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Santanoni Bushwhack via Twin Slide: 2014 February 22

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  • Santanoni Bushwhack via Twin Slide: 2014 February 22

    Disclaimer+ Please...No one should interpret this report to mean that avalanche conditions are safe in the backcountry or on this slide. This is simply a report of our experience.

    Round-trip distance/duration: 13.25 miles / 15 hours
    Conditions: 30”-48” Powder with thin crust.
    Partner: Alan Wechsler
    Total elevation gain: 4,100 feet



    Friend, Alan Wechsler, and I made plans for a winter bushwhack of Santanoni Mt. a couple years ago. He needed the peak for his 46W and was seeking adventure. Thus we set a flexible climbing date of sometime in February; the exact date to be determined last minute based on conditions—a good thing since the avalanche conditions have been prime over the last few weeks (and still are depending on the area).

    The drive to the trail head on sections of black ice and realization that I’d forgotten my gaitors (a first) was foretelling of how the day would go. I still hoped for a solid night’s sleep, but my mind worked overtime during the night on how to remedy the gaitor situation. I certainly couldn’t bushwhack without them. Sinus problems and a pounding headache allowed me a mere 2 or 3 hours of sleep, but I chalked the symptoms up to allergies like many times before. I later realized that I’d contracted a of flu-like bug…(my wife was in its grip as well when I returned home after the climb).

    When the alarm went off at 4:45 a.m., I felt less than ambitious. As Alan had driven up from Albany so I planned to suck it up and hopefully walk off the headache. As for the gaiters—it took about 20 minutes to convert a mesh grocery bag (the reusable type available at the grocery store) and a nylon stuff sack into make-shift gaiters. I cut a hole in the edge of the bottom for the toe box of the boot to stick through. Several slits in the top allowed me to weave a shoelace through to secure each to my leg. Stylish, no, but I hoped they’d be functional.

    Alan cooked a hearty breakfast and we left the trailhead at 6 a.m. Adventure awaited, how much we didn’t realize.

    Alan at the beginning of the bushwhack...extricating himself from the drainage.

    All trails were well packed and at 8:30 a.m. we began the ‘whack from the Santanoni Express following a minor drainage up to the left. I chose this route as it offers an “easy” crossing over the eastern ridge and avoids private land by a wide margin.

    What I hoped might be supportive snow from rains the day before, was certainly not. The snow had a light unsupportive crust. Thus each step was of the “step, break through and let the snow settle before applying weight” variety. We’d plunge mid-shin to knee deep each time for the first mile. C’est la vie. The trail-breaking strategy began by alternating 100 pace leads. The regimen slowly relaxed and we simply broke trail until tired then switched.
    We arrived at the crest of the ridge after about ½ hour. Gravity would help our journey over the next segment on descent to the swamp. The terrain funneled us into the drainage near the bottom-a problem since the snow was less consolidated and it was easy to break through air pockets and end up in snow to our armpits.

    Several streams converge at the bottom where they jog to the east. We continued south after finding some open water and refilling our Nalgene bottles. The swamp was under foot at around 11:15 a.m. I knew it would be beautiful in winter—a more expansive version of Elk Pass en route to Nippletop. The series of beaver ponds were well frozen, the dead trees sticking up through the snow like barbed daggers. The distance had taken almost 3 hours.

    Walking across the beaver ponds through the alley of daggers (above) and toward the toe of the slide (below).

    Plunging up the bottom of the slide.

    Twin Slide
    The real work began on the slide. My prayer for a trek up a wind-blown consolidated surface in the wide drainage was unanswered: a trial awaited. The “climbing” was really just a snow-slog as we sought the firmest surfaces, most of the time in vain. A wall on the right, beautiful in summer, was now a magnificent tapestry of ice set against the ever expanding view to the east.
    The panorama would get better with elevation gain even if conditions didn’t.
    With elevation came a bit of wind and spindrift to give the trek an even more alpine feel. An overhanging outcrop of anorthosite just before the confluence of the tributaries was well iced, the drainage buried under 6 feet of snow. Alan and I took the opportunity to apply some dark humour—murder by icicle (see photo). With that out of our system, we climbed the central leg that extends closest to the summit. Our slog became more cumbersome.

    Plunging through the crust into the snow didn’t gain us traction so we needed to try and stay on top by creatively distributing our weight. With a trekking pole laid flat in front of me I put both hands on it and spread my snowshoes as wide as possible. It shattered the crust somewhat, but did the job. Alan found a parallel route since my tactic effectively destroyed the traction for him. Several hundred feet higher a lookout rock was lightly corniced and the terrain became steeper. After ‘swimming’ uphill with no significant progress, we switched to crampons. Underneath the 36” was a variety of alder, sand, rubble etc.—one of the reasons we chose this slide. Yes, it could still avalanche, but it a bit less likely than on smooth slab.

    The final pitch consists of slab in the summer and that’s where my concern regarding avalanches kicked into higher gear. Only a few ice bulges breached the surface as I looked across the snowscape. One was along the top left-hand side—the only exposed ice we were able to climb. The satisfying sound of a solid thunk sang back as axes plunged deep. Somewhere during our climb on the upper reaches of Twin Slide, the sun appeared illuminating Mt. Colden and the High Peaks in full glory!

    Passing below the overhang before the confluence of the tribs.

    A couple hundred feet below the top.

    Bottom of the last pitch.

    Enjoying the only ice en route.

    Summit Push
    By the time we reached the top, neither of us was much concerned about capturing photographs (too bad because there were some funny situations!). I had a hunch it would be a battle to get to the summit by dark. I knew the route, but had no desire to thrash through spruce traps by the light of a headlamp. Thus we began our next—the hardest—leg at 3:15 p.m. The distance was only ¼ mile with 450 feet of elevation gain, but small numbers mean nothing in winter. On previous bushwhacks to the summit, I’ve crested the ridge then followed it up. I feared that the heaviest drifting would be on top and took us on a cross-slope line to the north.

    We started up in moderately open woods which helped since there was a slightly thicker crust in open locations. Such segments were far and few between. The majority of the way involved breaking through 36 – 48 inches of snow. If there’s a better (more grueling) workout, I’m not aware of it—good for the cardiovascular system, legs, arms and core! I watched Alan work his way through spruce traps by rolling forward, crawling, stemming, you name it. Particularly memorable was a maneuver in which he pushed his back up against a tree trunk and walked up an adjacent tree with the snowshoes. He then rolled onto a platform of snow which promptly collapsed and deposited him down where he started.

    After two hours we’d covered 2/3 of the distance, a bit over 1/8 mile, and were nearing the ridge top. The task grew more demanding as the slope grew steeper and we entered the drifts. The tails, meant to add surface area and float to snowshoes, became ever more annoying as they tangled on hidden limbs under the snow.

    The sun set lit the western sky with a fiery display as I broke out of the spruce onto a supportive platform. It was majestic so I stripped the pack off and took out the camera before the lighting shifted. Occasionally up to our necks, we pushed and thrashed our way over the various ups and downs en route to the summit. The last rays of light disappeared as we found the nearly buried summit sign. Alan’s 37th winter peak was well-earned.

    The Santanoni Express was packed yet not icy; it was a relief to finally relax and enjoy the hike out in the dark. The stars were especially bright on the moonless clear evening. I reminisced as we passed by our tracks and closed the loop. It was 9 p.m. when we finally arrived back at the car.

    And NOW for DeepForest...a continuation of the Santanoni experience

    Last edited by mudrat; 11-27-2020, 10:46 AM.
    May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

  • #2
    Here's the better disclaimer that should precede all of your TRs: "Disclaimer+ Please...No one in their right mind should ever accompany MudRat on any outdoor adventure lest they they certifiable masochists or recently escaped from the insane asylum".

    Sooooooooooo GLAD I get to experience this one vicariously!


    • #3
      "Think of Beckhorn", yeah right, expect the unexpected....., bags of fun, swimming in the snow with a 35 pounds bag, getting out of spruce traps with the same bag and all that at the pace of a drunken snail.....

      Well man, both you and Alan , Kudos you deserve it for your perseverence on that outing. The route looks great on the picture, unfortunately the conditions where not on par.

      I guess, you will fill it on the never again outing (I could be wrong on that affirmation).

      I am positively glad to have read your TR, but it is even better for myself not to have been stuck in the spruce traps for so long, Alan did not learn much french, thats all I can said.

      I understand better now, why you want to relax next WE.

      See Ya, it is always a pleasure to go out with you, but I am more picky now.
      8000m 0/14


      • #4
        Thanks for that report. Was looking at that slide from the Mt. Adams fire tower on Sunday, recalling that you had climbed it the day before (you ran into some friends on the trail in). It sure looked sweet from my view, but I guess up close the snow was fairly nasty.


        • #5
          Wow man, sounds pretty brutal, but an awesome adventure nonetheless! That flu bug is going around! It got me early last week and I passed it on to my wife. Both of us are generally very healthy and don't get struck by these sort of things. Tough year for sickness.
          Crepuscular Rays: Dissolve into evergreens

          There's always gonna be another mountain
          I'm always gonna wanna make it move
          Always gonna be an uphill battle
          Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
          Ain't about how fast I get there
          Ain't about what's waitin' on the other side...
          It's the climb
          -Miley Cyrus


          • #6
            What an interesting weekend it was to say the least. I guess my part in this play started with my attempted drive over to meet Mudrat at the trailhead on Friday night. We were going to meet in the parking lot Fri. night to get a 5:30am start on Saturday. It rained heavy Friday afternoon. By the time I got all my gear together to leave it was 9pm and although the rain had stopped earlier in the day, my driveway was a solid sheet of ice. Immediately I knew the 2 plus hour drive to Upper Works from VT was going to be a challenge.

            I figured once on the main roads, it would be salted/sanded and drivable.
            The roads were downright dangerous; there was ice everywhere and no salt. I gave Mudrat a call and told him I would be really late because I was only driving 25mph. Five minutes later after my car took a scary slide, I decided to turn around and when I called him again, I Just got his voicemail so I left a message explaining my retreat.

            I felt really defeated on the short 20 minute drive back home knowing the roads would still be too unsafe to drive in the early AM and I would be missing the climb on Saturday. When I got home I heard on the news that a tour bus filled with skiers from NJ just crashed into an 18 wheeler on the exact road I would of been driving on had I not turned around. (22A in VT)
            Tragically the bus driver was killed in the accident. Prayers and thoughts to his family. I counted my blessings and thought about my wife and kids.

            Because I was already packed and had no plans for Sunday I decided I would try the slide climb with my friend Rodrigo on Sunday. We wouldn't have to worry about route finding because we would just follow Mudrat and Alan's tracks from the day before. I get a call from MR around 10pm Saturday night as he is driving home from their climb. He explained to me the unexpected conditions they faced and the 15 hours of hell they were just put thru. He gave me some great beta info as far as what equipment would be needed.
            No crampons, no ice tools/ice ax, no micro spikes and yes to tails on the MSR snowshoes. Along with where they turned off to start the bushwhack.

            At first I was reluctant to repeat their suffering hike but I figured with an already broken out trail to follow with the luxury of zero route finding and a super light pack we should trim the 15 hours trip to maybe 12 hours. We decided to ski in up to the bridge which would also shave off a lot of time.

            I made the classic mistake of setting my alarm for 5:30PM Sunday morning instead of AM and thank goodness Rodrigo unknowingly woke me up by sending me a text message at 5:45. I was doing the 3 alarm fire drill to scurry out of the house to meet him at the Santanoni trail head at 8am.
            Rodrigo said he saw what looked like a Lynx on route25 shortly before the UW road turn. He seems to know the difference between a Bobcat and a Lynx so it may be possible Lynx are in the Adirondacks.

   TR. We met Mark L. in the parking lot at 8am, he too is a good friend of MR and spoke with him the night before. Mark was looking to solo hike all 3 and he set out 20 minutes before us. There were a few pickups with empty snow mobile trailers in the parking lot but no one else in sight.

            We donned the skis and set off at 8:30, the snow from the snowmobiles was hard packed and frozen. The horizontal snowmobile track grooves were frozen solid into the snow and made for a rough ski in.
            Once in the woods on the trail I would be lying if I didn't mention the hard fall I took into a tree. I threw up my arm to protect my face and ripped my shirt sleeve while receiving a long gash into my forearm. We stashed the skis and boots at the broken bridge and bare booted it forward.

            We soon found a set of snowshoe tracks off trail that we thought were MR and Alan's tracks to start the bushwhack. They seemed to bend around a spruce tree and stop so I thought they were from someone just taking a leak.
            We continued on and soon realized we somehow missed their tracks and came up with a new plan "B". We were already on the express trail so we decided to take the trail to the summit, find their tracks at the top, take the slide down and follow their bushwhack tracks out. The trail was hard packed up to the summit; we only put on snowshoes at the start of the express for traction. That trail is steep!

            We reached the summit quick; it was a blue sky day, not super cold and a bit of wind to keep you honest. We found their tracks and jumped right in them.
            The snow was crazy deep and steep. I knew how much work they put into getting up the last hundred feet, it was monumental! I felt guilty because what took them hours, took us only a few minutes to effortlessly come crashing down. It took us less than 20 minutes to reach the slide from the summit. Mudrat shwacked a beautiful line along the ridge, his accuracy thru the dense trees to reach the summit was simply amazing.

            The slide is absolutely beautiful, not very steep except the top but tons of turns and features to give it plenty of character. It's really long and would be an ideal ski if it wasn't for its long approach in and out. The snow was like walking on glass. Pieces of the frozen surface would shatter and slide down the slide making a wonderful eerie sound. Again, we boogied down using their tracks and the guilt of poaching their hard labor was not lost.

            The slide empties out into an awesome beaver meadow. I have seen many beaver meadows in the Adks and this one may be the best. Up to now everything was super easy until the bushwhack out. Because of the private property boundaries, MR took the NE line that goes along the brook and we finally got a small taste of the difficulties they faced climbing uphill in the deep unconsolidated snow. What must have been a fun downhill charge the day before for them was a workout for us even though we were still using their tracks. It’s unbelievable how deep the snow is in the woods back there.

            We popped out at the tracks exactly where we previously misidentified them as a bathroom break on the way in. We had a good laugh and booted it back to the bridge to get our skis. It took us only 15 minutes to ski back to our cars from the bridge. The total time of the hike was 8 hours.

            I hope not to make a habit of scavenging bushwhacking tracks or down climbing slides but as far as an easy and awesome day in the back country goes this was tough to beat! Big thanks to Mudrat and Alan, your trail breaking and navigation really helped us enjoy the beauty of this area.
            Last edited by DeepForest; 02-26-2014, 11:22 AM.
            The greatest precept is continual awareness.


            • #7
              Me and Neil did this slide just after it opened by up about 4-5 years ago. It was no picnic in summer conditions so I can barely imagine how tough you guys had it in these tough conditions. Kudos. Great report.
              "The forest is the poor man's overcoat. " Old Northeastern Proverb


              • #8
                Great report, great trip! It's always amazing to hear how much snow is up there during a not-too-snowy winter here in the valley. At any point during your final bushwhack with sunset approaching, did you think about just following your tracks back down? After all, the hike was already memorable enough. But I suppose Alan just had to check off a box on his Winter list, huh? Alan, Alan, Alan...when will you learn that it's about the journey, not whether you summit? You're such a peakbagger!

                Sunday. WildForest and Rodrigo invited me to join them on the slide when they caught up to me on the Express, not long after all three of us failed to recognize MR's and Alan's tracks near the beginning. I declined because I'd talked to MR Sat. night and knew how hard it was, I was set on my own itinerary, and I didn't have an ax or crampons with me. After reading MR's report just now, I realized that the best reason for not joining them was my MSR's are 24" and don't have tails.

                But I enjoyed revisiting the Sants: It had been almost a year and a half since being on S & P, and over 6.5 since visiting Couchie. And I got to check off five boxes!: Two on the winter solo list, and three for February.
                A bad day in cripplebrush is better than a good day at work.

                Remaining Winter NE115 peaks as of 3/11/10:



                • #9
                  NoTrace: Oh you'd have done fine (with us carry you) . Nice avatar still...I remember taking that on the upper pitch of the southern trib of Twin Slide...covered in blackflies!

                  NP: Laughed my A$$ off at that comment on a day when i needed the laugh. This is, it was perfectly accurate including pack weight.

                  mbowler: I remember you It was a calculated crapshoot and we climbed on its terms for sure this time. I guess we'd put it off for enough years that it was time.

                  crepuscular: Darn bug still has me fighting for energy. I have a feeling that I had a temperature the day I climbed it, but the demands of the day masked all the symptoms other than a runny nose and inability to regulate my core as well as usual.

                  DeepForest: Always a pleasure even if you used our trail I told you when I called that you made the best and safest call. I thought it was incredible that descending our tracks saved 7 hours. Just for clarification, the exit from the pond is almost due N not NE. I've done that when we did the Ermine Brook SLide-Twin traverse and the cross-sloping required to stay W of the private land was annoying and took alot longer. Anyway, we'll more than make up for this one, believe me! PLans plans plans.

                  MarkL: I started really watching the time at about 2:45. When we departed the slide top at 3:17, I was almost certain we'd be using headlamps for the last bit of the whack because I couldn't push myself as hard as normal without getting really sick to my stomach. Somewhere on the ridge Alan mentioned in passing that maybe we should have descended. I probably shrugged or something, but wasn't concerned because this was the 3rd time I've whacked from the top to the summit. I knew we could do it in the dark though it would be really annoying in deep snow. Alan did mention that it should be required that everyone bushwhack at least 1 peak in the winter to earn the patch...bwahah
                  May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.



                  • #10
                    This from DEC says that they would like to hear about any lynx sighting.
                    wildlife, Canada Lynx, lynx, New York, species, regulations, extirpated, endangered species
                    I might be kidding...


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by CatskillKev View Post
                      This from DEC says that they would like to hear about any lynx sighting.
                      You know, Alan and I saw feline tracks in the morning. I'm not excellent with tracks, but I think they were bobcat rather than lynx. Rodrigo's sighting perked my ears a bit though.
                      May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.



                      • #12
                        Like that page says, if Rodrigo had a good sighting, they would like to know. I believe lynx have oversize feet, almost the size of a mountain lion.
                        I might be kidding...


                        • #13
                          In the picture you titled "Enjoying the only ice enroute" it looks like you have aluminum foil wrapped around your boot and lower leg like a gaiter. What is this?
                          I might be kidding...


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by CatskillKev View Post
                            In the picture you titled "Enjoying the only ice enroute" it looks like you have aluminum foil wrapped around your boot and lower leg like a gaiter. What is this?
                            I made a rookie mistake--walked out w/o doing a final equipment check. I forgot my gaiters and the leg facing the camera is one of those mesh reusable grocery bags. I cut a portion of the bottom out so the front of the boot stuck out. I cut several slits along the top and treaded a shoelace through to tie it at the top. Looks like heck, but worked flawlessly.
                            May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.



                            • #15
                              Very creative, in a pinch!
                              I might be kidding...