I decided last year that I would climb the three peaks that make up the Santanoni range as part of a short backpacking trip. That trip fell through and I asked my nephew Alex if he would join me this weekend on the makeup trip.
He came directly from taking his second mid-term exam and we met at a rest stop on I-87 and drove from there to the trailhead. We distributed the camping gear between our backpacks and started our hike to the campsite just beyond Bradley Pond. We arrived with about 30 minutes of daylight remaining and were able to set up camp and have a quick dinner before dark.
It rained overnight and the air was chilly and damp during our entire day in the mountains. We carried a lot of extra gear with us because of the remoteness of the peaks we were climbing and the chance that the weather might turn for the worse. The weight of the packs slowed us down during our ascent up the trail from Bradley Pond to the clearing located in the saddle between Santanoni and Panther.
From there we first hiked to Couchsachraga Peak. Couchsachraga is ancient Algonquin and is translated as “the dismal wilderness.” It is the word that the Algonquins used for the Adirondack Mountains.
The hike to Couchsachraga is deceptively difficult. At 1164 meters it is the shortest of the peaks making up the 46er list. The saddle between Panther and Santanoni is at roughly 1300 meters and the trail to Couchsachraga descends to 1000 meters before a last steep climb to the summit. The hike back to the saddle was the hardest part of the day as we struggled to regain the 300 meters we had lost hiking to Couchsachraga.
The rest of the hike was much easier. We made good time to Santanoni and Panther and headed back to the campsite at 4:00 PM.
As we walked down from Panther we debated whether we should hike out that night or stay until morning. Neither of us had slept well the night before and the freeze-dried meals I had prepared were barely edible. We reached the campsite just before dark, had a some hot chocolate and Cream of Wheat, and decided to head for home. We changed into dry clothes. packed, turned on our headlamps and started for the trailhead.
The trail was quiet and easy to follow because of the reflective trail markers. Although the head lamps limited our vision to just a few feet in front of us, we were able to track our progress by the sounds of the nearby streams that started softly and then grew louder and louder as we reached the valley and the mountain road leading to the parking lot.
It was probably the hardest day I have spent hiking in the Adirondacks thus far. Alex and I spent 14 hours walking 14 miles on wet rocks and slippery roots. We crossed two streams where the bridges had washed away. We were damp and sore and the boots we wore were covered with mud.
We reached three peaks, but saw nothing more than the signs and markers at the summits.