Ah, it’s my most favorite time of the year! Just for a minute, I need to talk a bit about the last year to impart just how monumental this hike was for me. The last high peaks I climbed were Redfield and Cliff back in September 2020. During that hike I experienced the absolute worst pain that I have ever felt. It was the pinnacle of the last several years of trying to figure out why my knees hurt SO much when I hike, and pretty much only when I hike, and it’s only gotten worse and worse and worse. I’ve been searching for answers for YEARS and the only thing I’d found myself with was less and less hope. I decided to do one last push to try and get a diagnosis (there’s more than just the knee pain, but that’s irrelevant!), and in Spring 2021, I GOT IT! I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome! EDS is a degenerative genetic connective tissue disorder and it explains everrrrrryyyyything. The first thing I did was see an excellent PT who helped me understand why my joints seem to be falling apart. My tendons and ligaments are like old stretched-out rubberbands, so my muscles are the things holding my joints together – when they’re unbalanced, problems arise. Then I found Bauerfeind – a company that makes very specialized braces for all sorts of things, and I found one that’s suited for exactly the problem I’m experiencing. I was pretty cynical, but I ordered just 1 for my worse knee just to see if it would work. I’ve tried all kinds of braces, everything you can imagine, and nothing has ever helped. Nevertheless, a few weeks ago, I went to climb Noonmark Mountain from round pond – a ~7 mile trek – and by the end of it, my worse knee with the brace on felt fine and my better knee was hurting! Which leads us to this hike. I needed to try out both braces on a more strenuous hike to see if they really do work. So I loaded up my car on Friday night and headed up to Tupper Lake to stay the night before starting the hike at sunrise.
The trailhead for the Seward range is located on Coreys Road near Tupper Lake. **Do note that a gate ~3 miles from the trailhead may close in the winter after hunting season to allow for logging trucks to use the road. ** I made it there right at sunrise around 7am, layered up, and signed in at the register.
The trail starts off flat with some muddy patches but otherwise is very nice and easy to walk.
The lot was surprisingly full when I pulled in with many signed-in hikers seemingly headed up the Sewards, and a few going up Seymour. I was hoping all the cars were for hikers anyway, since it’s firmly hunting season and I didn’t think to get myself an orange vest before heading out! After 20 minutes or so I came to the first junction – the split with the horse trail. I stayed to the left to keep on the walking trail as apparently it’s in better condition.
From here, the trail got a bit messier with large mud patches that required some careful navigation (oh poor sweet innocent me just did not know what was in store for this hike), but I was happy to see there was still some color on the trees!
Not far after the split with the horse trail I reached another junction with a private road.
The air was brisk and chill but I was making good pace and stripped off my puffy jacket, hat, and gloves. I was already really kicking myself for misplacing my gaitors at home, but I managed to tactfully avoid plunging any appendages into the mud or into the water rushing down the many streams I passed over.
About 2 hours after I left the trailhead, I crossed a nice long line of puncheon over an area noticeably lacking in mud, followed by Blueberry Lean-to 30 minutes later. I was a little bummed by how long it was taking me to walk the 5 miles to the junction with Seymour, but nonetheless I stopped at the lean-to for a short break and a bite to eat.
A few pairs of hikers passed by me while I rested, and after just a couple of minutes I packed back up and followed behind them. These 5 miles to the junction are very flat, with maybe 100ft of elevation gain the entire way, so it was a really great warmup for the real hike to come.
At about 9:45am, I passed by the cairn marking the way up to Seward. This junction is immediately after a bridge over a stream. Then 10 minutes later I was at the junction to Seymour.
There was a couple just ahead of me and almost immediately we all lost the trail. This trail is technically ‘trail-less’, meaning it’s not marked or maintained. A tree had fallen across the path, and it almost seemed like we had to cross the stream. However just going around the tree would take us back to the trail – so stay on the left of the stream at the start of this trail. The creek was beautiful with many small waterfalls dotting the way.
After about 0.5 miles of very pleasant, easy ascent, the path took a decidedly vertical turn following the stream up slick rocky steps.
About 1 hour after leaving the junction to Seymour is when things started to get tricky. The trail was becoming sloppy, with slick smooth flat rock surfaces covered in interwoven tree roots, some of which already had a thin layer of ice covering the tops.
As I climbed and climbed the slippery mess, I caught my first few glimpses of the views, and it was shaping up to be a beautiful day if I ever escaped this steep slog!
The higher I climbed, the worse the conditions became. The trail became a muddy mess. There was no stable, solid ground – everything was either thick slopping mud, rocks with water running over, or slick tree roots covered in mud and ice.
Fortunately, I was in the midst of several small groups of people all struggling through the same situation. I had to laugh when I heard a loud profane outburst first in front of me, then behind me, as someone maybe lost their grip on a root, or lost their boot to the slurping mud they were navigating over. We were all having the same exact experience, no matter the level of hiking knowledge – there was no going fast, no rock-hopping, no cruising up this mountain. Just a very slow careful drag for everybody, and there’s something kind of special about sharing that with a whole group of strangers.
After about an hour of this, we started to catch glimpses of light shining through the tops of the trees ahead of us. It’s so easy to let yourself thing “Gee Whiz! We must be nearly there!” but come on. Of course we’re not. What kind of 46er would this be if it didn’t lull you into a false sense of security before cruelly ripping that away? I scrambled up a few very tricky large boulders to find myself with two other gentlemen gazing at a far-off lump beyond the trees. “So that’s it, huh?” “Yup.” Aaaaaaand I kept on moving.
Fortunately there wasn’t really any elevation loss when moving towards the true summit, but boy howdy did the mud step up it’s game! I’d done well with mitigating the mudpocalypse in my socks and boots up until this point, but here’s when it all started to go downhill.
Something went horribly wrong in one of these many mud pits when my trusty boots BOTH slid sideways down a duplicitous submerged tree root, engulfing my left boot entirely in muck, even coming up over the lip. My right boot was mostly unscathed, and thanks to my poles the rest of me didn’t get a mud bath either, but the damage was done. I had one cold mud-foot from this moment onward, and I could feel it squelching with every step that I took. Finally, at 12pm on the dot, the trail forked and I took the path to the right for a cramped lookout full of my fellow hikers.
I plopped my muddy butt down, layered up, and took in the views.
We chatted about how nice it would be to just take our chances paragliding off the summit rather than facing the hike back down while I enjoyed some hard-earned lunch and VICTORY CHOCOLATE!
Within only 15 or 20 minutes I was feeling quite chill, so I took one last photo before heading back to the junction and going to the actual summit.
Just a hop and a skip and 2 minutes later I was standing at the summit!
With a pit of dread in my stomach, I left the safe happy summit and returned to the mudpits of doom.
It’s safe to assume that I submerged my boots a handful more times before it was all said and done, so there was minimal care taken here. It just didn’t matter anymore, I could not have been more muddy.
I’ve never gone so slowly in my life down a mountain. I was really babying my knees considering that I still had around 7.5 miles to go to get back to the trailhead. This trail was also just extremely treacherous, especially going downhill, so I couldn’t have gone faster if I’d wanted to.
I really don’t know how I would have done it without my ol’ reliable trekking poles. There were an alarming number of times when my boots entirely lost traction and I ended up either hanging from a helpful tree or planting all of my weight into my poles. (Sorry mom 😬) Obviously I was a little too busy to be taking photos…of the mud…. But I was thrilled to be back at the stream and took a moment to rest by a waterfall.
The descent was a comparative cakewalk after this point, and I was THRILLED to finally be back on flat solid ground. I couldn’t image the folks that were going on to complete the rest of the Sewards after all that! There was no way I’d be going right back up another slop like that! 2 hours and 15 minutes after leaving the summit, I was back at the junction with the main trail.
At this point I was pretty ready to be out of the trail. But you know what? MY KNEES FELT FINE! I really had a pep in my step and headed down the trail at a very fast clip. Before I knew it I was back at the Ward Brook lean-to, stopping for a few minutes to relieve my back of the too-heavy pack and relishing lying flat on the floor.
It’s astonishing how quickly I get cold after just a few minutes of inactivity. So before long I strapped my pack on and took back off down the path. It almost felt like the trail was stretched out while I was on that mountain – it seemed to take forever to go those 5 miles back! My only goal was to make it back before sundown.
At least by this time, I didn’t even bother trying to avoid the muddy patches and just clopped right through them. I didn’t encounter any people on the way out, and was so lost in thought, I just about jumped out of my mud-boots when I saw glaring red lights through the trees. Taillights?… THE TRAILHEAD! By jove, I’ve done it!
I couldn’t stop smiling while I signed out at the register 2h and 15 minutes after leaving the junction to Seymour. My knees were fine!! I mean sure, every inch of the rest of my body was throbbing, but this time I wasn’t agonizingly hauling my broken carcass on hands and knees back out the trailhead! The bar is low friends, but this was a resounding success! Now I just have to wait for the mud to freeze and come back for Seward, Donaldson, and Emmons 😀
Seymour Mountain: 4091′ Elevation Gain: 2798′
Round Trip Distance:~15 miles
Total Duration: ~10 hours