Earlier in the week, tropical storm Bonnie and hurricane Charlie made Saturday’s hiking prospects a crapshoot. Four different forecasts from four different sources. As we approached the weekend, however, the forecast improved for Saturday, and our hike was “on”. We knew the hike was going to be tough… and the wet weather over the past couple of months, especially the past week, wouldn’t help conditions.
I packed late Friday afternoon, and was on the road at 6 pm. I was zoning-out near the end of by drive (between Long Lake and Tupper Lake), when I noticed a car approaching me from behind, and catching FAST. I looked at my speedometer… 72. I was going fast as well. The second it dawned on me… I got the flashing lights. Thankfully, the officer was kind and let me off with a warning. I drove the speed limit the rest of the way.
I had mistakenly left the directions to the trailhead at home, but I had a general idea of its location. On Route 3 just past Tupper Lake village, I reached Dugal road. That wasn’t it… or was it? About 5 more miles of driving and I was sure I should have turned. So I backtracked, turned down Dugal road, and realized I was wrong. So back-backtracking, I headed down Route 3 again. About 5 minutes later, I reached Corey’s Road… about 100 yards down the road from where I previously turned around. D’oh!
At the trailhead, I unrolled my sleeping bag in the back of my SUV, and read a book while waiting for Kevin. A few minutes later, Kevin arrived and we discussed the game-plan for tomorrow. We ended up getting to sleep at around 11:00. There were no mosquitoes, so I was able to sleep with the rear door open, making for a “truer” camping experience.
The rain we had earlier on Friday had given way to sporadic showers through the night. My alarm went off at 4 am… which seemed much too early. So I kept hitting the “snooze” at 4:05… then 4:10… then 4:15. I finally stirred at 4:20 and awoke Kevin. The showers had cleared, and the stars were out… should be good conditions for our hike. We should have realized it was going to be a long day when there was standing water at the trail register.
We hiked down the Blueberry Trail with our headlamps until Blueberry Pond, at which point we were able to hike by the foggy twilight. We soon reached the Ward Brook Truck Trail, passed the Blueberry and Ward Brook lean-tos, and finally arrived at the Camp Four lean-tos. Uhhhh… we weren’t supposed to reach the Camp Four lean-tos. We had hiked about ½ mile too far. So we backtracked and easily found the cairn marking the beginning of the herdpath to Seymour. The herdpath, though steep, was quite pleasant. It began as a dirt (and ankle-deep mud) trail through open forests, ending with some sections of rock slabs which we had to negotiate. However, the rocks here had much more friction than those we encountered on Allen, and were easily ascended. Although it appeared as if the skies were clearing, we passed through several foggy sections as we gained altitude. Before I knew it, I was on the summit ridge. I’m sure Kevin’s account of the Seymour ascent will be more pessimistic, since he was having some energy issues. The summit ridge was much longer than I expected, with many false summits. This section was also quite muddy and there was considerable blowdown, but nothing that required significant detours or belly-crawls. The best views were from a ledge about 200 feet from the summit.
We followed our footsteps back down Seymour, slowed by the steepness of the trail. Although we were able to hike faster as we reached more level ground, the continual mud limited our pace. We reached the Truck Trail, knocked the excess mud off our boots, and continued retracing our footsteps to the beginning of the Seward herdpath.
The first section of the Seward herdpath was similar to the Seymour herdpath. Although the trail was wetter, the ground was firmer. This mountain range has no consistent water sources on the ridges, so about halfway up the mountain, we filled our water bladders at a cascade just off-trail. Little did we know that we could have filled our bladders near the summit today. As we progressed, the trail got rockier and steeper. The unrelenting steepness of the upper section of the trail first sapped Kevin’s energy, and then mine. We reached some rock slabs, and views began to appear. As the grade began to level, I knew we were finally approaching the summit. The red disc marker at the top was a very welcome sight, and Kevin and I nearly collapsed from our effort. We had lunch on the small, wet, and viewless summit. While we were on the summit, a large group of French-Canadians continued past us to a dry ledge on the southern side of the summit that had nice views. Double d’oh!
We both knew that we were only about halfway through our hike, but to mention such a fact would have been heresy. Without communicating, we put on our backpacks and headed down Seward towards Donaldson and Emmons. The descent was steep, and surprise… muddy. However, lunch had re-invigorated us and we had no problems with the descent or subsequent ascent of the sub-peak of Donaldson. We quickly took a few pictures from the sub-peak and continued on our way to the actual peak, passing through ankle to knee-deep mud. There was a group of people on Donaldson’s summit, so we continued onto Emmons, knowing that we had to retrace our steps over Donaldson on our way out.
The herdpath over to Emmons was a perpetual mud bog. A couple of times, Kevin and I sank to our knees in mud. On one step, the mud went to my knee and I hadn’t reached solid ground… so I logically took my foot out and placed it where there was only calf-deep mud. There was also a section of bog we had to negotiate that could have swallowed us whole. I had climbed Donaldson and Emmons last year, but I didn’t remember the hike taking sooooo long. It was literally a lumbering slog today. With great relief, we reached the summit of Emmons, where I stretched out on a nice rock slab that smelled of urine. I couldn’t have cared less. Kevin called his fiancée to let her know we were going to be late, and we ate the last bit of our food. Although spending the night on the summit without sleeping bags, water, or food was more appealing than re-traversing “Mud Bog Ridge”, we donned our packs and began plodding back to Donaldson. After passing through the muddiest sections, I achieved a good pace while ascending Donaldson and actually felt good when I reached the summit. Today was definitely a day of alternating high and low energy levels.
Kevin and I took a few pictures at Donaldson’s summit, but were anxious to get back to the relative comfort of our trucks. We descended to the Donaldson/Seward col, where we picked up the Calkins Brook trail. Although illegally cut, this herdpath is one of the best in the Adirondacks. Where as we had been walking in perpetual mud the entire day, the Calkins Brook herdpath was a dry dirt trail. It does have considerable blowdown in its upper section (above the brook), but negotiating the blowdown is well worth the ease of the remainder of the trail. We refilled our water bladders upon reaching the brook, and were able to quicken our pace due to the improved conditions. At the base of the mountain, we re-crossed the brook, and were soon at the intersection with an unnamed(?) horse/truck trail. The next section of our hike was a real kick in the crotch… a 100-foot ascent to a pass between two minor “bumps”. It sounds insignificant, but I am truly convinced that it was strategically placed to suck every last bit of energy before reaching the trail back to the parking lot. By the time we reached the Blueberry Trail junction, Kevin and I were transformed into zombies. Not counting four-letter expletives (****ing hill, ****ing rocks, ****ing mud), I don’t think we uttered more than five words on the final 3 miles. Mercifully, the trail register appeared sooner than I anticipated… but it was still 9 pm. We had been hiking for 16 hours, and Kevin and I hike at above-average speed.
In hindsight, we made pretty good time. Not PIN-PIN time (8.5 hours!), but good time nonetheless. Not counting summit time and our little diversion to Camp Four, we had hiked the range in a little over 13 hours. If we had firm ground to walk on, we could have easily improved that time.
On the way home, I stopped in Tupper Lake to get something to eat. The “Feds” had a road-block set up, so I had to wind my way through the Village first to get to McDonalds, then to Route 30. I’ve never seen a town with so many dead end streets. While at McDonalds, a “townie” said that he saw Federal Marshal and Fort Drum vehicles within the blocked-off area. At the exact second I turned the key to start my car, the power went out in the whole Village. I was feeling some bad karma, so I got outta there. I made it to Raquette Lake before I started getting tired. I pulled off the road in a dirt parking lot by the lake, got in the back of my SUV, fluffed my pillow, and was asleep about 20 seconds later.