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Old 10-06-2017, 10:20 AM   #1
Trail Boss
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Seward Range. 2017-10-01

Photo album.

Didn't I hike the Seward Range a month ago? Yes! On September 2nd I hiked Seymour and the Seward Range. However, today was the first of October and the start of a new Grid-month. I had hiked Seymour in October of 2016 so today's hike would be less demanding. It would also serve as another test of my knee's recovery.

Although I didn't need all available daylight hours to complete this circuit (Seward, Donaldson, and Emmons), I decided to get an early start anyway. I wanted some free time afterwards to visit unseen areas along Coreys Road.

I arrived at the Seward trailhead around 10:00 PM Saturday night. I proceeded to prepare my rolling "motel room". I opened a window for air-circulation and bundled up in preparation for a cold night. The silence was positively tomb-like. I could hear the sound of leaves landing on the roof of the car. The sky was cloudless and the setting moon shone through the woods. I didn't fall asleep until after it set.

The 5:30 AM alarm roused me out of a deep sleep. The car's interior was, as expected, quite cold and it took me a moment or two to crawl out of my warm cocoon. My motel room has no indoor plumbing but it does have heat. I crawled into the passenger seat, started the engine and turned on the seat-heater. Forty-five minutes later, I signed in at the trail-register by the light of my headlamp.

It's such a joy to walk in the predawn light with the knowledge sunrise, warmth, and a beautiful day awaits you. I much prefer an early start to a late finish. By day's end you're tired and sunset signals the impending arrival of increasing cold and many hours of darkness.

I paused at the split of the Blueberry Foot and Horse trails to stow my windshirt and headlamp. The temperature was a tick above freezing but dry and comfortable. I had planned to hike on Saturday, to the Santanoni Range, but the weather forecast called for rain showers with possible snow showers at higher elevations. The Santanonis marinated in cold rain and wet snow did not sound like ideal conditions for a bum knee.

Early morning frost along the Blueberry Trail.

I passed the Blueberry Lean-to and greeted two hikers, brushing their teeth, who I later learned were bound for Seymour. Another couple was using the bridge as their picnic table and having breakfast. I noticed their tent was 10 yards from the trail, pitched next to the marker pointing to nearby campsites.* I advised them of the relevant regulation and, for future reference, where they can legally park their tent. I learned they too were heading to Seymour and wished them luck and a wonderful day.

I strolled along Ward Brook Truck Trail until the first bridge then turned south onto the Seward Mountain Trail. The muddy stretch I had encountered a month ago has only become wetter and muddier. It traverses a steep slope and desperately needs a reroute to higher ground. I think by the time that happens, I'll be done with the ADK Grid.

I noticed I was following in someone's muddy footprints. I caught up to the author of the prints at the brook crossing. He recognized me, greeted me by name, and asked "Aren't you the one doing the OpenStreetMap work?" We had met on two previous occasions and he reported he had recommended OSM to other hikers. After chatting for awhile he (Brian) allowed me to go ahead and added "The next time I see you, you'll probably be returning from Donaldson." Later in the morning, his prediction came true.

The real work of climbing was now underway. Respite comes, after the hopelessly muddy sections, in the form of a moderate ascent through birches and conifers. Then the grade increases and provides glimpses of Ampersand and the Sawtooth Range. The steep trail surrenders to even steeper scrambles up slick slabs. Finally, the sight of the ledge signals the end of the ascent. I traversed to the extreme eastern end of the ledge, climbed it handily and proceeded along the easy grade to Seward's summit. Wearing only a baselayer, I couldn't help but notice it was substantially cooler. Frost-covered stumps and roots glowed in the morning light.

Three and a half hours from the trailhead, I stood atop Seward for the tenth time. It was only 9:45 AM and I had the summit to myself. I moved to the southern lookout and photographed the next two peaks. The morning air was cool and dry; there wasn't a cloud in the sky and visibility was excellent.

Emmons and Donaldson.

My old Garmont trail-shoes are close to retirement. I can live with the holes in the uppers. Water and mud had breached its "portholes" but my feet would dry later in the hike. However, the soles have worn down to nothingness. I paid extra care during the descent because I no longer trust their traction on rock. Before reaching the col, I met another lone hiker heading to Seward. I would meet him again on my way back from Emmons.

From Donaldson's summit, I could see snowy Algonquin and Marcy. Through some quirk of luck, the Sewards had escaped the snow that lingered on peaks east of it. Near Donaldson's boulder I discovered one small patch of frost clinging to a tussock of moss. That's it, that's all.

Frosty moss.

Before beginning the descent to Emmons, one must first cross Donaldson's "mini-bog". An obvious bypass has developed around it but, sticking to the principles I espouse, I found footing in the muck. I also found a downed, decaying cedar, lying trail-side (ten feet long and eight inches in diameter). I dragged it to the bog chucked it across the worst of the muck. On my return I added more material and now the muddiest part is easily crossed. There are two other parts that could use similar attention and then the bypass would become unnecessary.

The familiar ledges between Donaldson and Emmons now serve as milestones. "Muscle-memory" takes over at each ledge but I still try a few variations to see if I can handle them more efficiently. I've often wondered why the trail runs along the western side of the ridge and not atop it. The trail wouldn't need to lose so much elevation between the two peaks. Perhaps there's heinous blowdown up there?

I used to say Emmons is my least favorite 46er peak. However, when you climb something ten times, familiarity alters one's opinions. Emmons' views haven't improved but I now appreciate the challenge of getting to it. It's a "lite" version of Couchsachraga. As with the other peaks, an early start provided me with solitude. I spent a few quiet moments atop Emmons and then retraced my steps to Donaldson.

I stopped at Donaldson's western lookout to appreciate the superb views on this marvellously clear day. I was easily able to spot mountains, like Flat Top and Debar, located 30 miles away.

Now began the most punishing part of the day for my unhappy knee, namely the descent along the Calkins Brook Trail. Fortunately, the trail was dry and didn't pose any unusual challenges. My right knee nagged throughout but at a tolerable level. The brook crossing was a non-event and, an hour and a quarter later, I emerged onto the Calkins Brook Truck Trail. All that remained was easy terrain that wouldn't tax my knee (much).

It was now considerably warmer than in the morning, yet pleasantly dry. The walk back was not through a technicolor wonderland. Perhaps due to September's unusually warm weather, the colors are muted. I noticed the road was littered with fallen maple leaves yet others were still holding on to their green foliage.

I signed out shortly after 2:00 PM. The circuit took me 7h 45m to complete. Despite bringing a PB&J, all I consumed was two salted caramels and 1.5 liters of water. Cool weather reduces my appetite during a hike but, as always, returns in force afterwards. The PB&J would disappear during the drive home but first I planned to use the extra time to explore Coreys Road.

I returned to my car to discover someone had parked needlessly close to the driver's door. There was ample room to park elsewhere, even just a few feet over. Yet they chose to leave me with just a foot and a half. I left them a polite note questioning their decision to hem me in. I explained I did not repay them in kind but others might be more vindictive. I wished them a safe trip home. I squeezed into the driver's seat and moved my car to a spot with more breathing room.

I cleaned up, changed into fresh clothes and set my phone to record a new track for Coreys Road. On a previous trip, I had recorded the location of eight roadside campsites but did not explore side-roads. I also had unanswered questions about a few of the sites.

Near site #9, I drove a few yards north along a side-road. I wasn't certain of the road's condition so I parked in a pull-off marked with a "No Camping" disk and chose to explore the remainder on foot. I discovered two obvious campsites, with fire-rings, but neither was marked. The first was large, surprisingly flat and level and a short walk from Ampersand Brook. The second was in a bend of the brook, next to a swimming hole and the remains of a dam. It even offered a glimpse of the Donaldson-Emmons ridge. As idyllic as it may all sound, I later learned it is site #10 but slated to be abandoned (too close to the water) and replaced with the first flat site I had seen. A large boulder had been placed to block vehicular access to the point but someone had pushed it aside.

I returned to my car and continued west along Coreys Road, noting the location of each road-side campsite. I had already mapped them all but needed to confirm the location of site #4. It was unmarked but contained a camping trailer. One site had a steel-sided cabin resting on concrete blocks. Each campsite will soon be occupied by long-term campers (permit required) for the hunting season.

I parked at site #2, located near Stony Creek. I found no evidence of a site #1 but later would learn there is, in fact, no site #1. It used to be across the road from site #2 but was abandoned. I did find an old tote road leading away from site #2. I followed it until my curiosity waned. I'll have to return another day and discover where it goes.

I continued along Coreys road then turned south along another side-road. This time I drove to its end at the Raquette River. I discovered a cable-trolley that runs across the river to (posted) private land. Later I learned it is used by members of sporting clubs located on land leased by the Nature Conservancy. It is a shortcut that saves about 14 miles of driving along a rough road.


I returned to Coreys Road and turned down the side-road to Axton Landing. It is here where I met a DEC Ranger who shed light on all my "discoveries". He explained the details of campsite #1, the cable-trolley, campsite #10's relocation, and much more. I explained my involvement with OpenStreetMap and he assured me campsite #10 was legitimate despite the lack of a marker. He hoped to have them all properly identified in the future. I thanked him for his help and continued to wander around Axton Landing.

Axton Landing.

My explorations answered all my original questions as well as created new ones. Someday I'll return to explore the tote road beyond site #1, the trails to Rock Pond, Pickerel Pond, Stony Brook, and Raquette Falls. Today's explorations were more than enough for my knee.
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