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.