Is Philmont in Your (Near) Future?


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One of Scouting’s persistent urban legends is that Philmont Scout Ranch always fills up–and so there’s no need to even enter the annual lottery for crew slots. The reality is that winning the Philmont lottery is much, much easier than winning the Powerball. And this year, you actually have a second chance to win.

As of this week, Philmont still has space for about 70 crews for this summer; you can see the complete list on the Philmont website. While five or six months is pretty tight timing for putting together (and paying for) a high-adventure trek, Philmont makes the process as easy as possible. The website is chockfull of helpful information, and the ranch provides most of the crew gear and food you will need.

I should also mention that my favorite part of the ranch, the Philmont Training Center, still has plenty of summer vacancies as well. I don’t think there’s better place on the planet to take adult leader training, as I’ve discussed in a previous blog post. And best of all, you don’t have to undertake a physical conditioning program to get ready for a PTC conference, where the steepest climb is up the steps to the dining hall!

PASS, PAW, and Philmont


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When I was a Scout, our troop never attended Philmont Scout Ranch (or the BSA’s other high-adventure bases, for that matter). Looking back, I think the reason was that we didn’t have a history of Philmont attendance, which meant we didn’t have any adult leaders who felt confident in putting a crew together. (My dad, who was a troop leader, had been to Philmont in the 1950s, but that was about it.)

Troops today face a similar problem, even though Philmont does a great job of helping with pre-trip planning and even though there are lots of useful resources on the internet, including the popular Philmont Advisor’s Guide.

For next season, Philmont is making planning even easier with a series of programs designed to get you up to speed quickly. Here’s a rundown of what they are and what they offer.

Philmont Advisor Skills School (PSR-PASS): A four-day/three-night base camp and backcountry experience at Philmont for adults ages 18 and up. Topics include everything from land navigation and backcountry sanitation to conducting shakedown hikes and planning travel to and from Philmont. Three sessions will be held this fall. Cost is $76.

Philmont Advisor Skills School (FIELD-PASS): A 10-hour session held at a location near you for adults ages 18 and up. In a city or state park, you will learn backcountry procedures while enjoying a trail lunch and dinner. Seventeen sessions will be held between October and April. Cost is $25.

Philmont Advisor Workshop (PAW): A two-hour evening session held at a location near you for adults ages 18 and up. Topics will include physical conditioning, shakedown hikes, crew leadership positions, and more. Twenty sessions will be held between October and April. There is no cost to attend.

FIELD-PASS AND PAW sessions are open for Scouters who are registered for 2016 or 2017 treks or who are just generally interested in learning about Philmont. (It looks like you’ll learn plenty that you could apply to any backcountry trek.) Due to space limitations, PSR-PASS sessions are limited to first-time adult advisors who are registered for 2016 treks.

Philmont is a true mountaintop experience for any Scout or Scouter. If you’ve ever thought about taking your troop to the ranch, these new sessions should make the experience even better.

For more information and to register, visit

Responding to Tragedy at Philmont



As you may have heard, Philmont’s north country was hit by massive flash flooding on Saturday, June 27. Several Scouts were swept away by floodwaters, and one of them died. This is a tragic situation for that Scout’s family and troop, of course, but also for many others at the ranch. A number of crews and staffed camps lost gear, for example, and there is evidently a lot of damage to the area.

The Philmont Staff Association has set up a fund through which you can make monetary donations to help with recovery efforts at the ranch. When you visit Philmont Flood Relief, you can make donations in multiples of $5 using Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and PayPal. That page also has information on sending care packages and other items. (As an aside, money is usually the best thing to send in the case of a faraway disaster, both because it gets there quicker and because it can be used as needed as the situation evolves.)

The Philmont Staff Association’s public Facebook page (Philmont Staff Association on Facebook) is a good place to go for up-to-date information on the disaster.

Deaths and serious injuries do occur on rare occasion in Scouting, despite all our best efforts to provide a safe program. If you haven’t done so recently, this is a good time to review the Guide to Safe Scouting. The appendix includes detailed information on how to report deaths and serious injuries–which I hope you will never have to do!

Philmont for Procrastinators



Received wisdom says that getting a crew slot at Philmont Scout Ranch is harder than getting a parking space at the mall on Black Friday. But that’s not the case for 2015. As of late last week, there were spaces in the schedule for more than 100 crews on 2015 backpacking treks.

Why? Perhaps it’s the oversold National Order of the Arrow Conference. Perhaps it’s competition from the Summit Bechtel Reserve or other high-adventure bases. Or perhaps Scouters have simply been scared off by the seemingly impossible odds. Whatever the reason, it’s not too late to get your troop to Philmont next summer.

For an up-to-date list of available arrival dates, visit (You’ll also find contact information on that page.)

Don’t delay, however. Like Black Friday sales, this opportunity won’t last forever.

Important Tweaks to the Philmont Registration Process


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Back in the 1990s, making reservations for treks at Philmont Scout Ranch meant parking yourself in front of a phone (remember the kind that were connected to the wall?) and hitting redial over and over and over again. To increase your odds, you would recruit other leaders in your troop to do the same thing. With the increasing ubiquity of the internet, those days are gone for good. Today, all Philmont reservations are handled online.

Each fall, Philmont opens a registration window during which troops, teams, and crews can enter the lottery for the summer two years out. In other words, if you sign up this fall, you’ll be looking at 2016 dates. While this process has been in place for several years, there are a few important tweaks this time around:

  • There are no region-specific signup dates this fall. Instead, any unit from any region can register between October 29 and November 19. (All entries will be treated equally, regardless of when you sign up during those three weeks.)
  • There is no restriction on attending Philmont in back-to-back years.
  • You can now sign up for 7-day treks throughout the season, although not for every arrival day. (Most Philmont treks are 12 days in length; 7-day treks have historically been offered only at the end of the season.)

For lots more information, visit the Philmont website.

By the way, if your troop has never done any high adventure, Philmont is a great place to begin. Besides being a true Scouting paradise, it offers great support, including extensive information on getting ready, good-quality crew gear, and a ranger who accompanies your crew for its first days on the trail. And the backcountry programs are top-notch. All in all, I can’t think of a better way to spend a couple of weeks in the summer of 2016–or any other summer, for that matter.

Secrets of Philmont, Part 2


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In my last post, I talked about the importance of tradition to the Philmont experience–and how you can add tradition in your troop. Philmont does something else that I think is equally important. It takes backpacking to another level by mixing in program activities at backcountry camps. Depending on your itinerary, you might shoot black-powder rifles, meet some mountain men, enjoy a chuck-wagon dinner, pan for gold, and/or experience geocaching. In fact, program activities are available every couple of days, depending on how motivated a crew is.

Your troop obviously can’t set up an extensive network of backcountry camps for your next backpacking trip, but there are other ways that you can add a little extra measure of fun to outings. Here are some ideas to enliven a simple hike:

  • Hike to a destination: a gorgeous waterfall, a historic site, or a mountain stream where you can soak your tired feet.
  • Turn the hike into a geocaching treasure hunt. Plant caches along the way with clues that guide Scouts to subsequent caches.
  • On a hike in the heat of summer, figure out a way that some parents can meet you at the midpoint with homemade ice cream.
  • Have two patrols start hiking from opposite ends of a trail and meet in the middle. The last to arrives fixes lunch.
  • Play the alphabet game. Challenge the Scouts to identify natural features starting with the letters of the alphabet in order (ant, bark, cirrus clouds, etc.)

You can do similar things with other types of activities. When you do a familiar activity in an unfamiliar place or when you add just a little twist to a routine activity, you make the activity more memorable–and heighten interest in what comes next.

Secrets of Philmont, Part 1


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This week, I’ll be traveling to Philmont Scout Ranch to participate in a series of meetings. As I’ve been making travel plans, I’ve been thinking about why people go to the ranch–and how those reasons can improve your troop.

If you’ve ever been to Philmont, you know that getting there is not the easiest thing to do. Tucked into a remote corner of New Mexico, Philmont is 2 1/2 hours from the nearest airport–and 4 hours from the Denver airport, which most people fly into. The ranch is 20 miles from the nearest interstate and farther than that from the nearest big town. A consultant would never suggest building a Scout camp there. Yet every year, troops and crews from across the country flock to Philmont, often driving past or flying over other Scout camps that offer similar activities. In fact, as many groups are on the waiting list each year as actually get in.

Why? One reason is the sense of tradition. Philmont is 76 years old and has countless traditions, including the Philmont Hymn, the arrowhead patch you can only receive for completing a trek, its own lingo (for example, chipmunks and ground squirrels are called mini-bears), and songs and legends shared across generations of backcountry. Philmont has even spawned its own bands, like The Tobasco Donkeys.

But here’s where you and your troop come in. Traditions don’t have to be old to be appealing. Since Scouts can only stay in your troop for seven years, when you do something for just a few years in a row, it becomes a tradition, and your troop becomes that cool troop that does X, Y, or Z every year.

What sorts of traditions could enhance your troop’s mystique? Here’s a simple example:

Every spring, our troop holds what it calls the Golden Spoon campout. The patrols compete to prepare the best-tasting and best-looking dinner for a panel of adult judges, and the winning patrol gets to keep the Golden Spoon–a kitchen ladle spraypainted gold–for the year. It’s a simple tradition, but it gets the Scouts serious about cooking (our original intent) and has become a can’t-miss event. It’s also a great recruiting event for the Webelos dens that sometimes participate.

Other troops have other traditions: a polar-bear patch for Scouts that camp in below-zero temperatures, for example, or special privileges accorded to Scouts who’ve served as senior patrol leader.

What traditions does your troop have? How do they make a difference? Post your ideas in the comments section below.

Later this week: another secret of Philmont that you can use in your troop.

Why I Love PTC



I blogged recently about the Philmont Training Center and why Scouters owe it to themselves and the Scouts they serve to attend a conference there. Now that I’m gearing up for this August’s Building Strong Troops conference, which I’m co-facilitating, I’ve been thinking about why I love PTC so much.

Here are a few reasons:

  • Abundant wildlife. Philmont is truly where the deer and the antelope play–not to mention the elk, bears, and mini-bears (known elsewhere as chipmunks). A week or two ago, a herd of elk crossed the highway right in front of PTC. This summer, deer that seem almost as tame as pets will be regular visitors in base camp.
  • Gorgeous views. Everywhere you turn is beautiful, from the Tooth of Time just across the road to the plains behind base camp. Thunderstorms are particularly majestic over those plains, and, unlike the crews in the backcountry, you don’t have to worry too much about getting caught in one!
  • Hiking opportunities. Although PTC participants can’t go into the backcountry (other than some family program participants), several trails are available, including the Urraca Trail, which offers stunning views of the Tooth of Time. A couple of years ago, my wife and I took a sunrise hike to Lover’s Leap, where I captured the image above.
  • A taste of the trek program. With binoculars in hand, you can stand by your tent and watch hikers working their way down Tooth Ridge to base camp. In the evening, you can walk across the road for the closing campfire where trek participants receive their coveted arrowhead patches. Be forewarned, however, you’ll want to come back as a crew advisor.
  • The Villa Philmonte. PTC is built on the grounds of Waite Phillips’s stunning summer home, the Villa Philmonte, a 28,400-square-foot Spanish Mediterranean mansion that has been lovingly restored. Tours are offered throughout the day, but I also enjoy just strolling through the gardens and across the Villa lawn.
  • Family programs. PTC offers family programs that complement the conference offerings. Schedules are coordinated so families can enjoy meals and evenings together. Also, everyone gets Wednesday afternoon off to do laundry, explore the ranch, or head to nearby places like Taos or Cimarron.
  • Cimarron. Philmont is just a few miles down the road from historic Cimarron, where you can visit art galleries, get some great ice cream, and eat at the St. James Hotel, where people ranging from Buffalo Bill Cody to Zane Grey have stayed.
  • The conferences. Oh yes, and then there are the conferences! PTC attracts top facilitators across the BSA, many of them members of national committees or volunteers who helped create the programs they’re teaching on. (For example, I’m the author of volume 1 of the forthcoming Troop Leader Guidebook.) National staff members are also on hand to field questions or offer sneak peeks of coming attractions in the BSA.

So those are a few reasons I love PTC. If you’ve been there, what did you love? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Is This Your Year for Philmont?



Muslims go to Mecca. Mickey Mouse fans visit Disneyland or Disney World (or at least the Disney Store). The swallows return to Capistrano. And Scouters go to Philmont.

Okay, maybe I’m overstating the case, but I really think every Scouter ought to get a chance to spend some time at Philmont—either in the backcountry on a backpacking trek or in the classroom at a training conference. In fact, that’s just where I’ll be in August, facilitating one of this year’s “Building Stronger Troops” conferences.

Conferences like that are a great opportunity to recharge your batteries and learn best practices that you can take home to improve your troop. They cover everything from advancement and troop committee operations to geocaching and trek planning, all in the shadows of the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Many give you sneak peeks of coming attractions (like the new Cub Scout advancement program) and access to national-level volunteers and professionals.

The Philmont Training Center is also a great place for a family vacation. There are full-day programs for every age from infant through adult, and schedules are carefully coordinated so that families get to enjoy meals and evening programs together.

Given the still-recovering economy, of course, vacations are out of the question for many families. But, depending on the size of your family and how close you live to New Mexico, a week at PTC can be a real bargain. Moreover, as a Scouting volunteer, you may be able to write off your portion of the trip.

To learn more about the Philmont Training Center, visit

Philmont Training Center


This video offers a great introduction to the Philmont Training Center (and not just because it includes footage from one of my conferences). PTC Is a great training opportunity and a great family vacation all rolled into one. I’ll be there this summer. Will you?