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Points noted in climbing the Seward Range, June 15-17, 2012

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  • Points noted in climbing the Seward Range, June 15-17, 2012

    My first solo ascents in the Adirondacks came this weekend, my 46th year in the High Peaks, when I climbed the Seward Range. Everything was fine - due in large part to trip reports here - so I want to post a "report" of various points to avoid just repeating the standard stuff and focus on what might be helpful.

    After driving six hours to Coreys, I backpacked in to Blueberry Leanto. I can only assume it was once closer to Blueberry Pond, which is large but mostly tree-studded and marshy, and is now over a mile farther east where it's bound to be less buggy. I recommend it. Its delightful brook gurgles close by, and it's just as convenient as Ward Brook Leanto for two successive dayhikes up Seward-Donaldson-Emmons and Seymour. The trail from the parking lot is easy, but the signs seem to conflict a bit on the mileage if you compare and add up the posted segments.

    A stove burner screwed onto a can of propane-butane mix seems foolproof, but it petered out after two meals - I've always found stoves tricky in one way or another, though it could be as simple as old gas. But fine firewood is abundant around Blueberry if one just follows the basic rules (walk a ways first, and pick up dead down & dry only) and there was even birchbark tinder on the ground. Then, the UV lamp on my water purifier alerted me as "replace," which was a surprise in that it should've had years left and it should give advance warnings. But my wood fire boiled plenty of water thoroughly and fast, and it cools soon enough. If I knew I'd be out solo with multi equipment failure, I'd have worried - but it was no problem, at least while open fires are allowed in the Western High Peaks.

    I pitched my tent because I'd rather be on soft ground free of biting insects than under a roof. And the thorough pouring rain, which immediately followed a promising red sunset sky, didn't change my mind. Despite a good forecast and a clear sky, I had put my firewood under the leanto roof and my rainfly over my tent, and I was real glad I had! The next day, folks who'd spent that evening in Saranac Lake said they saw stormclouds to the south (where I was) but never had any overcast, let alone rain, themselves. One more vote for being ready for anything, weatherwise.

    I expected more black flies in mid-June, but in many places there were none and in many others there were few. Blueberry wasn't bad, nor was any of the peaks so long as one doesn't sit around long, but the worst locations seemed unpredictable. And some areas had mosquitoes (which, unlike City mosquitoes, avoid landing where a few dead mosquitoes have been smeared on the skin) and/or biting barred-winged "horseflies" (which I call deer flies) that were easy to swat.

    I get why people use trekking poles and/or gaiters, but I was happy to be without them on the ascents as I constantly reached for handholds and found bare skin a relief on a day that seemed warm for June. Along the S-D-E ridge, I saw three (3) abandoned trekking poles, including at least one broken one.

    Climbing Seward via the unmistakable herd path off the Ward Brook truck road was hard, but I didn't consider it "ugly" - although I haven't hiked the longer, campsite-less Calkins Brook alternative route. I suspect that steep, frequently traveled herd paths are bound to get eroded, with mud and bare rock to handle, so an ugly look is inevitable. It was no worse than the Lake Colden ascent to Algonquin - and at the main brook crossing half a mile up, I took advantage of a deep pool as delightful as Algonquin's to strip and bathe on the way down at the end of the day. Instant relief when tired, hot, sticky and all scratched up - and no more frigid than in midsummer. I'd say to all, Go for it!

    Reaching Donaldson and Emmons from Seward is also harder than I expected, considering how manageable the terrain looks on a topo map and that there's a clear herd path. There are rocks to climb, and one must lose and regain possibly as much as twice the elevation between peaks that you might if it were feasible to follow the ridgeline. The out-and-back route makes it very likely that you'll meet other hikers, which I enjoyed after the long silence of my camp and ascent. I met two young women who together had climbed 36 peaks and a couple of middle-aged men who were past their 40th, so I had company as I notched my own 44th. Yet nobody seemed to be up there merely to complete a required chore. I wasn't the only one who missed the trail-marker sign indicating the Donaldson summit. We had all climbed the large cube of a rock at which it's posted, but you've gotta look up (10 feet up) if you want to see which tree has the "Don" label. The trail report posted here a couple of weeks ago, which included photos of the summit markers, was helpful.

    Seymour the next day was unaffected by the heavy rain overnight; evidently, unless there's a drought or a prolonged wet spell, there will always be mud but it can always be handled. Nothing deterred the climbers; I encountered several near the summit, despite again encountering few en route up or down. And I found its views the best of the range, though split among about three vantage points - a rocky outcrop at the north end of the summit, then between trees at the marked peak, and perhaps best of all from twenty steps farther along. In addition, the Seymour herd path - although plenty steep most of the way - had a lot fewer bare rock slides and tricky little cliffs than S-D-E, and often followed one pretty brook or another.

    Near the top, perhaps where it's steepest, it seems half or more of hikers go straight up an eroded stretch, which looked like mostly bare rock slides, for about 50-100 yards; but a newer path to the right (southwest) avoids that by by crazy zig-zags, skirting several small cliffs and threatening to lose you if you don't pay attention. I tried the newer path, which seemed to rejoin just in time for me to miss most of the steepest slides, and liked it enough to retrace on my return. In rainy weather, when bare rock is slipperiest, I'd say it's better for sure. Overall, Seymour is just plain fun. You've just got to plan on a bit more time and effort to climb than you might think - but it's easy as pie to make time descending.

    I saw bear droppings once near a summit and once not too far from the marked trail past Blueberry. All campers seem to know to use bear canisters, and I never saw or heard a sign that the bears are going for campsite food, so it must be working. I hope everyone continues to use them, and use them right. There was an abundance and variety of frogs, toads, salamanders, and birds, and the flowering plants were lovely - including a tiny British Soldier on a dead stick right at the top of Seward. But I never saw any chipmunk (red squirrel?) I heard, and I saw and heard no trace of any other mammal, or any kind of predator at all. The biodiversity is not fully evident, but what I saw was awesome. The Seward Range is just a very fine place to climb mountains!

    [ cross-posted at and ]