Saturday, July 31, 2010

Donaldson and Seward 2010-07-31

  • Excellent weather.
  • Calkins Brook herd path is a great approach to the Seward Range.
  • Path from Donaldson to Seward is in remarkably good condition.
  • Great views from Donaldson.

  • Low 70's; warm, dry and comfortable.
  • Very good. Clear skies; slight haze.

I left Montreal at 4:30 AM and, after crossing the border at Trout River, I stopped at the Price Chopper in Malone to buy lunch. Large sections of highway 30 were shrouded in heavy fog and added an air of mystery to the woods (and made driving conditions challenging). NPR radio was my travel companion throughout the trip. I rolled into the Coreys parking area at 7:30 AM and was on the trail at 7:45 AM. 

I started at a quick pace but then slowed down due to ankle and calf pain. Eventually, the pain subsided and I arrived at the Calkins Brook junction at 8:45 AM. The brook crossing is more like 300 yards from the junction rather than the 100 yards I indicated in a previous trip reportThe Calkins Brook trail seemed slightly muddier than the previous week but, given the day's excellent weather, it was a dream to hike.

At the third brook crossing, I was able to see Seward and Donaldson through the trees (unlike the previous, cloud-laden trip). While crossing the third brook, I lost my balance and, despite hiking poles, managed to fall backwards onto an unbending, three-foot, pointed tree. The tree inflicted a puncture wound in the seat of my pants and came dangerously close to performing a prostate exam. Aside from over-ventilating my favourite hiking pants, everything else escaped unscathed.

Further up along the trail I heard a loud thrumming sound. It was a hummingbird and it hovered and darted about long enough for me to get a good look at it. It was my first hummingbird sighting in the High Peaks.

I reached the summit of Donaldson at 11:00 AM. My progress was better than the previous weekend and I owe that to great weather and a burning need to find its true summit. On my first trip to Donaldson, I didn't find the summit marker due to heavy mist and fog. However, in an attempt to find it, I explored every side-trail on its ridgeline. I was certain that one of them was the true summit.

Donaldson's true summit is located at the first eastern side-trail. "Side-trail" is an exaggeration because you simply climb up about 4 feet onto an exposed area of rock featuring a precipitous drop, and views, to the north-east. The yellow summit marker is nailed high up on a tree and simply indicates "Don". I had been there the previous weekend but failed to see the marker because I was busy using the sheer drop as a urinal. Given the wet weather, it was also self-flushing.

The views from Donaldson were excellent and allowed me to exercise my new camera. Tom (RandomScooter) reported that he climbed Donaldson 48 times and I now understand why. From its many lookouts, Donaldson offers outstanding views to the east and west. I left the summit at 11:15 AM and headed for Seward, expecting the worst. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, except for the initial descent into the col, the trail is in great shape. In addition, it heads directly for Seward's true summit and does not traverse the two knobs west of Seward.

I reached Seward's southwestern lookout (just short of the wooded summit) at noon and stopped for lunch. I had a long chat with another solo hiker who had also stopped for lunch. His first Adirondack hike was up Ampersand in 1957 in the arms of his father. Although he has hiked many places over the years, he recently realized that he had visited very few 4000 footers in the 'Dacks and was now in the process of changing that.

Over the course of our conversation, at least seven hikers passed through and they were all bound for Donaldson. About an hour later we parted company and I visited Seward's wooded summit. At Seward's northern lookout (not nearly as good as the southern one), I experimented with my camera's HD movie capabilities (I'm going to have so much fun with that) and then left the summit at 1:15 PM.

The upper third of Seward's northern herd path is a poster-child for trail erosion. It is a thoroughly unpleasant stretch of trail. Its soil has been stripped away exposing steep rock and a tangle of roots. The only good thing about it is its final third because it follows a pretty brook that offers many interesting water features. However, that's not enough to keep this trail off my "no reason to return" list.

I arrived at the Ward Brook Truck Trail at 3:00 PM and proceeded to cool my feet in the brook. With freshly washed feet luxuriating in a pair of clean socks, I headed back to the trailhead.

I filmed the spot where the marked trail veers away from the Ward Brook Truck Trail. It's a small grassy area that was filled with sunshine and was virtually silent except for the faint buzzing of a cicada. It was one of those magical moments you occasionally experience where everything seems absolutely perfect and you're grateful for experiencing the moment.

I arrived at the trailhead at 4:45 PM and by 5:00 PM I was on the road to Tupper Lake for supper. After a substantial chicken dinner at PJ Cluckers, I headed off to get a camp site at Rollins Pond. They informed me they had two tent sites but they were "not very nice" and Fish Creek might have one left but it would no great shakes either. I headed north to Meacham Lake and, by 8:15 PM, I secured a nice tent site.

The site wasn't on the lake but it was as far from the din of 'family camping' as was possible. I quickly pitched my tent, filled it with my sleeping bag, and then headed out for a badly needed hot shower. A hot shower was the motivating factor to secure a site at a campground instead of slumming it along the Coreys road.

By 9:30 PM I was star-gazing on the shore of Meacham Lake. The lake was calm and, in the darkness, its shoreline was outlined by the many campfires burning at each lakeside campsite. A short burst of fireworks was accompanied by hoots and hollers. Voices and party noises carry well over open water and I was happy to have chosen a site well away from it.

Shortly after ten, the Milky Way became evident, a substantial shooting star streaked across the night sky, and a loon called out from across the lake. I figured it wasn't going to get better than that and turned in at 10:30 PM. I awoke at 6:30 AM and by 7:00 AM I was on the road to Wilmington to hike Esther and Whiteface.

All in all, it was a very good day.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Donaldson and Emmons 2010-07-25


  • Lousy weather; low clouds suppressed all views.
  • Calkins Brook herd path is a great approach to the Seward Range.
  • Path from Donaldson to Emmons is rugged and extremely muddy.

High 60's. Low cloud cover. Drizzle and showers.

None from the summits.

I left Montreal at 5:00 AM and arrived at the Coreys trailhead at 7:45 AM. departed for Calkins Brook herd path at 8:15 AM. I was clearly the first hiker of the day because I was sweeping the trails of all spider webs. A very strange sensation to hear one snap across the tip of your nose.

The marked trail to Calkins Brook is in excellent condition especially the old truck road that runs south (to Shattuck Clearing); it took 1 hour to cover the 3.4 miles to junction with the Calkins Brook herd path. The start of the herd path is wide and extremely obvious; it is also marked with a rock cairn and a bucket. The herd path traverses Calkins Brook approximately 100 yards from the junction.

NOTE: There are two campsites near the crossing, one on each side of the brook. The north-side location is obvious and is on the north bank of the brook (too close; illegal). The south-side site is set back from the brook. Cross the brook, follow the path until it veers hard left (in about 100 feet?) then look right to spot the south-side camp site.

The Calkins Brook herd path is remarkably un-eroded and makes for a very comfortable hike. I found it better than the herd path to Street and Nye. It follows the course of Calkins Brook but is set well south of it (i.e. heard but not seen). It crosses three brooks and a few rivulets. The last brook is located shortly before the trail steepens and is the last source of running water before the ridgeline (about 1/2 hour from the ridgeline when ascending). 

It took two hours to ascend to the junction with the ridgeline path. I hiked through a verdant forest of firs, lush mosses, a wide variety range of mushrooms, and several toads (one almost unintentionally speared by my hiking pole). The source of this lushness was about to make itself known.

The skies were overcast when I departed and the forecast called for it to clear. However, around 10:30 AM and shortly before the ridgeline, the low cloud cover and intermittent showers put a wet blanket on the party. The rest of the day would feature 100% humidity, wet clothes, slick rocks, no views, and abundant mud. Did I mention the lushness of the forest?

The Calkins Brook herd path joins the ridgeline path on Donaldson's northern slope. Seward was not visible across the col due to the low clouds. The hike to Donaldson is steep but short. I met two hikers returning from Emmons who were searching for Donaldson's official summit. I couldn't find a summit marker but found a 6' boulder that seemed to be the highest point (so did others because it was covered in boot mud). Absolutely no views because of the mist and cloud cover.

The round-trip hike over Donaldson to Emmons, from the ridgeline junction, took two hours. The path from Donaldson descends into a col (that seems deeper and steeper than what the topo mapo has to say) and is rugged (many abrupt drops of 5' and more) and extremely muddy. There are at least two spots where the trail becomes a soupy mud wallow. The summit of Emmons offered nothing more than a yellow marker because the clouds obscured all views.

Back on Donaldson, the cloud cover thinned occasionally and provided a few brief glimpses of Long Lake and the western Adirondack Park. The scenery was gorgeous and made me wish for more. I returned to the intersection at 2:30 PM and ate a late lunch. 

I wrung out my socks for the third time and tried to dry my feet with whatever wasn't wet (not much). The dampness seeped into everything in my pack and rendered my phone, and its camera, unusable. No great loss because there were no views to photograph (and it recovered after drying out in the car). 

I watched the cloud cover lift over what I thought was Seward. Then a second peak appeared and finally a third one, Seward's true summit. Given the trail conditions, the weather, and the ascent, it was clear that a round-trip to Seward required two to three more hours of hiking. My knees were stiff and achy (old age) and it was clear that they'd slow my pace and increase the likelihood of a misstep. The additional effort would let me claim another 4000 footer but miss out on its views. With some regret, I chose to leave Seward for a day filled with sunshine and unobscured views of the High Peaks (next weekend?).

At 3:00 PM I departed the ridgeline junction and headed down the Calkins Brook herd path. In just over an hour I reached the brook crossing and washed the muck off my boots and donned a dry pair of socks. The hike down was swift and uneventful and a testimony to the trail's quality. 

I arrived at the parking area in just under an hour. I had a great chat with someone who was preparing to hike in to Calkins Brook. We were in the same boat; trying to finish the 46 before our knee and hip joints throw in the towel. 

No views worth sharing.