There are five life zones found at Philmont: high desert plains, foothills, montane, sub-alpine, and alpine. Here is a general guide to adapting to Philmont’s weather patterns and our environment:
High Desert Plains
- From Philmont’s lowest elevations (6,500 ft.) to approximately 7,500 ft.
- This area is easily recognizable by the abundance of native grasses, scrub oak, sage brush, yucca plants, cottonwood trees, and the occasional ponderosa pine
- During the summer, daytime highs can get into the upper 90’s/low 100’s and overnight lows can drop to the mid 50’s
- Water and shade can be scarce in this region. It is highly recommended that crews wake up early and hike to their destination before the heat of the day sets in.
- From 7,500 ft. to 8,500 ft.
- Characterized by large ponderosa pine forests with scrub oak underbrush
- Daytimes high’s in the mid 90’s and overnight lows into the high 40’s are possible in the summer months
- Water becomes easier to find than in the high desert plains but you should still fill up all of your water capacity whenever you have the chance
Montane (spruce-fir zone)
- From approximately 8,500 ft. to 10,000 ft.
- Recognized by the abundance of wildflowers, streams, Douglas fir, blue spruce, and aspen trees.
- During the summer, daytime highs will approach the upper 80’s and overnight lows will drop to the mid 40’s
- Since most of this region is located on the east side of the Cimarron Range of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and since storms almost always move in from the west, it can be difficult to see weather patterns coming in over the mountains until the system is right above you.
- Longer periods of rain (up to a week) can engulf this region especially during the monsoon season from late-June/early-July to early-August. Good rain gear and an adequate fleece jacket will help with staying dry and warm during these rare weather patterns.
- From 10,000 ft. to approximately 11,500 ft.
- Recognized by a decrease in tall vegetation
- The only substantial plants other than grasses that grow in this zone are bristlecone pine and limber pine
- Daytime highs in the low 80’s to overnight lows in the upper 30’s can be common in the sub-alpine zone
- Storm systems form quickly and water can be scarce because of the elevation. If camping at a trail camp in this zone, most crews cook their dinner meal for lunch at a lower elevation and eat their dry lunch for dinner to save on water.
- From 11,500 ft. up
- This region is recognized by a significant decrease in the amount of vegetation. Grasses are typically the only plants that grow in this zone although the occasional bristlecone pine can be spotted above tree line.
- Daytime highs in the mid 60’s to overnight lows in the low 30’s are typical for this region in the summer
- Weather systems can form extremely quickly and often times without warning in this zone. It is highly recommended that crews wake up early and hike through alpine areas by noon to avoid getting caught in a lightning storm without the protection of trees.
Philmont experiences different weather patterns depending on the time of year. In June, we normally receive very little precipitation and day time highs can reach as high as 100oF with single digit humidity. The monsoon season hits northeast New Mexico between late-June and early-July and will stay until early-August most years. The monsoon season is characterized by large thunderstorms that build throughout the morning and bring rain, hail, and lightning in the afternoon. Usually the rain, hail, and lightning only lasts for about 45 minutes then the skies clear up and the temperatures rise again. Regardless of the time of year of your trek, it is recommended that crews always bring adequate rain jackets and pants, a good fleece jacket, and a stocking cap. Staying well hydrated is another key to having a successful trek even in colder, rainy weather.
As mentioned earlier, the lightning danger is very high at Philmont. A crew should count the amount of time that passes between when lightning is seen and thunder is heard. If the time is five seconds or less, then the crew needs to go into the lightning position. The lightning position requires that you keep your feet together, crouch down, put your elbows on your knees, and your hands behind your neck. You need to hold this position for 30 minutes after the last five second or less lightning/thunder was heard. Remember to stay in wooded areas and never stand near the tallest object in the area.
In 2012, Philmont began recording daily rainfall as well as 8:00am and 5:00pm temperatures at each staffed backcountry camp. Once you know your itinerary, refer to this weather data collected over several summers at each Philmont backcountry camp