Saturday, August 7, 2010

Santanoni Range 2010-08-07

Santanoni Range: Couchsachraga, Panther, Santanoni


  • Excellent weather. 
  • Santanoni Express trail is in good shape.
  • Great views from Santanoni. 

High 60's, low 70's; warm, dry and comfortable. 

Very good. 

I left Montreal at 4:30 AM, stopped at the Price Chopper in Plattsburgh to get lunch (sandwich selection was poor at 5:30 AM; no surprise) and reached the trailhead for Bradley Pond at 7:20 AM. A van with five hikers, preparing for a hike, was parked at the junction and I was informed the parking lot was full. I parked behind them.

I geared up and hit the trail at 7:45 AM. By 8:15 I was crossing the aptly described "Tim Burton inspired" bridge and by 9:00 AM I was at the 'lounging rocks' on Santanoni Brook. Beyond that point, the trail gets wetter and there are one or two very muddy sections but nothing outrageous.

'Lounging rocks' on Santanoni Brook.
By 9:30 AM I was at the junction with the Panther Brook herd path. The junction is well marked by a few rocks resting on a boulder. The path crosses the east end of a grassy area that appears to be the remains of a beaver bog. At 10:40 AM I was taking pictures of a log covered with fist-sized stone placed by passing hikers. No clue why people have done this but it's whimsical and made me grin.

The herd path crosses Panther Brook twice and at the last crossing the path veers away from the brook. That's where I decided to fill a spare water bladder with about 2 liters of water. I dumped in two Aquatabs and planned to stash it at Times Square. I reached Herald Square followed by Times Square at approximately 11:00 AM.

Times Square, in all its rustic glory.
Between Herald and Times Square I met a woman who introduced herself as the official Time Square host and indicated she would lead me to the bar. In fact, this witty lady was part of a large, organized group being led across the Santanoni range. They were camping near Bradley Pond and she had just returned from Couchsachraga. The balance of the group was still returning. Over the course of the day, I met many hikers, some of whom I met several times as we crossed and re-crossed one another's routes. It was a very busy day in the Santanoni Range.

I stashed my reserve water supply, had a snack, changed my socks (such a luxury to slip on dry socks), donned my gaiters and prepared myself for the infamous hike down to the mud wallow and then up to Couchsachraga. I left at 11:15 AM.

The trail descends quickly and is very narrow. The bordering firs have lost their needles but not their branches. Some sections poke, scrape and whip you like some sort of hazing ritual. Other than that, most of the trail is in fine shape and the descent is long and uneventful. Along the way the trail passed a steep drop where the views of the Seward Range and Cold River valley were outstanding.

I don't recall the precise time I reached the mud wallow, maybe 11:45 AM, but it signalled the lowest point of the descent. I chose to follow a path slightly right of dead-center. I was able to find enough downed timber and semi-solid patches of earth to allow me cross the mess without mishap. My hiking poles helped me maintain my balance on the tricky stuff and probe the muck to find solid footing. There were a few spots where the poles happily slid into the mire to a depth of a foot and a half. But, overall, it wasn't as bad as I had expected. I suspect it's a very different place after a heavy rain.

The infamous Couchsachraga bog.
After several ups and downs, I reached the summit of Couchsachraga, and my 44th High Peak, at 12:20 PM. After the requisite self-portrait and another snack I was joined by two more hikers. The views from Couchsachraga are fine but a little disheartening because you get to see just how far down you've come from Times Square.

A summit sign with character.
I left the summit at 12:35 PM and returned to Times Square at 1:50 PM. All in all, the round-trip to Couchsachraga took me approximately 2.5 hours. Times Square contained at least a half dozen hikers and we readily struck up a conversation and recounted our best, and worst, times in the 'Dacks.

On my return from Couchsachraga's summit, I finished the contents of my primary water supply. Upon arriving at Times Square I retrieved my cache of water and discovered it tasted like Clorox. It was disgusting. I thought it would either ruin my liver or bleach my teeth or both. I swished around a mouthful, spat it out, then swallowed another mouthful. Execrable stuff. I vowed to buy a filter.

Panther's summit was 20 minutes away. I spent about an hour on Panther having lunch, chatting with an amiable hiker from Pennsylvania, and taking photos of the great views. A large open area, just short of the true summit, provides outstanding views and a good place to rest. I went all out this trip and brought two changes of socks (I expected a mishap at the mud bog). The third and final pair of dry socks went on and my feet approved.

Central High Peaks viewed from Panther.
I got back to Times Square at 3:30 PM and pushed on to Santanoni. I had second thoughts because the side of my right knee was painful and I was concerned that it would be a liability on the descent via Santanoni Express. However, the trip along the ridge helped to loosen it up and by the time I reached Santanoni's first false summit the sharp pain was gone.

I reached the summit of Santanoni at 4:15 PM and the views of the High Peaks were first class. Along the way I ran into the two hikers I had met at Couchsachraga and they were returning via Panther Brook. They reported seeing the junction with Santanoni Express and it was unmarked and west of the last false summit. When standing at the junction and facing north, a large root is at your left, a 5" diameter tree trunk is on your right, and Marcy is visible in the distance, directly in line with the Express path. Walk forward a few feet through the low cripplebrush and the path becomes more apparent.

Last visit here was September 6th, 1982!
I spent only 15 minutes on Santanoni and then descended via Santanoni Express at 4:30 PM. It descends very rapidly and might present a challenge in wet weather. The steepness decreases and several section of the trail are winding earthen footpaths that are a pleasure to follow.

At around 5:30 PM I reached the beaver bog that has obliterated the herd path. However, some kind soul has marked a path around the east side of the bog (orange tape). When descending from Santanoni, skirt the bog along the right and pay attention to the markers at the very edge of the bog. There is a clearing at the eastern tip of the bog that might led people astray. I piled some downed logs to dissuade people from entering the clearing and guiding them around the bog.

By 5:40 PM I reached the marked trail and headed down the path towards the gravel road. I reached the trailhead at 6:50 PM after what seemed like an eternity on the road. I signed out at the register and noted that 26 hikers had registered on that day.

After eleven glorious hours of hiking, and 28 years since I visited the summits of Panther and Santanoni, I survived Couchsachraga's mud bog and touched its crooked sign. It was a very good day.

Three hours later, I was back home and looking forward to a good night's sleep.


See all photos.