To all those who follow my now-broken-out snowshoe trail through the Sewards: You’re welcome. To all those who follow my snowshoe trail over the north side of Seward: I’m sorry.
This hike was gigantic. 27 miles — more than a full marathon. Way more than 6,000 vertical feet gained. Four summits. Just under 14 hours.
Lots of people do this hike, just like my four-summit Colvin-Blake-Nippletop-Dial loop last week. I would guess that most people, however, do it in the summer — where the trailhead sits a full 3 miles from the seasonal one that I used. So in the summer, it could be as little as 21 miles. By the time I hit 21 miles, I was ready for the hike to be over!
The weather was perfect, crisp and cool and mostly clear; the car read 3°F. As Leaving the parking area at 6AM, an Internet superhero I know was just finishing climbing Seymour, on his way to a day dwarfing mine. Perspective helps!
The start of the Calkins Brook herd path sits about 6 miles or so from the winter trailhead. It alternated between rocky & muddy and icy & snowy, making footwear choices difficult. There was also a litany of fallen trees across the trail.
Luckily, the Calkins Brook path, maintained by the 46ers, was beautiful. It had snowed the week before my hike, and no one had been through in a while. That meant breaking trail — clearing down the path that subsequent hikers will use to find the summits. I correctly surmised early on that whenever the trail disappeared completely, which was often, I could just follow the rabbit tracks. They know where the packed snow is and use it.
So while I expended some extra energy clearing the path, I didn’t have any wayfinding trouble all the way up to Donaldson and Emmons. Donaldson offers the better views with a summit rock that has clear line of sight to the north. While still without clear views, the normally muddy trail to Emmons was covered in clean white snow.
I was on top of Seward Mountain before 12:30PM, feeling great. Here is where the trick was: I had never gone down the north side of Seward to link up with Seymour. I knew I had to angle east and then turn left (north) but had plenty of advice telling me that the route wasn’t obvious. Maybe I should have looked harder for rabbit tracks, but as I stepped two feet deep into a spruce trap, I knew I wasn’t on the trail.
I lost about 45 minutes heading back and forth over Seward’s ridge looking for a different way down, trying some and then climbing back, until finally I decided (with the confirmation from a knowledgeable source) that I had to angle left to get back to the trail. This involved trudging through mostly waist-deep, sometimes more, snow drifts. At one point, possibly out loud, I commented on how I would have loved this as a kid.
I eventually found the trail, I had gone about a quarter mile too far. It still was early enough when I reached the bottom of the trail, about 2:30PM, that I decided I still had time to summit Seymour. Had I realized just how far I was from the car at that point — about 9 miles — I probably wouldn’t have. But ignorance is bliss, and I headed up. It took me about an hour and a half to reach the top of Seymour, although it felt like a million.
I zipped back down and headed for the car. I got crankier and crankier with every downed tree and every hour passed. Eventually I got back to the summer trailhead and marched the three miles to the winter area by headlamp. Despite being dead tired, I did take a moment to shut off my light and stare at the brilliant clear sky. It felt like I was a kid again, and I loved it.