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Old 01-22-2021, 06:04 PM   #6
DSettahr's Avatar
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 5,224
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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