One of the justifications for pursuing a hiking ‘grid’ (seasonal, monthly, etc.) is to experience a place in different conditions. I definitely got a Spring full on this hike of the Santanonis.
The initial plan called for sunrise pictures from atop Santanoni Peak, which sits to the south and west of the other High Peaks and therefore offers a unique vantage point. However, being only 10 days from the summer solstice, the days are long and start early: 5:11AM. That meant a starting time of 2:45AM. (Not a typo.)
I was pretty close, signing in before 3AM. The initial 1.8 miles is on the private Santanoni Road, and the next 1.7 miles crosses and then follows Santanoni Brook. This part of the trail was wetter and muddier than I remember it from our summer hike, which should have served as a warning.
Just past the turn to climb the ‘Express’ trail to Santanoni, the trail crosses the brook. In my previous two visits, this was a simple rock-hop. This time, those rocks were underwater! Since it was so early and dark, and my feet had already gotten soaked on the trail in, I just crossed the (underwater) boulders.
The Express trail wasn’t much drier. Most of it was covered in flowing water, which of course made parts quite muddy. I was resigned at that point to a day with wet, muddy feet.
I made it to the summit just past sunrise, but unfortunately there were some low lingering clouds to the north and east. So, I just enjoyed the views as long as my freezing fingers and toes could last (it was in the mid-30s!) and headed on.
The trip to Couchsachraga is much-maligned and for good reason, as it descends a LOT from Santanoni. For some reason, I quite enjoyed the walk over to Couchsachraga on this, my third visit. The false summit was pleasantly bathed in sunshine and while the low point before the actual summit lived up to its swampy reputation, it was ironically one of the few places where I managed to keep my shoes dry.
I wasn’t so lucky on Panther Peak, which had an unavoidable shin-high mud pit just before the summit. Fortunately the views were wonderful and the sun was out, allowing me to warm up.
The walk down to Bradley Pond isn’t my favorite — it’s steep, boulder-y, and wet. The trail back to Santanoni Road was much of the same, and I stepped into ankle-deep mud more than a few times.
It was definitely different from the last two times I went, especially my first winter hike just six months ago. All that snow has now melted, making this whole trip muddy and wet. But the views and the sunshine were beautiful, and worth the effort, even if it did start at 3AM.