Continuing our general preparation for attempting a re-do of 2004's "Great Range Solstice Hike
", we decided that we needed to embark on an outing with a bit more mileage. So far we had recently done varying hikes in the 10-15km (6-10mi) range, but if we were going to tackle the entire Great Range, we needed to do something that required a bit more endurance.
We picked the three peaks of the Seward Range, and we did so for a couple of reasons: it offered a solid 25-ish km (15 mi) outing over three peaks, was a relatively close drive from Ottawa, and promised to be relatively quiet (always a plus). We originally tried for the weekend of May 30-31, but horrible weather forced us to delay to a different day with suitable availability - Sunday, June 14.
Along for the long outing today were some recently familiar faces - Peter, Iris, and Caroline. Also joining us was Arn, who had begun to express interest in the Solstice hike, and myself and Jenn. The six of us got away quite early from Ottawa, and combined with the relatively short driving distance, we arrived at the Sewards summer trailhead 6:45 a.m. (the summer trailhead is usually open from roughly the end of May to November or December).
A Dark and Leafy Day
It wasn't an ideal weather day - the forecast was for warm and muggy and mostly cloudy - but we needed to get trail miles under our feet and the weather was good enough. We started off on the Blueberry path (the main trail into the Sewards area) just before 7 a.m.
The approach we chose for our climb of the Sewards is known as the Calkins Brook route. It is one of two main ways of reaching the peaks, and involves climbing up a herdpath route from the west, to a point along the Sewards ridgeline about midway between all three peaks.
Trying out the Horse Trail
Junction with Calkins Creek Road
In order to reach the start of the Calkins Brook route, we walked for perhaps thirty minutes along the main trail to Duck Hole (also known as the Blueberry Path). When we crossed an old abandoned forest road, we turned right, heading south [along it]. Leading through a gap between two sets of lower peaks, the old road rose slightly, then descended about two hundred vertical feet into the valley of Calkins Brook. After crossing a smaller side brook on a bridge, the old road made a sharp turn to the right, and at this point - marked today by a small stone cairn with a metal can in it - was the start of the Calkins Brook herdpath route.
Old Road to Calkins Brook
After a brief break, we turned onto the herdpath. It led east on the flat, through open greenery and with a leafy, springy tread. Somewhere off to the right, we could hear the rushing sound of Calkins Brook itself.
In a few short minutes, the herdpath led to a crossing of Calkins Brook. There had been a lot of heavy rain recently, and I was half-expecting to have to cross a rushing torrent; but no, the brook before us was a placid thing, gently burbling along and around many exposed rocks and boulders - boulders that would allow easy passage across.
With the easy brook crossing behind us, the herdpath continued on, now on the south side of the brook. The quality remained excellent - well-defined, no blowdown, and with a soft tread. The morning, although still close and stuffy, was now brightened with sunlight, slanting through the trees from the east. The forecast had predicted more overcast conditions, but looking up through the trees, I now saw mostly blue.
I remembered the Calkins Brook herdpath as being surprisingly trouble-free and easy to follow. However, it had been nine years since I'd last followed it, and that time had been a winter outing, so I was unsure if my memory of the clarity and ease of the route would match current reality. I was happy to see that overall, it was: there was practically no blowdown, it was completely obvious to follow, and the tread was for the most part still in great shape. It was showing signs of erosion in places - one large-ish mud hole section and some traditional Adirondack "steep and bouldery" bits near the upper end - overall, though, one of the most straightforward of the Adirondack unofficial herdpath routes.
With a good pace and few obstructions, we arrived at the top end of the herdpath route - at the intersection with the main Seward range ridgeline, right around 10:30 a.m. We were at the junction of the 'T' in our day's route - with the summit of Seward mountain less than a mile away on the left, Emmons about a mile away on the right, and Donaldson just a few yards away on the same side.
The intersection was marked by a cairn, as well as fairly obvious signs of a well-used herdpath running along the ridgeline. There was also a limited but quite nice view of the multi-bumped summit of nearby Seward.
Initial Descent to Seward
Pleasant Seward-Donaldson Col
We voted to tackle the highest mountain of the day - Seward - first. Turning left, we immediately descended a brief bit of steep slab, then gradually flatter terrain as we made our way down into the col between Donaldson and Seward. The herdpath route doesn't exactly stay right on the ridgeline, but rather veers slightly below it to the right, avoiding some prominent rocky subsummits (too bad, really, because those rocky subsummits actually looked more interesting than the actual summit). Overall, the low point along the herdpath was about 3900 feet, meaning we now had a 400-ish foot ascent up to the top of Seward.
After crossing up and over a small bump, the herdpath reached the base of a fairly prominent rocky gully and climbed up it. This section is fun, offering a bit of easy scrambling and periodic views back towards Donaldson and Emmons.
View back to Donaldson and Emmons
More low-grade scrambling
An eroded ledge near the top of Seward provided the highest good view - again back to the southwest - before we entered mostly viewless scrub on Seward's summit. A few minutes more hiking along the obvious herdpath (in fact, all of the herdpath along the ridgeline of the Sewards is completely tracked out and obvious) brought us to Seward's treed summit. A standard 46R brown wooden sign with yellow text marked the summit.
Descent back towards Donaldson
With no view and with a large number of black flies now attacking our non-moving bodies, we stayed only for a few short minutes - enough time to have an energy-replenishing bite to eat. We then turned around and made our way back along the herdpath, back down into the col, and up to the T-junction below Donaldson.