Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Santanoni "Express" Circuit: 08/03/2011

Following is the fourth post in a series about women hiking the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. An early start and use of the "new" Santanoni Express route allowed Beth, Marcy and Judy to complete a circuit of the rugged, trailless Santanoni Range in a 12-hour day.

Posted by: Beth Gelber

View of the High Peaks from Panther Peak.  Three women complete a circuit of the Santanoni Range, August 3, 2011.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

Following our Dix Range traverse last month, three of us planned an attempt at the three peaks of the Santanoni range. For Judy, with just 6 peaks to go towards finishing her 46, the Santanonis represented half of her remaining peaks. For Marcy and me, it was a chance to knock off another challenging group of trailless peaks.

Santanoni Brook along the approach to Bradley Pond

Judy gets the credit for doing a great job with the research and route planning. Basically we would climb up the Santanoni ridge from Bradley Pond via the "standard" Panther Brook herd path. At the top of the ridge, we'd do a short out-and-back to Panther Peak, then a much longer out-and-back to Couchsachraga, and then hike along the ridgeline to the summit of Santanoni. From there we'd drop directly down the "Express" route back to the approach trail and out to the trailhead. We figured the entire circuit would take 12 hours, so we planned a 6am start.

Bottle gentians blooming along the approach trail

Favorable weather for just about all of July has made for excellent hiking conditions on all of our trips this summer. The trails are about as mud-free as they get, helping us to make good time on the approach trail to Bradley Pond.

Bradley Pond through the trees

The herd path from Bradley Pond up Panther Brook was easy to follow, and before long we arrived at "Times Square," the 4-way herd path junction at the top of the ridge. Straight ahead was the route to Couchsachraga, Panther to the right, and Santanoni to the left.

Beth at Panther Peak's summit

The short hike over to Panther was easy, and we arrived at the open summit under blue skies. There are beautiful views of the High Peaks, as well as towards our next objective, Couchsachraga, down a long connecting ridge. Couchie is infamous among asipiring 46ers, not only for its remote location but also for being the lowest of the 4000-footers, in fact its elevation is nearly two hundred feet shy of the 4000' mark, but that's another story.

That's Couchie way down there, Long Lake in the distance

In a sense the next leg of our trip, the long out-and-back to Couchie, was the crux of the day. The round trip involves a steep descent of almost a thousand vertical feet off the Santanoni ridge, followed by a long traverse out to Couchie's summit, perhaps the remotest summit of the 46. The return trip retraces that route, including re-climbing the thousand vertical feet back up to the ridge, and 3 hours after leaving Times Square for Couchie we were back, with one peak left to go: Santanoni.

Finally, Couch's summit. L to R: Beth, Marcy and Judy

Santanoni from near Panther Peak

From Times Square, we followed the herd path route up Santanoni's long ridgeline to the summit. Although it had clouded up during our return from Couchie, there were still good views from viewpoints along the way and from the actual summit.

High Peaks from Santanoni's summit

White throated sparrow near Santanoni's summit

After a short summit break, we located and descended the "Santanoni Express" route directly from the summit. Though steep and at times difficult to follow, the Express was key in enabling us to complete the circuit in a day because it allowed us to skip retracing the long ridgeline route back to Times Square. It also brought us back to the approach trail at a point well below Bradley Pond and closer to the trailhead. The Express probably saved us 1 - 2 hours, a huge benefit on a long day.

Marcy starting down the Santanoni Express route

We signed out at the trailhead almost exactly 12 hours after starting our hike. Having now checked off many of the major trailless peaks off my 46er list - the Sewards, the Dixes, the Santanonis - I'm really gaining an appreciation for the 46. It's about much more than list-checking and peak-bagging. It's about the mountains themselves: not just the popular peaks with views and well maintained trails, but the remote, wild peaks that capture the essence of the Adirondacks.

Ed. note: The "Santanoni Express" follows the route of the original trail cut by the Tahawus Club up Santanoni via its eastern ridge around 1900. The hurricane of November, 1950 devastated the forest in this region, and the trail fell into disuse. It continued to be used as an unmaintained herd path approach to Santanoni until 1979, when Finch Pruyn closed the route because they leased the property to a hunting club. Then, nearly 30 years later in 2007, the Open Space Institute acquired the property, re-opening the area for recreational use. With the "new/old" route (naming the route is itself an issue of some controversy) now in use for just a few years, it is much less easy to follow than most of the well established herd paths up the other trailless peaks, but makes possible a circuit route over the Santanonis such as followed by the 3 women on August 3. The route is a good example of how herd path routes to the trailless peaks have evolved over the years, sometimes re-shaped by natural events like slides or hurricanes, sometimes re-shaped by manmade events like ownership changes. - Jeff

Panther Peak, elevation 4440', order of height: 18, first ascent David Lynch, 1904. Couchsachraga, elevation 3800', order of height: 46, first ascent Herb Clark, George and Bob Marshall, 1921. Santanoni, elevation 4606', order of height: 13, first ascent David Hunter and Theodore Davis, 1866. Round-trip distance for the circuit, approximately 18 miles and 4600 vertical feet.

Previous Women and Hiking entry: Dix Range Traverse. Next Women and Hiking entry: Cliff Mountain.


  1. The Express trail looks like a great option. When we did the Santanonis (about 9 years ago), we ended up having to bail after Panther and Couch because we were running out of time. (We went back later for Santanoni.)

  2. Gillian, I've done the Santanonis a few times myself. I think I've got Couch twice and Panther & Santanoni three times, but I've never done all 3 in a day. Beth and Marcy told me after the hike that the Express was absolutely the key. It's still not widely known since it's only been available for a few years. I only wish I had gone along too!