This is an account of an epic day climbing the Santanonis in the dead of winter... cold, long, and tedious!
As part of our winter 46er work, the Santanonis had to be completed. We mulled about doing this as a two-day backpack, and mulled, and mulled... and then the weather then decided. It had finally turned decidedly like late-January should be: frigid! The camping spirit drained out of us, and we decided to make a go of it in a very, very long day.
We arrived at the trailhead slightly behind schedule. It was a cold winter night (it was 3:30am, after all!), and the temperature was around -20C (-4F). Perfectly clear, with thousands of stars above. About 6 inches of fresh snow had fallen the day before, and the trailhead was deserted. With all the fresh snow still on tree branches, we would likely get dumped on today! We tried as much as possible to get dressed and ready IN the car, rather than outside in the cold!
Bare-booted to the start of the trail to Duck Hole; switched to snowshoes there to preserve trail quality. Snowpack not that deep, maybe 6 inches to a foot at most. Upon reaching Bradley Pond (and the start of the Herdpath), I started following my GPS tracklog from my 2003 summer climb of the Santanonis. This proved to be very useful with the mostly untracked herdpath route! Snow conditions were good, except for some tricky slide-sloping snow-over-ice-crust stuff partway up to Times Square.
Arrived Times Square a bit behind my planned schedule. We decided to tackle the 'worst one' first (i.e. Couchsachraga). Did that, then went on to Santanoni, and finally Panther. Temps were frigid but day was mostly clear; excellent views. Tracklog again proving very useful in negotiating snowed-in herdpaths. We were pretty late in getting the peaks done and it was solid nightfall by the time we returned to Bradley Pond. A long, boring trudge out and we were finished. Tough!
See the image gallery link below for a more detailed writeup and the set of pictures.
Trip Reports, Image Galleries or Other References: Image Gallery: January 2007 Santanoni Range Climb
Whereas many people do these peaks as a backpack, we decided to try to do them in a single long day. In order to do this, we camped out the night before near the trailhead to ensure an early start. We were up and off on the trail just a tick before 5:00am. With headlamps lighting the way, we hiked along the trail, which is actually a road, for the first few kilometres. The trail then turns off to the north and, after a few well-constructed bridges, starts a steady but moderate climb next to Santanoni Brook. At this point morning twilight had arrived and we ditched the headlamps. Just before 7am we reached the start of the herdpath up to the Santanonis. The herdpath is marked by a cairn of stones at the edge of a small marshy/meadowy area. The herdpath heads more or less straight west and soon we can see Bradley pond through the trees to the south. We find a lookout on the shore of the lake and stop for our morning break. The day is amazingly clear and cool for summertime. There is no haze whatsoever, and it is actually quite nippy. Simply Excellent hiking weather! Next we tackle the ascent up to the four corners area. The herd path gets a bit braided as it climbs up steep, earthy ledges, but then rejoins into a single path. We then climbed a nice section of trail along the base of some cliffs to a spot that looked like a popular camping area. From there the herdpath angles a bit to south and intercepts the brook coming down from the ridge above. The trail is sometimes along the side, sometimes in the brook, and at this point it is pretty typical rocky and rough Adirondack trail. Just before nine we arrive at a herdpath junction (which I initially think is the four corners, but I am wrong). We take the trail to the right and are very soon climbing a few scrambly bits to the summit of Panther Peak. There is an excellent flat open area a few feet from the summit (which has a sign on a tree) that provides excellent views to the west and south. Couchsachraga and Santanoni are both quite visible, as is the Seward Range and Seymour to the northwest. Again, I cannot stress how clear, cool, and haze-free the day is for August. A good food break and rest on the top of Panther and we are off, back along the trail. At the junction we head west again, and the path braids. We aren't sure which goes to Couchsachraga, so we split up and follow both. Turns out that the route Ewart and Caroline take is the right one, since ours soon peters out into a yucky bushwack. After a few shouts back and forth Markus and I make it across to the correct herdpath, and we are off to Couchsachraga, which is reached by following a long downhill ridge to the west. The trail is ok in spots, and very steep and rough in other spots. The summit of Couchsachraga is all treed, although if you stand on tip-toes you can see around a little bit. There is a summit sign attached to a tree here as well. Returning back along the ridge I finally get to see the infamous 'four corners' (I had bypassed it on my bushwack going the other way). It is a neat little area clear of trees and with a huge boulder on one side. Herd paths lead out in three directions to the three peaks. We have our lunch here, and then set out for our final objective, Santanoni. The herdpath is pretty easy from four corners to Santanoni and it only takes us about 40 minutes and we are near the summit of Santanoni. There are a few excellent lookouts to the east, affording very good views of the central High Peaks region, and from a unique, not-often-seen perspective. Also visible are the mining operations of the Upper Works. We tag the summit, take some summit cookie shots, and then we are off back down the trail, hoping to get back to the road before it gets too dark. We make good time, but as we start the descent I notice that one of my knees is starting to hurt - and I've never had that before. It was a strange type of pain, because jarring it or putting my body weight on it did not hurt - just the act of swinging it. This got increasingly worse as I descended, although I still managed to keep up - barely. It is about 6:30 pm by the time we get back to the road, and so still ight. Dusk falls just as we get back to the parking lot. 14 hours and 35 minutes, and 28 kilometres. A hard but very enjoyable hike, and three 46er peaks bagged!
Trip Reports, Image Galleries or Other References: Image Gallery: August 2003 Santanonis Climb