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Philmont Leadership Challenge

Posted by on Sunday, 3 March 2013

“Why are you here and what do you expect to get out of this course?”

That’s a pretty different way to kick off a BSA training course. Truth is, I signed up for the Philmont Leadership Challenge after learning these five things:

  1. It was at Philmont
  2. It builds upon the training you receive during Wood Badge
  3. It was at Philmont in the fall
  4. It was entirely outdoors with no classroom work
  5. It was in the Philmont backcountry in the fall

sunrise on the tooth

Actually, I had not really thought much beyond the desire to spend a week in the Philmont backcountry working on outdoor skills. Who really needs more of a reason than that? But I should have known that something called a “Leadership Challenge” would have much more in store for me. When asked the question at the beginning of the course, and after listening to some of my crewmates’ responses, I told Sue (one of our Crew Guides):

“Well, one of the criticisms of Wood Badge for the 21st Century is the lack of training in outdoor skills for Scout Leaders. When I heard this course would be entirely outside I thought I would try it and see if this course fills that gap.”

Little did I know that answer would come back to haunt me over the next week. Hanging bear bags, cooking dinner in the rain, working a map and compass, finding a stump to sit on and write in my journal, walking back from the showers early in the morning, or watching the early morning sun’s rays hitting the Tooth of Time. Sue was there, smile on her face, asking me if it was “outdoors enough” for me.

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The Philmont Leadership Challenge (PLC) parallels the National Advanced Youth Leadership Experience (NAYLE) much in the same way Wood Badge parallels National Youth Leader Training (NYLT), providing a common framework for leadership between Scouting’s youth leaders and the adult mentors.

Much like Wood Badge is organized into patrols with Troop Guides assigned to provide guidance, PLC is organized into crews with two Crew Guides to help participants through the week. Crews are named for the different camps (and the history around Philmont) and I way honored to be a part of the Rayado Crew, grouped with six of the finest Scouters I have ever met (waves to Bill, Dan, Jane, Chris, Dave, and Susan). Our Crew Guides were Sue and Robert, we couldn’t have hoped for better mentors.


The course was held at Rocky Mountain Scout Camp, near the Stockade and the base of the Tooth of Time. RMSC is also where they host NAYLE, though it sounds like our course was the last one at that site, with future PLC and NAYLE camps at a new site they are building near Rayado.

Outdoor Skills
As I mentioned earlier, one of the things that drew me to the course it that it is outdoors for the whole week. As a crew we camped together, cooked together, learned together and served together. Much like patrols of scouts we grew as a team together. We cooked our meals on MSR stoves, met with our Crew Guides around the picnic table, and gathered with the rest of the course for all sorts of activities. The last part of the week included a short backpack trip to Lover’s Leap Meadow camp at 7,280 feet, with the requisite packing, tent and fly set up, and all of that.


Beyond Wood Badge
One unexpected thing about PLC was the common experience from our past. Wood Badge isn’t just a prerequisite for the course, it provides a common framework we were able to use while discussing experiences and challenges throughout the week. Sometimes they were deliberate, guided reflections with our Crew Guides, other times I noticed Wood Badge terms being used in one-on-one conversations with other participants. We actually had a crew gathering in the evening called “Beyond Wood Badge” where we talked about the practical application of the principles, and discussed scenarios where they applied.

  • Stages of Team Development
  • Ethical Decision Making
  • The value of feedback

The week was far from just a series of group meetings and discussions around the picnic table. When you gather a group of Scouters from around the country that are willing to travel all the way to Philmont, have already participated in many of the training course the BSA offers, and have taken on leadership roles in everything from local units up to the Area and Regional structures, practical exercises become the norm instead of static lectures. Throughout the week we worked together as Crews or larger groups as we learned new skills. Each time as we faced a new challenge we dealt with differing levels of experience, different comfort levels, and a common goal as a group. Hmmm. That sort of sounds like what a patrol experiences, who would have thought?

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Some were overt teamwork exercises like the Challenge Course at Philmont’s COPE course. Others were teaching and/or learning new skills like Wilderness First Aid, Geocaching, Maps and UTM Coordinates, or radio use and protocol. The skills modules culminated at the end of the week with a Search and Rescue exercise coordinated between all the Crews on the course.

Servant Leadership
Though the week had a lot of work on team development and Wood Badge topics, there was the underlying theme of servant leadership throughout the course. There is no better place to understand the power of servant leadership than in the middle of the gift that Waite and Genevieve Phillips provided to the BSA and has subsequently touched the lives of a million Scouts and thousands of Scouters. Participants end the week with a commitment to the things learned during the course, not unlike working a ticket. However, this commitment is personal and the only one to hold you accountable is yourself.


“I do hereby promise on my honor as a Scout that I will be a servant leader, primus inter pares, first among equals, Helping individuals grow and succeed for the good of all. As the sundial measures the passage of time, so will my service be measured over time by my impact on others.” –Leader’s Oath

This year’s course is filling up, so register soon if you want to get in on the Fall 2013 course. But don’t just take my word for it, here is a quote from Paula Sind-Prunier on the 2012 Course’s Facebook Page:

“Luckily, my daughter (a Venturer) inspired me to take the Philmont Leadership Challenge… it’s what’s I call ‘what’s beyond Wood Badge.’ It’s the only advanced leadership training for adults that BSA offers for Wood Badge-trained adults. I encourage you to look into it. Bring your Wood Badge-trained friends. Like Lord Baden Powell emphasized–it’s ‘fun with a purpose.’ I had a great time at PLC– but just like Wood Badge… it strengthened my commitment to Scouting. Do it. The next generation of kids–who will become our leaders–depend on it.”