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9/16 - 9/20 Cliff, Marshall, the Santanonis

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  • 9/16 - 9/20 Cliff, Marshall, the Santanonis

    Well, I am back home after a good/bad trip to the ADKs!

    On Monday morning I drove 8 hours straight from home (outside of Harrisburg, PA), and hiked in from Upper Works to the tentsite just past Herbert Brook and got set up before dark. Nice site, and a nice area along the Opalescent with a great view of Mt.Colden was not far away.

    The next day I hiked Cliff and Marshall. I thought the upper part of the cliffs on Cliff were the real deal. I went right up the middle of the ledges and didn't take any work-arounds though. I've hiked Huntington Ravine, and wasn't unnerved by it, and the only difference to me was that HR has a little more exposure, but wasn't bad most of the way. However, a bad fall on either would probably lead to an evac. The mud on the way to Cliff was honestly no worse than on the approach trail. Marshall - I liked the summit, but the descent soured the trip for me. Why? Well, I wrecked my 'good' knee about 100 feet into the descent off Marshall. I think I was favoring the bad one all day, and taking the brunt of every ledge and drop off with the previously healthy one. It completely locked up that evening, throbbed that night, and on the next morning as well, and then it was a slow and painful descent down the crappy upper part of the Calamity Brook trail from Lake Colden. However, after about 2-3 miles it loosened up a bit and I was able to make it back to Upper Works. I was honestly 95% ready to quit the trip at that point, knowing that what I had planned was certainly not going to be any easier. I then cleaned up a bit at the car, had a beer from the trunk, ate the leftover half of a ham and cheese sandwich I had put in the cooler in the same trunk, changed into a new set of hiking clothes...still ready to bail at that point...and realized I could switch up and put the better brace on the wrecked knee, and also that I knew I had a few Excedrins in my tiny little pill bottle. So, I figured I'd drive to the Santa trailhead, go as far as I could and just see how I felt. Uphill hiking didn't hurt, it was the downhill that was making my knee scream.

    I got to the Santa trailhead, and set off hoping I might be able to save a little elevation gain with a full pack and find a tentsite before Bradley Pond. Well, the areas that looked good had no easy access to water (Santa Brook was 150-200 feet below to the left in a gorge), and when the water was close, there weren't any good, legal spots to the right of the trail that were easily found by me, so I stopped wasting my time and just soldiered on to Bradley Pond. Nice tentsites at BP, three in total, with some distance between each of them. There was decent water, but it was more of what I would call a "run" than a stream or brook.

    I was stiff as hell on Thursday morning, like a 90 year old man that just stepped out of a walk-in freezer after having been locked in there for 24 hours kind of stiff, but after downing two Excedrins and having breakfast I hit the trail. I briefly thought about looping clockwise up the express, but the thought of descending just to ascend was just too mentally defeating to me at that point in the morning, so I decided to head up Panther Brook to Herald Square...also knowing that I would have access to water for at least part of the climb. I stopped at a nice pool where the trail crossed the creek around 3600' (according to my altimeter watch) to chug a quart and filter water. There was trickling water up to around 3800' or so, but nothing substantial at this point in the year. After getting to Times Square I decided to hit Santanoni first, because I reasoned that if I looked at it after hiking Couchsachraga I'd likely skip it. It took me 50 minutes out to Santa and 45 back. Several people I talked to along the way said the express wasn't as bad as the back and forth to Times Square. Who knows, it's just what I was told. It was hotter than I would have liked, and I wasn't in my best mountain climbing shape at all. Also, due to the lack of water on the ridge I had to slow down my pace to minimize how much I was sweating. At some point I dubbed it "tractor gear". No horsepower, just torque. Slow and steady. I cached water at Times Square for the out and backs to both Santa and Couch. After Santa I popped two more Excedrins and started on my way to Couchsachraga.

    The upper part of the descent to Couchsachraga was pleasurable. Dirt paths! No rocks! I'm making good time, why don't people like this hike? Shortly afterward, the slabs and rocks came into play. I've said it many times, it's that kind of monkey bar stuff that wears me out, both ways. When I hike solo I'm super-cautious going down, especially with a bum knee, and it's a full-body workout on the way up. I like it, but hate it, if that makes sense! Anyway, I crossed the Couchsachraga mud pit in exactly one minute each way. I just extended my trekking poles all the way, not really depending on them for solid support, but for balance corrections, and went right down the middle of the stringers. However, once or twice my poles sunk in over two feet, so the mud was there. No big deal, no worse than other places I've been in the ADKs. I knew I had the back-climb coming, but what didn't help were the people I ran into saying things like, "I forgot how much of a slog this is," or "It was fun...except for the way back." Come on, give me some encouragement! I guess I'm just the type of person who says things like, "Keep digging, you're almost there," or, "It's not that bad, you'll be fine," even if it isn't always entirely true!

    After getting back to Herald Square, a partially dehydrated me made a mis-turn up an obviously brushed-in path to Panther (it led to a view of Panther, but was "very tight"). I realized that it wasn't the the actual trail and I backtracked quickly to the correct trail, and 10 minutes later I was on top on Panther. Nice views to the west and south, but knowing I wanted to get back down the Panther Brook trail before dark, I didn't linger. I will say that the Panther Brook trail was a knee destroyer on the way down. I made it back to my tentsite about 30 minutes before dark, so I was happy about that. I was too worn out to even boil water for my freeze-dried meal, and just ate jerky and crackers. While sitting on my bear canister and filtering water, the thought popped into my head, "If someone offered you a million dollars to repeat that hike tomorrow, would you?". My answer, at that moment, was an emphatic no! And then, when I tried to stand up from my canister it took me a minute or two to feel confident enough to walk, lol. (side note - I've said to people that high peak hiking is "a special kind of stupid" a loving way)

    With only about 30 minutes of total rest time included, it took me nearly 10 hours to hike roughly 9 miles. The Santanonis - I honestly think they were the "roughest" mountains of the 46 that I've hiked so far. I know part of that is colored by my physical issues at the time, but I think they would be rough regardless. Regarding the "tightness" of the trails, I remember telling somebody I came across, "It's like hiking through a herd of angry porcupines." Looking at my hands and forearms after I finished, they were all bruised and cut-up. My old pair of Conduit waterproof Mountain Hardwear knee-high gaiters....have have never given me any trouble in over 15 years. Well, the buckles on both of them broke on this hike. Going downhill, I'd look at my feet, then I see the strap flapping out there, and thinking, WTF?!? My gaiters are breaking?!? I was able to trail-repair both with gorilla tape, but will have to see if that's a long term fix or not.

    After 15 years of hiking the high peaks, with full packs and day packs, I have a very conservative planning mindset of 1 mile per hour. This allows me to not race up trails, and when I get to the summit, I can stay there for an extended period of time to take pictures, rest, and have a nice snack break and enjoy the views. This was not applicable in the Santas. I realized pretty early on that I knew I'd have to change things to get off the mountains before dark (even though I carry a headlamp, a back up, and 3 changes of batteries!).

    All in all, I did manage to complete my planned hike, exactly as I had planned, but it left me a little battered! I'm now back home detoxifying all of my stank clothing and my sleeping bag! I'm now up to 41 of 46. Next spring will be a trip with my girlfriend to hike other peaks, but hopefully next fall I'll be able to finish the 46! All that is left for me are the Wolfjaws, Armstrong, Big Slide, and RPR. I'll be 45 next fall, so I think my unofficial goal is to complete 46 before 46. Counting multiples I'm way over that, but yes, at this point, it is a goal to finish. Maybe it means more to me because it's a long trip to get there, and sleeping out has been involved in every one of them so far. I don't know, I just feel more connected with the mountains if I'm staying out there the whole time I'm hiking. I don't begrudge locals one bit who are able to dayhike at will. If the tables were turned, I'd probably love that aspect of it all equally as much! I run across AT thru-hikers often when I dayhike in my area, so I guess I'm on both sides of the coin.

    If I haven't mentioned it before, whenever I'm (slowly) climbing I always think of those that cut the trails, and then, those that choose to bushwhack in present times. Hardier souls than I am, and I don't consider myself to be a cream puff. Just one of those things that reminds me that as hard as I think I am, I am not,not at all! There are many more unsung bad-asses that, as stubborn as I am, would probably bring a tear to my eye during a hike. I get mystified that people voluntarily bushwhack those mountains. To me, it's surreal.

    If you managed to make it through my wall of text, thank you! I just try to give my honest opinion on things, and, at the moment, I'm two Jack and Cokes into my recovery

  • #2
    Great report! It definitely took some knid of courage/craziness to attempt day 2, but you did it!


    • Groundpounder
      Groundpounder commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks, Eddie! I think it was mostly craziness, and knowing that if I had I bailed it would have likely meant another year added to completing my goal. I would not have made it if not for the knee braces I had, and the Excedrins that I thankfully remembered. Back home now, I will say it is quite painful going up and down steps, but at least there are no boulders on those!!!

    • Eddie Fournier
      Eddie Fournier commented
      Editing a comment
      I don't know what type of knee problem you had, but I'll just say this: last fall, my right knee would hurt on the 2nd half of each hike. A few physiotherapy sessions later and a custom exercise programs targetting specific muscles took care of that. In October, my knee had a tough time getting me back from Marcy - this Friday, I hiked Gray, Skylight and Marcy, with no knee problem.

    • Groundpounder
      Groundpounder commented
      Editing a comment
      I messed up the MCL in my right leg a month ago. I completely stopped running leading into this trip, and the only "training" I had done in that time is to take 3-5 mile walks around my neighborhood. That knee mostly had healed itself, but I was hiking with a neoprene brace that had some side stabilization. Like I said, I think I just overly favored that leg right up until the point it wrecked the other knee. I believe it simply was a matter of overuse and inadequate training. I can't remember the last time a knee has bothered me that much on a hike. The prudent move would have been to bail on the trip, but I didn't want to drive all that way and not try to accomplish my goals. I'll take it easy on both legs for a couple of weeks, and hopefully everything heals on its own.