The Seward Range. Winner for the hike with the least amount of photos taken.
Reason? The most persistent, all day downpour. With high freezing winds and low temperatures. Sunday, September 3rd proved to be the extreme opposite of my Santanoni hike the day before. I recognize that hiking these two ranges back-to-back may have been a bit much. But anyone who knows me well, knows that I am a fairly stubborn person when it comes to achieving goals. So this hike was happening, whether my hips and/or knees agreed with me or not!
This stubbornness led to another “up at 4:30 a.m.” morning. As I drove to the trail head in the dark, around 5:30 a.m. from Long Lake in the pouring rain, my heart still had faith in the ever-changing weather only the mountains could bring. Surely, this would prove to be one of those times. The weather was just passing through, I told myself.
It couldn’t possibly rain the entire day?? The forecasts are usually wrong. Sure, the prediction was calling for 100% rain. But honestly, I’ve hiked with similar forecasts in the past, and it usually resulted in a passing shower, or none at all!
Well my friends, this would be one of those rare times when the forecast was dead-on accurate. 100% chance of rain, all day. ALL DAY. ALL DAY.
Dawn was trying to break through the clouds, but the first 30 minutes of the hike were in lighted darkness. I signed into the register at 6:25 a.m. The couple, Mark & Stacie, that I met on the Dix Range were also taking on the Sewards. They had climbed Seymour the previous day. So it was Seward, Donaldson and Emmons for the journey on this fine Sunday morning. We were the only 3 people signed in to hike at this point. Hmmmm, I wonder why??
Hope and high spirits filled the start of the trek. We were all convinced that the weather would let up eventually. I was very grateful for having company on this hike. If Mark and Stacie hadn’t been there at the same time, I would have eventually bailed.
The chosen route was to ascend Seward first, with the thought to get the toughest one “out of the way” while the legs still worked properly. It would be an out and back via Caulkins Brook.
This photo was a feeble attempt to capture the intensity of the rain at the marsh.
When I search for most intense words to describe the conditions of this hike, I fall short. Anyone who has climbed remote peaks in torrential downpours for 12 hours understands where I’m coming from. So, I will focus, instead, on all the aspects of the day that I loved, with some bad weather humor thrown in from time to time 😉
Hiking with company, great company at that, boosts morale. As we walked along the horse trail towards the start of the herd path, stories were shared about kids, adventures, music, pretty much anything.
At 7:45 a.m., we reached the split after roughly 3 miles. None of us knew the exact distance of the herd path to Donaldson, but I was thinking it was somewhere around 3 miles?
Despite the relentless rain, the herd path was made of the soft pine I’ve come to love. The first part was relatively flat with some rock hopping back and forth across the brook. Rain makes rocks and boulders full of slick, wet moss producing slippery little suckers! This seemed to be the reoccurring theme of “Hiking in the ADK” this season.
At some point, we were passed by some seriously fast hikers! Two gentlemen who cruised by, making the climb seem like a piece of cake! Impressive.
Soon after we began the uphill climbing section, I stopped to put my pack cover on since the intensity of the rain was ramping up. Mark and Stacie broke out the ponchos to cover themselves and their packs.
A baggy in my pack became a permanent home for my phone. Here was another attempt at a pretty picture of the roaring, raging brook below. Blurry and wet, yet again!
The mud was fantastic! There was no way around it. The only way out was through! Climbing onward, the temperature began to drop and the winds increased.
Around 9:30 a.m. (according to the time stamp) we paused to rest a bit and eat. My thoughts were full of “Beautiful! Wish I could stop and take it all in!” as I continued to look around. The trail exudes remoteness wonder and awe. I did love it. But press on, we did.
Here’s what I remember…the rain has a way of giving glistening life to everything it touches. Even though I was transitioning back and forth between shivering and shaking and sweating, my mind snapped mental photographs of Mother Nature’s surrounding gifts.
The way the worn bark of a tree hued a deep, earthy glow as I tromped through equally earthy mud baths. How the lush the squishy green moss appeared in the ever-flowing droplets from the sky.
And then…just like that, a freezing, blowing wind would wake me up from my hiking daydream and back into reality! Point being: I loved this trail. I did not love, however,the conditions that worsened the closer we approached the summit. The trail narrowed and steepened as it typically will the closer you are to victory. As I said, you are basically climbing Donaldson.
The conditions made the ascent brutal. Tougher than the range already claimed to be! We were in and out of the clouds, soaked, trying our darndest to withstand the bone-chilling wind gusts.
When we arrived at the cairn for the split to Seward, we stopped to regroup. We needed a summit. Our morale was dropping fast as the wind whipped through so hard that Mark and Stacie’s ponchos were blowing all over the place. Haha! I can laugh now but…
We needed a summit. Choices: Go to Seward first and risk the burnout or find a gosh darn summit ASAP! So the new plan was Donaldson first. Then Emmons. If the weather worsened, we would bail on Seward. I was extremely grateful they were on the mountain with me. Tears would have been flowing if I tried to get through this terrible weather alone.
The summit was .2 from the split and you have to climb some slabs and a rock wall to get there, however...
At 10:45 a.m. I reached my 41st peak! With a smile on my face, all bundled up. Notice my very soaked backpack attempting to stay dry under a tree?? These were quick summit pictures! I hear there is a pretty good view from Donaldson. Wouldn’t know! Haha!
No time to linger in the wind and rain, so I popped a mouthful of almonds and it was off to Emmons. The word on Emmons is about a mile and most hikers do not appreciate that mile. I expected the worst. But honestly, after climbing Couch the day before, I was sure Emmons would feel like a piece of cake.
The fog-filled hike to Emmons gusted wind so fiercely, I wondered if a visit to OZ was also in the day’s agenda. My fellow hikers’ ponchos flailed all over the place, snagging on branches, and dragging through the gigantic wading pools of mud. My pack cover blew off and up and up and away! However, I didn’t realize it until we were almost to Emmons.
There were a few exposed sections on the trail. You don’t walk along the ridgeline, but instead, dip down a bit below. We stopped to refuel once sheltered by enough forest cover. Everything inside my pack was soaked. Forcing myself to down a protein bar, onward we tromped and sludged through the never-ending mud lagoons.
At 12:00 p.m., Mt. Emmons for #42! And the cleanest looking trail sign I ever did see. I gave Emmons the same treatment as Couch…a positive attitude with a big ‘ol smile. Trying to make the best of it! Despite the mud, the hike to Emmons was not that bad!
Smiling and soaked to the bone. And my rain pants were totally on backwards for the entire hike! Haha! oh well!
Once again, the theme of the day was “Do not linger, just keep moving,” so it was back to Donaldson in about the same amount time, an hour and change. On the hike back, we heard voices in the distance. It was the 2 gentlemen who zoomed past us on the ascent to Donaldson earlier. When they passed us originally, we told them we were planning on heading to Seward first. So naturally, they were worried when we never crossed paths with them on the trail to Seward.
“It’s the single and double! Found them!” one of them shouted when they saw us. After proper introductions in the blustery wind and rain, we learned that we were the only 5 people on the range. Jeff and Earl gave us their thoughts on Seward and wished us well, hoping we would get out before dark. The only 5 crazies out in this weather in the remote wilderness, braving the elements and staying true to our individual journeys.
This is another reason why I love the mountains. For the most part, hikers will look out for each other. They also found my pack cover, which they tied to a branch on the way back! I was so thankful!
After climbing down the rock wall and such to the junction of Seward, we regrouped yet again. I was ready to bail, quite honestly. But then we discussed (quickly) how much better we would feel once back at our cars, knowing we completed the range.
Yea…it was true. Why not leave the best for last then? Haha. Being in the clouds messes with my perception of things. There was quite a bit of “down,” that I second-guessed the trail. The trail to Seward was much tougher than to Emmons for me. My hiking tank was running on fumes. The elements pounded on my every step and my spirit spiraled downward fast.
But soon enough, we started to climb Seward. I cannot wait to come back to this range to try it again because I loved Seward! It was basically a rushing waterfall on the boulders and exposed sections, which was quite treacherous! On a great weather day though, this part of the hike would have been tons of fun!
Nevertheless, it was slow-going, and careful foot placement on the ascent (and even more so on the descent quite honestly.)
Then… at 2:35 p.m. my 43rd high peak was reached with victory! Holy crap! 43! (All that remained was Allen and Cliff & Redfield). I have never been so ecstatic to see a summit sign! The wind was ridiculous at this point and I’m actually holding onto the tree!
But smiling…gotta smile through the pain!
Following the drop back into the col on the descent, I fell behind quite a bit. My body began to seriously breakdown. I hadn’t eaten anything except a handful of almonds and a protein bar. Zipping and unzipping a pack continuously in pouring rain was counterintuitive. So I didn’t. And now, I was paying for it dearly.
I finally made it to the junction and caught up with my new friends. We knew we had about a mile of straight, sketchy descent before reaching the relatively flat 2 miles of the herd path. None of us spoke. Mantra time.
“Warm car, hot shower, dry clothes.” “Warm car, hot shower, dry clothes.”
It was game time and all I wanted was to get out of the woods! Once we hit the level herd path, all three of us broke out into a run. We ran. All the way back to the horse trail. RAN! It wasn’t funny then. But I’m laughing now. I was ready to die and wave the white flag on Seward and now I was full-out running!
Our bodies are incredible machines. Adrenaline and mantras. That’s what delivered me out of the Seward Range.
The sight of the parking lot was cause of some whooping and hollering! It was 6:30 p.m. and the 3 of us beat the sunset! Exhaustion. Pure exhaustion. This was the toughest hike I had ever done! The toughest. (until my finisher…but that is a story for next time)
Conditions are everything. The mountains humbled me, once again. I was extremely grateful that Stacie and Mark were there for this hike. (Did I mention that already?) We fought through the storm and came out on the other side…alive! Haha!
In all seriousness though, as I mentioned at the start, bailing on the hike, I would have. Instead, I sucked it up, pushed through and discovered a completely different kind of strength I never knew was in there. It was more than grit. More than “not giving up.” A deeper level of self-discovery rose within, with a slight side of badassery.
The journey into the wilderness, both literally and metaphorically, will always present you with exactly what you need. With.out.fail. And most of the time, it shows up in the most unexpected ways.
I snapped this on the drive out as I contemplated the fastest way to food on the way back to Long Lake. Only 3 high peaks remained…but I had a strange feeling that the journey was just beginning.
Total mileage: about 16 miles I think.
Total time: 12 hours.
Here is the view and profile of the beautiful Seward Range.
Thank you, Sewards. You are truly beautiful. Even in the craziest conditions, the remote beauty you possess could still be felt, witnessed and heard.
Bottom line: Respect Mother Nature. Always.
Until we meet again,