Friday, August 5, 2011

Santanoni Range 2011-08-05

Santanoni Range: Santanoni, Panther, Couchsachraga.

The Santanoni Range represented the last range to hike before completing my second round this year on Whiteface. My visit would foster a new and healthier attitude towards Couchsachraga, originally not one of my favourite destinations. I think Emmons now occupies that spot.

I left Montreal at 4:00 AM and arrived at the trailhead shortly before 7:00 AM. Only three cars were in the parking lot; I looked forward to a quiet day in the Santanoni Range. I was the first to sign in and was on the trail at 7:10 AM.

Just as I passed the locked gate, an oncoming SUV, with a US Forest Service logo, slowed to a stop and a fellow stepped out to unlock the gate. We exchanged brief pleasantries and I continued up the road. I wondered what they had finished doing so early in the morning.

The morning was sunny, cool and dry. Except for persistent deer flies, I wasn't bothered by mosquitoes or black flies. My plan was to hike the three peaks in a counter-clockwise loop, as I had done last August, by ascending the ridge via Panther Brook and descending via Santanoni Express. Panther Brook herd-path offers running water close to the ridge whereas the Express route is dry for most of its length.

The start of the Panther Brook herd-path is no longer dry. It now crosses the outflow of a beaver pond on spongy logs. I plumbed the murky water with my hiking pole and it sunk about a yard deep. 

I stopped at the last crossing of Panther Brook and sterilized a liter of water. I cached the bottle at Times Square and downed it upon my return from Couchsachraga. It was a welcome addition to the three liters in my hydration bag. By the end of the hike, my clothing recuperated at least one of those four liters. 

The writing on Panther's summit disk has been refreshed. Other than that, all else seems unchanged including the muddy patch just short of the true summit.

I've developed a greater appreciation for Couchsachraga's sense of humour. It lures you with a herd-path that is in better shape than many others. The descent is spiced with a few steep rocky pitches and ends at a filthy 'welcome mat'. I hear Couchie greeting me with 'Hey there! Kick off your shoes and stick around!" After crossing 'The Bog of Lost Soles', you get punked by a few false summits. Finally, a steep trough of rock signals the true summit is nearby and you pop up onto an inauspicious knob. The final gag is that the best view is the direction from which you came so you can best appreciate the elevation loss. Ba-da-bing! Good one, Couchie!

It was my first opportunity to view the replacement for Couchsachraga's stolen summit sign and I think 'ersatz' sums it up. It attempts to capture the original sign's rustic charm but fails. The original's sun-greyed wood with decorative end-caps, loose rope-binding, and engraved serif lettering have been replaced by a painted board. The replacement sign is attached, with a wood-screw, directly to the tree that bore the summit disk. The disk is gone and the tree's trunk has snapped above where the wood-screw was inserted. It's a sad sight.

Couchie's bog continues to be a broth of muck and compost but it seemed easier to cross due to more downed wood. It can now make the following claim, "New and improved! Contains more fiber!" 

En route to Santanoni, my legs collected two more souvenirs. I looked up to view Santanoni and, right on cue, tripped over a fallen sapling. A scraped knee was the price for a moment's innattention. The sapling is now resting off the trail. Later, I stepped over a long-dead tree trunk and down a short drop. I failed to notice a protruding branch-stub and levered my right shin directly into it. The intense pain signalled it wasn't just a scrape and I had probably bruised my tibia. With a swift kick, accompanied by Ukrainian swear words ('sookhin sin' ... there, now you're on the road to learning a new language), I snapped the @!*# spike off the log and it won't be troubling anyone else.

Santanoni's summit marker has been refreshed and moved to a larger tree a few inches away. The view of the High Peaks is wonderful but better from the lookout on Santanoni's closest sub-summit.

Towards Algonquin
The upper terminus of the Express path, located at the second of three sub-summits, seems a bit more defined than last year and that's probably due to increased usage. Within 50 yards of the summit, the Express trail drops steeply through a short eroded channel that is now littered with deadfall. Beyond that, it becomes a smooth path that eventually leads to a slab of rock. I distrust weather-beaten ropes and down-climbed the slab. The Express route's detour around the beaver pond is no longer marked with unsightly flagging tape.

I met (more like startled) one hiker while descending Couchsachraga (Salut Philippe!) and another hardy-looking fellow upon my return to Times Square. The bulk of the hikers I met (five) were encountered along the Bradley Pond trail while I was exiting. It was grand day for peace, solitude, and reflection.

Along the gravel road I paused to photograph several beautiful butterflies, Great Spangled Fritillary, feeding on the nectar of, what I believe to be, Sweet Joe-Pye Weed. It was one of those rare and magical moments that put the finishing touch on a very fine day.

Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies on Sweet Joe-Pye Weed.
I arrived at the trailhead at 3:30 PM, eight hours and twenty minutes after my departure. I cleaned up and headed to Tmax and Topo's for a good night's sleep (and to ice the lump on my shin, thanks David!) in preparation for the following day's hike to Esther. 


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