Seymour via Seymour Butts Slide – 12/27/10

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Apr 23, 2005
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Route Taken: Trail from the Seward's summer trailhead to the Ward Brook Truck Trail, from there to the Seymour herd path and up, returning the same way

Snow Depth: About a foot at the trailhead, closer to two feet by the Ward Brook Lean-to, very deep at the top (at least several feet)

Trail Condition: Broken out the entire way and easy to follow, trail had a dusting of fresh snow on top of the base at the trailhead, about an inch of fresh snow at the Ward Brook Lean-to, and was covered by nearly a foot of drift at the summit; skiing near the trailhead was tricky with some icy patches and rocks to navigate around, but got easier the farther we went; there were some blowdowns along the trail that we had to go around, but nothing major

Traction Devices Used: I wore skis until the Ward Brook Lean-to, then switched to snowshoes for the ascent and return to the lean-to, and skied back out from there; there was one icy spot on Seymour near the summit that I considered pulling out my crampons at, but I was able to scale it by grabbing on to a tree and hoisting myself up

Matthew (Mirabella) had been planning this trip for some time, and I'd been a tentative participant for much of it. As the date drew nearer, no major obstacles that would prevent me from participating arose, and so at 6 am I met Matt at the snowplow turn around, and rode in to the summer trailhead with him in his truck. The road into Stony Creek, despite not being plowed, was in excellent shape, and I would consider driving my 2 wheel drive car to here, but not any further- beyond, it was covered in quite a bit of snow, and despite obviously having been driven by numerous vehicles in recent weeks, I don't think my car would handle the hills.

We pulled into the parking area at the summer trailhead to find Robert still asleep in his truck, where he'd spent the night (he hadn't overslept, rather, we were just early). While waiting for him to get ready, I put my skis on and checked out the conditions at the start of the trail... early reports suggested that the trail wasn't skiable, and we were afraid we'd end up snowshoeing the 5 miles in to the base of the mountain. The start of the trail was a bit icy, and covered with only a thin layer of fresh snow, and so we determined that we'd at least give it a shot on skis.

When were were all suited up and ready to go, we departed the trailhead and headed in. The trail is mostly flat, but it still gave us a run for the money! The first mile or so of the trail especially is quite tricky, with several precarious slopes and rocks that required tight maneuvering (some of which was beyond us!). To further add to our complications, many small streams still had open running water, and when this came into contact with our skis, it resulted in frozen globs of ice that prevented us from progressing smoothly. Matt had waxed skis, and so he handled the terrain a bit better than Robert or I, who were on waxless skis. We carefully picked our way through the obstacles, and before long, reached the junction with the Calkins Brook Truck Trail, where we encountered a packed out trail heading south, presumably to the Calkins Brook Herd Path for the Seward Range. Ahead of us, the packed out trail continued towards the Ward Brook area, and it was this path that we took.

I'd recently passed through this area as part of my 6 day loop in the Western High Peaks, and as I recalled, the rest of the trail into Ward Brook wasn't as planarly challenged as what we'd just traversed. My memory soon turned out to be correct, and the going on skis from here was not as difficult as the first mile had been, although we still moved at a slower pace that one would've expected. As Matt put it, he wasn't sure skiing had saved us from anything but some boredom.

By this time, it was starting to get light out, and soon we were able to proceed without the use of headlamps, which also helped us to make smoother progress gliding across the snow. By midmorning, we'd reached the Blueberry Lean-to, where we stopped for a quick snack before continuing on. Soon, we were on the Ward Brook Truck Trail, and the skiing became a nice relaxing glide through the woods until we reached the Ward Brook Lean-to. I'd eaten luch here just over a month ago, and then there had been no more than an inch of snow on the ground. I returned to find the picnic table I'd sat at covered in nearly 2 feet of snow!

At Ward Brook, our skis came off. I popped off first one ski, and then attempted the second... only to find that it was frozen on! I had to take the boot off my foot entirely, and then put all my weight on the bindings to get the boot to come out. Tea courtesy of Matt's stove and hot chocolate from my thermos helped to warm us up, and before long, we set out on snowshoes to conquer the mountain.

The herd path left the truck trail not too far beyond the lean-to, and as the trail in had been, it was well broken out. Soon, we were ascending through some nice hardwood forests. The trail quickly became quite steep, and we took our time on the ascent, taking plenty of opportunities to rest. As we ascended, the snow got deeper and deeper, and the terrain steeper. Soon, we could see the slide off to our left. The first time I climbed Seymour, a significant portion of the herd path went right up the slide itself, but it has since been re-routed off the open rocky slopes.

Higher up, the terrain became quite steep... and the well packed down path was replaced by a smooth trough. We'd encountered the butt slide left behind by whatever group had previously climbed, and then descended, the mountain! Presumably, it was Neil and company. As the going was quite steep, I found myself kicking in steps as best I could with my snowshoes to gain traction. In terms of foot traction, we were all well equipped: I had my Evo Ascents, Matt had his Lightning Ascents, and Robert was using his Flex Alps for the first time. Scrambling up through the butt slides was tricky in a few spots, but not impossible, and we continued to make headway up the mountain.

Our progress, while steady, was slow, and before long, the possibility of needing to turn around came up. It was decided that if we didn't see the summit in another 20 minutes or so, we should at least consider turning back. We could tell we were getting close, however... the trees were starting to thin out, and there was quite a bit of rime ice on the branches. There was no doubt that we were entering the alpine zone.

We pushed on... soon I came to an icy flow. I considered pulling out my crampons and putting them on, but didn't want to go through the effort for just one ice section. By digging one of my snowshoes in hard, and stepping up while using a tree trunk for leverage, I was able to pull myself up on top of the ice. From here, I was on the final ridge approach the summit. All around me I could see clouds, and the wind whipped across the ridge at a pretty good clip. I pressed on, hoping that each nub that came into view might be the summit, and always, it seemed, finding another, higher nub beyond.

Finally, I reached the top of a bulge only to find that there was no other beyond. I looked up, and there was the summit sign! I quickly snapped a few pictures of the summit, and the view through the swirling clouds, and turned back. Matt and Robert came up shortly, and continued on to the summit while I found as sheltered a spot as I could in the trees and ate a quick lunch.


As we started to make our way down the mountain, I suddenly heard a strong string of curse words behind me. Turning around, I saw Matt holding his eye, which he had just taken a stick too... the eyeball seemed alright, and he could still see out of it, but as I watched, blood started to form, and slowly, one drip, and then another fell. It looked painful, but not serious, and there wasn't much to do about it other than continue on our way.

The descent, in contrast to the ascent, was quick and easy. Just like those who had come before, and I'm sure just like those who will come after, it involved a fair amount of butt sliding. In retrospect, I really should have pulled out my ice axe... some of my descents were nearly too fast for comfort, and I had to quickly twist my body a few times to avoid hidden branches and rocks beneath the snow. Sliding down so quickly, however, was quite fun. At one point, I turned around to see that Matt had donned his goggles... he explained that he had quite nearly taken a stick to his other eye, and after that, he was taking no chances.

While coming down the moutnain, I noticed that it seemed like the clouds were starting to lighten up. They took on a yellow color that was much brighter than they had been earlier, as the sun tried to peak through. We could see the Sawtooth Mountains, as well as Ampersand Lake to the north, as the snow had also ceased to fall. By the time we returned to the Ward Brook Lean-to, there were patches of blue overhead. I joked to Robert and Matt that if only we had stayed on the summit for another hour, we might have gotten a chance at a view. Matt jokingly responded that we'd also all be in an advanced state of hypothermia!

After another quick break at the lean-to, we swapped our snowshoes for the skis, and headed back out. In contrast to the morning, we were now starting out with the easy terrain of the truck trail, and things were only going to get worse. Robbert elected to strap his skis to his pack and switch back to snowshoes; not a bad idea especially considering that he was able to pull ahead of Matt and myself a few times. The skis strapped to his pack weren't too bothersome, but he did have to bend way over to get beneath some blowdowns.

While traversing the trail back to the summer trailhead, I adopted an idea that Robber had come up with- I simply took my skis off whenever I encountered open water I could not ski across without getting my skis wet, or terrain that was too complicated to attempt in my fatigued state. I'm pretty sure I actually saved some time by taking the time to remove and put my skis back on... my skis stayed free of ice, and I didn't have to worry about negotiating the tricky downhills. For the most part, however, the ski out seemed easier than the ski in had been. We were able to get some good long effortless runs in that we hadn't really seen much of that morning.

As darkness fell, the trail started to drag on and on. In the gathering dusk, I spotted the marshy pond with it's enormous glacial erratic that marks the psychological half-way point between the trailhead and the Blueberry Lean-to. Soon, I was looking for the Calkins Brook Truck Trail, which never seemed to show up. In the dark, I found myself suddenly coming across twists and turns in the trail that required quick reaction time. After what seemed like hours, we finally crossed the truck trail, and Matt took the lead... it sure was nice to have someone on skis going down the slopes ahead of me, so I could see what obstacles lay in store.

I took a spill when we were almost back to the trailhead... My ski snagged on a branch hidden beneath the snow, and with my feet suddenly stopped, my entire body planted itself face first in the snow... I banged my knee pretty good on a rock, but nothing major. I was definitely getting tired and the long day was catching up to me.

Finally, we arrived back at the trailhead. Our long (but enjoyable!) day had finally come to an end. I found that my ski boot had once again frozen to my ski, and so off came both and on went one of my hiking boots. The drive out went smoothly except for one spot where Matt's truck inadvertently started to drift off the road in the deep snow, but with a quick correction we were back in the ruts through the snow.

This was definitely one of the hardest High Peaks hikes I've ever done for sure... the climb itself wasn't too grueling, but the act of skiing in and back out was quite taxing. I'm still thinking about how I want to tackle Seward, Donaldson, and Emmons, which I'd like to do this winter. I'm undecided about whether to attempt them as a day hike, or set up a base camp in the Calkins Brook area and piece together the range over several days. This hike up Seymour has definitely given me something to think about!