Trip Report: Adirondacks: The Sewards: Seward, Donaldson, Emmons, and Seymour

Posted by Michael Martin on

Somehow, my Columbus Day Adirondacks trip, which had been entirely full, with a waiting list, ended up by last Friday just being Shuttle and I. While we were sad that others couldn't come, we stuck with the plan. Shuttle and I both love the Adirondacks, and were excited to get some new 46ers. So, we rolled north on the roughly nine hour drive, snapping photos and posting to Facebook as the fall foliage became progressively lovelier!

We pulled into Lisa G's in Lake Placid at about 5pm. There was a little nip in the air, and we enjoyed the excellent fare. From there, we walked over to the Ubu Brewery to fill up some growlers. Yeah, we were roughing it. My concerns about finding the trailhead in the dark proved unfounded and we parked at the Seward TH west of Saranac Lake at about 8pm. It was an easy 2-hour walk to cover the 4.5 miles to the Blueberry lean-to. The last occupants were retiring as we pulled in and set up Shuttle's trailstar.

We slept the next morning, not getting started until 8-ish. I suppose we figured, "Meh, we only have a few miles to do to bag these peaks." That proved to be a mistake. The weather was chilly and overcast as we got started, but the foliage was radiantly perfect. We soon reached the cairn marking the herd path up Seward, and snapped photos of the idyllic burbling brook. The air was so damp my lens fogged up. The unmaintained herd path was what I expected, rugged and unmarked, very muddy, but easy to follow ... in the day light.

At first, the path up Seward was a steady muddy climb, but as you climb past the Sawtooths (visible behind you), the path becomes quite slabby, very steep, and badly eroded. "Shuttle is going to love this!" I thought as I saw the first stretch of smooth, steep rock, sometimes co-located with the little creek. Indeed, we moved slowly, and it was around noon before we rounded the cliff on top of Seward. Ampersand Lake opened out behind us. We lunched on a viewpoint that was surprisingly good, and took photos of the threatening skies.

We pressed on over the rugged herd path towards Donaldson, sometimes through knee-deep mud. Shuttle wiped out in front of a family that were headed back down. We scrambled to the top of Donaldson for views of the Great Range and the Santanonis. I was concerned, however, about the time, feeling that it was imperative that we get off the slabs below Seward before dark fell. We discussed turning around, but Shuttle insisted that I go grab Emmons. I certainly didn't want to leave the awkwardly placed Emmons out there by itself.

It's supposed to be a 2-hour round trip from Donaldson to Emmons, but I virtually jogged it in 1h25, leaping down obstacles and splashing mud with ferocity. On the way back, I encountered a group of guys. One was finishing his 46 this weekend, and they were similarly determined to get Emmons, but worried about time. I reached Shuttle, who was getting cold. We left Donaldson, and made better time back to Seward, passing en route a father and his adult daughter who were moving very slowly.

Somehow, on our day of predicted zero precipitation, snow flurries started to fall. Indeed, we managed to get off the slabs before sunset, but as the twilight came on, the unmarked herd path became very tough to follow. We blundered into a creek that we knew we would have to cross. Shuttle's keen eyes spotted a cairn. We creek-whacked down to it, but what did it mean? There was no trail. It started to rain.

We were now entirely off-trail on the right side of the creek, in the dark and the rain. The creek made a convenient handrail--we knew as long as we followed it, it would take us down to the trail, so we bushwhacked. During an attack of marmots riding wolves, Shuttle banged her knee up pretty bad. We fended off the marmots, and laughed at how beautiful this stretch had seemed in the morning, and how horrible it was now. But our instincts were right. We found the herd path and, now with the rain coming down hard, reached the marked trail to Blueberry.

We arrived at camp 11 hours after starting! Let no one ever say that they ADKs aren't challenging! Around the shelter, people were worried about the two parties still on the mountain. Indeed, I was a little irritated with myself that I hadn't talked to the older man, as they had no business starting to Emmons that late, moving that slow. The next morning, we would learn that the two groups had lost their way in the same area, and had to spread out to find the trail. They wouldn't reach camp till almost 10pm.

Shuttle and I huddled under the trailstar, steaming in the damp. Miso soup, mac and cheese, and plenty of whisky made it all better. It rained through the night.

Sunday, though, we got the weather we were expecting--gorgeous blue skies and no rain--so we set out to tackle Seymour. Again, the ascent was slabby, steep, and muddy, but I found it easier than Seward, and we just had the one peak. Soon, we were picnicing on top, basking in the sun, and enjoying the views eastward, which were quite good.

Down the mountain we went, striking camp, and walking out to the cars, through progressively more beautiful light. It was a shame to leave. We reached the cars with the guys finishing their 46. They still had Esther and Whiteface to do, Monday. We drank a beer on the bumper, chatting with them about their experiences and envying their comparatively short drive time back to Rochester, NY.

We concluded that we'd spend the night in Lake Placid, so it was off to the Crown Plaza to see a gobsmackingly beautiful sunset from the bar, then back to Ubu for food and Sunday Night Football. The next morning, Noonmark and the long, long drive home.

Have I mentioned I love the ADKs?

Thanks to Shuttle for keeping me company and keeping her cool as we bushwhacked through dense ADK forest in the dark, mud, and rain!

And that's 46er #23 (Seward), 24 (Donaldson), 25 (Emmons), and 26 (Seymour) for me.


Jen posted on

Slabs, again. They seem to be my downfall in the Adirondacks, when my typically slow pace uphill transforms into a crawl. Iím getting better but still have a long way to go when it comes to slabs. Kudos to Michael for waiting for me at various intersections on Saturday and then hiking behind me on Sunday so he could watch me inch my way up the Seymour slabs. As I told Michael, I think most experienced ADK hikers would have cried when they saw how I fling myself against the rock!

Hiking the Adirondacks makes me want to be a better hiker. I find it incredibly challenging -- mostly because the rock scrambling does, to be frank, terrify me. When I got to the base of the slabs up to Seymour (which were wet) I had to pull myself together and then start inching my way up. Oddly enough, I found the descent easier. It was an out-and-back, so at least I knew what I was getting into and how long it was. I also used my butt-sliding technique (which is also known as a seated glissade in some circles) to get down rather than trying to cling to tiny branches. It did have consequences, though. I have an epic rip on the pocket of my pack and (TMI?) on my pants.

I was too slow to get Emmons on Saturday, but I was determined that Michael should get it. It was a good thing that he was fast, though. I started to get very chilled after an hour, and began hiking back and forth along the trail to keep warm. When that didnít work, I added in jumping jacks and other slick dance moves to keep the blood flowing. I think Michael found me doing a jig when he came back.

All in all, it was a good adventure for the weekend. It was incredibly hard but incredibly beautiful, and worth every ounce of effort. Now, Iíve hiked on dry and wet slab. I guess icy slab is next. :)

Hua Davis posted on

U-Turn and Jen, thanks for the trip report. It was a incredible Journey at ADK. Very happy to see you guys were safe and sound. Congrats for bagging more 46ers [:D]

Michael Martin posted on

Thanks, Hua!

Jen, you did great. You know, I have, um, been browsing the ADK forums. Some have referenced hiking all four of the Sewards in a single day, as we originally planned, as one of the hardest things in the ADKs. The Seward-Donaldson-Emmons route we did is considered quite hard, especially since it requires one to effectively summit Seward and Donaldson twice.

Some have also referenced a Calkins Brook Trail. It is not shown on our maps, and is apparently new. It would allow you to get Donaldson and Emmons more easily, and perhaps skip Seward entirely, for when you go back for Emmons. That couple we met must have been using it.

I guess I should have read up some more. But we conquered!


Michael Martin posted on

Max's report makes good reading afterwards:

He knew about the Calkins Brook Trail. How come it's not on any of our three maps?!

Max N posted on

Calkins is the main path people take these days. Not much slope and pretty smooth sailing. It sounds like we may have had it easier on the snow, though postholing our way up the slabs was tiring.

Michael Martin posted on

I fell down on the job over Calkins. But it wasn't on any of the three maps we had!

Yes, snow might have been better, though winter is always challenging.

We prevailed. A good, challenging trip.


Joffrey Peters posted on

Reading Max's report makes it sound like much of this may be easier in the winter, hah!

Michael Martin posted on

Maybe so, in some ways.

Calkins Brook Trail would have helped a lot. I saw it, and thought, "Oh that must be some herd path that runs around Donaldson." I feel a little sheepish about that. Shuttle could have got Emmons. :(

Joffrey Peters posted on

Well, the Adirondacks will probably be around a lot longer than you or I, and are pleasant enough for repeat visits, so I'm sure she'll find the opportunity!