So, with Thursday night's snowstorm, we were bound to experience some hiccups Friday morning. After waking up at 4:30am and getting to Grosvenor at about 6:30am, sure enough, the hiccups started. Confusion over the time meant that Krupa couldn't join us. Prius attempted to navigate us around a terrible accident on 495. His plan worked so well that we were headed out to Harpers Ferry. It was about 8:30am before we were rolling north. The best laid plans of mice and men, as they say. Or do they mean pine martens and men?
Peter, Lone Wolf, Shuttle, Mark, Prius, and I endured the trip, and with relatively little subsequent ado--except for an unscripted bio break--got to the Upper Works trailhead near the Santanoni range at about 5pm. It was a beautiful, clear evening and we geared up for the 4.4 mile hike in. Snow shoes all the way, starting at about 5:30pm. The icy rime tinkled underneath my snow shoes almost like glass.
The light vanished on us as we lumbered up the slope by "dangerous bridge"--not so bad with the creek frozen over--and then began the gentle slope up to Bradley Pond. Peter and Prius broke out the trail to the shelter. Amusingly, the trail proper was entirely unbroken out, as everyone turns up the herd path to Herald Square. Once we reached the shelter, it became evident how much snow was on the ground. With a shovel, one could dig down to between 3-4 feet of unconsolidated powder. I had a devil of a time getting stakes in the ground. Peter and Prius gave me some good tips for constructing dead-man anchors in that sort of powder, and after an hour's work, the Hilleberg stood proud--one of my worst pitches ever, but it was up (and it stayed up all weekend). Our snow trench projects really continued all weekend.
It was cold. We were amazed to learn that the nearest weather station recorded -9*F that night, and given our elevation, we are claiming -15*F as a new DC UL record low. A few people were cold. I actually stood around in my hiking gear for a few minutes, but I was very glad to have a -25*F bag. We never really found a water source we could break out, so we melted snow for water.
The next morning, we were up and ready as Victoria and her friends, Brittney (Smoky) and Pat came tearing into camp, right on time. They immediately enlightened us as to the correct pronunciation of Couch--they call it Cooch. Suffice to say that "getting cooch" was our focus for the day. Pat had tried to get cooch twice before, unsuccessfully. We referred to these three as "our New Yorkers" for the remainder of the trip.
Away we went, climbing for Herald Square and Panther--the first of our 46ers, on snowshoes the entire time. In the past, I've used to good effect a rolling lead, but it never really worked Saturday. A significant gap developed between a few of our hikers. As our New Yorkers, Prius, Lone Wolf, and I went off to get Panther--an easy summit, but the most exposed, icy, cold of the three we would do--Peter assessed Mark's hands. We determined that he had some frostnip and needed to descend. Shuttle summited Panther, but she was not enjoying her snowshoes, and needed to descend, too. Prius, Lone Wolf, and I would press on with our New Yorkers (whose skill with the snow shoes far exceeded mine, incidentally).
For a moment, we floundered about near Herald's Square. The way forward was unclear. We tromped out to a viewpoint, where I got trapped in a five feet of powder and a spruce trap. As Prius would say, "All that hurts is my pride!" We had been overtaken by a group of locals who were bagging peaks for the ADK's winter gathering (I had actually chatted with them beforehand, and I was sponsoring Santanoni). They helped us tremendously. We were well able to break trail ... finding trail was tough on the way to Couch. Together, almost 20 people, we set out to make our way down that long ridgeline. We greatly benefited from the other group, as they had a great deal of knowledge and broke out a lot of trail.
The way to cooch is perilous. It's basically a long *descent* with a bunch of knobs on it. At only 3,820, Couch is lowest of the 46ers, and only counts due to a surveying error. Pat said that there are 13 peaks higher than Couch that aren't considered 46ers. It was a slog through truly epic amounts of powder. But we did it, arriving there around 12:30pm, breaking trail and finding trail (mainly Victoria and Prius) for the last section. A few steep snowshoe climbs and we were there ...
Time to turn around and head back to Times Square, which we had kinda missed on the way outbound (it's a sharp left from Heralds Square). From there, it's a mile to Santanoni's peak. Standing well above tree line, Santanoni looked daunting, but it was really not too bad. No ice, lots of soft powder, and a few steep pitches as we climbed out of the trees. Victoria snapped a few great photos on the way up. Soon, we six (Brittney, Victoria, Pat, Prius, Lone Wolf, and I stood on the top). We celebrated with Oreos and photos!
The larger group arrived and we said goodbye to our New Yorkers, pleased we had managed to stay together, and gotten all three peaks. They were headed back to the cars, pizza, and beer (via Santanoni Express), we three were headed back down to our cold camp. I had whisky and chicken dumplings waiting for dinner. I was famished.
The descent was uneventful and I built skill in the snowshoes. I'm not too proud to say that I was fatigued--my climbing muscles had definitely had it, and I think we had all had far too little to eat that day. Most of my food had gone to Panther with Shuttle. We arrived back at camp ...
... To find the camp under assault from a diabolical pine marten. A bold little thing, he twice grabbed pieces of gear and hauled them out into the waist deep powder. Hot food. Whisky. I was actually a little colder this night, though the low was something pedestrian like 12*F in town. I think it was the exertion. Anyway, once the sun was set, we were off to bed. It had been a work out. We all passed a long winter's night.
Sunday morning. We struck camp and strolled the 4.4 miles back to the cars. I was alone most of the walk and thoroughly enjoyed the winter morning. Giant snowflakes rained down in the winter sun.
Cars. Ambrosia Diner in Queensbury, NY. Cars. Cars. Cars. Until at last we're home. And my apartment is just covered in drying gear. That's 32 of 46 for me, 10 with winter credit. So, yay!
Thanks to everyone who participated in this little adventure. Matt, Peter, Darwin ... We couldn't have done it without your expertise. And Victoria, Brittany, and Pat ... Thanks for showing us the ropes. I am glad we could keep up and I hope we have many more adventures. It was quite a three-day trip! Also, thanks to the larger group, as we might have failed to get out to Couch without their experience!
The best company in the world, as as always!
Thanks for the great trip report. From my end, it certainly was a beautiful trip but I did find myself a little out of my league with the snowshoes. I'm a slow climber to begin with, but I found myself fighting with the snowshoes to get good grip. I'd chalk up inexperience to most of it... I think if I were more comfortable with the snowshoes, I could have pushed through it and made them work better for me. So I am a bit disappointed to leave two out of the three lingering out there, but it certainly was a learning weekend for me.
The other piece that I'm trying to muddle through is that my layering system hasn't been holding up -- or maybe I just need to rethink it when hiking in single digits. I got way too sweaty on Friday night despite trying my hardest to go slow and not overexert myself. It led to a slightly uncomfortable hour or so on Friday night as I dove into my sleeping bag and tried to warm up.
All in all, a great weekend with great company. I've said that the Adirondacks make me want to be a better hiker. One day I'll get there!
And our New Yorkers report:
"We had one heck of a time trying to find the Express Trail. As you know, we poked around a little bit trying to find it on the way up, but didn't come across anything promising. After descending from the summit we still didn't find anything. The large group came along to summit and seemed confident that they knew where it was. Well, at 3:00 pm (or there about) when they descended, couldn't find it, and still couldn't find it with their GPS, our little pack made the "game time" decision to haul back to Times Square and pack out the way we came in.
"I'm an engineer. I like concrete outcome measures: we climbed three peaks, we left with all of our flanges intact, we didn't have any fatalities. That being said, as we were hauling out the long way, we got all of the assurance we needed that we had made the right decision. One of the couples that banded with the large celebrating group had left their XC skis at the intersection of the Express Trail and the regular trail. As we passed the TH for the shortcut at ~6:30 PM, the couples' skis were still there. Not sure if the pack decided to try to continue to break trail down the Express or if they ended up taking the long way out, but I presume everyone came out alright- haven't seen anything about missing hikers..."
Great write-up, U-Turn. I echo Shuttle, this was a beautiful trip. I wasn't sure what to expect from the Santanonis from what I'd read - they largely seemed to be an after thought, just a box that 46ers check. To me this trip in many ways turned into a distillation of what it is that I love about being in the mountains and north woods in winter. It makes you take your skills to the next level, the muted pallet of white, grays, and greens and the silence of the woods brings a deep sense of calm and serenity, in the breaks from solitude there is a heightened sense of camaraderie as you break trail with friends old and new, an elevated sense of accomplishment at topping out on the peaks, and moments of child like joy as you slide down steep sections of trail - be it on your butt or on your snowshoes. Panther and Santanoni were fine peaks, Couch was a pain in the ass but we had great company and it provided a deep well of double entendre upon which to draw. We had a nice cozy campsite and the hike out yesterday morning along Santanoni Brook in the new snow was absolutely gorgeous. Maybe I'm crazy, maybe the white gas fumes from U-Turn's pack are getting to me, but I can see myself making a trip back to the Santas in a winter yet to come.
Hey, U-turn, thanks for the trip report, and I am so glad that every one came out safe and sound. congrats for bagging 3 more ADKs !!!![:D]
Congrats, everyone: bagging three ADK peaks in one winter day is no mean feat, 'specially with such deep snow. I second Matt's account of what can make winter backpacking so special. Sorry to have missed this one, but the ADKs, particularly in winter (which starts in the fall, by the way), will inevitably 'pull me back in.' I look forward to seeing more photos.
I also enjoyed your description, Matt. Santanoni and Panther were satisfying peaks to summit. I could see just going to do them ... Though everyone is always going to insist on Cooch.
Just hearing tale of such powder makes me want to buy some Tele skis or a splitboard. Mmm....
How did Mark fare with the frost nip? Did he and Peter hike out immediately, or hang around in camp to wait for the rest of you off chasing Couch?
There was no shortage of powder. I am sure some of the slides would have been great fun to ski. The trails we were on were very tight. Definitely snow shoeing territory, though I believe I could have XC skied most of the terrain between the TH and the shelter.
Mark's hands warmed up on the way down. He remained in camp to await us, and snow shoed out the next morning. Saturday was much warmer in camp. The weather station report a low of 12, so maybe 7 in camp.