Backpacking in the Western High Peaks

Just last week I posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, “I’m happiest in the woods”.

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I’m happiest in the woods 🍂🌲

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I said it then, and I’ll say it over and over again. I can’t help but smile as I’m slogging over rocks and roots to reach the next great view point or the top of a peak. I know there are plenty of people out there that think I’m crazy, but I have fun.

So let’s talk about some High Peaks, shall we? For those of you unfamiliar with the Adirondacks, there are 46 mountains known as the High Peaks located in the Adirondack region. Originally they were all thought to be over 4000 feet in height. Since first being surveyed it has been found that a few of these peaks actually sit below the 4000 ft mark. While not technically over 4000 ft, they are still grouped into the 46 High Peaks. There is a challenge out there to hikers to climb all 46 “High Peaks” in the Adirondacks to become a 46er. You can check out the history of the club on their website, it’s pretty interesting stuff!

I started climbing these peaks when I was in college in Plattsburgh. I conquered 34 of these peaks in 2 years but then life got in the way and I moved out of the area for 2 years and returned with a busy schedule and not enough time to get back into the woods. Over the past 3 years I have picked back up and am on my way to hopefully get the title of 46er by the end of 2015. I only have 3 peaks left that I hope to finish sooner rather than later. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop hiking them, I love to be out there and Harrison still has many to complete that I’ve already done so I’ll head back out there with him.

Since having Owen it is a little more difficult to get out into the woods spur of the moment so a little planning is necessary. When I was nearing completion of my training for the OBX Half Ironman I started day dreaming about getting back into the woods this fall to complete a few more of the elusive peaks. I found an open weekend, rallied the troops and made a tentative plan to do an overnight hike into the western high peaks to tackle the Seward Range and Seymour. The original plan was to head into the woods on Saturday, drop packs at the Blueberry Lean-To (if available) and head up the Seward Range from the north, heading up and over to Donaldson and Emmons, returning to the lean-to via the same trail. Sunday would be a shorter day with a scramble up Seymour in the morning and then back to the car in the afternoon.

Unfortunately Mother Nature had different plans for us and as the weekend drew near and it appeared as though Saturday was going to be a wash we quickly switched our plans around to head out on Sunday, returning on Monday instead. Harrison wasn’t able to take a day off of work so he had planned to hit the Seward range with us, returning to his car via the Calkin’s Brook trail.

Brian and Nathan met us in Wevertown bright and early Sunday morning at 5:30AM and we were shortly on our way to the trailhead located between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake. From Wevertown the drive is less than 2 hours so it wasn’t so bad. We made a few pit stops and were at the trail ready to go just before 8AM.

Below is a summary of our trip, it was a fun one! (and by fun, I mean a crazy, challenging adventure!)

7:52AM – Packed up and headed out on the trail

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10:15AM – Reach Blueberry lean-to. There are 2 packs already there and some wet clothes hanging from a line inside. It appears as though the pair stayed the night Saturday. We are hoping they are heading out that evening. We leave our packs and extra weight there hoping we’ll have it to ourselves later that night.

10:33AM – Reach the cairn marking the herd path to Seward

Cairn for herd path up Seward
Cairn for herd path up Seward
Brian and Nathan
Brian and Nathan
Happy Harrison on the trail
Happy Harrison on the trail

1:15PM – Reach the summit of Seward

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The trail that goes down Seward and over to Donaldson is impressive. And I say that meaning it was steep! It drops quickly down some crazy rock scrambles before leveling off again and climbing back up Donaldson.

Treacherous trail down Seward
Treacherous trail down Seward
The Boys
The Boys

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2:40PM – Reach the summit of Donaldson

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3:45PM – Reach the summit of Emmons.

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At this point we had to make a decision about which way to go back. Our original plan had been for Brian, Nathan and I to return the way we came as it was the more direct route back to the lean-to. Harrison was going to head down the Calkin’s Brook herd path by himself because it put him closer to the cars. (The Calkin’s Brook herd path starts between Donaldson and Seward and heads west down off the ridge). We realized that we were going to have do do some hiking in the dark so we chose the safe route of all sticking together and heading down the Calkin’s Brook Trail. Although it added a few miles onto our hike back to the lean-to it was a less treacherous trail than the one we had come up and it was the best option for getting down off the mountain in the daylight.

Rough outline of route taken. Guessed on where the herd paths were located.
Rough outline of route taken. Guessed on where the herd paths were located.

Our theory worked out and we were just nearing the marked trail when we had to get the lights out.

7:05PM – Finally off the herd path and back on a marked trail. Yay!

7:58PM – Part ways with Harrison. He only has 1.2 miles to go to the car, we have ~3 more miles of hiking.

9:30PM – Arrive back at Blueberry lean-to. Start fire, make dinner, drink wine.

11PM – All tucked in for the night. Zzzzzzzzzzzz!

Monday October 6th

Awww, a nice morning fire
Awww, a nice morning fire

9:15AM – Brian and I leave the lean-to and head down the trail towards Ward Brook lean-to and the herd path up Seymour. Nathan has decided to hang back at the lean-to for this part of the hike.

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9:34AM – Reach the Ward Brook lean-to. Evidence of a solo hiker staying there, but nobody there at the time.

Ward Brook Lean-To
Ward Brook Lean-To

9:37AM – Just a few minutes later we reach the cairn marking the herd path up Seymour. Up we go.

Cairn marking the herd path up Seymour
Cairn marking the herd path up Seymour

10:33AM – See a tree that looks like a man (or at least it did to me, do you see it??)

See the man?
See the man?
Brian hiking up Seymour
Brian hiking up Seymour

11:40AM – Reach the summit of Seymour. Take photos but it’s windy on the summit. We backtrack just a little ways to a great view point on the other side that is less windy. Eat lunch, rest. Clouds start to roll in threatening rain so we pack up and head down the trail.

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View from Seymour looking at the Seward Range
View from Seymour looking at the Seward Range

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Top of Seymour
Top of Seymour

1:31PM – Back at the cairn marking the beginning of the herd path.

Not long before we are back at the lean-to and packing up to head out of the woods. Collect ourselves and Nathan and begin the trudge out.

The Motley Crew
The Motley Crew

Everything hurts, my pack feels like it weighs about 100lbs. I’m slow. First stream crossing we come to I slip and my foot goes in up to my knee. Wet foot for the next 3 miles out, great.

4:30PM – Back at the car, yay! Change into some clean, warm clothes and head out. Excited to not be carrying an 40 extra lbs around with me. Stop at Stewarts for some food, it was the easiest (and closest) option.

7:15PM – Home sweet home!

Overall I had a great time out in the woods. Was it a walk in the park? No. But none of the high peaks are. You can’t expect to hike up to 4000’ and have it be easy. That’s what I look forward to. I love a challenge and even though my muscles may scream at me for mercy I enjoy it! The only part that was really difficult for me was the last 4.5 miles back to the car with a really heavy pack. I was so beat and I was dragging. I was so happy to see the parking lot and know I could soon be in warm clothes and comfy shoes!

I’m sore, but feeling accomplished. I’ve already started planning out next year’s adventures to finish up my 46. Mountains, here I come!

(To view all the photos from my hike you can see them on Flickr)

Peaks Hiked:

Sunday October 5, 2014
Seward
Elevation: 4361’
Order of Height: 24th of 46
#40 of 46 for me

Donaldson
Elevation: 4140’
Order of Height: 33rd of 46
#41 of 46 for me

Emmons
Elevation: 4040’
Order of Height: 40th of 46
#42 of 46 for me

Monday October 6, 2014
Seymour
Elevation: 4120’
Order of Height: 34th of 46
#43 of 46 for me

Ampersand Lake and Mountain
Ampersand Lake and Mountain
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