Monday, June 21, 2010

The Seward Range

Meredith and I continued our journey towards hiking the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks this weekend in the Seward Range, known as one of the wildest areas in the Northeast. We put three of the range's four peaks on our weekend agenda: Donaldson, Emmons,and Seward. In bright sunshine, we drove nearly four hours to the trailhead in Coreys and then backpacked three miles.

We found a small area of flat enough ground within legal distance of Calkins Brook for our little tent. With brute strength, Meredith uprooted two maple trees to clear a space and then "appeased the tree spirits" by replanting them nearby(see photo).

Early the next morning we headed up the Calkins Brook trail, first climbing Donaldson. Temperatures began to rise, and with little breeze, I felt sluggish. Meredith, however, has gotten a daily workout in New York City, hauling her guitar, flute, music and other baggage, up and down subway stairs and across miles of the City to her Music Therapy home patients. She hiked with energy and ability.

From a rocky promontory, Donaldson has fabulous views looking east to the Great Range (photo above). Emmons, farther on, is an enclosed summit, but its trail faces west and south, opening occasionally to Long Lake and Tupper Lake far below. From Emmons, we returned to Donaldson, and then continued on over open rock faces with nice views to Seward where the summit is wooded (see photo above of two diesel women). Ranges like this in which mountains have to be done as a series are a challenge. This one, however, was manageable; we had no death-defying moments such as when we climbed Colvin and the trail suddenly disappeared into a hole that dropped thirty feet, or on Gray, where a rock face had a ledge just boot-width to walk on, reminding us that one gesture of imbalance could send us falling to broken bones.

Returning to our tent, we determined that we were the only people within eight miles--an isolation hard to imagine, especially given that Meredith would be back in her Upper East Side studio apartment in New York City the next evening. None of the few hikers we had seen during the day was camping in the area. In addition to the three miles that we had hiked in from the trailhead, five more miles of dirt road were between us and the nearest house.

The first night, I finally managed to get to sleep when Meredith tapped me on the head, "Are you awake?" she whispered. I grunted. "Good, listen," she said in a barely discernable voice. Her head was up, tense. I heard a rustling in the leaves. "It's a squirrel or a chipmunk," I said, not happy to be woken up; then I added unsympathetically, "We probably put the tent over its hole and it's trying to get home." I put my head back down, hoping to go back to sleep.

A few minutes later, Meredith nudged me. In a slightly exasperated tone, I said, "It's just a small animal. Hear how quick and light the movements are?" She jumped, exclaiming, "Something bumped my hand! It's freaking me out!" I had to face it, sleep would have to wait. "It's not a bear or anything, really," I said. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head, and soon heard her rhythmic breathing of sleep long before I, too, drifted off.

The second night, we were determined to sleep well after hiking eleven miles over three peaks, but distant flashes of lightning lit up the woods followed by rumbles of thunder, and a rustling of leaves began near my head. Meredith grabbed my arm. "The hike was easier than this," she lamented. When I mentioned years of previous camping experiences, she said, "I haven't camped in a long time." And, of course, I had mentioned a few times earlier, with great satisfaction, that we were at least eight miles from the nearest human.

Now I began to think that the animal could be bigger, maybe a porcupine or a raccoon. Curiosity got the better of me, and I sat up focusing my headlamp outside to the woods, hoping to see some interesting wildlife in its own habitat, but each time I shone the light, the noise stopped. All I saw were large toads. Finally, after a great scuffling, loud crackling, and thumping, I spotted the culprit--a tiny brown woodland mouse! It worked hard, pulling the label off one of our water bottles, its long tail winding over a log. It tugged and yanked, rolling the bottle in the leaves. After a good view and a few laughs, we both settled down and slept until rain pattered the tent roof.

We walked out the three miles to the car, occasionally singing along the way, and scaring a ruffed grouse who reprimanded us in full plumage. I was disappointed that the hot weather had made me listless on the mountains, but was pleased with the views and our camping experience including the wildlife. I am now a 36er. Meredith was happy with her agility and strength. She took many pictures of wild flowers and of the lake views. With a great sense of accomplishment, she is now a 30er! We drove back through the Adirondacks, chatting along the way, and stopped for the obligatory meal at the Noonmark Diner.


  1. So that is where you were. I thought the house seemed awfully quiet.

  2. For the record, even after I saw the mouse, I was still terrified. It circled the tent for twenty minutes! This is not a laughing matter. ;)

  3. This story brings back so many memories of lying terrified by the nightsounds around my tent. When you're alone in the dark, those tiny little rodent feet can sound like a bear's coming for you.