The Seward Range in the Adirondacks includes Seward, Donaldson, Emmons, and Seymour mountains. They aren't outstanding peaks by themselves, but they stand out from the rest of the Adirondacks for a few reasons. First, they tend to be less visited than the other high peaks of the area and avoid the hiker traffic and crowds. Second, there is no officially maintained trails to the peaks. So you have to do a bit of research and navigation on your own to get them, which is a nice change from continuing on one trail, charging up peak after peak, that you get bagging some of the other peaks in the Adirondacks.
Our group's original plan on President's Day 2014 was to start at the Corey's Road trailhead just outside of Tupper Lake, NY. We would summit Seward, Donaldson, and Emmons, and then hike down to the Ward Trail and camp at one of the 3 lean-to's on the trail. Then on day 2, we would traverse across to Duck Hole and then to Bradley Pond. Finally on Day 3, we would drop our packs and hike out-and-back to the peaks of the Santanoni Range (Santanoni, Panther, Couchsachraga) and exit at the Upper Works parking area. It was an ambitious plan, especially in the winter, but I thought it would be fun to try. Plus I thought we would hardly see anyone out there so we would get some nice, peaceful, quiet winter camping in.
The weather looked mostly good, as far as winter in the Adirondacks goes. So we dropped off 2 cars at the Upper Works parking area, and then made the hour-long car ride to Tupper Lake where we stayed for the night at the Park Motel. Saturday morning we got up and drove in to Corey's Road. As is often the case in the winter, you can only drive in a few miles before a gate blocks the road. You can walk on the road past that point (it is plowed for logging trucks) but there is no vehicle access.
approaching Seward and Donaldson
We parked at the Stony Creek Landing area parking lot and then hiked south towards the Hemlock Hill lean-to. You run into the first trail junction 2.2 miles in, where we took a left on the red trail towards Calkin's Creek. Up to the this point the hike was a pleasure - flat with a slightly broken-in trail. This would be the last easy part of the trip.
first trail junction, stoney creek and calkins brook
The red trail to Calkin's Creek was not touched. It is 3.3 miles to the next trail junction, and it was 3.3 miles of breaking in 1-2 feet of fresh snow. It was beautiful with the fresh snow, but hard. We hoped that when we hit the next trail junction (where we took a left turn to the north towards the Seward Assembly area), we would find some tracks. But we did not - and it was another 2 miles of breaking trail before we hardly started to gain any elevation.
second trail junction, turning north
After about 2 miles hiking north towards the Seward Assembly area, we broke off of the official trail and took a right up a herd path towards Seward Mountain. Although we were not sure the point at which we were supposed to break off the main trail, it is really obvious when you see it. The main trail bends to the left sharply, and you can see a fainter trail go straight. There is a small cairn in the middle of the path marking the spot. To our relief, there were faint tracks up the herd path, but they were a few days old. And as we started to gain more and more elevation climbing Seward mountain, the tracks became fainter and fainter and the snow got deeper and deeper. The herd path led us right in between Seward and Donaldson in a few miles, but there was so much snow and the trail was so faint that we blew right past the junction to Seward and ended up on top of Donaldson. Near 3500 feet there were 3 to 4 feet of fresh powder and few signs of humans. The scenery was spectacular!
hiking up between Seward and Donaldson
By the time we summitted Donaldson, the group was too tired and it was getting too dark to do anything but camp. So we called it a night and decided we would have to reassess our options in the morning.
The next morning was spectacular. Once the morning clouds burned off, we had crystal-clear views of Seward to the North, the High peaks to the North East, and the Santanonis to the east.
from summit of Seward, looking East towards Santanonis
from summit of Seward, looking NE towards High Peaks
We decided to first head south get the Emmons summit. Again we had to break trail, but we had fresh legs and it was only a half-mile, so not bad. It was bright sun and fantastic views, so our spirits were high. But it took well over an hour to get back. We then headed North towards Seward. We again passed the junction because the trail had not been touched (well, there wasn't really trail at all). We ran into the only people we saw the whole weekend at that point - some hikers from Canada. With their help and GPS, we found the spot where the trail to Seward should have been. After several hours of slow, sometimes aimless bushwacking between Donaldson and Seward, we found a clearing that led to Seward. We confirmed on GPS this was the herd path. But we still had to break trail, and it took past 3pm to reach the summit of Seward. I thought we would see a broken trail to the Seward summit from the opposite side (coming from the Ward Trail) but interestingly, there was nothing. I guess the snowstorm the week before really buried these mountains, or else not many people had made it up Seward this winter.
near summit of Seward, approaching from South
summit of Seward
We were back at the junction between Seward and Donaldson in less than an hour, but we were totally drained of all energy. The original plan would have required we made it to the Ward Trail by the end of the first day and at this pace it would have been a challenge to reach it by the end of second day. There was no way we could have completed the Santanonis this weekend, so we turned back and headed out. We reached the cars around 9:30pm.
We didn't complete our original plan, but it was fun weekend. Never before have I had to break trail for practically the entire trip.