Santanoni, Couchsachraga and Panther
It’s been a slow start to my hiking season this year, in light of the driving rain and t-storms in the forecast for most of the summer to date. I was in need of a hike that would give my self esteem a bit of a boost and remind me that my 46er goal was indeed within my reach. Mission accomplished with a successful loop of the Santanoni range!
I’d been fretting a bit over this hike from the beginning due to the length of the hike (18+ miles), rumored difficulties in following the herd paths and general remoteness. In reading trip reports and talking to other hikers it seemed the general consensus was that this was no one’s favorite high peaks hike, but rather one that most were happy to put behind them. I put a call out on the high peaks forum for hiking partners and was thrilled to hear from one very seasoned hiker who not only was familiar with the Santas but also really enjoyed the range. A couple of other forum members expressed an interest in joining, so our foursome met yesterday at 5:30 am. By 6, we were hiking out of the trailhead toward the Santa express trail to began our ascent.
I struggled almost from the very beginning, feeling like it wasn’t my day. I’ve been training regularly at the gym, but am still not in top form and struggling with the ascents – something I really didn’t have a hard time with last year. It was also incredibly humid, even at the higher elevations. There were several times throughout the day where I questioned whether I could do it, and my pace was slow. But I had a great, supportive group and pushed myself up the steep express trail. As we neared the peak I could imagine the views from the ridge were amazing, but as per the usual there was rain in the forecast and clouds were blowing in and out. Reaching the summit of Santanoni really lifted my spirits. We had a snack, took some pictures, and headed off for Times Square, the intersection where we’d find the herd path leading to Couchie.
I really enjoyed the loop hike itself and didn’t find the paths or rock scrambles particularly challenging. The toughest part of my day, both mentally and physically, was hiking to and from Couch. Having to lose and regain elevation when you are already tired is incredibly frustrating. If there was one peak I wanted to summit yesterday it was Couchie, and I kept willing myself to push on so that I didn’t have to return for it later. It took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes to reach the summit, and about the same amount of time to get back to Times Square.
With Santa and Couchie behind us, the walk to Panther was a treat. Just a skip away from Times Square was Harold Square, and the cairn marking the start of the Panther herd path. It only took about 15 minutes to reach the summit, and the rock scrambles and expansive views from the open ridges were fun and beautiful. Another short break and a few pictures later and back down we went to Harold, where we picked up the Bradley Pond herd path for the final descent back to the trailhead. We began the return trip at around 5:15 or 5:30, quite late in the day. In the back of my mind I knew that meant we’d be walking out in the dark, but I tried not to think about it.
The hike out was long, and my energy was depleted. At one point my hiking partner was kind enough to give me some 5 hour energy, which seemed to almost propel me forward for the rest of the hike. It will now be a staple in my first aid kit. When were were almost all the way down, I slipped on the wet, slippery steps of a rickety “bridge” and pulled some muscles in my arm and shoulder, but luckily I was fine. As exhausted as we all were, we kept a great pace and managed to get all the way to the gravel road, the last leg of our trip, before darkness descended.
We reached the trailhead at 9:30 pm, 15.5 hours from when we began. It was a long day, but I really did enjoy it. I feel lucky for the opportunity to share this hike with such upbeat and kind-hearted folks. And I am beyond thrilled to have hiked all three mountains in the Santa range on the first attempt. I am feeling very optimistic about the rest of my hikes this year, and look forward to getting back out there later this week.