August 28, 2015

Santanoni and Panther

4,607 feet  |  ranked 14/46 in height  |  26th peak climbed
4,482 feet  |  ranked 18/46 in height  |  27th peak climbed

Frankie was in South Carolina much of this week, visiting his grandmother and enjoying the ocean.  I'd been checking the long-range forecast constantly, hoping that serendipitous timing would give me a window of good weather for hiking.  The earliest available forecasts called for rain, but I kept watching and ended up with perfect weather.  My partners for this hike were my Dad, Bruce, and his 9-month old Australian shepherd, Daisy.  He takes her for walks averaging about 3 miles a day, but in the flat lands, and no single hike has exceeded 5 miles.  When I first discussed the possibility of teaming up for a hike, he was interested, but conditioned his agreement on no 4 am departures.  As a result, I'd been thinking we might drive up Thursday night, hike Friday, and then drive home first thing Saturday morning so I could pick up Frankie and Erwin at the airport. 

However, my Dad had a meeting Thursday night he couldn't miss, so we ended up driving up Friday morning, and compromising with a 5 am meet time at the local Thruway park and ride.  Between the late start, the long drive home afterwards, and the uncertainty about how Daisy would do on a hike of this scale, I wanted to select a relatively short hike.  We each already had more than 20 high peaks under our belts, with plenty of differences in our lists, so it was a bit of a challenge finding a short hike where dogs are permitted that was new to both of us.  We settled on Santanoni as a stand-alone hike, thinking it would be about 10-11 miles round trip if we used used the Express Trail in both directions.

It was about 8:45 am when we signed in and started down the gated gravel road.  There was only one other car in the lot, a hiker signed in as heading for Panther and Couchsachraga.  After the long drive up, Daisy was full of energy, bounding circles around us and splashing in all waters.  It is a quick 1.8 miles to the junction where the blue trail splits north toward Bradley Pond and Duck Hole.  After a short distance there is a "bridge out" warning sign.  Water levels were low enough this mattered not; we were able to easily rock hop directly under both the washed out and "broken" bridges.  The stream is never far, and the trail is obviously frequently muddy, but I honestly didn't find it too bad.  There are a lot of improvements, corduroy and plank bridges and such.  Conditions were pretty ideal.  The trails ascends gently, gaining perhaps 700 feet over maybe 1.7 miles.

The gravel road at the start/end of the hike.
I love the funky color patterns that develop on hobblebush (Viburnum lentago) leaves.
One of the pretty little ponds along the road walk.  Daisy jumped in this one. 
This sign is posted a short distance after turning onto the marked trail.  There are actually two bridges out. 
Daisy checking out the first of the washed out bridges.
Bruce and Daisy rock hopping across the second stream.  I'm standing up on the platform of the second washed out bridge.
The second broken bridge.  Most of this one is in decent shape, but there is a section out on the far side.  Some folks apparently cross anyway, but it is high and the water level was low, so we went with the easy rock hop. 

Some kind of horsehair worm?  I moved it to the side of the trail so it wouldn't get stepped on.
narrow-leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis)
Shortly before the junction with the Santanoni Express herd path, the marked trail passes right next to a beautiful little waterfall and pool.  Daisy swam in the pool and jumped on rocks.  The intersection is clearly marked with a large cairn, and the herd path is well trod and easy to follow.  The grade is moderate at first but quickly becomes very steep.  The herd path gains about 2,000 feet over approximately 2 miles before gaining the ridge.  There are several long, tricky scrambles up seepy vertical slabs.  Daisy handled every obstacle with natural ease, often jumping or scrabbling up and then down, and then up again with obvious joy.  Once on the ridge, there is a rise visible immediately to the left.  The summit is one bump past that.  The true summit with the sign is wooded, but there are many nice views in the immediate area.

We back tracked to a rock with a view to sit down, eat, and strategize.  My Dad was concerned about descending some of the sections of trail we'd just come up.  He doesn't butt slide and much prefers steep ups to downs.  We looked at the map and determined that it would add about 3 miles and 450 feet elevation gain to follow the ridge line north to Panther and descend via the Bradley Pond herd path instead.  It was a bit of a gamble since neither of us had taken that trail before; what if it was just as bad, despite the contour lines suggesting otherwise?  I had some reservations about having enough daylight given our late start, but felt like it wasn't huge risk given that the last 1.8 miles back to the trailhead are on an even surfaced gravel road.  I had my head lamp, of course, and my Dad had a flashlight.  We decided to push on.     

Santanoni Brook

Cairn marking the junction with the Santanoni Express herd path.
The herd path is easy to follow.
It's a it bit muddy in places though.
View northeast toward the High Peaks from a bump near the top of Santanoni. 
Daisy at the summit of Santanoni. 

Looking toward Panther from somewhere near the top of Santanoni.  I can almost fancy I see the herd path along the ridge.
Panorama to capture Couchsachraga to the left of Panther (center).  I'll be back for you, Couchie!
Daisy on the herd path to Panther.
A look back at Santanoni from whence we came. 
The herd path along the ridge is pleasant enough, mostly a scratchy green tunnel, but with periodic rewarding views and nothing too challenging.  We passed through two small clearings with three-way herd path intersections.  At the first, Times Square, the left branch leads west toward Couchsachraga.  We continued right to Herald Square, where the left fork leads up Panther and the right descends to Bradley Pond.  From here it is a short climb to the summit of Panther.  There is a steep slab before the final approach where the heavily trafficked go-around is muddy and badly eroded.  A ladder here would really help protect the vegetation from further damage.  There is one last mud pit to cross to reach the summit sign and benchmark.  Again the true summit is treed, with limited views gained by climbing a small boulder, but ample wide vistas are available right before the summit.

We ate some more and then started the long hike back out.  The Bradley Pond herd path is indeed less steep than the Santanoni Express.  It descends along a brook, then skirts the base of some nice cliffs and wraps around Bradley Pond before crossing an old beaver dam and rejoining the marked trail.  From here it is almost 5 miles back to the car.  I really wanted to get back at least to the gravel road before darkness settled.  We motored along fairly quickly, soon passing the Express intersection.  We met several parties heading in with full packs to set up camp at Bradley Pond.  The sinking sun was already below the ridgeline and the woods were rapidly dimming.  We made it back to the road right before sunset -- what a relief!  We got back to the trailhead around 8 pm, enjoying the near-full moon rising orange through the trees.  The drive home was rough, but we stopped for coffee and switched off driving, and were home by 12:30 am.

I'm so pleased with the adventure! The Santanoni Range has this really remote feel that I really enjoyed, and offers splendid and unique views north and east across the entire High Peaks. And Daisy definitely proved her mettle.  I think she can handle just about anything we can. 

Herald Square, the junction of three herd paths: one to the summit of Panther, one to Bradley Pond, and one to Times Square (another three-way herd path junction). 

I climbed up on a boulder to get to the level of the winter summit disc. 
View from up on the summit boulder.
Panther has a benchmark.
Panther summit mud pit. 
View of the Sewards from up on Panther.
Descending the Bradley Pond herd path.
Water levels are low in the beaver pond at the junction with the marked trail. 
Junction of the herd path and the marked trail.  The main trail was rerouted in this area and there are a jumble of trails. 
I bought this shirt years ago.  I can finally wear it out of the house!

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