It was a cool mid-October Tuesday morning, and I found myself up at 5 am, before the sun had even risen. The only thing that could mean was it was time to hike. Chris picked me up around 5:30 and we went on to embark on a mini vacation up in Lake Placid, NY. Considering we had some bad early summer luck with getting in days to climb, we decided to head up to Placid for a few days and knock off as many climbs as we could, to make up for the fact that we weren’t going to be able to finish the 46 like we wanted to do this year. It had been a long time since I’d taken a vacation from work, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my time off than hiking in the Adirondacks! We had our itinerary for the week basically set, even though we’re very used to changing plans on the fly: we were going to hike Seward that first day, hike the lower 4 mountains in the Dix range the second day, and finish off our trip by climbing Redfield before heading back with 44 peaks off our list. We were both pretty pumped regardless of the early start, and ready to put in some miles on the trails!
After grabbing a bite, and making a stop or two, we finally arrived at the trailhead of the Seward range. Even though we’d both been to the range twice before, it seemed as if the road going in had magically grown by a few miles in length. I felt like an impatient kid thinking to myself “Are we there yet” over and over again as I got tossed around over the bumps of the windy, gravelly road. We grabbed our gear, got our boots, and were on our way to climb the last mountain we needed to visit in the range, Seward itself. We anticipated climbing Seward last year along with Donaldson and Emmons, but after missing a turn off, and suffering through a hot, muggy day, we decided to leave Seward for another time. The climb in is always relatively easy, as the first couple of miles are a long, fairly flat hike in to the herd path on marked trails. There were a few noticeable differences hiking in this time, compared to when we made this same endeavor last summer. First, the left fork in the hiking trail heading towards Ward Brook has been brushed in, leaving only one choice heading towards the junction with the Calkins Brook Trail. We soon found that the trail was merely diverted a few hundred yards down the line, which I found out was done to avoid the further erosion of the trail section where there was a lot of bog bridging.
The trail diversion really doesn’t end up making any significant difference for the hike; it’s just something to keep in mind. The second significant difference hiking in on the Calkins Brook Trail towards Donaldson was the weather. The first time we took this path it was a hot, muggy day in the forest, and the trail was slightly overgrown with weeds and greatly overpopulation with flies. It was an easy hike to the herd path, but an uncomfortable one at the same time. However, hiking the same path in October was a far more pleasant experience. The temperatures were cooler with that fresh autumn smell in the air, the path was a little bit clearer and a little less muddy, and the bugs were virtually non-existent. With the weather working in our favor, we made good time heading towards the Calkins Brook herd path, ready to ascend.
We arrived at the turn off for the herd path a little before 11 am, and this time we didn’t keep walking in the wrong direction! We did stop at the creek before ascending, just to get a bite to eat and collect our thoughts. From what we recalled, we thought we might be able to make the trail juncture between Donaldson and Seward by 12, maybe 12:15 and get to Seward by 1 pm. The trail up the side of Donaldson didn’t seem particularly challenging or hard to follow the first time, so we thought we should be able to make great time. We continued on up the mountain at a steady, gradual pace, while ducking through and around the occasional blow-down and mud hole along the way. The herd path doesn’t contain a great amount of steep ascending up towards Donaldson, but I forgot from the first time what a nuisance some of the spots could be. There were a few very challenging, muddy bogs that were hard to avoid and since it’s a herd path and not a maintained trail, the tree and branch blow-down blocks the trail on more than a few occasions, slowing our pace and progress as we ascended. What should have been a quick ascent up Donaldson turned into a somewhat slow trudge up the mountain. Still, we continued on the trail for a while until we finally reached the junction where the trail split off in two, going towards Donaldson to the south and Seward to the north.
Being a Tuesday morning/afternoon after a holiday weekend, we did not run into many people on the trail, especially considering the remote access to the Western High Peaks. However, as we happened upon the trail juncture, we ran into the only group of hikers we saw all day. They were 3 young ladies with full packs, trying to decide whether it was worth it to continue on to Seward. We struck up a conversation with them, which ended up being a good excuse to stop and catch our breaths after a sluggish ascent. I checked the clock on my phone and it read 12:30. I kind of grimaced at the time because I really thought we could make better time than that, but that’s life on the trails for ya I guess, sometimes you make good time and sometimes you don’t. Chris and I decided to lend a few ideas to our fellow hikers as they debated whether or not to hike Seward. Chris suggested they could drop their packs at the junction and to make it easier to head over, while I foolishly suggested that time wise it shouldn’t be so bad to head over to Seward if trying to make it out before nightfall (spoiler alert: I underestimated this climb!) After stopping for a minute, we decided to continue on our way to Seward since we felt like we were a little behind our expected pace anyway. The trail over to Seward started with a steep little dip off of Donaldson, and much to our chagrin it seemed like we just kept descending for a while. I’ll fully admit to the fact that I didn’t prep for this hike or study the map much because we’d already done the majority of the hike, so I was a little thrown off given the short distance between the two peaks how much we were descending off of Donaldson. There was a point once we bottomed out where we could clearly see the kind of wall we were climbing up, and Chris and I both stopped and looked for a second, anticipating what we were about to face up against. After taking a second to admire the peak we were about to climb, there was only thing left to do: get the hell up it!
The ascent started pretty swiftly, and I must say it was surprisingly unrelenting. There were a bunch of really steady steep rock pitches on the way up, ones with less than ideal hand holds or footholds that could rival just about any of the pitches we’d faced in the High Peaks. It was a tough ascent up the steep parts on the southern face of Seward, so we took our time and climbed it with care. The good part about the steep ascent of Seward was that it didn’t take terribly long to get up to a high elevation.
Once we got ourselves up the steep pitches it was just a hike on the ridge to get to the summit. Now I knew as we walked and saw some nice look out spots that the summit itself was supposed to be unspectacular, but as I went ahead searching for the summit sign, I was caught off guard when I finally got there. After all of the work it took to get there, the ups and downs, the tough, steep pitch we had to endure, the summit itself was one of the least spectacular in the High peaks region. The good news was that we finally got to the top of Seward Mountain, peak #39 for both us, but the bad news was that the summit was just a tiny rock in the forest with a sign. That was one hell of a deflating moment to see the 6 foot wide summit was the spot we had been working to all day, but once Chris caught up and we got to lament the uninteresting peak of Seward, we had a good laugh about the whole thing. A peak is a peak, and we were able to cross another one off our list, which was good enough for both of us!
After spending a total of 2 minutes on the peak itself (seriously, you can barely fit three people in the summit area) we each got a picture at the sign and headed back to the nicest rock ledge we found just before the summit. From there we got some great views of Donaldson, Emmons, and the vast Saranac/Long Lake region. It was actually a very nice from just below the summit, a nice consolation, and a nice spot for us to stop and have our lunch. After spending about twenty minutes enjoying a snack, taking a few pictures, and getting dive-bombed by a few bees, we decided we had enough of Seward and headed back the way we came. We spent some time debating whether or not we wanted to try to loop the hike and come down by ward brook, but in the end I think we decided we had enough adventure for the day, and would take the trail we knew best on the way back. Besides, we knew we had one hell of an adventure planned for the next day either, so it might be best to save our mental energy for then instead of following a difficult herd path we weren’t familiar with all the way down Seward. So back the way we came was the plan, even knowing we’d have to climb up Donaldson a little bit.
The trip back was fairly uneventful, we made our way gingerly down the steep pitches of Seward and back upwards a little bit to the junction between the trails to Seward, Donaldson, and the Calkins Brook herd path. This was a good spot to take one more break before the final descent on our way back to the car, relax a little bit, shoot some video, and gather up some energy for a final push. Heading back down was simple enough, only hiking one peak for the day left me with enough energy to get down at a good pace, unlike our earlier hike in the Santanoni range where it felt like a chore trying to get back down from Panther at the end of a long day. We meandered our way back over the creek, through the nasty bogs, and over, under and around all of the blow-down until we were back at the creek where we started our climbing. From there it was just a long flat(ish) walk back to the car and back out of the wilderness.
Heading back from Calkins Brook was alright, even though it’s always a minor inconvenience going back up that trail because it’s kind of a false flat. That false flat was much more manageable in October than in the summer though, echoing the thoughts I had coming in. Chris always tells me the Fall is his favorite time to hike, and while I may not love the cool mornings in the High peaks, I’m starting to come around to his way of thinking. There’s something about the air in the Fall, the foliage and the great view of the changing colors from a high elevation that really makes you enjoy nature just that little bit more than in the dog days of summer. At least that’s my perspective, but to each their own I suppose.
About half way back to the junction with the Ward Brook Trail we actually caught up to the group we saw on the way to Seward. They had decided not to head towards Seward after all and just headed back down instead. I may have been kind of a jerk by letting it slip that the summit was kind of a letdown, but I tried to backtrack quickly by mentioning the great views. This is why I let Chris doing the talking when we encounter people on the trails, he’s much better with people than me, but that’s whatever. We continued on ahead without seeing anyone else for the rest of the day until we got to the parking lot. That’s the nice part about hiking in the middle of the week, the now famous crowds in the High Peaks are non-existent, the parking lots have plenty of space, and the wilderness is relatively undisturbed. Saturdays have become a big scene in the High Peaks, making fodder for the newspapers and online publications, and we witnessed just a little bit of that when we hiked Marshall earlier in the year, so it was a smart idea to plan our trips for the middle of the week to avoid crowds and just enjoy the hike. In almost no time, we had reached the Ward Brook trail and from there it was a mere mile and a quarter back to the car. We reached the trail head around 5:30 with plenty of sunlight to spare, and made our way back to Placid to enjoy a good dinner, and rest up for the long day we had ahead of us for the next day.
Recommendations For Hikers: Just like any of Chris’ blog posts on the Seward range, I’ll reiterate the main takeaway lesson: this range isn’t for leisure hikers. Unless you’re trying to complete the 46 I see very little reason to come up to this range, they’re very remote and you have to go quite a distance just to get to the foot of the climbs, and the trails can be treacherous in places with lots of mud, blow-down, and steep pitches (specifically on Seward). Seward itself is a fun hike, but the views really aren’t much to write home about. Combining Seward with Emmons and Donaldson makes for a very long day, and if you try to throw Seymour in then you better be an experienced trail runner because that’s just going to be a painful day. I liked doing Seward by itself, it’s a good, tough climb, but not too exhausting when done as a standalone hike.
Seward: Views – 4(1 from the summit itself) Difficulty – 8