it. Always make sure you are having a good time, and that everyone knows it, even if inside you think you aren’t. Philmont can have a lot of type 2 fun, but as an advisor make sure you project that it is type 1 fun always


7. Embrace the daft/fun and encourage the Scouts to do the same. Some of the best times are when the joke that really isn’t funny is hilarious after hundreds of repetitions. If someone asks how far it is, reply “It’s in walking distance!”. Shout "You are going the wrong way" on switchbacks. Shout apologies to the forest fairies if you make two piece trash. Don't let the Scouts get away with being half hearted on this stuff, the fact that you are shouting an apology to the forest fairies, so that other crews all hear you, is part of the fun.

 

8. If you hear other crews apologizing to the forest fairies, shout a response back so they know you heard them


9. Good training and prep was critical. We saw some crews who were not having a good time. If someone really isn’t up for it, you should know that a long time before you go. However always give the youth a chance to show you that they are up for it. I have seen advice to not take 14yo's as they don't have the emotional maturity. BS! However be very cognizant of the abilities of your crew when deciding itineraries. TBH, you are likely to have more issues with the advisors than the Scouts when on trail.

 

10. Don't overthink it though, at some point backpacking really is just putting one foot in front of another, rinse and repeat. When you "train" you are mostly training the mental stuff.


11. As an advisor you have 2 jobs ONLY. 1) make sure the kids don’t do anything (too) dangerous. 2) wear a smile. ALWAYS. (Keep up morale). After that, let go, let them do it and don’t interfere. Although it is perfectly ok to ask a leading question. "So, what time are you planning on getting going?".


12. But don’t forget job 2. There were a few advisors we met out there who had left their sense of humor in a staff camp somewhere.


13. Take surprises for the kids on trail. (Keep up morale). We took 1) letters from home, 2) a coconut, 3) 2 evening worth of Jiffy Pops, 4) 3 days worth of summit candy. Our other crew advisors took a pinâta. We also made the crew lead take a bag of Jolly Ranchers to give to another crew he though we’re in need or deserving. When he did so we had another bag for them. We also had letters waiting for the kids in basecamp. Bring out the surprises at the end of a harder day or when morale is sagging a little. 


14. Ask in staff camps if there is anything they need help with. Its good to help out anyway, but there can be a reward in it too. The kids carried buckets of water and got a bag of chocolate chips in return.


15. Keep a journal


16. Give the kids trail names at the end. We presented the kids with the felt buffalos along with their trail names

 

17. If possible do a 12 day trek. The 7 day ones just seem too short, your ranger has barely left and you are just getting into the swing of things and you finish.

 

18. Always take the opportunities to do program. If the program is on a camp you walk through, you can always cook dinner for lunch while you wait.

 

19. Have the crew leader and the next days navigator present you with the next days plan once you are in camp

 

20. Make sure the crew leader (and not you) prepares a duty roster. But if the crew develop preferences for chores, they should be encouraged to ignore it as long as each crew member is participating in some way.


21. There is always time to make coffee


22. Don’t forget job 2. Seriously, keep smiling no matter what.

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Well said! I have a hard time convincing some people about trail runners. Some people just refuse to believe things they were taught are wrong. Most thru hikers on the AT, PCT, etc. wear trail runners. Boots do NOT provide any additional protection from rolling your ankle, they weigh more and are more blister prone. https://www.cleverhiker.com/blog/ditch-boots

No kidding on morale. It's tough. We had a very young crew last time. One had a bit of a breakdown and wanted to quit. Two days later he wanted to come back as a ranger.  :)

You can make suggestions to your crew leader. Getting early starts is one of the best.

Smartwater bottles are better than Nalgenes. Lighter, cheaper and you can fit 2 in a side pocket. We never needed a wide mouthed bottle to get water.

I have a rain kilt and rain pants. Rain kilt is best in hot weather. If the weather for your trek can be cold and/or lots of rain, rain pants are better.

Cooked breakfast is a horrible waste of time. Trade out for no cook.

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Absolutely. We always got 2-3 miles under our feet before breakfast. Pocket snacks were a must for the boys. 
 

We only had one hot breakfast, that was more of a brunch. On our penultimate day, we’d come down from Black Mountain camp to North Fork Uraca camp. About 3 miles and almost 50 river crossings. We only had a few miles left to hike and we were leaving a water source so stopped for enough time to filter water and cook.

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This is a question from my just returned home Philmont staffer daughter - UKScouterInCA - Did your crew go thru Rayado? That's where she worked and thinks she spent some time with your crew hanging out with the goats and chickens while you waited your turn for the forge. Thanks Bsaggcmom.

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11 minutes ago, bsaggcmom said:

This is a question from my just returned home Philmont staffer daughter - UKScouterInCA - Did your crew go thru Rayado? That's where she worked and thinks she spent some time with your crew hanging out with the goats and chickens while you waited your turn for the forge. Thanks Bsaggcmom.

We did not unfortunately, and I don't think our other crew did. The furthest south we got was North Fork Urraca. She must have spent time with another equally awesome and cheerful crew 🙂

I hope your daughter had an amazing summer. It must be so much fun to staff there. Oh how I wish I were 18 again!

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UKScouterInCA

Thanks for the reply.  Daughter said she enjoyed her time with a UK Scouter and his crew. She said to tell you that you weren't the only UK guy there. And she's glad you had a great time and thinks your list should be on everyone's packing list. 

Happy trails, Bsaggcmom.

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