A Philmont Adventure, Day 9, Through Cypher’s Mine to Mount Phillips

If you have stumbled into this blog post from a search engine on Philmont, consider starting at my first post HERE.


We woke at 5 AM to prepare for the day and headed out of Sawmill by 6:30.  Today would be another 11+ miles.  The crew decided to exit by way of a fire road that somewhat paralleled the trail and looked shorter.  We would soon learn that shorter is not necessarily easier.  The fire road was a steep hump and went on a long way (trails on the other hand are designed to travel along contours with switchbacks….they may be longer but easier on the legs and body…..we would learn this twice today).

Philmont Scout Ranch Map courtesy Tooth of Time Traders, Philmont NM.

Yellow – Route to Mt. Phillips, Orange – Fire road downhill to Cyphers Mine, Blue – Trail to Thunder Ridge

Upon reviewing the route the crew decided to drop packs at about the half way point, Thunder Ridge, and do a side hike down to a place called Cyphers Mine.  Mt Phillips was a dry camp and we would need to water up somewhere prior to the final push.  Cyphers Mine seemed to be the best option and it had a program the boys were interested in.  Of course, Cyphers Mine would be about a mile and a quarter steep descent down a canyon followed by a return trip; a steep climb with a full water load.  This would definitely add to the challenge of our day.  The boys decided it best to cook dinner at Cyphers and eat our lunch on top of Phillips for dinner so as to minimize the need for water.

After dropping packs and raising bear bags we set off down yet another fire road towards Cyphers Mine.  Even though we were headed down, the road was gawd awful steep, hot, and unscenic.  We passed a crew traveling up that was suffering greatly and suggested we consider using the trail (longer route) on the way up.  We continued on and entered Cyphers.

 Cyphers Mine was a welcome relief and very picturesque.  Water was plentiful.  We were their early and most crews had not yet started showing up.

The site was like a snapshot in time from around 1917 with an authentic mine shaft from the late 19th century that still existed today.  The Program consisted of a short lecture followed by a tour of the mine.  Had we been staying the night, the crew would have been treated to “Stomp”; a musical performance and dance put on by the staff.  It was unfortunate that we had to miss it as we had heard is was a very good time.  Philmont offers so much its hard to decide what to see and where you want to go.  You have to enjoy the moment where ever you are and be content with your decisions.


 The staff were very protective of their Red Roof Inn.

I watched this young staffer, Ellyn, pick through a cord of wood inspecting each piece.  When I asked her why she was paying so much attention to the wood she said she was making instrument hangers for the cabin.  Like all other staff members I had met along the way…..she loved her job!

…..and here she is putting up those hangers in the authentic era staff cabin.

The boys really enjoyed the geology lecture and were very excited to enter the mine with our guide Martin (pronounced Marteeeeen).  Now I have been caving with the scouts on a few occasions but this time I decided to sit this one out.  The mine was tight, dark, and smelled of mold; perfect for young teen boys.  (…about 10 minutes after they entered, I got my nerve up, grabbed a helmet and flashlight, and stepped in.  I got about 10 feet when I was greeted by a huge gray rat with big glassy eyes staring right at me!  That was all she wrote and I was out of there…….later, I would mention this to Marteeeeen and he said “oh that’s just Georgie, he won’t bother you.  There are about 100 rats in this mine”….ugh).  The boys would later tell me the mine tour was a blast and favorite of Philmont.  The mine ran more than 400 ft back into the mountain.  When exiting, the boys were challenged to shut their lights off, put a hand on the man in front of them and follow the walls out of the mine in total darkness.  They loved it.

 While the crew toured the mine I toured the grounds to see what I could find and stumbled on this very cool blacksmith shop.

A turn of the century (last century) log cabin.  Had we stayed the night, this is where we would have song and dance……”Stomp.”


After program and lunch it was time to fill up and move out.  This time the crew decided to take the trail back up to Thunder Ridge following the groomed path along the contour lines!  Longer, but much easier.  We did, however, have about 48 liters in three packs for a crew of 12.  This would get us up Phillips, through the night, and back down to our next destination tomorrow.  The boys took 10 minute rotations with pack duty and before you know it we were back at Thunder Ridge.


At Thunder Ridge we gathered our packs and hit the trail to Phillips.  We still had 7 miles and hours to go.  Above, Hugh is catching his breath at Comanche Peak.  Of course, this image was posed.  He and all the boys were like Big Horn Sheep up the side of Phillips.

Grant stops for a photo op in between peaks.  The only way to slow this scout down is to keep loading him up.


I think we were about 9 or 10 miles in at this time, most of which was all up hill.  The path was at times well groomed and a smooth incline.  At other times a bedrock of boulders on a steep grade.  It seemed to go on forever.  Everyone was doing fine as we headed into Comanche Peak; a peak below Phillips that appeared on the map as not too far from our destination.  But like many times prior, its always farther than it looks.  The boys never wavered in their quest for the top.  I was starting to really feel the pain.  I had suffered a little before on this trip but nothing like today.  I was carrying too much water, plain and simple.  I hadn’t needed 4 liters the whole trip.  We were blessed with overcast skies for most of the day which meant I did not need as much water to drink on the way up.  So my load stayed heavy.  I thought about dumping some.  But when you….or the boys, had worked so hard to fill and carry water, the last thing you want to do is dump it on the trail.  So I marched on.  About 200 yds from the summit, I was fading fast.  So much in fact that I was drifting way off the back of the crew train.  Every step hurt and for the first time my back was starting to cramp.  It was getting abysmal.  I wanted to be done and yet had no idea where the top was.  Phillips, unlike Baldy, is covered in thick forest, so you can’t really see your final destination/summit.  All you can do is keep moving.  About this time, my 3 fellow advisers new something was amiss and stopped to wait; to collect me up and escort me to the top.  I’m sure I thanked those guys for that act of kindness but I wonder if they really know how much their encouragement helped me to the summit this day.  (Later, as we looked back and joked about the day, they would tell me, “I wasn’t looking so good.”  I think I had them a little worried.)

Crew 628-P7 summits Mount Phillips ~ Congrats to the Crew!

I could hear the boys off in the distance give out a victory yell and knew we had made it.  The sky was overcast and it began to drizzle just a bit.  I was overcome with emotion and had to collect myself before seizing the opportunity for a few victory shots.  I think this summit was far more rewarding than Baldy……at least for me it was.


Dedication to Waite Phillips, oil pioneer, businessman, rancher, and donator of the Philmont Scout Ranch.

It continued to rain for just a bit and we had to hurry to find a suitable camp site, then set camp.  There was a chill in the air like we had not yet experienced and I was layered up with my fleece and long johns.  I was exhausted.  I had a quick dinner (bag lunch) and headed for the tent.  I crawled in at 7:30 pm still trying to decompress from that last emotional 100 yds of trail.  I had to write……

Summit of Phillips with Baldy off in the distance; 7 days a part.

JOURNAL ENTRY, July 6th, 2011, 7:45 PM

.…. “Do what you can, and let God help you with the rest.”  The words of Father Dennis keep echoing through my head.  Surely someone was looking out for me today.  I am laying in my tent just below the peak of Mt. Phillips at 11,750 ft of elevation.  I am absolutely physically and emotionally drained.  This mountain almost got the best of me today.  This is by far the hardest and most demanding thing I have ever done and I am wondering how I might do this 2 more times with my younger sons.  The side trip to Cyphers Mine and back was difficult, but very rewarding as the boys greatly enjoyed touring the  mine and the spirit of the staff members who run the camp.  Good times!  Nearing the top of Phillips I faded hard.  When you are out on the trail for hours and miles there is a lot of time to let your mind wonder.  I think about my family, my son, this crew and before I know it I’m on this emotional roller coaster inside my head.   When I finally reached the summit I lost it for a few minutes.  I had to disengage myself from the group to collect myself.  Danny came to check on me and….well……the emotion of the day all came out.  He hugged me tight.  I tried to apologize and tell Danny how proud I was of him.  Danny reassured me that it was OK and that he was glad to have a father that loved him so much.  And as he offered that reassurance I remember thinking how our roles had reversed.  Gone was that little boy that I had spent so many years nurturing, caring for, and protecting and in his place was this strong young man on the cuff of adulthood holding his Dad in his arms.  Wow….

…..I am so happy to be in my tent, cozy and warm, listening to the rain bounce off the fly, and I know, given a good night sleep, all will be well again.

On a switchback below the peak of Mt. Phillips.

Next post; to Phillips Junction and on to Beaubien

To Continue the Adventure Click HERE

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  • Jeannine Payne - August 22, 2011 - 3:13 AM

    So glad you all went to Cyphers Mine. I guess you did not see Travis at that time. He might have been going to work at the forge that day. He really liked working at Cyphers this year. He learned to play the Mandolin from Ellyn, she is very talented! I wish you could have heard her at the stomp! It is amazing to watch our kids turn into adults! You have 2 more boys to go to Philmont in the future? Great!! Take care, looking forward to the rest of the trek! Jeannine

  • John R - August 22, 2011 - 12:16 PM

    As I mentioned before, this is an area of Philmont I am not familar with. Cyphers looks like fun, but the climb up Mt. Phillips looks like quite a test. I know it is the scouting way, but cooking meals on trek days to a dry camp sure slows the process down. On those days it would be nice to have two lunches. I really like this trek and getting to go to two of the biggest peaks on Philmont! As always great photos and commentary

  • Jim Brill - June 10, 2012 - 10:12 PM

    Thanks so much for this wonderful photo/ blog. Going on my first Philmont trip with my 16 yearold step son. Your last sentences just got me – had to wipe the tear drops from the keyboard… I think this will be me as well. And I have a 4 1/2 year old who I hope to do the trip with as well….11-12 years from now. Wow…

    I’ve taken so many notes from you blog – this is just great. With anticipation and thanks! Jim

  • Mike Veatch - March 22, 2016 - 11:13 PM

    Thank you so much for posting this. I just came across your blog. I was on Trail Crew in 1989 and my crew and I helped cut the ridge trail down to Cyphers Mine. I had always wondered if it was ever completed and if Scouts were enjoying it. I am so glad you were able to hike those trails. Philmont Trail Crew was the best thing I ever did in scouting. I so wish I could go back just one more time. I would love to hike my trail.
    Thanks again for posting. Brought back a ton of memories.

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