Being that it was almost memorial day weekend, it was time to get into the woods and away from the bigger holiday crowds near town and in the most popular areas of the high peaks.
The Santanoni range makes for a perfect destination in this situation, and we planned to camp back in the wilderness and away from the main campsites. Of course, it was raining as we met up with some of the other Peak Enjoyers from past stories here... Derek & Zane joined us in the afternoon at the lot, and we headed in.
After a short walk on a private, gated dirt road, we arrived at the wilderness trailhead. The first crossing was easy, and we noted it looked fishable. We didn't fish though... the rain and the hike ahead were more front and center at the moment.
The rain was not too heavy and for some moments, even stopped. However, a fresh shower or misty cloud would blow by to remind us that yes, in fact, the rain is falling this year. The second crossing was more gnarly, with the bridge in need of complete repair.
Soon after, I noticed a strange white slug on some fungus. I have seen thousands of slugs up here, but never and large white ones.
The trail follows a stream that looks rather fishy, but we didn't try to fish it until relatively high up. I got nothing. Likely the fish in this area were wiped out a long time ago, and have not or cannot make it back up above this many waterfalls.
Those waterfalls and pools were beautiful and provided a great backdrop for a couple of rest-stops and water breaks.
There were some newer plank walkways through the path, but not enough of them in the muckiest places. The Santanoni area is known as one of the muddiest and wettest of the areas, and this was a truly wet season to add on top of that.
For the most part, we made good time and arrived at the junction to the Santanoni trail with some time to spare. We decided to camp up high in a campsite we had seen on the last hike through the area.
A funny sheep-shaped tree required a stop for a pose...
... and lichen coated the stumps and fallen wood all around us.
We had to gain a little bit of elevation before the day was over, and the mud wouldn't let up at all. Much of trail was a stream or a mess of mucky, slippery and sloppy earth that didn't give much confidence to any single step.
When we arrived at camp it was still cold, we were wet, and it was time to make dinner right away. Derek & Zane were still wearing shorts and didn't seem to care about that, but even after setting up my hammock I was in need of my down jacket to feel good. We ate a good meal and hit the sack as the misty wet air swirled all around.
The next morning I awoke to a surprising joy - THE SUN! There was water evaporating off of everything, and we had a chance to dry some things off for a moment.
After dilly-dallying around camp for a bit, we set out to Peak Santanoni & Panther around 10:30am. The climb is steep, with much of the trail in the water. The views slowly appear as you climb, but you have to remember to turn around and see them.
|Photo credit Rob Lepczyk|
Once you get up on the ridge, there are more opportunities for views in various directions. You can see most of the Eastern High Peaks from up here, as well as the Seward range. The view from Santanoni itself was great - I thought there was no view, so I was glad to have been wrong.
The sun was gone by this point, and it began to rain on us at the summit. We finished lunch and headed back down the ridge towards the junction with Couchsachraga and Panther peak trails.
We skipped Couch this time around (I swore I'd never hike it again last time,) and headed for the famous boggy path to Panther. It was in fine form, full of knee-deep holes and the classic deep muck that defines the entire area.
Carefully picking our way around the mud while trying not to damage the high alpine region is difficult. For this reason, and since I had already peaked this one more than once, I hung back a bit while the other guys grabbed the peak.
After a triumphant snack near the summit, we headed back down towards camp. There was still snow along the trail, as there has been in this area at this time before. I was almost surprised not to see more, but there had been more rain than snow over the last few weeks, that much was clear.
Back at camp for the evening, the sky cleared a bit and we got a nice sunset view from the ridge. Unfortunately, the camera couldn't quite capture it in full beauty, even though the image does evoke the feeling of the moment quite well.
|Photo Credit Rob Lepczyk|
That night was an early night, and the next morning was an early rise, as we had planned to hike about 8 miles around and back to Henderson Lake to find a campsite.
The Sun was out again, and this day looked a little more promising than the previous day in terms of the weather. The trail was still a stream though, for most of the day.
There were hundreds of newts around, and we constantly had to watch for them on the trail. Luckily they are bright orange and easy to spot.
Inside this hole I saw a toad peeking out, and I learned that there was such thing as a toad-hole in the moss. Is this where they all live when we can't see them?
Along the trail, we found a bit of a puzzle that we had to solve. There were many spruce boughs and tree tops lying around areas that didn't have the same kinds of trees. It became apparent, after some investigation of the area and repetitive finds, that these had been blown here by the wind. Just crazy!
Back at Duck Hole we had to ford the Cold River. The bridge over the old dam is gone, as the dam collapsed and hasn't been replaced. Its nice to see nature reclaiming much of the area, and we ran into a DEC volunteer back there who was clearing some of the blowdown and checking in on the trail. Devil-Dog, if you're out there, you missed a few trees on the way back to Henderson Lake, dude! ;)
Meanwhile, we were making slow time this particular day, generally lallygagging and enjoying the views, as well as the sun. It hadn't rained yet! We covered a lot of ground before it began to drizzle. Luckily that didn't last long at all, and we made good time on the last few miles.
I had never travelled this section of trail before, and it meandered through old ponds, streams and then what appeared to be the backside of the mound of earth that makes up Wall-Face. We circled around to Henderson Lake, back up towards Wall-Face, and the backcountry campsites. We found a small site and set up a tight hammock camp, barely working around the tight trees to find a good spot.
The next day we woke up to threatening clouds and the cold winds that signal a shift in the weather. Storms were brewing, and we raced to pack up camp before the rain hit. Just on cue, the rain began to fall as we broke camp, and we hiked back in the rain. I didn't take my camera out to photograph the morning, but there wasn't much to show - just more rain. We had a hot meal in town and said goodbye to the other peak enjoyers, heading to a hotel to do some laundry, get clean, and plan another backpacking trip, this time into the Eastern High Peaks zone.