The Seward Range: Winter Edition

December 22, 2019

THE GATE WAS OPEN! I repeat THE GATE WAS OPEN! An announcement that had myself, and about a hundred other people jumping for joy! We would be spared the extra 6 miles added onto this already exasperating challenge. And we took on the Sewards with a bang! The Sewards. They got me good again. More on that later…

For this journey around the range, I joined forces with my friend Alli. She owns Muddy Boots Guide & Gear Rental. ( Alli and I both needed the Sewards for our winter round. I’ll admit…choosing the Seward Range for the 1st winter hike out of the gate was a bit ambitious for me. My body was still in recovery mode from the fall’s Wineglass Marathon and Mallory’s finish on Iroquois.

Nevertheless, the Sewards have this ability to hang over you like an enormous black cloud, and we were determined to get the whole range done before the new year. That meant 2 trips to the Sewards in a week’ time. It was also the shortest day of the year. Hooray for darkness!

Now came the issue of Corey’s Road. Will it be snowy, icy, slushy, mushy? The drive out on the road is the big concern. Navigating the hills on poor road conditions is potentially hazardous. Only one way to find out…

My Honda Pilot did well navigating Corey’s Road, slow and steady around the windy turns. A few cars were already in the lot from hikers who were winter camping.

Can we talk about the weather for a minute? What a relief. Allison and I hit the well-packed down trail around 6:30 a.m., and wore our Hillsounds for the first 1.5 miles to the split for Blueberry and Calkins Brook. Straight ahead of us, the trail to Seymour was completely tracked out. To our right….not a single track. Changing into our snowshoes, we contemplated heading to Seward first, since the trail was well-traveled. On the flipside, it could also be a crapshoot. There was no way of knowing if anyone attempted Seward the steeper way.

Alli in the early morning sunrise.

It was back to our original plan. Up Calkins Brook and go for Seward first. We quickly realized that the trail up Calkins was basically untouched, so trail finding was required. Some navigation around blowdown and such was necessary, but we stayed the course. Alli was cruising ahead, as I was chugging behind. The first winter hike = lead balloon legs.

Admiring the colorful hues aglow.

Thank goodness we were only snowshoeing through a few inches of snow along the way. Urgency for hiking the Sewards early in the winter equals less snow depths. The knee-deep snow wouldn’t make an appearance until Seward Mountain. About halfway to Donaldson (because you’re basically climbing Donaldson) we stopped for a quick refuel break. Two other hikers, Christine and Dan caught up with us and took over trail breaking for the hike to Donaldson. Strength in numbers!

Allison leading the way.

The 3 mile hike up Calkins Brook to the junction between Sewards and Donaldson is not favorable for my hip. The slow, steady up puts a significant amount of strain on it. I feel like a broken record but: straight up scrambles and steep climbs I’ll take any day!

The peaceful woods

Did you even hike, if you didn’t crawl under blowdown in the Adirondacks?

Made it! There was still a whole lotta mountain left to climb though!

As we approached 4000 feet, the forest frosted itself, in its usual frozen manner. The sky above still showcasing bright blue skies. At this juncture, we were about 1/2 mile to the summit of Donaldson.

Yes! Andddd Nooo. What a relief to reach the crossroads for Seward! Seward was gorgeous!! The last time I was in the Seward Range, it was a torrential downpour all day. My friends Stacie, Mark and I couldn’t see a thing! The view instantly recharged my batteries and kicked me into hyper boost. Alli and I were still planning on hiking Seward first to get the steep elevation gain done with fresh legs. However, when we looked to the left…the trail remained unbroken. Did I mention that when Allison and I chatted with Christine and Dan, they too were planning on Seward first? They knew what we did. Over a foot or more of snow lived down in that col. Difficult trail finding also resided in the col as well.

Onward to Donaldson it was! We stomped down the path that Christine and Dan broke out before us. Allison is an incredibly strong hiker! She set a solid pace, as my cardiovascular system fought hard to keep up with her! 😂

Alli making the final push up Donaldson before a few steps to the summit.

Forging ahead, I climbed my way up the steep wall before Donaldson’s summit. The sugar-coated trees, brilliant sky blue horizon, Seward standing tall…is there anything better than this moment?

Donaldson Mountain held more than just another winter 46 peak…

Climbing up the wall.

At 10:55 a.m, Allison and I arrived at the summit! Hooray!

Allison’s photo

Donaldson for 37W for me and 33W for Allison! (Don’t worry, she catches up fast so we can finish together.)

This peak will be special to me forever…because it was my 200th mountain!! Holy cow! Amazed and humbled. Always.

The views from Donaldson go on for miles and miles. A sea of mountains. Just like when you are standing on Giant Mountain and a sea of mountains sprawls out before you. One of the benefits of being a mountain range on the outer edge of the blue line. The Seward Range is the western most of the Adirondack High Peaks. Allison stopping to breathe it all in and love it all out.

Refueling time. Alli brings the best trail snacks! The organic gummy worms are my favorite! I, on the other hand, refuel with bone broth and a few Clif Shot packets along the way. Seriously need to get better at eating on winter hikes.

One final look of wonderment before departing for Mount Emmons. My mind snapped a mental picture to carry with me, as to be reminded of its beauty while fighting up the steep pitches later on!

Seward Mountain in the bluest of Decembers.

Let’s talk about the one mile hike over to Mount Emmons. In summer, it’s one of the muddiest places on earth. Mud lakes waist deep. But in winter. In winter, it is astonishing!! The vantage points from being atop snow, overlooking the trees. Spirits lifted. Alli and I shared laughter, stories and delight the whole way there.

On the way to Mount Emmons. Long Lake in the distance.

It’s SO beautiful!” “I know! Isn’t it just BEAUTIFUL!” Exclamations from Jen & Alli the whole way!

Almost noon

The hike to Emmons requires some careful footing here and there as you descend and ascend the mountain. Most were very gentle and winding through the woods in a very Narni-isk type of way.

The Art of Pointing by Jen.

There he stands! Can you believe it only took us 30 minutes from this high point to get there?

Our destination playing peek-a-boo through the gently leaning woods.

Oh hey, Emmons! This was our favorite part. Stu-nning. He often gets a bad rap, much like Couchsachraga or Blake Peaks. Winter, my friends. Winter will make you fall in love with all 3 of those peaks, and Nye as well!

Mount Emmons in the distance, Our destination.

We LOVED everything about this adventure over to Emmons. Just a few more step into the passageway of the pines…

(Oh and Christine & Dan passed us heading back to Donaldson here.)

At 12:00 p.m., Muddy Boots girl and I walked right up to our 2nd summit of the day! 38W & 34W! It was time for a well-earned lunch break!

After a few quick pictures first…

Getting up at 4 a.m. is starting to show on my face! All I needed was my steaming hot bone broth to rejunivate the soul. I was also testing out MSR snowshoes on this hike. A loyal Tubbs girl right here! They worked well but were a little heavier than my Tubbs. So after this hike, Alli gained a new pair of MSR’s. 😊

OK…so, once we left Emmons, it was back up and over Donaldson to arrive at the junction for Seward Mountain. Remember that mental snapshot of beauty I took a few hours before? Well, Seward got me good.

Our hike back to the Seward junction was fairly straight forward. We passed a few more groups who were heading up to Donaldson and Emmons. Some friendly conversation and we were back on our way again. Alli and I figured Christine and Dan would be on their way back from Seward by now. So we began our descent into the col…and that’s when the real fun began!

SO MUCH SNOW! It was unconsolidated, thigh deep in spots, especially on the ascent. Oh and you have to climb the little bump first before ascending the .4 mile to the summit. We met up with Christine and Dan after a few minutes on our way to the col. Christine is one of the strongest hikers I’ve ever met! They did a fantastic job trail finding and breaking through knee-deep snow.

As they stopped to recharge the leg batteries, Allison took over and broke the entire way up Seward. One step forward, one step back, then plowing forward again. You know how steep Seward is on both sides of the mountain.

The open face of Seward with frozen ice cascades.

I wish I could say I was helpful, but it was the sweeper position for me this time. I am still honing in on my trail breaking skills. My hip wasn’t quite ready, and my heart was performing its flip-flopping acrobatics again.

Looking back from the icy scramble.

This was that moment, after climbing and climbing and climbing, when your heart exhales. Heaven in winter.

Heaven in winter.

Making my way.

Where’s Allison? Can you spot her?

At the top.

As the trail winds through the trees, it opens up, once again for an extraordinary viewpoint. “We were just there!” I exclaimed in wonder. The opposing view of Donaldson from Seward. It never ceases to amaze me.

Jen pointing at snowy things, as per usual.

A bit more elevation to climb and you can now see both Donaldson (right) and Emmons (left) way off in the distance. Two and a half hours ago, Alli and I were having lunch on Mount Emmons. It appeared incredibly far away. Again…amazed. Humbled, shocked and amazed.

Donaldson and Emmons looking impressive.

P.H.E.W! At 2:23 p.m., the 3rd and final summit of the day! 39W & 35W! But that wasn’t even the best part. When we arrived at the summit, the BEST blessing stood before us. The trail leading down the back side of Seward was completely broken out!! Like a runway! I literally jumped up and down. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, thank heavens!

Allison’s photo- gorgeous

I was spent! What a welcome back to winter hiking! Allison and I were both relieved to be on this summit. We did not linger long. As you know, the wind can be crazy on Seward…and it was! A super quick hydration stop and it was time to boogie.

One last mountain view before sliding down the steep sections. Ampersand and Ampersand Lake in the distance. The buttsliding was pretty decent and our tired legs welcomed any chance to coast down. This section of trail was new for me, too! It sure was long, but definitely lovely. Steep and lovely.

Ampersand Mountain and lake.

The 4.5 mile trek out was relatively flat and completely smooth. We switched back into our Hillsounds, which made for a fast-ish out! Official sunset time was 4:28 p.m. or something like that. Allison led the way, as the sun set and melted into the forest.

After about 1.5 hours in the dark, we reached the trailhead! What a fantastic journey. As Alli and I finished those last few steps before signing out, we exhaled a sigh of relief. The hardest part was behind us. My InReach clocked us around 11 hours, 30 minutes for the day, with 15.5 miles. Felt like 20!

Only one remains. Seymour. Yes Seymour. We would be back soon. Both Allison and I really wanted to complete the Seward Range before 2020 hit.

But for now, we relished in the fact that the Seward Range was almost complete. Tenacity, perseverance and lots of laughter made for one sensational day in the Sewards!

Alli, you are one tough lady! Thank you for joining forces with me for the winter edition of the Seward Range. We’ve only just begun! What an early Christmas present for us both. #justacoupleofgirlsbro

Ok, Winter. We’re back and ready to finish what we started.

Finding my groove again,


Our big loop!

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