Allen Mountain

I’ve consistently seen Allen Mountain ranked as one of the toughest climbs in the Adirondack High Peaks in all of the research I’ve done preparing for climbs over the years and it’s definitely developed a mythical place in 46er lore. I’ve seen numerous reasons why people disliked climbing Allen ranging from length of the climb, to tough trail conditions, confusing directions, or lack of payout at the summit. All of the negative comments regarding the hike kind of lead us put this climb off until the very end, but since Chris and I were sitting on peak #44, it became time for us to finally take a crack at Allen this summer.

We set off around 5 AM on a weekday in July, knowing we’d have a tough 18 mile day to get to the wooded summit of Allen. Nothing about the thought of climbing to Allen that early in the morning was particularly appealing, but we were getting so close to finishing the 46 that it made the task seem just a little bit more exciting than it normally would be. Going into this hike, we weren’t even sure if we would really be able to do this climb successfully because there was a forecast for storms for that day. I told Chris point blank that climbing Allen under a chance of storms would be uncomfortable and borderline dangerous because of the notoriously slippery final ascent of Allen, and the muddy conditions present on the flat sections of the climb, but luckily the storms had passed the night before and the forecast had improved. I knew in the back of my head that even if the skies were nice for the day, the ground was still going to be wet and treacherous, and let’s just say that Allen didn’t disappoint at all!

 

We managed to get to the trailhead by about a quarter to 8, which would give us plenty of time to get the hike completed in daylight, barring any catastrophic injuries or bear encounters. While driving in, Chris put the over/under of how many people we were going to see on the trail at 4.5, and while I took the under, I was adamant we would see at least one other party doing the hike on a nice summer day. The ADK 46 is getting pretty popular and even on the most remote hikes on the randomest days of the week, there always a good chance of running into other hikers doing the same thing you’re trying to do. It didn’t take us any more than a few seconds to see somebody else pull up to the trailhead trying to hike Allen too, so my theory about hiking in the High Peaks in 2017 was proven right immediately. We quickly signed in, and got going on what would be a long day’s work getting to the summit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After only walking for a few minutes from the trail register, we already reached the bridge to cross over the Hudson River. Once we reached the other side of the river, the trail quickly deteriorated into a muddy, bog-like condition on and off for a while. We spent the majority of our day trying not to get our boots stuck too badly in the mud, but it was unavoidable and deep in certain spots. The mud deterred our pace a little, but luckily there were some spots on the trail that managed to be a bit better than others. The trail around Lake Jimmy had some nice bog bridging, even though I must admit it would’ve been a little cooler (not to mention quicker) to be able to walk across the lake on bridging, and the trail around the Mount Adams trailhead had some interesting cabins to explore. We stopped to check out the cabins for a brief moment then continued on past Adams.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This was pretty typical of this day

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The trail descending towards Lake Sally was extremely muddy and eroded to the point where there were clearly established cut-arounds in the woods next to the trail. I do understand the mystique of climbing Allen from Upper Works given all of the hardships needed to get to it, but I’m 100% in favor of the DEC developing another trail to get to Allen from the south because this trail is hardly sustainable anymore. We begrudgingly made our way through the slop and ended up on another one of the old logging roads in that section of wilderness. The nice gravel road that the trail follows along the Opalescent offers some nice respite from the muddy conditions, and it offers some interesting glimpses into the logging past of the woods. As you walk through there, you can make out faint logging roads and old paths that have long since been abandoned, which are some of the only exciting points of interest on the way to the herd path. After passing a steel gate and continuing on, we crossed the Opalescent River on a nice new hanging bridge instead of fording the river like you would’ve had to before. Even though our boots were already wet enough by this point, it was still nice to be able to cross on a bridge versus going over the river, so we do have to give a special shout-out to the trail crews for working diligently on such a remote trail as the East River Trail is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Follow this sign to the bridge over the Opalescent

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bridge Crossing the Opalescent

 

 

The trail junction leading into the true herd path towards Allen were much easier to find than I had expected. The East River Trail does not seem to be travelled beyond the Allen turn off that frequently, to the extent that the established trail actually seamlessly leads off into the direction of Allen without even looking like much of a trail beyond that point. From this easy turn off it’s only maybe a tenth of a mile (probably less than that actually) until you reach a dirt road where this trail ends. You can basically see the gravel pit where you sign in to hike the herd path from this junction to the left, so all you really have to do is turn quickly towards the left and you’re at the start of the climb. We took a quick break at the herd path right around 10 AM or so and let the groups behind us actually go ahead. In my mind, it would be nice to see some fresh foot prints on the trail anyway in case it got hard to follow, but it really wasn’t a problem following the herd path for the most part, even though it certainly wasn’t the best defined or best maintained path in that part of the woods. The 13 point plan that I jotted on a piece of paper from a list I found on a forum was fairly helpful as we got on to the meandering herd path. I followed along every milestone I should see on the way, and it allowed me to pace the climb nicely and keep at ease as we moved through the thick woods west of the peak of Allen. Despite the rain, none of the brooks we had to cross along the way were in any way hard to rock hop, and even the mud levels on the herd path were no worse than the ones on the “maintained” trail to the base of the climb. In about an hour and a half’s time, maybe a little bit less, we reached the waterfall on Allen Brook where we stopped for a second to gear up for what would be a taxing final ascent to the top.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
so helpful…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Turn left at the cairn towards the herd path for Allen

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Walking towards the clearing marking the beginning of the herd path

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As Chris dunked his hat in the waterfall like he typically does on a hot day like this, I took out the map for a second to get a general idea of where we were. It looked from the point where Allen Brook drains into Skylight Brook that there would be roughly one more mile to go to the summit, and almost all of it would be steep and unrelenting. This is where I knew we would have to start being careful because all trip reports I’ve seen indicated that the rock along Allen Brook is unusually slippery, and if you’re not careful you could find yourself going on an unwanted slip and slide ride on jagged rock. I kept this in mind as I made my way up the trail as it swerved on and off the rock faces and into the woods numerous times. I made sure to stay off of the reddish colored rock because that would be the spots where there would be little to no grip. It was hard to get around the running water and slippery rock, but taking it one step at a time made it doable. At one part the trail ended up on a drier, gravelly spot where you could get a good view on the slope you had just climbed. I took a seat on a smooth boulder and looked behind to see where Chris was at, because I didn’t hear him behind me at all. So I sat and waited looking down the trail for a good minute, but still there was no sign of Chris. Even though I’m admittedly less athletic, I do tend to get a little bit ahead of him as he films portions of the blog, especially if I have some good leg strength like I did on this day, but I kind of thought that he shouldn’t have fallen that far behind me under these conditions, so I decided to walk a little ways back down until I managed to see the reflection of the sun off his sunglasses as he climbed up. I never really get too worried on these climbs, but the conditions on Allen might be some of the most dangerous in the High Peaks, so I did get a bit concerned for a second that he went for one of those unwilling water slide rides I’d referenced before. Sure enough, once Chris caught up to me  he told me just that, that he took a fall and if not for a helpful tree root, he would’ve went flying down the mountain in the wrong direction. His hip was hurting pretty bad from the fall, and his elbow was decently cut up as well, but he said there was no way we’d be turning around this close to the summit. I wouldn’t personally recommend continuing climbing if you’re in pain, but we’d been anticipating this climb for a long time and we were pretty close to the summit, so we just took our time and made it up as fast as he could manage.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ouch.

 

I figured we should stop and regroup for a second, but Chris said it was better for him just to keep pushing through it anyway because his hip would just start locking up, so he really just powered through until we reached the summit. It was probably the least triumphant we’d ever felt reaching the summit of a high peak, but we were just happy to finally get to the top of Allen!

The summit of Allen was just as non-descript as it’s billed to be, just a height of land in the woods with a plaque on a tree. There is, however, a very nice lookout to the northeast of the summit with pretty cool views of the surrounding mountains like Haystack and the lower great range, so all-in-all it’s actually not the worst summit of are of the High Peaks (Blake still wins that competition I think, though Couchsachraga is a close second). The lookout was a nice spot to stop and enjoy the summit before heading back down into the sloppy descent and long walk out that was between us and the parking lot. The group ahead of us on the mountain was happy enough to offer us some first aid supplies, as I hadn’t packed too much with me for the hike, so Chris bandaged up his cuts as best as he could and it didn’t end up being too serious of an issue from that point on. One thing is for certain though; I’m definitely bringing a better stocked first aid kit next time just in case of emergency. We may have spent 15 minutes on the summit overall since we were a bit too anxious about the descent to really enjoy the triumph of reaching another peak, and we headed back down eager to get that slippery descent behind us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
1 To Go!

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Going down the steep section of Allen was just as treacherous, and on the way down was my opportunity to wipe out as well. I decided I was going to walk across a stream instead of finding a drier route, and I did my best Charlie Brown kicking a football impression, falling flat on my pack faster than I could even realize what was happening. It was a bit of a wake-up call to really slow the pace to a crawl, and we spent the rest of the descent taking it at an extremely casual pace. Once we reached the waterfall again we both breathed a sigh of relief knowing our risk of further injury just decreased significantly. We both really bemoaned the standing water and mud on the trails coming in, but to a small extent we welcomed the return of the mud over the slippery rocks by that point. We kept going after stopping for a second, and went on for a while before we made our way back to the herd path trail register right around 4 PM.

It was a tiring and frustrating walk back to the car after all of the slipping and sliding of the day, but we trudged on nonetheless. This was one of those moments where you wish you could just snap your fingers and be back at the trailhead, but no, we had to drag ourselves back unassisted (sigh). It was an extremely uneventful walk back comparatively, even though it was interesting seeing dozens of frogs and even a couple of snakes in the marshes that were passing as marked trails. I don’t think I’d ever seen a snake on a trail before, so that was kind of a fun surprise on what was overall a generic walk back. The mental exhaustion of the day was far greater than the physical exhaustion, in both of our opinions, so we managed to find our way back slowly and steadily without breaking stride for any photo opportunities or extended breaks like we normally do. Climbing Allen wasn’t the greatest hiking experience we’d ever had, but at least we managed to get our 45th peak in the Adirondacks and got it in with plenty of daylight to spare, arriving at the trailhead a little bit before 6:30 PM. It was a long day, but at least it was another interesting experience to share as we got that much closer to completing our 46!

Recommendations: Allen Mountain isn’t a fun hike. I’d only recommend it to people seriously interested in the 46 because it’s a somewhat unpleasant experience. If you do plan to climb Allen, make sure you read up a little bit on the trail before you go up, and be careful on the final ascent because it is no joke. Allen really isn’t terribly steep (with the exception of the slide section near the summit) or overly challenging from a physical standpoint, but it’s a taxing hike nonetheless, so be mentally prepared for a long day.

Ratings:

Difficulty – 10

Views – 1 (5 from a lookout just off of the summit)

Saddleback Mountain & The Horn – Maine Trip Day 1

On a cool, rainy Monday in early June, Chris and I set off for what would be an interesting week of climbing in the Carabassett Valley area. Since we’ve been getting close to our goal of finishing the ADK 46, our minds have been shifting focus beyond 46 and onwards to the Northeast 111. Since the 14 peaks in Maine are kind of out of the way, Chris suggested we take a week and just go up there to climb as much of them as we can, and I was happy enough to come along. Even though 4 straight days of climbing was bound to be a tough test, it was undoubtedly going to be a better time than going to work.

We took off from Boston around 6 AM or so knowing it would be a bit of a trip to get up to where we were going. The forecast called for light rain throughout the day, but considering it was calling for a washout just a few days before, we decided to give a shorter hike a try, so we set off for Saddleback Ski Resort to climb Saddleback and Saddleback Horn. The book distance on the hike was only about 6.8 miles, so we figured it wouldn’t be such a bad climb to do in the rain. As we drove up and the rain continued on steadily, I began to think we were kind of crazy trying to go out in weather like this, but I knew we were going to try it regardless, just because that’s how we do things. Besides, hikes with a little adversity make for great stories (and this one was no different).

The first indication that this was going to be a strange day was when we got close to the mountain and Chris’ GPS decided that the best route to the trailhead would be to take a shortcut down a relatively unmarked, unpaved hunting road. It was a random, sketchy trip for a mile past no trespassing signs before we reached a metal gate and realized the GPS was sorely mistaken. It felt like a bad omen to start the day, and more or less it actually was a sign of things to come for our trip through Maine (but more on that will come in later blogs). We turned around, found our way to the ski resort eventually, and were on our way in no time.

We got started hiking around 10:45 AM after trying to figure out where it was we supposed to park. The whole resort was a ghost town with the exception of a few construction crews off in the woods, so it was a little confusing trying to figure out what we were supposed to do. We learned a valuable lesson on Day 1 of this trip; you really have to earn your peaks in Maine because there’s not a heck of a lot of guidance out there outside of the Appalachian Trail trailheads. We ending up parking downhill a ways, and went off to find the ski lift. From there we were going to read the trail map and look for the Grey Ghost trail, which was supposedly the best trail to take to get uphill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Not the Grey Ghost trail but whatever

 

Without knowing it at the time, we ended up taking a different trail up, the Green Weaver, which zigzagged a little bit on a more gravelly trail the whole way up the side of the mountain. To be honest, it really didn’t make much of a difference which trail we took up because they all lead to the same place anyway (a logic we would use again on Day 3 of this trip) so we just pushed on uphill. It was a steep and taxing effort trying to climb up the trail we did, and I found myself needing to stop every 100 feet or so to catch my breath. It was a tough push for the first hour of the day, but we did manage to get up top in no time. Eventually, after taking the second wrong trail of the day, we ended up at the spot where we would leave the ski area and hop over to the ridge line where we would meet the Appalachian Trail en route to the summit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The connection path is not well marked at all, but if you keep your eyes open heading up to the highest point of the ski trails then you should find it without much hardship. It was probably about a tenth of a mile from there before we got on to the exposed ridgeline of Saddleback, and that was where our day became an even bigger struggle than we imagined.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Getting up to the ridge line seemed like a relief after going straight up ski trails for about an hour, but that relief lasted only a few moments, because we were quickly overtaken by the harsh conditions of the day. While climbing up the mountain, we were mainly blocked from the wind, but there was no escaping it on the ridge line. The wind was gusting to probably 30-40 mph by the time we started taking off to the summit, and the wind was whipping the rain around, making it far more uncomfortable than it was before. The calendar said it was June, but being up there and facing the cold wind and rain, you could’ve easily mistaken it for October or November. We knew the conditions were bad going in, but we were not prepared for how bad it was going to be. My glasses kept fogging up in the rain, making it hard to put one foot in front of the other, and the swirling clouds made following the trail on the exposed parts more difficult than it really should’ve been. Luckily enough, I did manage to pack my hat and gloves at the last second before I came out, just in case, and they really came in handy because it was that cold up there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This wasn’t a pleasant walk stroll through the woods on this day, this was grin-and-bear-it peak-bagging at its best! Once the shock wore off and we geared up a little, Chris and I continued on the Appalachian Trail and walked over to the summit of Saddleback Mountain for our first peak in Maine. I’m sure the views would’ve been wonderful, but all we got was clouds and wind gusts, so we didn’t stick around the summit for too long. Instead, we basically went straight through, heading towards our final destination of the day, Saddleback Horn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thankfully the path between Saddleback and the Horn was extremely simple to follow and even featured a few heavily forested sections that braced the wind impact. I’m sure if our entire trip between the two peaks was exposed we may have seriously considered turning back, but the conditions were a little more comfortable under tree cover. The trail descended a little bit from Saddleback to the col, but never to any real extremes. There were no steep parts along this trail section, and only one small ladder to traverse along the way, which was much appreciated.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By the time we started ascending again towards Saddleback Horn we could start feeling the winds getting even more abrasive in the exposed sections. I knew the forecast had called for some potentially steadier showers in the afternoon, and we ended up feeling a little bit more of a kick as we approached the summit. To our astonishment, we actually passed a couple of hikers as we got up towards the Horn, which we certainly didn’t expect on a day like that. We stopped for a second to talk about how crazy we all were for braving these conditions, and went along our ways again. From there, it was just a few more minutes until we ended up close to the top.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The cold wet walk towards the summit of The Horn

 

Arriving towards the summit of the Horn was a remarkably unpleasant experience in many ways. Getting above tree-line again exposed us to the deteriorating conditions, as the winds swirled just a little bit harder than they did when we were on Saddleback. Because of that, my glasses started fogging up again, and without a clear sight line I walked right off a boulder with my left leg, which left me in a painfully contorted split with a banged up knee. It’s hard to properly describe the kind of contortion I ended up in, but it seemed a fitting fall for a hike like this. Chris caught up to me right as I was trying to extract myself from in between the boulders, and I’m sure it made for a pretty comical sight looking on. My knee throbbed for the rest of the hike, but thankfully I wasn’t too hurt and we made our way up the last few sections of the trail to the summit.

The summit of Saddleback Horn didn’t have a marker like Saddleback, but it did have a gigantic stump in a rock outcropping that basically acts as the summit marker. It’s a good thing that was a blatant sign for the summit because it was so cloudy up on the summit that it was hard to see too much around. If you watch the vlog we did for this climb, you’ll see that I had zero interest in enjoying a moment on top of the peak like I usually do because the conditions had gotten way too miserable to stand still. We quickly got our pictures at the top, and headed back down for tree cover before we stopped to grab a bite to eat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“Jesus Christ get me off this thing…”

 

Even though I didn’t time it, I’m confident in saying we set new personal record for least time spent at a summit, and I’m not ashamed of that in the slightest. I knew it was going to be a bad day, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so cold in June, regardless of elevation. Every hike seems to have some sort of learning experience along the way, and this one was certainly no different!

After a quick break halfway back to the col, we decided to press on and make our way back and out of the bad weather.  I knew the conditions would improve drastically once we got back over the mountain to the ski trails, so it was worth pushing through until we got there. By the point in time we started climbing back up to saddleback my hat and gloves were soaked and useless so I was fairly miserable for that last half hour of the ridge walk. Once we were back on Saddleback the clouds had gotten just bad enough to confuse us a little bit on which was the trail lead, but we quickly found the route and got back to the trail junction a few minutes later. For some reason that trail junction seemed to have the worst wind situation of all the exposed parts on the trail, perhaps because it was a flatter section along the ridge-line, and we were astonished to feel some of the rain turning over to ice in that one section as we got to the junction sign. It was June and we were getting pummeled with ice! Such a weird experience, but it stopped pretty quickly once we got down the trail and back to the ski trails.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The good part about climbing down the ski trails was that we could see the signs for the trail labeled clearly. We managed to find the proper Grey Ghost trail on the way down, and took that to get to the bottom of the mountain.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Oh…there it is

 

We quickly figured out why this was the preferred hiking method because there was an actual, defined foot path on this trail that we could follow. We made our way down the trail, descending pretty quickly despite the rain, and got down the mountain about as fast as we’d ever descended one before. Only about 4 hours after we started our hike, we had arrived at the base of the ski lifts and made our way around the base lodge and back to the parking lot. At no point in that hike did the rain cease for even a moment, and it seemed to even get worse as we walked back to the car. Still, we were pretty relieved to get out of the rain for a moment and get some heat to dry off with. I’m pretty sure I spent the first 15 minutes of the car ride over to Rangeley shivering, but at least we got to cross a couple peaks off our list! All-in-all, it was a pretty memorable hike, and a decent start to our 4-day hiking trip in Maine!

Recommendations: I definitely would recommend this hike, although it would behoove you to climb it on a nicer day so you can enjoy your ridge walk. It’s a fairly easy day to grab two peaks, and I believe the views towards the east should be pretty nice when you can see more than 20 feet in front of you. It’s also worth noting that this particular trip shouldn’t be attempted during ski season unless you enjoy being run over by skiers. Instead, you can access Saddleback and the Horn via the Appalachian Trail from Route 4, although it will be a slightly longer day to do so.

Views: N/A

Difficulty: 3

Seward Mountain

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.

dscn0840

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.

dscn0845

dscn0846

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.

dscn0849
Muddy bog on the Calkins Brook Trail
dscn0852
Seward/Donaldson Trail Junction

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.

dscn0856

dscn0860

dscn0858

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!

dscn0866
#39 Seward

dscn0868

dscn0863

dscn0871

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.

dscn0879

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

Mt Marshall

On a hot day in August Andrew and I decided it was about time to get back out on the trails.  In the week leading up to the hike we had initially intended to finish the Dix Range.  However the night before the hike Andrew informed me he had been feeling off for a couple days and wasn’t sure that was in the cards.  Given how Andrew was feeling we opted for what we felt would be a simpler hike.  With that in mind Marshall seemed to be the best fit for us on this day.  We managed to get on the road a little after 5:00 a.m. and get some breakfast along the way.  We arrived at the Upper Works trailhead just before 8:00 a.m., but not before enduring some interesting sections of road work along the way.  We got a nice glimpse of what used to be an active iron mining area of Tahawus and found the New York history pretty interesting.

DSCN0721DSCN0722

After signing in at the register we got going down what was a pretty well maintained trail until we reached our first junction about a quarter of a mile into the hike.

DSCN0657

After the first junction we found another one in very short order, and it had a special reminder for anyone wishing to crap in the woods.

DSCN0658

From this point you want to make sure you follow the red trail markers toward Lake Colden.  The trail from this point on was very simple with mostly flat sections and planks to help you get through some muddy areas.  At one point we got to an area with a large clearing which we stupidly thought was the flowed lands (nope), but it did give us a little scenery to start the day off.

DSCN0662

It wasn’t long until we made it to a bridge at which point we switched over to some blue trail markers that would lead us towards Lake Colden.  I should mention that while you are supposed to go towards Lake Colden you don’t actually reach the lake, if you do you have gone too far and will need to double back to get to Marshall.

DSCN0665

The trail up to this point had been very flat with virtually no obstacles making it a good warm up for what we would have in store for us the rest of the day.  Knowing that we would have to start gaining some elevation at some point we figured we shouldn’t get used to things being so easy.  Gradually we started to hit some inclines but even so it was not overwhelming so we just kept up our leisurely pace we had established to start the day.  One obstacle we started to encounter more of the further we went was the mud, several sections were sopping wet, and when stepped onto would leak over the top of my boots which resulted in wet socks for most of the day.  We kept on going through mud and all until we got to a portion  where the trail forked in two different directions at a steadily moving brook.  We figured this was a decent spot to assess the map and get a drink of water.

DSCN0670

Turns out the reason the trail forks is because of the stream.  The foot bridge you can see in the distance was put in place for the potentially high water.  Given the dry year we have had there was no such issue and no need for us to take the bridge.  With this in mind we kept on going until we reached what looked like a blank trail sign.  The trail went in both directions so we decided to take a left.  While it really wasn’t the right way I am happy we ventured there as it took us to the David Henderson monument.  Long story short this monument is in honor of David Henderson who accidentally shot himself over 150 years ago.

DSCN0681
The Henderson Monument
DSCN0682
Calamity Pond

After admiring another piece of New York history along with scenic Calamity Pond we turned back and headed in the right direction.  The trail after this was once again just a very gradual incline until we reached a second register near the Flowed Lands.

DSCN0685

In reality you don’t really want to follow any of the arrows as you don’t want to enter the Flowed Lands or Lake Colden.  Instead go left towards a small campsite (if you look at the register there is a campsite marker pointing left you’ll want to follow that)  The red trail markers will mark this area until you eventually get to a cairn marking the start of the herd path for Marshall.

Shortly after finding the herd path towards Marshall I was rudely greeted by a hornet.  For anyone allergic to bee stings please carry an epipen on your hikes because you really never know what can happen.  Fortunately for me I am not and just had to deal with some substantial burning in my leg for the next 30 minutes or so.  I kept on going until we started to parallel Herbert Brook.  We meandered along this brook for quite some time crossing it more times than I can count until we made it to another rock cairn.

DSCN0693

DSCN0695
The trail forks at that first cairn, look for this second one to the left which will mark the correct direction

Now according to our map which Andrew had recently purchased it looked to be about a quarter of a mile from this point until we would reach the summit.  However after going through and climbing it I am pretty convinced that it is in fact more than that.  Nonetheless after a few muddy spots and a couple of trickier rock scrambles we made it to the summit of Mt Marshall.  Marshall stands as the 25th tallest peak in the Adirondacks, and for Andrew and I our 37th high peak climbed.  The views from the summit sign were non-existent, but after a little bit of exploring we managed to find some rock outcrops that gave us some very nice views towards the South and East.

DSCN0705
#37
DSCN0704
Andrew on Marshall
DSCN0702
Typical 2 course summit meal for me

DSCN0707

DSCN0708
Standing on an outcrop near the summit of Marshall
DSCN0711
Andrew looks to the Flowed Lands below

As far as the pace of our hike, we managed to get through about 6.5 miles in just over 4 hours which is relatively slow for us.  However given the heat and the fact we knew it was only a 1 peak day it was mostly our intention to go slow.  We packed up the gear and trudged our way back down muddy Mt Marshall.  Along the way I did stop to get a picture of Iroquois Peak, and also remember the stupidity we were guilty of on that day.

DSCN0696
View of Iroquois Peak my halfway point

After the brief stop we went back down the Herbert Brook trail until we reached the marked trail again.  It had taken us about an hour and a half to get back to the second register which was about the same as it took us to ascend the mountain from that point.  From there we continued down the straightforward marked trail until we reached the bridge we had crossed earlier in the day.  From there it was only going to be 1.2 miles until we would reach the parking lot.

DSCN0719
Almost back…yay

After drinking the last of my water we just booked it until we got back to the trailhead.  It was just after 5:00 p.m. when we reached the lot making this a 9 hour day for us.  Overall I was happy with the day and we decided to make our way to Keene Valley for some food to celebrate number 37.

Recommendation to Hikers:  Mt Marshall did not really present too big of a task for us despite the fact that you will encounter some sloppy trails while hiking this mountain.  Once you reach Herbert Brook try to stay on the herd path as it started to meander a bit and you will cross this brook numerous times so make sure you pay attention.  On another note the water levels are quite low for the time being. Make sure you are careful crossing especially in spring when the water is higher.  The average hiker may find all the mud and lack of summit view as a draw back, but there are some spots near the summit that will offer you some great views towards the Southern Adirondacks and also towards the East.

Marshall:  Difficulty – 5  Views – 5