Overnighter in the Adirondacks

Redfield order in ranking: 15

In all the (four) years of working on the 46, Steph and I had never had an overnighter. All of our hikes, including the entire Dix range, were done on daytrips. Last year we branched out into winter hiking (tackling first Cascade and Porter as primers, and then slogging out to Allen, and enjoying some prime butt-sliding down the slide.)

So this year, we decided that we would finally do an overnighter. We had a good idea of what items would be needed (hint: tent, sleeping bags and pads, and bear can), all we had to do was put everything into motion. The original plan was to hike in on Saturday and out on Monday, and hope to get a lean-to.

We decided to head down over the May long weekend (or rather, the Canadian May long weekend, which was May 21 to 23). We drove down Friday after work, and spent the night at the Hoot Owl Lodge to finalize our packing, and making sure all the food we had planned to bring would fit in the bear can. (It didn’t. We had to be ruthless about what we were going to bring.)

So maybe that’s the first tip. The bear can hold enough for two nights and two days of hiking – two dehydrated meals, two sandwiches, 4 peanut butter rice cakes, two pre-packaged fruit cups, two protein bars, some trail mix, carrots, chocolate covered pretzels, two pop-tarts, a mini-bota box of wine (this was cause for celebration!)…pretty much two of everything, plus toothbrushes, sunscreen, mozzie spray and any garbage we accumulated.

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All loaded up and ready to go

We woke up excited on Saturday, and we in the parking lot by 6:30. We had to finangle some parking (we, um…created…a parking space.) but by 6:49 we were signed in and off on the trail.

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Good morning trail

Which for some reason had grown far, far steeper than we had remembered. It started off with some rolling terrain, before hitting a steep curve at the hour mark. But we kept up our pace (slow, our pace was slow, but steady) stopping a couple of times to remove layers, and to eat and drink some water.

And that’s the second tip. We each carried a litre water bottle, full, and 2.5-litre camelbak bladders, also full. There’s enough water along the trail (and occasionally, over and under as well) that there’s no need to carry that much. In fact, on the hike out we only had water in the water bottles. (Hint three – make sure that your water purification system is handy)

Somehow between last summer, when we did Cliff, and this May long weekend, I had managed to forget about the water crossing about an hour and half in. How I did this, I don’t know, seeing as I have the balance of a three-hour old colt (bad) and always end up turtling over rocks. And with a large, heavy pack on….turtling wasn’t going to work. (I know because I tried and nearly tipped over into the water.) It’s not that the water was particularly deep, it was just deep enough for me. Steph made it over, dropped her pack, and came back to grab mine when….he appeared. My hiker in shining gaiters (I’m sure those gaiters weren’t shining by the end of the day, but they certainly were when he appeared beside me). He asked if I was having trouble, asked if my pack was heavy, then easily swung it up and bounded over the rocks on wings of gortex (or whatever his boots were made of). After that it was easy enough for me to turtle over to the other side.

(Which brings me to this: there is a high water bridge. We still have no idea how we managed to miss seeing it, other than there is no sign when coming in from Upper Works. Coming out again, there is a sign, so we took the swinging, scary, suspension bridge of doom back over, thus freeing us from relying on strangers of unusual helpfulness.)

We came to the Flowed Lands Interior Register shortly before we hit the 3-hour mark. We were bouyed by our time, and excited to be that close to our final destination. We had been aiming for the Uphill Leanto, but had readjusted to finding something closer to Lake Colden, as the extra 2.6 miles from the dam to the lean was going to cause us serious endurance problems with the packs on. (Hint 4 – those packs are heavy heavy heavy, and less is more!)

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Scrambling down

We scrambled along the trail, which had gotten woolier – more large rocks to scramble up, over and around, as well as being relentlessly up. We came to the Colden Dam an hour after signing in at the interior register, and crossed over.

Where we couldn’t find a leanto. There was a sign to one, but….no lean to (possibly it was across the water.) So we headed back over the dam, and to the McMartin Leanto, which was less than 5 minutes back along the trail.

For those planning to stay at the McMartin leanto, there is water access nearly across from the leanto trail – there is a large “No camping” sign about a 30 second walk back up the trail (towards the dam), and a snaking herdpath down to the river.

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Home sweet leanto

Lucky for us, there was plenty of room in the leanto – someone else’s gear was neatly stashed along one side (he would in fact hike out that evening, so we ended up with the leanto to ourselves.) We dropped the heavy packs, ate some lunch, packed our day-packs with items we might need, and headed out to conquer Mount Redfield.

And this brings me to tip 5 (possibly 6 if you think of the water tip as a hint) – there is a reason that people hike in with the heavy packs on one afternoon, hike the next, then hike out on the third day. Because you will probably be exhausted from carting around that massive bag, and all that weight.

Since we were as exhausted as we were, we decided to leave the Gray-Skylight hike, and do Redfield. We have a grand finale planned for July, and Gray-Skylight-Marcy is a doable loop, but Redfield was off on its own lonesome, orphaned last year when we summitted Cliff.

We made good time to the Cliff-Redfield junction, arriving just over an hour after leaving the leanto. We had been told that the hike to Redfield was by far easier than Cliff, and was more of a hike than a climb.

It appears everyone lied to us.

It was a long slog up a river, scrambling over rocks and under fallen trees. I fell more times than I wish to count (scrapping my knee, ripping a hole in my pants, and grinding dirt into a cut on my palm) but the view was incredible – Skylight looming beside us, Marcy looming behind us, and Redfield in front. We hit the summit at 2:13, not quite two hours after leaving the junction. It’s possible that had we left the hike until the day after we could have been quicker – we were definitely feeling the strain from having hiked the packs in.

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Number 43! Only 3 left

A group of guys made the summit before us, and we could hear one bragging that he was at number 39, so I felt the need to yell out “Number 43!!!” because dammit, I’m so close! We joined them on the lookout to stare out at the Lonely Mountain (aka Allen), before heading back to the summit to eat some more, and whinge about how tired and sore we were.

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Allen, the lonely mountain

The hike down was a lot quicker, especially as we knew where the route was this time. On our way up we had a few moments where we weren’t sure if the trail went up the side of the brook, through the brook, or even crossed the brook. There are small cairns, but they can blend in if you’re not paying close enough attention. But tip 6: the route never crosses the brook, it frequently follows the brook, is in the brook, but never crosses to the other bank. The trail when it is on the land is very easy to see and follow.

We stopped once to refill our camelbaks (and treat the water, just in case) and to talk with a few other hikers who were heading up Cliff. We staggered over the suspension bridge (muttering pleas under our breath as it swayed over the rushing, snow-melt infused water below), and then over the dam and to our leanto, where we found our leanto mate packing up to head out. A ranger had told him there was a 20% chance of rain overnight, and a 70% chance of rain the next day, so he decided to head out early. (Great for us, we got the leanto all to ourselves!)

Our night was quiet (no bears!) and amazing – the soft rain did start around 3 in the morning, and the sound of it hitting the roof of the leanto (solid, no leaks!) was peaceful. The rain continued into the morning – going for the bear can, which had been carried out away from the leanto, kind of sucked, but we took our time, gathered up our gear and repacked, and by the time that had finished…..the rain had stopped. We got to walk out again without rain dripping down our backs. Tip 7: if it has just rained, don’t grab a tree for balance, you will shake the rain on the leaves down your back. We did slide a bit on the slick trails – they had been wet on the way in, and man were they waterlogged on the way out! Gaiters were definitely the way to go.

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You know it’s a maintained trail because of the logs

My last tip for an overnighter: keep some water and food in the car. It was nice to get some filtered water and food that we hadn’t been eating for two days.

Total climbing time: 11 hours 7 minutes
Left parking lot at: 6:49, back in leanto at: 5:56
Summitted Redfield at: 2:13

 

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Indian Head

It was finally time to tackle another peak in the Adirondacks. It had been a weird winter – first Steph and I were both away. After that I had my wisdom teeth out, then Steph got sick, and I followed two days later. Plus, the weather was all over the place, lots of snow, weeks of barely 0C temps, one week of below 20C, back up to plus temperatures, and then rain. We’d been checking trail conditions on the Aspiring Adirondack 46ers Facebook page to see what kind of traction might be needed. The two weeks before we headed down, temperatures were in the single plus digits, and snow had mostly disappeared from lower elevations, but was still thick enough up top for snowshoes to be needed. Then the rain hit about a week ago, and the Friday before we were to hike, the temperatures dropped and it snowed a couple of inches. Snowshoes wouldn’t be needed, but microspikes (or even crampons) would be.

Seeing as we’re about 4 hours north, we always drive down the night before. When we’re climbing anything from the Adirondack Loj trailhead, or the Lake Road, we stay at Tmax and Topo’s Hostel. It’s a great hiker hostel – people go to bed early and get up early to get on the trails early.

So Saturday we were up and on the road by 6:45, before turning around because we had both forgotten something, and then back on the road again. We were making good time – no traffic, no sun in our eyes, lovely scenery….when a deer suddenly jumped out onto the road, and ran across it right in front of us. Steph had been thankfully looking in that direction, and was on the breaks in a heartbeat (which I don’t think either of us had at that point, because holy crap this is what they warn you about) and…we stopped. We stopped an inch from the deer as it ran pell-mell across the road and into the woods on the other side. And then we just sat there for a second, before driving away and trying to get our breathing under control.

So it was with that drama that we arrived at the Lake Road parking area, and walked towards the register. As we neared both it and the gate, Steph grabbed my arm to get me to stop walking, and said “deer” in a soft whisper. (You see, last summer when we were heading back to the trailhead from Cliff, I was staring at the trail, and Steph gasped and grabbed me, causing me to panic because I thought “BEAR” while she saw “deer”, so this time she didn’t want to startle me.) I still jumped, though, because I thought (stupidly, I know, but it wasn’t even 7:30 yet on a Saturday) that I was about to walk into a deer….and it was essentially a replay from  last year.

So we signed in around 7:20, with the idea of climbing Colvin, and if we had time, Blake. (We were willing, if somewhat reluctant, to orphan Blake, even if we needed to go back over Colvin to get it).

The road was well packed, well frozen, but had no snow cover. As we walked on, the cover became a dusting of snow, before finally the road was covered in about an inch of soft, white powder. There were very few tracks in front of us, and we ran into a few people, but for the most part it was quiet and still.

If you remember from my post on the first time we did Colvin and Blake, don’t take the first trail that says “Colvin.” If you do this, you’ll be one step ahead of us because we did take the first trail, and were way-laid by a small, but significant, water crossing. With the melt, and rain, from the previous weeks, the normally small crossing didn’t have what we considered a good fordable area. I’ve got balance issues when it comes to water crossing (I am not a rock hopper, I’m a rock-slipper-faller-on-my-knee-er). At this point we pulled out the map, realized that we should be on the other trail, and bushwhacked the 50 feet to the Lake Road.

Shortly down the road, we came to the junction that we had wanted all along. We followed the single set of footprints, before realizing that we shouldn’t just blindly follow someone else’s tracks because we have no idea where they were going. We were still on the trail, but we started paying attention to the trail itself, and to the markers along the route. We came to a normally small stream crossing, but again – the rocks were pretty icy, and the water covered the rocks just enough to make me hesitant to cross it.

We debated it a little bit, but decided not to risk it – especially seeing as it was only about 8:30, and we didn’t want to get stuck on the wrong side of the stream in the afternoon if there was any more melt.

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A bluebird day in the Adirondacks

From the junction of the Gill Brook trail and the short-cut, you can go up Colvin or you can go to Fish Hawk Cliffs, or Indian Head. Having never been to Indian Head, we decided to head in that direction. (When one door closes, another opens, and all). No one had been on the trail since the snowfall the day before – it was pure unblemished snow. “Hey,” we thought, “this will be good winter experience for finding a trail! With the safety of being on a marked trail, just in case.”

The trail was fairly gradual at first, and most snowed in, but just like the Lake Road, there was only an inch or two of snow. In a few spots, it had started to melt, and we tried to avoid getting our feet wet in the small puddles.

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Rippling ice over leaves on the path

We had a few moments were we thought we had lost the trail (some blowdown from winter storms had fallen over the trail) but we quickly got back on track each time. We came to one section that had small rock faces that were covered in ice, but it was easily by-passable, although we did put our microspikes on. The snow had turned into an icy, concrete-like mass – and below that was a layer of pure ice. It was definitely not bareboot appropriate.

Near the top is a steeper section that required a bit of finagling, including a ladder that had ice on only one side of the steps (the cliff beside the ladder was casting a shadow on one side of the ladder, causing the ice there to remain, while the other side was getting full sun.) The trail leads to s short junction with a look-out 75 yards to the left, and the trail continuing on to Indian Head to the right. We passed an open rock face, and followed the path as it meandered up and down, until we came to the summit. We sat for a quick food break, before heading back to the sunny rocks for a true lunch (chili!)

The trip down was uneventful, although the snow and ice had started to melt more by this point. Where there had been small puddles of water previously, there were deeper puddles, and the snow had lost its icy crispness. We ran into a few more hikers on our way out – which we thought was unusual, until we looked at our watches and realized it was only noon. Our walk to the register was slow but smooth – we stopped a few places for photos, and just took it easy.

 

Santanoni for the Range!

Order in ranking: 14

 

Santanoni had been my nemesis for a year.  Last October, we had started out to climb the Santanoni Range, heading up the Panther Brook trail to climb first Panther, then Couchsachraga before going to Santanoni, and down the Express Trail.
Our thinking was that if, for some reason, we couldn’t get to Santanoni, we could always come back and do an up-and-back via the Express.  And it turns out that we couldn’t get to Santanoni- by the time we got back from Couch, it was getting late, and we didn’t particularly want to walk back out in the dark.
So fast forward to March.  Steph had decided to try and do a winter ascent of Santa – having had success with Cascade, Porter and Allen, she thought she’d give Santa a try.  Unfortunately, the Express trail wasn’t broken out, and she while she could find the start of it, she lost it shortly there after.
Fast forward again to August.  We climbed Cliff on the Saturday, and then attempted Santa on the Sunday.  We made good time to the junction with the Express, but then we started to lose steam – our aches and pains from the climb before were hitting us hard.  We arrived at the Hilary Step around 2:00, and decided to turn around.  At the pace we were going, it would be another hour and a half to the summit, and we’d have to get down, and we were driving home that night.
So that makes 3 (4 in the case of Steph) attempts at reaching Santanoni’s summit. We were really feeling discouraged, but also determined – that summit was going to be ours.
We headed down in September for a weekend, and bright and early on a Saturday we were at the trailhead.  We headed up the road to the trail, and hit the express is just under 2 hours.  We were already making better time than our last attempt.  After a brief stop to chat with other hikers, we cross the stream (the water was low enough to rock hop) and head up the trail.
In August, at the Hilary Step

The Express trail is a bit erratic.  It starts off fairly even and flat, then there’s a rocky section that’s flat, then it evens out again but climbs, then a rocky section…this goes on for a bit before the trail starts climbing in earnest.  It starts off as a moderate grade, but quickly becomes steep….steeper….steeper… until you come to the Hilary Step – a massive white section of rock, that you have to skirt around to get back onto the trail, a point that Steph and I call ‘The Awful Up.’

This section was muddy and slippery the two times we’ve gone up it (and the two times down.)  We had to stop talking so we could concentrate on our footing – start climbing here, cross there, monkey swing around this, don’t pull on that it’s loose, climb up over there, cross again.  It took us a half hour the first time around in August, but only 15 minutes this time.
From there you enter in an area of blowdown, and you get your first view of Santa – and it looks a loooooong way off.  But just like Nippletop, the view is deceiving.  The trail descended a bit into a col, then climbed steadily (and steeply) through grabby trees, until we started to see more open rocky patches, with amazing views of Wallface, Marshall, Iroquois and Algonquin.
Elation! We made it!

Eventually you come to a junction with another trail, running left and right.  Turning left takes you over the false summit to Santanoni, right takes you towards Time Square.  We turned left, and it was minutes later that we came out to the false summit, and from there it was less than 2 minutes to summit – we got there at 11:47, four and a half hours after starting.

We spent nearly an hour on the summit, chatting with other hikers, and just enjoying the views and the fact that we.finally.made.it.  We headed down, elated that the hike had gone so well.  Everything about the hike had been (and would continue to be) perfect – the day had warmed up to a nice temperature, not too hot or too cold, the summit wasn’t windy, the leaves had already started changing…our hike down went just as smoothly as the hike up, and we reached the register at 3:55.  Santanoni was our 42 – only 4 peaks left!

Total climbing time: 8 hours 40 minutes
Left parking lot at: 7:15, returned at 3:55
Summitted Santanoni at 11:47

Scaling up Cliff Mountain

Order in ranking:  44

Finally, after months and months, I was back in the Adirondacks with my climbing compatriot, for an attempt on Cliff mountain, and if we had time Redfield.

Now, we’re both currently a little out of shape.  There have been a few years where we’ve swiftly ascended mountains, like the year we did the Dix Range, but this is not one of those years.  This is one of those schlep yourself up the mountain years.

So we stayed at the Hoot Owl B&B in nearby Newcomb (our go-to accommodations for hikes at Upper Works) and headed out bright early for a 7:15 a.m. start.  The going towards Flowed Lands is very quick – the trail, while not ‘flat’ is even – i.e. there are a few rolling ups and downs, but the trail isn’t covered in rocks, boulders, logs, branches, etc.  (This is actually great on the way out when you’re tired – you can just put one foot in front of the other and not have to worry about tripping over a root that is hiding in plain sight.) We made fairly good time, hitting the monument at Calamity Pond around 9:41 a.m., where we took some photos and chatted with a couple who were hiking in for an overnight stay.  From the monument, it was a short walk, about 20 minutes, to Flowed Lands, where we stopped again to soak in the beauty, have a snack, and rest our feet.  We thought this would be a great destination for a hike in and of itself – it was very quiet and peaceful, and other than the couple that had met at the monument, we didn’t see anyone else until we were ready to leave.

Someone jumped on the bridge.

From there, the trail started to get a bit rougher, with rocks and branches waiting to trip us up.  We walked around the Flowed Lands, and towards Colden Dam, a first for us.  After 15 minutes, we came to the junction with the Uphill Trail.  The name is not misleading, the trail at this point was a bit steeper, and with a lot more rocks impeding a quick pace (for us.)  We stopped by the suspension bridge (closed due to a cable giving way, and hanging precariously over the river) before continuing on, coming to the trail junction between Cliff and Redfield about 4 and a half hours after starting.  At this point, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to do with peaks, so we decided to hike the harder one – Cliff.

Only a little mud on this hike

We started up the trail, immediately encountering mud.  But, having done the Couchie bog the year before, we just powered through – we knew our boots were water-proof.  We quickly hit the first of the cliffs for which Cliff gets its name.

The cliffs weren’t too difficult, providing easy foot holds and hand holds, and were easy to scramble up, at least in the beginning.  The higher we climbed, the harder the cliffs became.  Near the beginning our of 46er journey, Steph and I climbed the cliffs of Saddleback, and after that, these cliffs were easy-peasy.  A few spots where you had to hold on with your fingertips, monkey swing around trees, and boost yourself up over ledges, but nothing that I would classify as scary (and I’m terrified of heights.)  Of course, takes this with a grain of salt – YMMV (your mileage may vary).

We finally summited Cliff at 1:46, six and a half hours after starting our hike.  We had our traditional swing of whiskey (from a metal flask, no glass for us), some lunch, and took some photos, before heading back down.  The cliffs were just as hairy going down as they were up, although we both decided to butt slide where we could, lowering our centre of gravity and reducing falls.

We made good time out, taking some time to relax on Colden Dam and chat with other hikers, enjoying the late afternoon sun, and the view of the mountains. We finally got up and continued hiking, hitting the parking lot at 7:59. A long day, but a restful one.  We had decided to enjoy our hike, and enjoy the Adirondacks, rather than race to get to the summit and back.

Total climbing time: 12 hours 44 minutes
Left parking lot at: 7:15, returned at 7:59
Summitted Cliff at 1:46

Allen! Allen! Allen!….I hate you Allen.

Order in ranking:  26

Let me start off with I’m blogging this late because I hated Allen every step of the way.  Allen was my beast, that mountain that just doesn’t play nice.  You feel….off, your pace is off, you’re sore, and you honestly think that maybe, maybe you’ll have to turn around because this just isn’t happening.

Allen was not my day.

I’d thought, and read and been told, that climbing Allen in winter made more sense.  First, you don’t have any red slime to content with.  Second, you cut time off simply because to get down, you sit, you push off, and you slide down – what takes you 2 hours up, is only 20 minutes down.  You also can walk straight across the Opalescent and Lake Jimmy, rather than wading and skirting.  It all made sense, so I packed up my winter gear and set off.

All is well crossing the Opalescent, even with open water

I’d posted on the ADK high peaks forum that I was heading out, and I met someone at the trail head.  We set off, and things went ok….until they didn’t.  At first it was just my snowshoes bothering me.  I toughed it out for a ways, then had to take them off – part of it due to the fact that the trail was really well-packed, but had formed a bit of a ridge in the middle that I had trouble navigating.  (I know, I know, wear your snowshoes, don’t posthole, etc etc).

No view, but still a winter wonderland

From the cabins to Allen brook went quickly.  The weather was good, the trail was solid, as were the water crossings.  I knew what to expect as a friend had climbed Allen only a few weeks previously, so I was prepared for the rolling terrain and the length of the hike to get to the actual mountain.

We signed in at the trail register, and soon hit Skylight brook and Allen brook, hearing the water gurgling away under the ice.  At this point we start to climb, in earnest.  And things just kept going downhill for me, including me.  When we hit the slide, I slide backwards and down about 40 feet.  I was frustrated, upset, and starting to think that I was going to have to turn around and attempt Allen another day.  But I had already come so far that I pushed on, and slowly (ever so slowly) pushed towards the summit.
When I finally broke out of the trees to the summit clearing (the last one) I finally felt some elation.  Here it was!  I gobbled down some food (some that I had brought, some that people fed me), before turning around and heading back towards the slide, where I could finally sit down and let gravity do it’s work (again, but this time in the right direction).  Only…..I lost control, careening down the slide, and (having already rammed into one person) I opted to hit a tree rather a backpack, wrenching my ankle.

Allen!  Allen!  No, wait, that’s Steve….

Heading back was nearly as torturous.  My climbing partner told me it’s best to think of the climb in stages – from the slide to interior register, from the interior register to the trail, from the trial to the road, from the road to the cabins, from the cabins to Lake Jimmy, from Lake Jimmy to the suspension bridge over the Hudson, which is a hop, skip and a jump from the parking lot.

Still plenty of snow at the end of March

It had been snowing on and off since about 11 am, but it really picked up pace as we hit the logging road.  It would have been wonderful if it wasn’t so tired and fed up with the hike.  I trudged and plodded my way along, and I swear my bag got heavier with each step.  It wasn’t until we hit the parking lot that I realized why – snow was collecting in a pocket – I had been carrying a growing snowball, about the size of a soccer ball by the time I found it, in my bag.

Total climbing time: 9 hours 22 minutes
Left parking lot at: 7:00, returned at 4:22
Summitted Allen at 12:20

And to apologize for the lack of pictures, please enjoy this BBC video:


Winter Hiking – Let’s Start Slowly

So my hiking partner, Steph, and I decided to try winter hiking, because we’re apparently crazy.

Having never done winter hiking (her), or snowshoeing (me), we decided to start slowly, and climb Cascade and/or Porter, if it looked like we were doing ok and had time.  Cascade is a short hike, 4.8 mile round trip hike from Route 73.  Doing Porter would add another 1.4 miles, if we decided to tack it on.

We’ve climbed both peaks before, they were our first 46-ers, back in October of 2011.  I remember hating them on the way down – the hike is steep enough, and the rocks plentiful enough, to make you curse the day you said ‘yes, I’ll hike with you, why not?’

Am I doing this right?

The day of our hike, we layered well – I had on base layers on top and bottom, fleece pants with rain pants over top, as well as a warm Vik Wind Pro mid-layer jacket by 66° North. I had an extra, heavier fleece jacket in my bag, as well as a windproof/waterproof jacket, extra socks and an extra pair of long johns in my pack.  I also had a toque, two pairs of liner gloves, and a pair of thicker mittens.  I was wearing a balaclava style neck and head toque. The temp was forecast to be quite nice, but being prepared for anything is par for the game of hiking in the Adirondacks.

We arrived early – there were plenty of cars parked along the road, but not many on the trail (or summits) – I guess they were off doing Pitchoff, on the other side, or ice climbing.  At any rate, we got settled into our snowshoes and took off, flipping up our heel lifts soon after our start, as we hit the climbing part of our day.

At the lower elevations, the snow cover wasn’t too deep – there were sections where a few rock tops peeked out, but for the most part the rocks were hidden, and our trek undisturbed.  We played leap-frog with a group of women behind us – we were hiking at the same pace, but taking breaks at different times.

Lots of snow at the higher elevations

We had one minor  incident, when I tried to back up in snowshoes (do not back up in snowshoes, just turn around) and fell over, getting snow all down my pants.  A quick brush off with a dry toque, and a change of liner gloves and we were off again.

It took us about 2 hours to hit the junction between Cascade and Porter, so we quickly head out to Cascade, to get our first Winter 46-er.  We met two men coming down who warned us about the winds on the summit, so we took out of thicker fleeces and popped them on, put on our toques, changed out of snowshoes to microspikes, pull on a second pair of mitts, and started to climb the rocks.

There’s this one rock spot on Cascade that is a bit of a bear to get up over, apparently as much in winter as in the summer.  Thankfully, another group was coming down as we were going up, so one of the men braced himself, and stretched out his pole, allowing us to get a good grip and pull ourselves up and over.

Obligatiory shoe shot

The summit was indeed blustery, and cold!, so we snapped a few pictures, as well as an obligatory shoes at the summit photo, before heading down, desperately hoping not to be blown off.  (Ok, it wasn’t that windy, but it was quite strong.)  We made good time getting back to the junction, so we stopped for some food (thankfully not frozen), before heading over to Porter.

Not as bad on Porter

Shortly after the junction, we hit a patch that was a little icy, and a little steep, going down.  So we sat down, and pushed off, sliding our way over the patch.  The hike to Porter was quicker than I remember it being in the summer, and thankfully the summit wasn’t nearly as windy – the trees helping to block the worst of the wind.  We spent a bit mor time here, actually enjoying the view, before heading back to the junction, and down to the trailhead.  We made good time on the way down – it took us an hour from the junction – mostly due, I’m sure, to the fact that we slid down most of the way.

Contemplating the view, before re-snowshoeing

2/3s of the Santanoni Range

Order in ranking:  Panther 18, Couchsachraga 46

Our intention for the weekend was to climb the Santanoni Range (aka The Santas).  Our plan was to hike in and up the Panther Brook trail, as it is farther away than the Santa Express, pop over to Panther, slog it to Couch, book it over to Santa, and then down.  Knowing it would be a long day and an early start, we stayed in nearby Newcomb at a newly renovated B&B, The Hoot Owl.  It’s a 20 minute drive to the Santas trailhead, and the B&B is very comfortable – the owners told us to help ourselves to anything in the fridge for breakfast, seeing as we would miss the meal as we were leaving early for our hike.

Before I detail the trip let me just say:  Couch gets a bad rap.  I think people hate it because it’s a lot farther than people think it is.  It took us 3 hours (not counting our break at the summit.) to get there and back.  But – it’s a pleasant hike, the mud isn’t bad (it was worse on Panther), and the bog is easy to get across – there were lots of logs and branches to step on to easily clear it.  Just be prepared for it to be a long hike there.

The drive to the trail head was foggy, and it was still pitch blank out when we arrived at the trailhead.  We signed in at 6:00, starting off on the gravel road that would take us to the trail to Bradley Pond, which is where the Panther Brook trail starts.  It was still dark at this point, so we had our head lamps out and of course managed to miss the trail.  So for any of you that might need to know if you see this sign:

Turn around and head back.  The trail will be on your left about 30 seconds later.

Clouds ringing the mountains

By this point it was light, and we put our headlamps away.  The fog was lifting as the sun burned it off, resulting is some great views from the trail.

The Bradley Pond trail is a relatively smooth trail, especially at the beginning.  Shortly after starting it, you come to a small water crossing, where a bridge has been….washed away?  Destroyed at any rate.  There were two planks set across the water, resting on rocks, that we walked across.  The water level wasn’t high that day, so rock hopping would also have been an option.  Not long after that is the “Dangerous Bridge” crossing – the planks that form the bridge itself and in good repair, it is part of the side of the bridge, leading to ground level, that have fallen away.  We rock hopped the crossing in the morning, but by evening the water level had risen considerably, so we shimmied around the dangerous part of the bridge, and hauled ourselves onto the bridge and walked across.  It held, but here’s hoping it’s replaced/fixed soon.

Junction with Panther Brook

Shortly after the dangerous bridge, the trail get wet, and muddy.  There were enough rocks to rock hop around the water, but gaiters were definitely a good piece of equipment for this hike.  We hit the cairn marking the turn off for the Santa Express two hours after starting our hike, and about an hour after starting the Bradley Pond Trail.

As we walked the trail became rockier and wetter the further on we walked, and we passed three sets of rotting corduroy wood bridges before we hit the junction with the Panther Brook herd path. Judging from some other blogs I’ve read, our path wasn’t as wet as it can be.  It was just a trickle of water at most points This junction is not too far from the Santa Express – we got there a half hour after we saw the cairn marking the Express.  We took a quick break, taking off a layer as it had warmed up a bit, and then started off towards Panther.

Careful on the beaver dam.

Just after the junction, you leave the trees and come out onto Bradley Pond.  Here, you walk across a beaver dam (was the beaver named Bradley?  Is that how the pond got its name?)  being careful, as the spit of land is rapidly eroding into the water.  Once across the dam, you enter the trees again and start an upward climb.  We did find that the trail here was a little hard to follow – there seemed to be some false herd paths in the area, going off in all directions.  Perhaps in the summer it’s easier, the fallen leaves at this time of year can obscure trails easily. With a bit of searching, we found the correct trail – slightly wider than the others, and bit muddier, and we were off, climbing at a moderate grade.

There’s a bit of up and down, although the rocks aren’t too bad yet, before you come to a set of impressive cliffs.  We walked along the base of them, making a joke about “Thankfully there’s no paint blazes” when what do we see?  Paint blazes. (Granted, the paint blazes were telling us to follow the trail we were on.)  After the cliffs we came to Panther Brook, which you have to cross – there’s a small cairn on the other side.  The water level was low enough that we just walked across the rock slabs.  From there on out, you follow the brook up.  A lot of times you are in the brook – walking up the rocks.  We were lucky that the water level was low, and our boots didn’t get wet, although they did get muddy fairly quickly.  There was another false lead, where it looked like the path led away from the brook, but we quickly figured out our mistake and continued up the rocks.  Eventually the brook peters out, and the trail continues, muddy, through the trees until…..it ends.  You come to a T junction with another trail.  This is Herald Square.  If you turn to your left, you’ll see a ‘P’ carved on a rock, marking the trail to Panther.

October snow on Panther Peak

We had decided to go to Panther first, as it was closest, then to Couch, then to Santa, heading down the Express trail, and then out.  We practically raced through the trail to Panther – getting muddier with each step.  From ahead of me I heard Steph shout ‘SNOW’ and wouldn’t you know it – there was a light dusting of snow on the ground.  In fact, the evergreens were frosted with ice and snow.   It was a really enchanting sight, more so because it wasn’t a cold day (not a warm day, either, but we were warm enough in long sleeve shirts)

Just then we saw it – the giant muddy bog of doom, and just beyond the safety of a rock slab.  We first headed along the left side, which was shortest, but got instantly sucked into the mud.  (And yet again I was thankful for my gaiters.)  We reached the rock slab, gawking at the view, before racing in another few feet to take a photo with the summit sign.  Then it was back out to take in the view from Panther, which is phenomenal.

Panther Peak for number 38

 

Boggy bog on Panther

We didn’t stay long, knowing that we still had to hit Couch.  We walked back through the bog, staying to the opposite side, which wasn’t as boot sucking as the other, and headed past Herald Square to Times Square, where we arrived at 11:28, 5 1/2 hours after starting out.  From there we followed the ‘C’ carved into a tree towards Couch, running into four or five other groups also heading in the same direction, which would make for one crowded summit.

The trail to Couch wasn’t that bad – there were a few mud patches at the beginning, but then the trail dried up, and it was a pleasant hike through the woods.  There were three significant down-and-up sections – just when you think “Ahhhh, the summit must be close, I’ve probably gone down the 800′ and now this is the 300′ up” but no.  The third time this happens, then you’re close.  The infamous Couch bog is slightly past the mid-way point, closer to the summit than Times Square, but not exactly all that close.  It’s also not all that bad – we found plenty of logs and branches to walk on across the bog.  That doesn’t mean that we didn’t step into the bog, but thankfully the two times I did (once on the way to there, and once on the way back) it was near the end.  I only got sucked in upto my ankles.

Mud mud and more mud

Near the summit of Couch are two rock scrambles, one of which was wet as I went through.  I was wearing gloves, because so many of the logs, trees, rocks and branches were wet, so I just hauled myself up.  After the second rock scramble (mini-cliff), you’re at the summit.  (If you’re on the trail and begin wondering if you’ve passed the summit, the trail ends at there.  If there is trail in front of you, you haven’t missed it.)  Everyone we met said the same thing, “That was a lot further than I expected.”  Couch may be little, but the amount of work to get there is not.  It’s 1.4 miles from Times Square to the summit, and going back you have to gain a lot of lost elevation.  Most reports I’ve read said that on the way to Couch you lose 800′ only to gain 300′ to reach the summit – don’t forget the reverse of that!  That’s 800′ you have to re-gain on your way back.

I paused on the summit, the first of the five parties (15 people in total) to arrive.  I was alone for about five minutes before the next 4 people showed up, and hot on their heels were two other parties, 6 people in total.  Steph arrived next, giving us a total of 14 people on Couch’s tiny summit!  The other groups were on their first peak of the day – most were planning to do Panther next, one group was heading to Santa.  They left and the other girl Steph and I were hiking with arrived, giving the three of us time to relax and eat lunch on the summit before heading out, and meeting the final party along the way back.  (Actually, we would meet another man heading to Couch near Time Square)

Our trip back to Time Square was a bit slower, as we were starting to get tired, and the constant sucking of the mud added to the amount of effort we had to put into each step.  By the time we all got back, it was 2:47, giving us a total time of 3 hours 29 minutes to get to Couch, have lunch and get back.  We debated the wisdom of doing Santa – it’s a mile along the ridge, with 400′ elevation gain, to the summit, and then two miles down the Express.  From the Express trail junction, it would be another 2 hours, and one dangerous bridge crossing, to get back to the car – we figured on this taking us at least 5 hours.  On the other hand, if we were to take the Panther Brook trail, we would be on the trail for only 4 hours, assuming it didn’t take us as long to go down as it did up.  We knew that the sun would be setting at 6:30, so we made the decision to leave Santa for another day.

Bradley Pond

We headed back down the way we came, finding it even wetter than on the way up.  We assumed it was due to snow melt, as it had been a bright, sunny, warm day on the trails.  We moved a little quicker on the down, although not by much, as finding footing was difficult on the rocks – going up streams is always easier than going down, because going down you can’t see what’s below the rocks as well.  However, we shaved nearly a half hour off our time, arriving at the junction with the Bradley Pond trail at 5:00.  Steph’s ankle started hurting (from a previous injury), and the other girl’s asthma starting to kick in, so we decided that I would go ahead to the cars and get things (i.e. food and water for after the hike) organized, while the two of them would go at a slower pace.  I headed out, crossing the dangerous bridge this time, as the water level had risen enough to make rock hopping harder, and onto the road for 6:00.  Having down the hike in in the dark, I didn’t recognize many things along the way.  I hit the parking lot at 6:35, with just enough daylight left to change into non-mud encrusted clothing.  After that it was just a patient (if slightly paranoid “all alone in the dark and was that a sound?  Did I see something other there?  ARE THE DOORS LOCKED?!?”) wait for the other two to arrive.  I figured on them being out by 7:30; I saw their headlamps at 7:20.

TL:DR
– wear gaiters and gloves to ward agaist mud and slime
– Couch is a pleasant hike when you know that it will take forever.
– The infamous bog is not that bad – lots of fun log hopping it across
– Panther has a fantastic view from the rock face just before the summit

Total climbing time: 12 hours 35 minutes

Left trailhead at: 6:00, returned at 6:35
Summitted Panther at 11:02, Couchsachraga at 12:37