Exploring the Santanoni Range in the Adirondacks

Michael and I headed up to the Santanoni Range over the Fourth of July weekend to pick up more peaks for my 46 and for Michael’s second round. We had been to the Santanoni range before on a DC UL trip in the winter so this was a chance to see it in another season. 

While not posted on DC UL, I still thought it would be worth writing up a short report as I know there are quite a few in the group who are working on their 46 and may have this range in their sights. 

Our plan was straightforward: Drive up, hike to the shelter, and then do the three peaks on the following day. We headed up the herd path along Panther Brook to Panther first, then went to  Couch, and then Santanoni. We wound up descending the Santanoni Express Trail as we wanted to get to water faster and thought that was our best bet to do so. We originally intended to stay a second night by the shelter but the intensity of the bugs drove us to hike out that night. 

Welcome to the famous bog. It could be worse.

Some of my takeaways from the trip:

  1. I am impressed with those who do this as a day hike. It’s a challenging 16 miles, and you do feel (at least I did) like you are constantly going uphill, despite the infamous descent to Couchsachraga. If you do it as a day hike, consider going up the Santanoni Express so that you hit Santanoni first, then the out and back to Couchsachraga, then Panther, and then down to Bradley Pond. 
  2. The views don’t get enough credit. On a clear day, like the one we had, you have great views of the surrounding ranges–and not just at Panther. As you make your way up and down Couchsachraga and Santanoni, you’ll have plenty to look at as you hike along. 
  3. You will curse every step downhill as you make your way to Couchsachraga. There’s no way around it — dropping ~800 feet only to know that you need to reclimb it just plain sucks. That being said, there is really only one section of the descent that is steep, with the rest being (at least for the Adirondacks) a milder grade.
  4. The bog wasn’t that bad. I thought that we’d be knee-deep in mud throughout the entire walk to Couchsachraga, but it was a short stretch that you need to navigate right before you start the climb to the summit. We heard that it was drier than normal so it could expand in rainier conditions. 
  5. Pay attention to the trails up there. The areas known as Times Square and Herald Square have trails criss-crossing each way. Plus, it is easy to miss which square you are in, and you could easily pass by the trail you are looking for. A map is essential. GPS tracks would be helpful. But mostly, just keeping your eyes open for the turn-offs is key. 
  6. Bug season is no joke. This is one of the worst bug seasons in recent memory, as a park ranger told us, given how wet the spring was and how long mud season lasted. I did not bring a headnet, a mistake I regretted that first night in camp. Even going high did not get us away from the bugs–I climbed Santanoni in a cloud of them, and worked myself into an exhausted frenzy trying to swat them away. We had Picaridin which usually works but only deterred them for just a few minutes–long enough to lull you into a false sense of security before the bugs doubled back. My arms were so covered in bug bites that people were inching away from me on the metro. 
  7. The Santanoni Express is a good option. It is a steep trail but it does help facilitate your route. Most people prefer to climb it, but we descended it as we were low on water and wanted to get to a stream quickly. (It may be debatable if this was closer to water than retracing our steps back to Panther Brook, but it gave us a chance to explore a new trail–and that stream was glorious when we got to it.) The trail is easier to spot from the base as there is a huge cairn marking the split. From the top, it might be harder to spot but a good clue is to look for the herd path leading off the false summit before Santanoni. I had read about a campsite at the base of the express trail but note that this an illegal site. There usually is a no camping sign there but the ranger told us that the sign is sometimes removed. 

All in all, a great and tough weekend. 

On a side note, we wound up staying at the Ausable Inn on Friday night. The rooms are clean and inexpensive, plus there’s a bar and restaurant on site. It’s a good option to keep in mind if you are looking for a place to stay in Keene Valley. 

Featured image by Michael Martin.

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