Vicious weather necessitated two trips over two years to finally finish the Santanonis. This range should be undertaken only in guaranteed excellent weather (if possible) because the descent from Times Square to Bradley Pond is steep, slippery, and dangerous in wet weather. (I am proof!), the reason being that the descent, like the ascent, is via the rocks of Panther Brook. Unlike most brooks the soil in Panther Brook has eroded well under the level of the rocks and boulders in the brook. This leaves large gaps through which your whole leg can disappear with one misstep. There is no trail on the banks, just thick brush. A header on Panther Brook could well be your last!
1.8 miles from DEC parking start to start of the BLUE trail: easy hiking on a private gravel road.
1.9 miles ascending gradually to the Henderson - Santanoni Pass: easy to moderate hiking on very good trail.
0.7 miles on flat ground past Bradley Pond to the Bradley Pond lean-to.
1.6 miles from lean-to to Times Square: strenuous climb, mostly along a herd path that follows the banks of Panther Brook, and sometimes in among the rocks in the brook. Steep (see photo below).
2.8 miles round trip from Times Square to Couchsachraga Peak summit: moderate with significant swamp about two thirds of the way out the ridgeline. Brush occasionally dense, but trail is well-defined and clear of most obstacles. Okay views back to Panther and Santanoni.
2.0 miles round trip from Times Square to Santanoni Peak summit: moderate hiking along ridgeline. Numerous false summits. Lots of spruce-fir scrub to slow you down. Generally adequate trail.
0.5 miles round trip from Times Square to Panther Peak: easy walking. Rock slabs provide excellent views of Couchie and fair views of the Sewards and Santanoni.
We saw very little through the fog and rain except for brief glimpses of Santanoni from Couchie. On our second trip to the Santanonis the day was clear, but the view, we discovered, don't amount to much; they were inconsequential. See View Rankings for others' opinions.
Directions to Times Square from the Bradley Pond Lean-to... and back:
1. Start south on the BLUE trail from the Bradley Pond lean-to. Keep your eyes open for the distinctive sway-backed rock at the forefront of the title photo above. It's sits just on the right (west) side of the trail as you walk and you won't walk far from the lean-to before running into it. I'm guessing a few hundred yards give or take. You'll know when you're at the right place because, as you can see above, there is a trail behind the rock. That one isn't the blue trail, it's the start of the herd path up the Santanoni Range via Panther Brook.
2. Occasional yellow paint blazes mark the trail from here to Panther Brook, but they're only for moral support as the trail is very clear and unambiguous. For the first 15 minutes or so you will be close to Bradley Pond. As you get your first look at Bradley Pond to through trees to your left, notice a trail that wyes off to the right or more like straight ahead... stay left and continue to follow Bradley Pond. Whether you go left or right, either route will get you to the same Panther Brook trail, but the left fork is easier. Once you start to climb, you will angle across the fall line of the mountain to the left sticking with the yellow paint blazes. Stay at the bottom of the cliffs that will be to your right as you hike cross-slope.
3. Ascend Panther Brook to its point of disappearance at about 3800-3900 ft. elev.
4. Once Panther Brook disappears the route to Times Square is nevertheless obvious and continues straight up.
5. Navigate the Times Square herd paths. (See photo section below that provides detailed instructions and photos of markings.)
From Times Square:
Here's some sage advice. Get Couchie out of the way first. Couchie will be the most tiring and the most difficult. If you can knock Couchie off, then you have accomplished about 60% of the work associated with the 3 summits. The other two peaks combined will take a less time than Couchie, will be much easier going, will offer some views, and will enable you to head down Panther Brook with the semblance of a smile on your face. If it should be raining, then the above advice is still true, in spite of the consequent lack of any views.
An intermittent downpour, deep boot-sucking mud, and an injury greeted us on Couchie in 2000. We quit after Couchie, and returned in 2001. With the trip up Santanoni and Panther now behind us, we look back at Couchie as not half bad. It was a memorable hike and offered more variety than the other two peaks which were somewhat ordinary, despite better views. Couchie requires gaiters to navigate the bog/swamp that you must pass through. Note that because Couchie is lower than Times Square, you don't climb Couchie so much as you descend to it. More on Couchie in the photos below.
Camping: The Usual Choice
The majority of Santanoni hikers choose to overnight at Bradley Pond, although the Santanonis have the makings of a long day trip. The Bradley Pond area is the standard dense pine forest found in the Adirondacks. The lean-to is mercifully well up out of and away from the mud, on the side of a hill perhaps a minute away from the trail. Other than the lean-to, there are a good number of possible campsites in the immediate area. A small brook runs down Henderson Mtn to Bradley Pond, passing close by the lean-to. There should be no problem finding a spot to pitch a tent adjacent to the brook. Most of these would be illegal sites, however it is possible to keep the legal distance and still be comfy.
Camping: Another Option
There is a relatively flat expanse of ground, a few acres worth, at 3100-3150 ft. elev. This is where the trail from Bradley Pond intersects Panther Brook on the way up to Times Square. That puts it 200-300 ft. above Bradley Pond. We saw a coed group from St. Lawrence University there in 2000. It was vacant in 2001. Camping here would give you a leg up as far as the climb goes and it's not much trouble to just keep hiking up to this point once you reach the Henderson-Santanoni Pass on Day One. Camping here means that you've cut an hour or more out of the climb up and back from Times Square. That makes it easier and quicker to climb all three peaks in one ascent on the next day. Also, it offers considerably more privacy and security than the area around Bradley Pond Lean-to.
To get there you need not deviate from the herd path you would ordinarily be following. After the herd path leaves Bradley Pond the trail will start climbing. It will make a few sweeping switchbacks as you go uphill and before too long you'll have some cliffs on your right side as you go upwards. Soon after you leave the last of the cliffs behind you you will come to a dry creek bed. The trail will cross the creek bed and soon intersect Panther Brook. Prior to intersecting the brook you will see the open area on your left. Plenty of room for tents, and you will be well positioned to start the hard part of the Santanonis.
You'll have running water beside you most of the way up to Times Square, but if you are doing all three peaks you will have over 6.5 miles of waterless hiking on the summits before you reach water again on the way down. There is a significant swamp about halfway out to Couchie, but even with a filter or iodine tablets I would be careful of using that.
Trailhead Info for this Ascent:
Go to the Upper Works Page to find complete trailhead and parking information, plus driving directions.
Our Trips, September 2000 and 2001
Certainly, between the 2000 and 2001 trips it was primarily the awful mud that stuck (no pun intended) in our minds more than anything else. Forty-three years of hiking in the Adirondacks, and 43 High Peaks climbed with never anything that annoying. Although it's been said once on this page already, our number one recommendation is to bring gaiters. If it's a wet year you can easily sink a foot or more into this stuff. We ran into a guy who fell head first into it. And he was wearing cotton. What a mess! But in 2001 the situation was not bad.
Panther has the most pleasing summit. Lots of nice flora, but in 2001, when we climbed both Panther and Santanoni, the visibility was zero. More rain, too, so our relationship with the Santanoni's can best be described as "unpleasant".
Probably the greatest thing about the 2001 hike (besides being finished with this range) is that the herd path is in MUCH better shape and is no longer primarily in Panther Brook, being now alongside the brook. That is sooo much easier since it eliminates about 50% of the boulder scrambles and toe-jams.
Finding Your Way At Times Square:
If you look at maps that show the herd paths to the untrailed peaks, such as McMartin's "Discover the High Peaks, Vol. 11", you'll see that there is a conjunction of the trails from the three Santanoni Range peaks and the trail up from Bradley Pond. This is called Times Square.
Finding the right herd path can be a problem, but there are some good aids up there left by hikers. Unfortunately, some are old and WRONG! We ran into a guy at the Bradley Pond Lean-to that became so twisted around at Times Square that he climbed the wrong mountain on a clear day. Here, in photos and a drawing, is Times Square. We have had this sketch checked out independently and know it is accurate with the exception of some natural and man-made changes since 2000 that you'll find just below.
The Hike In A Nutshell:
This hike starts at the DEC parking lot for Bradley Pond and Duck Hole. To get there, go to the Upper Works page to find detailed driving instructions. Starting from the locked gate barring vehicle access at the trailhead, you'll hike on private property along a well-maintained gravel road to the start of the BLUE trail, (ADK #128, McM #4). Look out for ATVs. The trail ascends toward the Santanoni Range along Santanoni Brook. At 3.6 miles from the trailhead and 2800 ft. elev. (850 m), the trail turns directly north into the pass between Bradley Pond and Henderson Mtn. During our 2000 hike, the trail at this point became damp, then wet, then leveled out, and finally became an intermittent quagmire with very frequent walk-arounds through dense thickets. The deep, deep mud sucks the boots right off your feet. Because it is virtually flat here, preventing the drainage of rain water off the trail, the mud made this slow and annoying hiking. Bare in mind that at this point you have just made it to Bradley Pond on DEC trails that, when dry, are excellent.
Now fast forward to 2001. In our 2001 trip the dry weather had lessened the mud situation considerably. We experienced no walk-arounds, but did not notice that any trail work had taken place. We'll say it once more: no matter what the weather pack gaiters for this hike.
My partner and I agree that the Santanonis are the peaks we are least likely to climb again, although the passage of years has mellowed that opinion somewhat. No part of them was fun. No memory of them is good except climbing back into our vehicle at the end. Why so bad/difficult?
#1. Bogs, both permanent and periodic, particularly on the route to Couchie
#2. High rainfall
#3. Hiking on the rocks in Panther Brook is treacherous, more so going down than up.
#4. Little in the way of views
#5. Mud of the consistency of pudding
#6. An overall, dismal environment
1. Upper Works to Bradley Pond
2. Ascend Couchsachraga
3. Ascend Panther and SantanoniThese maps trace the route of this hike from the Heart Lake trailhead to the summit of MacNaughton Mtn. Maps may overlap.