|The Seward Range|
Flash forward to 2014 and the thought of the Seward's was no longer so soul-crushing. With the Calkins Brook herd path now popular, the approach was now a lot more pleasant. I really wanted to climb the three Seward's this winter as we are trying to finish Koda's round this fall and I dreaded the thought of climbing them in any other season. MUD. When I told Jeanette I had concerns that the winter hiking season was coming to a close, she encouraged me to go for it. We had planned to climb Porter but she gave me the go ahead, which actually worked out since she was coming down with a cold I was kind enough to share with her. I felt lucky having such a supportive and encouraging partner. Now I had to deal with the realities of actually doing the hike!
Not surprisingly, the power the Seward's had over me produced some gut-churning apprehension. A big part of that was the recent rain and warm temperatures. I was worried that the creek crossing was going to be shot and the rain would lead to heavy, mashed potato snow which would make for an exhausting day. Temperatures over night were going to be in the 20's and the forecast for Saturday was in the high 20's/ low 30's with a mix of sun and flurries so the actual day of the hike looked pretty perfect. I threw it out there on the hiking email chain a group of us use to chat about and organize hikes and I got the encouragement I needed to commit. If conditions were bad, I'd turn back. As hard as that is for me, it's probably also good for me to undertake a hike that might not be a total success. I shopped, packed and printed out a map with the herd path route on it I downloaded from an old trip report as I didn't know the route on the ground.
After a decent amount of sleep, I woke up at 2:30 and started the coffee. I checked Facebook in the morning and got warnings from Gail and Emily (Orangail and little miss brave) about super icy conditions. After a white knuckle attempt at driving to a Tabletop hike from the Glenn earlier in the winter, my spirits fell at the thought of another harrowing drive. I took it super slow and hoped that once I was north of where the majority of the rain had been, things would be fine. Sure enough, the trucks had salted well in Albany and the roads north were fine. I drove slow though, not wanting to risk anything. The stars were out as was a half moon. It was going to be a pretty day! Because I drove slow (it took about 3:15 instead of the 2:45 it took on the way home, I reached the trailhead as the sun was rising which was actually really nice, starting the hike in daylight.
The starlit drive up and the stunning, warm and glowing sunrise dispelled my feelings of dread and I smiled as we made our way down the road. Today was going to be a good day! There were lots of animal tracks crossing the road. Mainly deer but there were also what looked like fox tracks. Koda and I moved down the road at a nice clip and when it was time to scoop the first Koda bomb, I took the opportunity to shed a layer. From that point on, I hiked in a thin base layer, soft shell and shell pants for the entire day. With a 6:15 start we were at the summer trailhead at 7:15.
|following the road|
After tromping through the unsupportive snow pack, we were soon on the right path. Since the last use, the trail had kind of melted from the rain. It was not the most clearly defined (though still very easy to follow) and the snow that had pooled and drifted in the track gave about an inch under snowshoe. When the track became faint, we both post-holed a bit and Koda went through every 20th step or so. I was concerned about his expenditure of energy over such a big hike but felt good knowing I had a ton of food for him to keep him fueled. It was fun to see new country and follow new trail. Going down the hill, I finally got what everyone had said about how discouraging it was to have to climb back up. Once we reached the bottom, not wanting to re-climb it and the slightly unsupportive snow pack led to the decision that I'd descend from Seward instead of the Calkins Brook herd path.
At the famous bucket cairn, we stopped and ate. I gave Koda a big handful of kibble and had some trail mix and an Odwalla protein shake. We've stopped using soy protein for hikes, but with this big big day, I wanted to hedge my bets. I have to say, it kept me full and well-powered for the entire ascent. I also wanted to focus on hydration, so finished my first bottle (which I shared with Koda) and made a second one, blending Gatorade and water. I bought blue (instead of my usual red) in honor of Jeanette (her fave). I loved this path right from the jump and all the way to the top. My two main concerns, as I mentioned, was wet and heavy snow, and the Calkins Brook crossing. Well the snow was good enough and in no time we reached the crossing. It did not look good. As I approached, Koda beat me there and was pawing it at tentatively. Never a good sign! After weeks of cold, I didn't think that a night of steady drizzle was enough to decimate the ice though. There was no signs of large chunks along the shore which would indicate that the ice had gone out. The surface looked bad though....a yellow slushy mess. No time like the present right? If I went through, it wasn't deep and I'd just head back to the car. We plunged about a foot into the slush down to the solid ice below. It was nasty but safe. I got the slightest bit wet at the top of my boots but nothing got through the recently waterproofed leather and clear on the other side, I knocked off the slush and smiled, knowing the major obstacle of the day was overcome.
The herd path was actually in much better shape than the approach trail. It was firm under foot, well defined and moderately pitched. Over the three miles, we moved through various forest habitats and were able to chug along at a nice pace, feeling alone and peaceful, deep in the woods. I took rests when I saw something pretty and once again enjoyed being surrounded by curious chickadees during one of these breaks. Each break lasted for 20-45 seconds which I've found to be my ideal length. As we got closer to the summit ridge, there were huge wads of snow that had been brought down from the trees by the rain. It looked like giants had had a snowball fight. Early views off the ridge were of a truly wild landscape with the mornings clouds swirling off the mountain. My first view of Mordor (Seward) was as ominous and dramatic as always. It also seemed very far away. Some steep pitches later, we emerged onto the ridge, greeted by some big open views and thankfully, not to much wind. We turned right and were on the true summit of Donaldson in about 5 minutes. It felt great! It was around 10:15 and we were already on top of a peak.
|Mordor through the trees|
There was still a long day ahead of us so after a few pictures, we made our way down the ridge towards Emmons. I had a funny moment on the way out. I felt really good as we made our way up and down the bumps towards the next peak. I figured I was almost there when I got a nice view....to Emmons off in the distance. Always an amusing moment and this phenomenon seems to keep happening even after repeating hikes. Wishful thinking I guess... Despite not being where I thought I was, we made our way comfortably over to Emmons. My camera battery died but luckily I had brought along my phone, which I never do. I figured I might listen to some music on the road walk out if I felt cruddy...distract myself. When I turned it on, much to my amusement, I had reception! I called Jeanette, who was surprised to say the least. It was fun to chat with her and I'm also glad I had the opportunity to tell her I was going to descend a different route than I came up since she was following my Spot track. I left a message on my folks machine too but after eating for a while, feeding Koda and making phone calls, my fingers got very cold. I quickly packed up and got moving to get my body temp back up.
|Not as close as I thought. Emmons|