Note: Photo and digital image credits to Jim Houghtaling. My camera was possessed this day.
The Sewards are generally regarded as the most remote area of the Adirondack High Peaks. The four high peaks that make up the range are Seward (4361 ft), Donaldson (4120 ft), Emmons (4040 ft), and Seymour (4120 ft). All four peaks are officially "trail-less". The first three are contained along a ridge, while Seymour is separated by the deep and steep Ouluska Pass. RD Jim and I planned to climb the first three peaks in a day trip from the Corey's Road Parking Lot.
Memorial Day weekend in the Adirondacks deposited up to two feet of snow on the higher mountains. I was hiking in 8-10 inches of the white stuff on Monday. Our Seward trip was planned for Thursday, May 30. Temperatures were forecast to rise quickly and we wondered how much would melt.
Every reference I've read about the range points out how dry it is compared to the rest of the Adirondacks. Wrong! At least three days after a major spring snow/rain storm. We left the parking lot at 7:15 AM. There was only one other car present. The trail was boggy but we made good time. I had been inspired by SummitPost to use the Calkins Brook route. This turned out to be a good call. We turned right at the marked trail junction, then reached the start of the herd path up Calkins Brook after a bit more travel.
Calkins Brook is the only significant stream crossing on the trip. It was running high but not dangerously so. After a few minutes survey we determined the best place to ford and crossed without mishap. The herd path was easy to follow, never very steep, and VERY, VERY wet. It was humid and temps were in the 60s F. We took our time. Eventually, after a few relatively steep pitches, we made the ridge on the shoulder of Donaldson Mtn. There were occasional 4-6 inch deep patches of snow, but it was mostly gone. Basically it had melted into the torrents running down the mountain.
It was at this point that the hike went from moderate to extremely challenging. After our experience a few years back on the Dix Range I was expecting a pleasant ridge walk with occasional inspiring views. Nothing like that here. We arrived on top of Donaldson with the clouds blowing around the summit. It was trying to clear off. We had views back towards Seward and Seymour.
The trail, or lack thereof, was quite challenging with a lot of steep, short up and down, scrambling over rocks, over mud-covered rocks, over and under blowdown. Wow! Good workout.
A little under an hour's effort brought us a mile or so Emmons, at the south end of the range. We paused for rest, views, and refreshment.
Then we turned around and re-traced our steps right back to Donaldson. Our third objective of the day was Seward, the highest point in the range at 4361 feet. It appeared that the herd path should basically follow the ridge to Seward, up over the top of a couple of impressive rock formations. Wrong! We reached the col between the two mountains. Rather than staying on the ridge, the path dropped sharply off on the east slope. This did not make us happy. We knew that every foot lost would have to be regained. Perhaps 300-400 feet below the col we turned and started climbing steeply again towards the summit. At the top the views were pleasant. It had mostly cleared off but was also getting fairly warm, perhaps 75F.
Rather than re-tracing our steps yet again, we chose to descend the north face of Seward via the herd path to the Ward Brook truck trail. Our I should say, descend the stream. It's the closest experience I ever had to down-climbing a waterfall. It was very steep and very wet. Nothing like trying to concentrate on hand and footholds while catching the spray from the torrent running right next to you. The going was quite slow! After what seemed like a long time, the trail exited the stream bed and started to flatten out a bit.
We finally reached the Ward Brook truck trail. Unfortunately we were only on this lovely gravel road for a short period and had to turn off into yet another mud bog to hike the five miles back to the parking lot. Temps. were now in the 80s and the mosquitoes were out. It was a muddy slog out but we made good time. In the entire 11-hour day I saw no other people. Jim spied a couple relaxing near the stream by one of the leantos.
After changing and freshening up, we stopped at the Adirondack Hotel in Long Lake for an excellent and well-deserved dinner. We were back on the Cedar River by 9 PM.
These were ADK high peaks #s 36-38 for me and #s 13-15 for Jim. The Sewards are a remote and beautiful area. Enjoy but also respect these mountains. They are some of the toughest hiking in the Adirondacks!
Logistics - Distances Approximate
7:15 AM Trailhead
8:30 AM Calkins Brook 3 mi.
10:30 AM Donaldson 6 mi.
11:45 AM Emmons 7 mi.
12:30 PM Donaldson 8 mi.
1:50 PM Seward 9 mi.
4:15 PM Ward Brook Truck Trail 12 mi.
6:15 PM Trailhead 17 mi.
This last view is from the Goodnow Mtn. Fire Tower looking to the North at the Seward Range.