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Old 01-21-2021, 05:20 PM   #1
arvinsmee
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Looking for Info on Santatoni / Panther Camping Trip

I’m planning a solo two night camping trip in the Dacks in the next few weeks, and I wanted to throw it up here to see if anyone had good info. I’ve done a handful of 2-3 night winter trips in the Catskills and Dacks, but never a 46er (much less two) so I thought it would be good to run the trip by the experts and make sure I’m not missing anything. I feel confident camping in winter conditions, but I’m less experienced with winter hiking. As far as summits, I’ve only done Pharaoh a couple times, plus a handful of 4000 footers in the Catskills.

The Plan
Park at the Bradley Pond Trailhead lot on a Friday. Ski the first ~2 mi on the forest road to where the trail turns off. Switch to snowshoes and hike up to the lean to at Bradley Pond. Camp there. Next day, take the full pack (25 lbs with food and water) and hike up to Panther, then on to Santanoni if I’m feeling good. Then either down via the Santanoni Express, or if it’s not broken, perhaps back the way I came. Camp at the shelter or somewhere on the mountain before the state land boundary. Hike / ski out the next day.

Gear
Shelter: Zero degree bag / Hexamid tarp / bivy / groundsheet / Neoair Xtherm
Clothes Bottom: 250 merino base / Fleece Pants / Activator Softshell pants
Clothes Top: 250 merino base / R1 Fleece / shell / medium puffy / heavy puffy (Rab Neutrino)
Snow stuff: microspikes / MSR Ascent Snowshoes / ice ax / ski goggles
Safety: Delorme / full med kit
Navigation: compass + maps / Gaia GPS on my phone (with a 10,000 mAh back up battery)

Questions
- Should I expect any running water at the pond outlet? I got plenty of fuel to melt snow either way but it’d be nice to avoid have to do that.
- It seems like the express path gets less travel than the Panther herd path - is this the case?
- I realize both herd paths can be completely obscured if not broken - any hints on navigating? I’ve got enough battery to just stay glued to my gps but that’s not much fun.

I know that these sort of “relative novice goes winter camping” questions often get a “you should reconsider” response (at least, all of mine in the past have) - and I appreciate the honesty. But I want to add that I’ve got 15 years experience under my belt and I know well that discretion is the better part of valor. Bagging a few winter summits would be nice, but if it’s looking too rough, I’ll be more than ok with turning back and calling it a day. So give me your honest assessment, but don’t think I’m some moron charging up the mountain with no regard for my own safety.
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Old 01-21-2021, 09:42 PM   #2
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1. Don't bother with the skis; it will not save you enough time to be worth the extra equipment and the transition. Just tramp up the road in snowshoes.

2. Do you want to get Couchie? Start early in the morning, and get Panther out and back from the LT on day one. Then on day two get Couch and Santa, using the trail you packed out on day one.

3. You will get better advice from the experts if they know: have you been to these peaks in summer?
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Old 01-21-2021, 10:37 PM   #3
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Thanks for the response!

1. I know it's not really necessary, but I haven't got a chance to use my skis this year, so I'm taking the opportunity. Plus the road back to the lot is net downhill (though very slight). It's always fun to feel like you're gliding back to the car.

2. No plans for Couchie. I'm in for epic summits, not checking off 46ers. Couchie is too much work for too little payoff for me, so I'm happy to leave it undone. Plus, I'm solo and trying to keep things reasonable. I figured keeping both days to ~4 mi will help prevent me from overexerting myself.

3. Never done them before. They don't seem particularly nice to do in the summer, TBH.
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Old 01-22-2021, 09:10 AM   #4
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I've done the Santanonis many times in winter, always as a day trip.
Following the herd paths can be very tricky if they are buried in snow. In fact, even the most experienced hikers/navigators, if not armed with a GPS and reliable tracklog, go astray continuously. One of my main hiking partners has done the Santas about 25 times and he has an incredible visual memory. He too, goes astray all the time (once on the Times-Square-Santa ridge we went in a complete circle thinking we were on the right track!) and is never sure. there are just too many openings that look like they might be the right way
It could be easier just to forget about the herd path and forge ahead relying on one's map and compass and the law of up. However, this strategy can lead you into extremely thick cripple bush and unexpected rock walls with hip-deep snow at their base. Also, I've found that while the navigation looks straight-forward while I'm at home looking at a map, it can be quite tough while in the field thrashing around.
Even using a tracklog which has an accuracy of maybe plus or minus 30 feet (1st the recording of it, then following it combined), which I've done several times, can be an exercise of questionings, doubt and time consuming back-tracking. Note that the going is always a lot easier when on the herd path because there is no underbrush below the snow and even while hidden, there is usually a solid base of support.

Re: camping. Spending the evening and night out is a great experience but you probably know that it is a huge time sink, which is alright if that's what you're there for-the outdoor experience. I come across campers who are still at the lean-to, trying to get organized for their hike, after I have driven from my home 2-3 hours away and hiked in for another 2-3 hours. If you are alone I suspect things will go more quickly.

If you are breaking trail solo the whole way out, and navigating, the return trip to Santa via Times Square, with a 25 pound pack (we all differ but my winter pack is a lot lighter in spite of carrying a lot of insulated clothing, spare base layer, extra socks and footbeds, fire starting stuff, 3 headlamps etc. etc.) will take a long time. I find that every pound makes itself felt no matter how fit I am. If the trail is well-packed the hike will be pretty easy. Go on a Monday!

Edit: I have never seen open water at the Lean-to. Melting snow will most likely be your only choice. You probably can get water while you hike up Panther Brook but I wouldn't count on it. Even when flowing it can be difficult to get down to the open water if there is a lot of snow.
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Old 01-22-2021, 10:18 AM   #5
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Thanks for the detailed info Neil!

I'm definitely committed to camping, the summits are just something to do while I'm out there. Camping in the snow is quite taxing (I'm usually ready to head home after night 3, while in the summer I feel like I could stay out forever) but the quiet and the atmospherics just can't be beat. There's nothing like it, so I try to do one winter trip a year (at least). I do a lot of stuff solo and I'm pretty fast with breaking camp. Obviously things are slower in winter, but based on prior trips I could get out in 90 minutes.

The 25 lb kit is everything - shelter, bag, clothes, food, water.... If I'm solo I want to be able to set up anywhere in case of emergency.

It sounds like the deciding factor is whether the trail is broken. Sadly Monday isn't an option, I'd be hiking to the shelter Friday and doing the summits on Saturday. I'll probably plan for two trips, this one another slightly less intense with a lower summit, and make the call last minute based on weather and whether the trail was recently broken.

Thanks for all the advice, the details on wayfinding were exactly what I needed to hear (even if it's not what I wanted to hear, lol).
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Old 01-22-2021, 06:04 PM   #6
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A 0 degree bag probably isn't going to be warm enough- especially for a higher elevation campsite like Bradley Pond (just shy of 3,000 feet). You might get lucky with a warm night but honestly, IMO you'd be running a significant risk heading into the High Peaks backcountry with only a 0 degree bag. When you factor in that you usually want a 10 degree buffer between your bags rating and the lowest expected temperature for a trip with also the understanding also that this region of the ADKs can see days where the high temp for the day might be -10... a 0 degree bag would seem to be pretty insufficient. I personally would carry my -20 bag for any overnighter into the High Peaks (plus also a liner if the conditions seemed to warrant it).

To be perfectly honest... your mention that your full overnight kit for winter weighs only 25 pounds also makes me question whether you really are well prepared for a winter overnight in the High Peaks specifically. Winters in the ADKs in general aren't anything to take lightly, but the High Peaks especially can really throw a punch if the conditions aren't in your favor. As someone with substantial winter overnight experience in the ADK High Peaks and elsewhere- I would fully expect my pack to weigh at least twice as much as yours for a trip like this.

There's a few small trickles of water near the lean-to in the summer that often serve OK for a water source (although FWIW people also frequently poop in them for some reason). In winter they are likely buried deep beneath the snow- so I'd plan on melting snow for water. Where the Times Square herd path crosses the inlet of Bradley Pond is pretty swampy and not a great water source either. The outlet of Bradley Pond is usually running decently well and can be a good water source if it is not frozen over.

Also be aware that the Bradley Pond Lean-to (and the 3 nearby designated tent sites) aren't directly on this loop- this confuses some folks. From the junction where the Times Square herd path splits off of the marked trail, you must continue about a quarter mile or so north on the trail towards Duck Hole to get to the lean-to, which is on a knoll above the trail to the right (east). The tent sites are a little bit down the main trail beyond the lean-to, across the trail to the left (west).

There is not an abundance of decent camping options near the lower end of the Express Route. The forest here is both thick and lacking in flat ground. Most of the spots where people do set up here are illegal spots- non-designated and within 150 feet of trail and/or water (you'll see the no-camping discs that the DEC has put up along the lower stretch of the Express Route).

IMO, aside from Bradley Pond, the better options for camping are down low- where the Bradley Pond Trail crosses Santanoni Brook, about a mile or so upstream of where the brook flows into Henderson Lake. The forest here is much more open with plenty of flat or gently rolling terrain, and it would be a lot easier to find a dispersed site in compliance with the 150 foot rule.

I'll ditto the other comment about camping being a huge time sink. When I was seriously pursuing the Winter 46, I did all but one of them as day hikes (Marcy was the only one I overnighted for). I found that as a day hiker with an early start, I was usually passing overnight groups while they were still in camp, getting ready for the day... and often beat those same overnight groups to the summits by a fair margin (granted, they had less distance to hike after summitting than I). Overall, when I think back and compare my past experiences with winter day hikes and with winter overnights in the High Peaks, it's pretty clear to me that my chances of a successful summit are improved when I am day hiking.

I will also ditto the comments about a lot depending on whether the herd paths are broken out or not. In the absence of a broken out trail, not only will the task be more physically challenging, it will be more navigationally challenging also. Not having prior summertime experience with the herd paths also is a bit of a red flag- honestly, since you ask about navigation if/when the herd paths are obscured in fresh snow, the single best piece of advice I can give is that you should "have hiked these peaks in summer." Things can get very confusing when every small tree next to the herd path is bent over into the herd path due to the weight of accumulated snow. (And folks have gotten lost following the herd paths up there even without snow on the ground!)

With the actual summits happening on a Saturday, worst case scenario you will likely see at least a 1 or 2 other groups out and about to help with breaking trail, navigation, etc (but that is by no means a guarantee of even a single successful summit). But your Friday hike into camp comes with a higher chance that you'll be breaking trail- and those 5 miles have some decently sustained uphill. If you're unlucky enough to go on a Friday after a mid-week dump of snow, it may very well be no easy task just getting to camp (especially since you're solo). If the trail into Bradley Pond isn't broken out, you may very well be better off camping near that lower crossing of Santanoni Brook (just after you turn off of the road). Again, the forest there is much more open and there's more flat ground than anywhere else you'll find prior to getting to the Bradley Pond Lean-to.

The Express herd path does get less use but in recent years (as more and more have become aware of it) it hasn't gotten that much less use. Although things may be different in winter- the prospect of having to break trail (even downhill) may be souring enough that some would choose to return via the Times Square herd path if that is the way they ascended. (The group I was with when I did these peaks in winter made the decision to do this.)

Also, FWIW- I've always preferred going up the Santanoni Express. It's steeper than the other herd path to Times Square. This is admittedly more of a personal preference thing, but it seemed worth mentioning. Also- the Express herd path does not go up/down the cliff face it passes about 2/3rds of the way up even though it appears to. Rather, the path continues around the north side of the cliff (if you are descending you may need to backtrack about 50-100 feet from the top of the cliff to find the route around it).

Overall... even with some prior winter camping experience in the ADKs, I don't think these summits in particular are well suited for a first winter ascent in the High Peaks- especially if you're choosing to mix said ascent with a winter overnight. There's nothing wrong with having the desire to summit these peaks, but IMO if you were serious about doing it right, you'd take an intermediate step or two to get there. Some combination of winter camping trips elsewhere in the High Peaks, winter ascents of easier (and more frequently visited) High Peaks, and/or a summer visit to the Santanoni Range to gain familiarity with this area specifically would all suit you well.
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Old 01-23-2021, 08:39 AM   #7
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I second the recommendation to camp lower and ascend Express, retreat if needed and do as an out and back unless Panther HP is packed out. BP LT and surrounding area is not a great option.
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Old 01-23-2021, 02:18 PM   #8
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We hiked these this summer. Up express over, Couch, Panther and down to Bradley pond. I have the gear and maybe close to twenty nights winter camping in the ADK's - still consider myself a newb (took wrong turn climbing Street & Nye for goodness sake).

So some simple pointers.
- I like what you said about view from Couch not worth the extra efforts. Frankly, IMHO non of the three ranked high in views. If I has the skis and gear you have I'd consider skiing in Lake Rd to Gil Brook and trying for either Nippletop or Pyramid, Sawteeths, maybe Gothics. Granted Lake rd in will be "crowded" but there are other peaks where it is more likely trail is broken and less remote.

If you stick with these I'd skip express. Get up to Panther, evaluate Santoni. If you do it do it as out and back. Less trail to break, less wayfinding.

We were out two weeks ago and at 8F my 0F bag was not cutting it. We had additional quiltage that extended us well below 0F and that made it nice.

We often augment our 0F bag with SOL's breathable escape bivvy. A handy piece of gear.

We used to use the 'hot water bottle' trick. Lately though big fan of chem body warmers or hand warmers. They are small, last longer and we now carry in more than a few for these types of tricks. Toss one in your bag 15 minutes before you climb in and it is real nice. Just as a treat, not to rely on.

So when I do a peak, I frequently am camping out overnight. I agree with the time delay mentioned, takes much longer in winter as simple things become difficult. Review your gear and think through if anything can be simplified (water bottle instead of bladder; maybe not the best trip for a whisper-light stove with all of the fiddly bits, we simplify our hammock rigging). I also agree that a night in the woods in the snow is rather special.

One of our big safety tools is remembering priorities: safety & fun, peak way down the list. We turn back if things start sliding a bit (weather, temp, fatigue). So I can rattle off a bunch of "Did Not Finish" treks but all were fun.
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Old 01-23-2021, 06:32 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tenderfoot View Post
Frankly, IMHO non of the three ranked high in views.
Panther has decent views. Are you sure you made it to the summit?

While Panther certainly is not the same level as Marcy or Algonquin in the view department, it does have a fairly wide and un-interrupted view to the south and southwest:



(In all likelihood, it's more likely that you made it to the view than you did to the summit- and I'm assuming you probably made it to both, I'm just being mildly obnoxious here. Panther is one of those pesky peaks with a solid view a hundred feet or so before an actual summit with little or no views, where many turn around at the view and miss the summit. Grace is another one.)

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We were out two weeks ago and at 8F my 0F bag was not cutting it. We had additional quiltage that extended us well below 0F and that made it nice.
I've done some research on the ISO standard that is used by many companies to rate their sleeping bags and have learned a few things that for some reason aren't widely advertised- all of which fits in with my narrative above about why you generally want a bag that is rated to 10 degrees colder than the coldest anticipated conditions.

There's 4 big assumptions that are made with the ISO rating system:
  • That the occupant is wearing full long underwear (tops and bottoms)
  • That the sleeping bag is paired with a 4 season pad with an R-Value of 4.8 (this is true even of bags rated to warmer summer temps)
  • If the occupant is male, there is an assumption that they are sleeping in a curled, fetal position
  • If the occupant is male, there is an assumption that in spite of all of the above, they are still experiencing some discomfort at the given "limit" rating (which is the listed temperature rating that is most often equated with the "men's rating")
Women have it a little bit easier- the "comfort" rating (which is most often equated with a "women's rating") assumes that the female occupant is sleeping in a relaxed position and is perfectly comfortable.

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maybe not the best trip for a whisper-light stove with all of the fiddly bits
I'm curious what you would view as a decent alternative. Whisperlites do have fiddly bits but as white gas stoves they are hands down one of the more reliable stoves for cold weather backpacking. My personal preference is the Dragonfly- which is admittedly one of the heaviest and bulkiest backpacking stoves out there but it's super reliable in any temperature and simmers well (which the Whisperlite is not great at). For shoulder season conditions or relatively mild winter conditions to save on some weight and bulk I'll carry an MSR Windpro 2, which has a remote invertible canister that can extend the usable temperature range a bit (although in inverted canister mode this stove does not simmer that well either, I've noticed).
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Old 01-23-2021, 09:01 PM   #10
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DSettahr,

Thanks for the feedback We've learned a LOT from you over the years.

So yes the view was great from Panther but there are views as good or better that may be easier to get to in winter. Not knocking the view, if the original poster is looking to get in some skiing, camping and maybe a peak there might be easier alternatives. I'm conservative with which peaks we try for in winter, with our level of experience.

So the 0F mummy bag was planned to be used with a 10F down top quilt. I've read your advice about being ready for 10 degrees lower than expected and stick to it. I also hike with my daughter who has a smaller frame so we actually use 20 degrees. I knew I could probably make the 0f bag work but planned on doubling. We were car camping so the extra bulk was ok.

I think whisperlite is a great stove! We like simplicity so we use a trangia style Esbit alky stove. In no way am I saying an alky is better than any white gas stove in the winter; but it does work well for us. We can preheat the fuel or stove by putting it in a pocket but have lit it cold too. It DOES take longer and that means more fuel but we pack heavier in winter anyway.

So this post is answering your questions. If you and I have different thoughts on this stuff I have had great success scrapping my thoughts and taking yours! You are very generous with your advice and we have greatly benefited from it.
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Old 01-23-2021, 09:02 PM   #11
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Old 01-24-2021, 08:53 AM   #12
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Re: the 25 lb. pack. I had assumed the OP was referring to a full day-pack, but a re-reading seems a bit ambiguous. I still think a 25 lb. pack, if he's breaking trail is too heavy up Panther Brook or the Express but I know it's very personal regarding what one chooses to carry. (the Express entails considerably more steep vertical gain than Panther Brook to Times Square. However, there is an elly drop between TS and Santa summit)

I have done multiple-night trips in summer with an 18 lb. pack including food and water. Of course in summer it's easy to "do without" but if 25 lbs is his base-weight then perhaps 10 or so lbs. of insulation will be sufficient.

Re: views. The view from the opening about 100 feet shy of Santa is stunning.
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Old 01-24-2021, 01:54 PM   #13
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Tenderfoot- I think my post was both interpreted perhaps with less humor than intended in some parts, and with less agreement with yours than intended in other parts. My apologies if so.

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So yes the view was great from Panther but there are views as good or better that may be easier to get to in winter. Not knocking the view, if the original poster is looking to get in some skiing, camping and maybe a peak there might be easier alternatives. I'm conservative with which peaks we try for in winter, with our level of experience.
Yeah, I agree generally that given the OP's criteria and previous experience, the selection of these two peaks comes across as a bit unusual- even including some consideration of views and the effort necessary to reach them (I was mostly just being cheeky with my comment on the views above- I've spent hours on the overlook on Panther on multiple occasions, enjoying the view- it is hands down my favorite peak in the range). Especially when you factor in the specific plan- in particular, carrying a full overnight pack up and over the peaks- it would seem to be a lot of extra effort in exchange for a substantially decreased chance of a successful summit (much less two summits).

(Not directly related to views per se, but: Couch can also be a fun one if there is a crowd- I've learned that in the modern AllTrails era of hiking, a lot of hikers don't realize that it's below 4,000 feet- or for that matter, they don't realize that there are any High Peaks below 4,000 feet. On a couple of occasions when there has been 10 or 15 people or so hanging out in that little clearing, eating snacks/lunch/etc., I've piped up with "just think, if the Marshalls had had a better map, none of us would be standing on this god-forsaken summit today." Looks of confusion quickly turn to annoyance as hikers aware of Couch's relatively low stature and why it was included in the High Peaks explain the pertinent history to their companions. On the summit of Couch, most no doubt have thoughts of all of the uphill that lies ahead of them yet foremost on their minds. )

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So the 0F mummy bag was planned to be used with a 10F down top quilt. I've read your advice about being ready for 10 degrees lower than expected and stick to it. I also hike with my daughter who has a smaller frame so we actually use 20 degrees. I knew I could probably make the 0f bag work but planned on doubling. We were car camping so the extra bulk was ok.
My comment about the 10 degree difference between bag rating and expected temps was more or less in agreement with yours- I think that liners, quilts, etc. to supplement a bag are a fine way of helping to facilitate this when necessary. I was just providing a bit more information on exactly why the 10 degree difference is important to consider.

Overall though, a 0 degree bag for winter use in the High Peaks- even with some sort of supplementation- I think is still going to be somewhat limiting, and may force the owner to bail on overnights on an occasional but still somewhat regular basis. Granted, this winter (so far) and last winter have both been relatively mild and with climate change, maybe this is the new norm so perhaps this won't be as much of an issue in years to come (although I hope I'm wrong on this). But again- as someone who has lived and worked in the High Peaks region in all four seasons, there can be winter days where the high temps will be firmly in the negatives. (I remember being outside for labs as a student at Paul Smith's on days when the daytime temps were in the negative teens... every student learned quickly not to try to take notes in pen because the ink would freeze and the pen would be useless.)

(Another somewhat related aside: I remember a 5 day winter trip that I took with friends a few years back that included a night at Marcy Dam- on a weekend night of a holiday weekend, no less. We got a late start in the dark out of the Loj and judging from the packed parking lot and register book filled with entries by overnight groups, we fully expected that we would be tarp camping at the Dam, without any chance of space in a lean-to. But the temps that night were sub-zero- yet still in the single digits. This was enough to convince many of the groups that were already set up at the dam to bail- and we passed numerous cold backpackers hiking back to the Loj in the dark. When we reached Marcy Dam, much to our surprise there was no shortage of space in the lean-tos, and the few occupants that remained indicated that the shelters had more or less been filled to the brim with campers only a few hours earlier.)

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I think whisperlite is a great stove! We like simplicity so we use a trangia style Esbit alky stove. In no way am I saying an alky is better than any white gas stove in the winter; but it does work well for us. We can preheat the fuel or stove by putting it in a pocket but have lit it cold too. It DOES take longer and that means more fuel but we pack heavier in winter anyway. Our Esbit cookset has served us very well for years.
I have also used an alcohol stove for winter backpacking in sub-freezing conditions without complaint or concern, albeit not in the Adirondacks. I do agree that as long as you factor in the need to prime the fuels and consideration for the positively eternal cook times, they can be an acceptable cold-weather stove for some trips in (relatively mild) winter conditions. I use the Trangia in combination with the detachable primer, and it has served me well.

However, for High Peaks use... I guess I can't help but wonder how one would feel about the extremely slow boil/cook times if they were borderline hypothermic (or especially if they were well beyond borderline), and the trailhead were still miles away. We're talking about an area where in winter the margin for error can be relatively slim due in part to both the remoteness and the harsher weather- more slim than even some other destinations elsewhere within the Adirondack Park. To me personally, I would never consider anything other than a white gas stove for use in the High Peaks in winter conditions. The knowledge that no matter what, I can have piping hot water in minutes with minimal effort is well worth the added bulk and weight.

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So this post is answering your questions. If you and I have different thoughts on this stuff I have had great success scrapping my thoughts and taking yours! You are very generous with your advice and we have greatly benefited from it.
It's probably also worth a mention here that much of my backcountry experience is a bit different than most other members of these forums. Most of my experience comes from hiking and backpacking for work (through a variety of different job opportunities over the years). And while bailing is usually an option if and when absolutely necessary for safety, if it were something I were to do more than very infrequently at the most, it would affect my ability to be able to complete on-the-job tasks. (And there have been situations over the years where bailing hasn't been an option, even in downright sucky conditions.) There's nothing quite like being responsible for the health and safety of 8 teenagers on a winter ADK backpacking trip to make you see value in all sorts of heavy/bulky gear that you might otherwise never even consider carrying. (Although the great thing about having 8 teenagers in your party is that you can make them help carry any gear that has worth to the entire group. )

All of this certainly has lead to a personal ethic of "be prepared for anything and everything" that has undoubtedly transferred even to my personal trips, as well as to the advice that I give to others. (Although contrary to what my friends like to say about me, yes, I can actually rock an ultralight setup if and when I choose to do so during the warmer months.) (Also, FWIW, my pack for personal fun trips with friends usually isn't the heaviest in the group, again despite what my friends like to say about me.) To some extent, I don't think that everyone need necessarily go as well prepared as I maybe often do... but I do think that folks need to understand the the limitations of what they choose to carry (or in this case, the limitations of what they choose not to carry). Bailing can be an option to plan for in some circumstances.

But also along those same lines... I do think that Bradley Pond is a bit beyond the threshold of what constitutes an "easy bailout option in winter." It would be one thing to head to a backcountry camping spot like Marcy Dam with plans to bail the 2 miles back to the Loj if the conditions prove to be too severe for any preparations that have been made. But I do think that the 5 miles from the Bradley Pond Lean-to back to the trailhead potentially makes bailing an order of magnitude more challenging if and when a backpacker makes the decision that this is the only safe option. (Which in itself is perhaps a vote towards the OP just planning to camp down low, about 2 miles in near the first Santanoni Brook crossing if they are at all unsure of their ability to stay warm overnight in particular.)

(I do also think that a lot of hikers/backpackers are not as good about making due consideration for bailing as an option as they need to be. But I've digressed enough already so I'll just leave it at that. And again, FWIW, arvinsmee does make mention of bailing so this is not at all meant as a comment directed at them specifically by any means, rather a general comment on the hiking community overall.)

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Re: the 25 lb. pack. I had assumed the OP was referring to a full day-pack, but a re-reading seems a bit ambiguous. I still think a 25 lb. pack, if he's breaking trail is too heavy up Panther Brook or the Express but I know it's very personal regarding what one chooses to carry. (the Express entails considerably more steep vertical gain than Panther Brook to Times Square. However, there is an elly drop between TS and Santa summit)
One thing this comment made me think of that I should've included with my first post above is that, if nothing else, I would switch up the plan to a single campsite for both nights. Whether it be down low at the first crossing at Santanoni Brook, along the lower stretch of the Express, or at the Bradley Pond Lean-to and tent sites, I think keeping the same site for both nights would facilitate a much more enjoyable experience overall- less time would be wasted doing a full camp break down Saturday morning only to have to do a full set up all over again Saturday evening. Also, without overnight gear the climb during the day would be easier in any case. And if they are camped at the lean-to/designated tent sites, to retrace the route to/from the bottom of the Express doesn't add all that much extra distance/elevation gain.

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Old 01-24-2021, 06:53 PM   #14
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Guys, thanks for all the helpful advice. Especially DSettahr - when I'm googling for info while planning trips in the Dacks, looking at old forum posts, your name almost invariably pops up with gobs of good info to follow. You clearly put a lot of effort in sharing good detailed information and I know that many people appreciate it.

I know this is a bit of an odd trip, but I had some particular requirements - my main goal is camping, with bonus points for a good summit. I wanted something semi remote and not filled with hikers, but not so remote it's unsafe (given I'm solo and not super experienced with winter stuff). All that said, the helpful advice above has led me to think I should put this one in the back pocket for later (maybe with a friend instead of solo).

Regarding sleeping bag rating, I've had a lot of experience pushing bags past their limit, including a few times in winter in the Dacks. Two years ago I did a 0 degree night in a 15 degree bag in a tent with no problem. Last winter I did a 10 degree night in a 15 degree bag outside of a tent and I was a little less than cozy, but slept fine. I layer up inside the bag and I'm a very warm sleeper. I know my bag isn't suited for the lowest possible temps I could see at camp. But if I was looking at a forecast like -15, I'd probably just postpone. If it's looking like a zero degree night, I'd go. If the forecast is off by -10 I might have a bad night but I'd be ok.

Regarding pack weight, I don't want to list all my gear, but it's pretty much a UL set up but for winter (tarp, no tent). It's served me well on prior trips and I seem to be checking all the boxes on the standard "Winter Camping checklist" sites. I'm not dodging duplication either - two sets of gloves, two hats, two headlamps, etc.

I was thinking of doing something around Dix instead, as it's a little more popular, campsites are closer to civilization, there are numerous great summits, some of which are a little more attainable (Round, Noonmark) if Dix doesn't work out. Anyone have any info on the Round Pond campsites? I'm relatively familiar with the area after doing a handful of trips there, but I've never checked out Round or Twin ponds. The DEC map indicates just one on the south side, but I've read that there are more than one. Seems like the north side would be nicer for the low winter sun (not to mention sunrise / set views).
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Old 01-24-2021, 06:57 PM   #15
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I was thinking of doing something around Dix instead, as it's a little more popular, campsites are closer to civilization, there are numerous great summits, some of which are a little more attainable (Round, Noonmark) if Dix doesn't work out. Anyone have any info on the Round Pond campsites? I'm relatively familiar with the area after doing a handful of trips there, but I've never checked out Round or Twin ponds. The DEC map indicates just one on the south side, but I've read that there are more than one. Seems like the north side would be nicer for the low winter sun (not to mention sunrise / set views).[/QUOTE]

The sites on the way to Grace are very nice and open. I recall the furthest one in as right on the trail and near a pretty waterfall and pool that is likely open water for pumping. I'd say that route with Grace and option for Carson/S Dix would fit the bill and not be as remote as Santas
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Old 01-24-2021, 07:31 PM   #16
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The sites on the way to Grace are very nice and open. I recall the furthest one in as right on the trail and near a pretty waterfall and pool that is likely open water for pumping. I'd say that route with Grace and option for Carson/S Dix would fit the bill and not be as remote as Santas
I was thinking of taking that way in as well, but figured there was no chance it'd be broken or that I'd run into anyone else, except on the summits. I hadn't read any trip reports of people going this way - everyone seemed to be coming from Elk Lake or Ausable, with a few more from Round Pond. Seemed a bit too remote for my first solo winter trip in the Dacks.

I bushwhacked from the end of the South Boquet Fork Trail to Grace and the rest of the Dix peaks years ago, and loved how remote it felt. But maybe was more based on how rough the bushwhack was more than anything else, lol.
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Old 01-24-2021, 08:23 PM   #17
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In general terms: The northern approaches to the Dix Range are a bit less popular than the southern approach, as the northern approaches don't as readily facilitate a traverse of the full range- so you might consider instead going from the Elk Lake side as your chances of having to break trail are less. Dix is popular enough in its own right (as a hike without any combination of the rest of the range) that the trail via Round Pond does get broken out somewhat regularly- but this approach may also go a weekend or two after a big dump without seeing the level of use necessary to break it out (but if this is the case, then you have Noonmark or Round as alternatives, as you note). In particular, it's worth noting how small the Round Pond parking area is in comparison to some of the other High Peaks trailheads along Route 73- yet this is not an area that sees the same level of parking overflow as some of those other trailheads with larger parking lots.

Levels of use are probably even more so a consideration for the herd path up first the North and then the South Fork of the Boquet (as you note this is by far the least used approach into the Dix Range), but I'll elaborate more on this below.

Round Pond has three designated tent sites- and they aren't all particularly easy to locate (although with some new signage in the past year it's gotten a bit easier).

The first site is before you get to Round Pond, not far beyond the crest of the ridge that you climb up and over from Route 73, and just before you begin the short but steep descent down to the pond itself. The trail to the site is to the right (if you are traveling SOBO in from the trailhead). It's a pretty small site but otherwise not horrendous. For years it was real easy to miss this site as there were no markers for it on the main trail (in fact I had no idea it existed myself until recently, despite a number of visits into the area), but during my most recent visit there (this past summer) I saw that someone from the DEC had put up arrow markers for it where the side trail to the tent site departs the main hiking trail.

The other two sites are on opposite sides from each other on the outlet of Round Pond, around on the south end of the pond. When you first arrive at the pond (traveling SOBO and in from the trailhead), the main trail makes a sharp turn to the right- but the side trail to the tent sites departs to the left (there was an arrow here as of this past summer). Follow this side trail around the pond, passing through several closed campsites as you go. You'll reach the second site just before crossing the outlet- this is a decently large, flat, and well-used site.

The third site is across the outlet from the second site. This is also an easy one to miss- for years it too was missing any sort of signage but during my most recent visit I saw that again, someone from the DEC had put up an arrow for it in the second site on the east side of the outlet (the third site is unfortunately one of those pesky sites that the only easy way to access it is by walking straight through another designated tent site). The outlet is often dry and easily crossed (I think most of the water from the pond drains underground) but it clearly can be running (perhaps even dangerously so) at times. This third site is also large and quite nice- I'd say the nicest site at Round Pond out of the three- but it is also clearly popular and somewhat decently well used.

During a summer 2015 overnight trip that included a stay at the Boquet River, I counted three designated tent sites up the hill behind the lean-to. More recently, the lean-to was relocated as part of the ongoing process of moving all lean-tos in the ADKs away from water sources- and naturally the site selected for it was right smack in the middle of one of those designated tent sites. During my most recent visit to the lean-to in the summer of 2018, I could only find a single "camp here" disc near the lean-to- I think the one of the 2 sites that wasn't obliterated in the lean-to relocation was simply missing it's "camp here" disc but I'm not 100% sure on this.

Regarding the herd path up the North and then South Forks of the Boquet: Of the three main approaches into the Dix Range, this one is by far the least popular. That's not to say that it doesn't get some moderate use- but the use levels are low enough that I would question how often it gets broken out in winter. The lower portions of this herd path are also pretty braided and "choose your own adventure-y," with multiple different paths to follow and a number of unmarked junctions that can have you running around in circles if you're not already familiar with the area (this happened to my group during our first visit to the area, on our way out in the dark at the conclusion of our hike).

The bridge on Route 73 over the North Fork of the Boquet seems to get enough parked cars in the summer that there is an appearance that this is a popular route into the Dixes- but the reality is that the majority of these cars are day users swimming in the Boquet, with some folks also camped close to the road (there's 2 or 3 designated tent sites that are a short enough walk in that they are readily usable by the car camping crowd, with or without any interest in climbing peaks). So again, I would question just how likely it is that this herd path will be broken out in it's entirety, even if it has been several weeks since the last major accumulation of fresh snow. The herd path also gets a bit less obvious beyond the final designated tent site- and the closer you get to the Grace/South Dix col the more and more obscure the herd path becomes (in fact, there's been no shortage of well-intentioned yet clueless hikers who've spent no small amount of time brushing in the upper reaches of this herd path because they view it as a false trail after they unintentionally got sucked down into it while trying to traverse between South Dix and Grace).

One of the biggest advantages of this route, of course, is that there's a decent selection of tent sites at varying distances from the trailhead- so you could hike as far or as short as you wanted with your overnight gear before setting up. The more recent versions of the ADK High Peaks Map do accurately show the locations of these tent sites (and all sites had arrow markers during my most recent visit, or were at least perfectly obvious from the main herd path).

I'm fairly certain that this herd path- and the one further downstream on the Boquet that sticks entirely to the South Fork- weren't constructed for hiking originally but were rather built by the DEC to facilitate fish stocking in the upper reaches of both forks of the Boquet. This would explain the South Fork herd path- a well established and seemingly even somewhat officially maintained trail that ends abruptly in the middle of nowhere (at a shockingly-large and well-used designated tent site, no less, given the remoteness of the terminus of this path). Similarly, the combined North-South Fork Herd Path is also somewhat well maintained, up until the final designated tent site, when it very suddenly and very abruptly shifts into a much fainter and less obvious path for the remainder of the ascent.

I would suggest you at least consider the southern approach to the Dixes, via Elk Lake. You do have the extra two miles due to the closure of the road, but honestly if you have even a little bit of experience and a good base of snow, you could probably ski all the way into the Slide Brook Lean-to with little difficulty- it's 2 miles on the main Elk Lake Road at first, and just over 2 miles mostly on an old logging road all the way to Slide Brook (Cadillac Drive). The Slide Brook Lean-to has 5 designated tent sites in the vicinity (3 before you pass the lean-to, 2 beyond it). The Lillian Brook Lean-to has 3 designated tent sites in the vicinity (all 3 are a little bit beyond the turn off trail to the lean-to), although to ski as far as Lillian Brook would demand more experience.

The Beckhorn Trail gets broken out pretty regularly by winter hikers doing the full Dix Range, so you'd more or less have a guaranteed broken route (or worst case scenario, on a Saturday you'd most likely have the company of other hikers to help break trail). The Beckhorn itself can be slightly technical in winter but usually isn't too bad if you go slowly and carefully.

With regards to doing other peaks in the range... doing even one single additional peak apart from Dix may commit you to doing the full main range (Dix, Hough, South Dix, Macomb, minus Grace) depending on the status of the Lillian Brook Herd Path. The Macomb Slide will almost certainly be broken out (or again, worst case scenario, you wouldn't be the only one going up or down it on a Saturday) but Lilian Brook is more variable. Most consider it to be a bail-out option only, and it gets less use accordingly. It may or may not be broken out (and even if it is broken out, only one leg of it may be broken out since it splits partway up- and you may not have any means of knowing in advance which leg is broken out).

------------------------------------------

With all of that being said... I still think that overall there is reason to at least consider one of the more classical High Peaks hikes for a first-time winter ascent, with a campsite at Marcy Dam, Lake Colden, or Johns Brook being the three main overnight possibilities. You'd have no shortage of companions (even with a Friday entry into the backcountry) to help ensure a broken out trail to both camp and to just about any summit, plenty of campsites to choose from, and yet use levels would be unlikely to be so high that everything would be filled to the brim with overnight users (unless you're going on a holiday weekend).
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Old 01-24-2021, 09:27 PM   #18
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Thanks again for all the beta, that's enough to base a few trips off of!

Dix is definitely in the mix. Coming in from Elk Lake is feasible, but if the weather turns or it turns or the trail is too hard and I don't hit the summit it'd be a bit of a bust. The reason I was looking at Round Pond is that it looks like a gorgeous place to camp, and Noonmark or Round are easy targets if the going is tough or the weather hit or miss. With Dix I have to summit on Saturday. With the lesser peaks I can hit them Fri, Sat, or Sun.

One of the reasons I love winter camping is the lack of people. As much as I get why people are pushing the more popular High Peaks, I'd be bummed to be in a crowd.

I get the impression that a lot of people here are on summit missions - getting their winter 46 or what have you. I'm really just trying to spend some time in gorgeous frozen solitude and catch some nice views if possible.

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I'm fairly certain that this herd path- and the one further downstream on the Boquet that sticks entirely to the South Fork- weren't constructed for hiking originally but were rather built by the DEC to facilitate fish stocking in the upper reaches of both forks of the Boquet. This would explain the South Fork herd path- a well established and seemingly even somewhat officially maintained trail that ends abruptly in the middle of nowhere (at a shockingly-large and well-used designated tent site, no less, given the remoteness of the terminus of this path).
I had the same thought! I hiked in and camped at that spot about 6 or 7 years ago. Then bushwhacked up to Elizabethtown, Spotted, and on to Grace. It was a nice trail but the terminus was sort of confusing. I didn't realize it was for stocking, but thought there had to be some sort of logistical purpose. We had just come from 5 days on Lows Lake and we picked up a pizza in Saranac Lake. It was cold by the time we got to camp but we stuck the slices on sticks and heated them up marshmallow style. Since we'd been eating camp food for 5 days, it was of course delicious. But definitely one of the weirder meals I've eaten at a campsite.
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Old 01-24-2021, 10:03 PM   #19
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A strong hiker turned back on the Santa Express today due to thigh-deep snow. It had been broken out last weekend. That trail gets pounded by the east-moving snow from across that ridge much more than does the Panther Brook Trail. Panther up and Santa Direct down might be a better option.
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Old 01-24-2021, 10:22 PM   #20
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I get the impression that a lot of people here are on summit missions - getting their winter 46 or what have you. I'm really just trying to spend some time in gorgeous frozen solitude and catch some nice views if possible.
Yeah, I think if you're out primarily for the experience- and less for a definitive High Peak summit- then the exact destination of choice (and how likely the trails are to be broken out) is perhaps less of a consideration. If you were forced to bail on Dix, with an early start and even when solo I would think that a decently strong hiker ought to be able to summit a peak like Noonmark from Round Pond (even if it takes all day) in all but the deepest possible snowpacks.

(And FWIW if the Dix trail from the north isn't otherwise broken out and you get an early start up Noonmark instead... you might be able to trick a few other hikers who also had their sights set on Dix to follow you up Noonmark instead once they hit the junction and find snowshoe tracks only headed towards Noonmark. This happened to a friend and I- completely unintentionally- when we snowshoed up Noonmark from Round Pond one winter. We never intended to climb Dix- Noonmark was always our peak of choice- but a few other hikers who started behind us had themselves originally intended to climb Dix. Once they got to the junction and found an unbroken trail towards Dix and a broken trail towards Noonmark instead, they changed their minds for the day and decided to climb Noonmark. The joke was on them, though- as they caught up to us perhaps a mere quarter of a mile above the junction, laboring away in the deep snow, and were forced to take their turns in trailbreaking nonetheless. )
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