Saturday, February 2, 2013

Seymour 2013-02-02

Souvenirs from Seymour:
  • Two lacerated shins.
  • One hamstring welt.
  • One torn hiking-pole wrist-strap.
  • One torn Hillsound Trail Crampon.
  • Seven hours of good times with great hiking companions. 

Most of this trip featured luck and the profound absence of it. In other words, it was just another random day in the High Peaks.

I rolled into Tupper Lake late Friday afternoon without a motel reservation. The first motel's illuminated "No Vacancy" sign came as a surprise. Shaheen's motel appeared to have vacancies so I walked in. I learned the Northern Challenge ice-fishing contest was being held the following day and the town's motels were filled with eager anglers. Lucky for me, Shaheen's had a last-minute cancellation and I snapped up the room. I was warned the anglers would be arising at 3:30 AM. I always bring ear plugs and they were definitely needed. No one appears to sleep before one of these events.

I had supper at a local restaurant and accidentally burnt my tongue. I don't recall ever doing that and, wow, does it hurt! After the initial shock subsided, all subsequent mouthfuls were moderated with cold water to numb the pain. Dessert was a soothing ice-cube. 

On Saturday morning at 7:00 AM, I met Tom (BogHollow) and John (JohnnyCakes) at the intersection of Coreys road and route 3. We proceeded to the Raquette River trailhead where we transferred our gear to Tom's 4WD pickup and continued on to the Seward trailhead. Coreys road was in fine shape, certainly no worse than when I saw it on December 22nd. Except for one partial obstruction (a fallen tree), there was little debris and the surface had no more than two inches of snow on a solid base.

We were one of a few vehicles in the lot and were shortly joined by another containing two gentlemen heading for Seward, Donaldson, and Emmons. We signed in around 7:30 AM. The sun was up, the morning air was crisp and cold, and I looked forward to a pleasant day. Surely, the trail would be in better shape than in December. 

A few minutes into the hike, Tom remembered he had left his lunch in his truck. We encouraged him to get it and took the intervening time to put on our traction aids. Had I checked my pack I would've noticed I had forgotten to bring gaiters. I had set out without wearing them and planned to put them on later in the morning. Not until several miles into the hike did I realize I had forgotten to bring them altogether. I guess there really is a first time for everything. Needless to say, this did not prove to be a lucky break.

Skiers, or backpackers with pulks, should reconsider using this trail unless there is another substantial snowfall. The recent thaw has virtually eliminated the snowpack and replaced it with a thick veneer of ice dusted with snow. Frankly, I found the coverage to be remarkably similar to what I saw on December 22nd with the exception of open water being replaced by vast sheets of ice. We encountered flooded areas capped with an inch of ice that failed to support our weight. Despite the frigid temperature (10 F), muddy water hid under the veneer of ice. Streams were running full but were crossed without incident.

Where's the snow?
Conditions improved at higher elevations where we found about three to four inches of snow on a hard base. This combination proved to be my downfall (literally) later in the day. About halfway up, we switched from spikes to snowshoes. We reached the summit at 11:20 AM where we stopped for lunch. A light snowfall had begun earlier in the morning and there were no views from Seymour's summit. The temperature had fallen to 5 F and Tom's toes said it was time get moving. We began our descent at 11:45 AM.

Tom and John.

Seymour, my 35th winter peak.
Tom and John, in that order, sped down the herd path. I wasn't moving as quickly and confidently; it was an "off" day for me. The lack of gaiters had not posed a problem during the ascent. In contrast, my descent was kicking up snow. It efficiently slid down the back of my pants and into the tops of my warm boots where it formed cold and lumpy "ankle orthotics".

Unable to dig out the lumps with numbed fingers I employed a stick which proceeded to break inside my boot. After prying the errant bit out, I paused to reflect on this rapidly devolving "comedy of errors". The great irony was that I was wearing plastic bags on my feet to keep my boots dry! Fat lot of good that would do now that snow was entering my boots. My feet weren't the least bit cold so, rather than improvise gaiters (with bandannas or spare socks), I chose to ignore the inconvenience. Grin and bear it.

Being third in line, there was little snow left for traction and I descended at a very cautious pace. I could see where my companions had chosen to butt-slide and, as someone who rarely partakes, those sections proved to be the most challenging to descend. I reached a long stretch of steep ice (bare rock slab in summer) and decided it was a good time to sit on my butt and let gravity take over. It was not one of my better decisions.

In the blink of an eye I lost control, tumbled head over heels, and slid backwards in a fetal position. Naturally, time seemed to slow down and I recall thinking "Trees. Brace yourself. Bound to get thumped in the head." Right on cue it did but, lucky for me, it was just a firm tap.

I got up, dusted off the snow, and did a quick assessment of my condition. Besides a laceration on my left shin (gaiters would've been useful), a torn wrist-strap, and vision obscured by snow-covered eyeglasses, I was fine. I didn't discover the welt on my left hamstring until later that evening.

I looked through the trees below me and saw Tom and John peering at me. Tom asked if I was OK and then described my fall. Rubbing the back of my head, I laughed and conceded I had shown all the grace of tumbling sack of potatoes. John added he was experiencing some difficulty following in the wake of Tom's butt-slide. They promoted me to point-man and I remained upright for the balance of the descent.

Forty-five minutes after departing the summit, and one "butt-slide gone bad" incident later, we emerged onto the Ward Brook truck trail. We spent the next two and a quarter hours sharing anecdotes and personal experiences. I can't think of a more enjoyable way to make the miles disappear than good conversation.

Our discussion was interrupted by a few distractions, mostly punching through the thin ice crust. While attempting to avoid a dunking, I leaped to the right where my shin connected squarely with the point of an unseen branch. Now my right and left shins had matching lacerations. It was one of those days.

Within two miles of the trailhead, something seized the back teeth of my right Trail Crampon and tore a chain out in mid-step. Rather than spend time fixing it with a zip-tie, I chose to remove it and experience having one 'grippy' and one 'slippy' boot. I learned it's important to remember which one is which!

We signed out at 2:45 PM, seven and a quarter hours from our departure. Seymour was my 35th winter peak and part of John's third winter round and Tom's second. After a quick trip back to the Raquette River trailhead, we put on parkas and raised bottles of Tom's excellent IPA to toast our success. All's well that ends well.

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