Saturday, January 3, 2015

Searching for streams and fighting the muck in the Santanoni Range

A couple of years ago a group of us embarked on a particularly muddy hike in the Santanoni Range in the Adirondack High Peaks. This is a rather remote area in the western part of the high peaks region, and sees less hikers. It is also known for its muddy and time-consuming hiking. I once swore in frustration that I'd never return, but there are more peaks to climb, so there we were again. In the rain. And the mud, and with the idea of scouting some possible very remote small stream fishing...

Flooded areas like this are common even in drier parts of the year, but we were there in the spring, making it even worse. However, with risk comes reward, and so we were able to enjoy what nature had in store.

The trail was messy but not as bad as the previous trip. The first afternoon was all rain. 

After a few miles, we were almost at the site. I had already gone in over my boots while crossing a stream, and was ready to get into some dry clothes and warm up. We stopped for a photo near the campsite. I have seen some small fish here, but I think the beavers keep the population from getting large enough to fish.

I love the zPacks Solplex because its amazing for wet weather. There's almost never any problem with condensation, and it sets up taught and easily, even in the dark...

The next morning the sun was teasing us a little bit and the skies promised slightly better weather. We discussed options and decided that because the best weather was forecast for the following day, we'd put off the ridge for that day, and we'd do a day hike out to Duck Hole and back, scouting some small streams. We left camp set up and headed out in a light mist.

Yes, the trail is a stream on this day. Hence why I don't always hike in trail runners!

The sun finally came out and the trail emerged from the forest. We followed the stream as it tumbled down into the valley and began to flatten out. 

 Sometimes you find the fishiest looking water up in the high peaks region and think there must be fish in every pool and under each overhang. Unfortunately I've found from experience that a good number of these streams don't hold a single fish that I can find. Such was our luck this day.

Sometimes I have to throw a line in to check out another section, especially one as beautiful as this, but most often I find that the streams up high in the ADK just don't support life beyond crayfish and frogs. I'm not yet sure if this has to do with lingering effects of acid rain, which once decimated the fishing in this part of the state, or if it has more to do with the force of water that so frequently washes these rocks clean. Even the river this empties into has yielded not a single trout in the 3 times I've fished it. Yet somehow, just over the ridge, not 10 miles away as the crow flies, I've fished some of the most healthy wild trout water in the area. Sometimes I just have to accept that my best option is to enjoy the view and leave my rod strapped to my pack.

And boy is there plenty to enjoy along the trail, fishing or not!

But how could there not be fish in this water? It almost makes no sense. Argh.

I ended up falling into the stream while crossing more than once. I'm giving up on the Asolo Reston WP boots I have been testing out this season so far to avoid further injury - they can't even hold grip on flat sections of wet rock. What a shame - they are the most comfy and lightweight waterproof boots I've ever hiked in. But they are useless with the rubber sole they have now. 

My photos from duck hole were lost due to my phone taking a swim, but we had a great day and returned to camp tired and once again our clothes were damp but spirits were high. Fires are allowed in this part of the high peaks and we were glad to have one that night.

Next morning we woke up to full sun and warmer temperatures. Perfect ridge day! We had a bushwhack of Couchsaraga planned for the day and it would not be an easy one. We crossed the beaver dam and headed up the ridge along a beautiful cliff. 

The trail crosses a stream and the cascading pools begin. Plenty of amazingly fresh and cold water to drink on this hike - no fear of dehydration for us. Even though it was early June, there was still ice left in the dark spots along the stream and trail. 

We continued up, remembering to stop and turn around for views when we needed a water break....

As we got higher the views got nicer, the trail got muddier again, and the harder work began.

The problem with hiking back here is just how laborious and absolutely energy-consuming it is. You're constantly high-stepping over and around rocks and boulders. The trail is mostly mud or water. Everything is slippery. There is blowdown, and you have to go both over AND under boulders...

The views and good company were all that kept me going, as my ration of snacks ran out way too soon. 

Crossing the epic bog that I had heard people speak of for years as a thorn in their side was quite an experience. It was worthy of its reputation. However, being well-versed in the ways of crossing such bogs in the ADK backcountry, I quickly found us an ideal trail of logs and fallen branches to keep us dry and above the knee-deep muck. 

Make no mistake, that mud will eat you up like quicksand and you'll lose a shoe faster than you can say "yuck!" But the summit couldn't keep us at bay forever, and we enjoyed some lunch and short nap and headed back to punish ourselves even harder on the hike back.

I had no energy left for photos after this point, and I knew that it would just be a repeat of what I had already seen. I left the camera in my bag and hobbled back to camp. 

I was slightly disappointed not to have found any prime fishing water on our hike, but we got to experience the glory of this part of the Adirondacks in every way. I made some notes on my fishing map when I got home... we will be back to explore the other side of this wilderness next year, and we'll find the fish yet!


  1. The Adirondacks are certainly beautiful country.....thanks for the pics on a dreary Saturday afternoon.

  2. You're welcome Kiwi. The scenery definitely makes it worth the hard work getting there, even if not for the fishing!