We started a little after 9am, the parking lot for the Seward trailhead was already starting to fill up. We signed in at the register and noted everyone would be concentrated on the peaks, like usual. The black flies were starting to come out, I did not notice if the were the biters as they more or less stayed away from my permethrin treated clothes. As we hiked they were non-existent but would begin to swarm if we stopped for too long. We passed by a few hikers, some of whom were wearing bugnets.
We took a left at the first junction to follow the footpath along the boundary of the Ampersand property. We would pass by Blueberry and Ward Brook lean-tos. Both of which had hikers prepping for their conquest of the Sewards and/or Seymour Mtn. The couple at Ward Brook had day hiked from Duck Hole to climb Seymour, they had come in via Bradley pond. Quite a journey.
We took our first long break at Camp Four, which we had to ourselves. A recon of the thunderbox showed it to be unusable as a tree had fallen on it. We ate a late lunch and discussed the next few miles. A steady uphill followed by a downhill to the Cold River. We were 6 miles in on our 9ish mile day. The bugs seemed to have subsided, but the air felt like rain was coming.
The uphill on the old truck trail seems to be less steep each time I do this loop. Soon we were heading down towards the beaver meadow. The first time I did this loop we had gone counter clockwise and the trail across the meadow was a small beaver dam which we had to pick our way across with mostly dry feet. Since then, it had been dry, with remnants of the dam the only evidence of that first wet crossing. This time, however would be different. Somewhere downstream, the busy little rodents had done a much better job, and the trail was considerably under water. Kalie started to pick her way along the right edge of the trail, and Ryan on the left. Soon Ryan was just walking knee deep in the water and out the other side. I accepted the inevitability of the situation and followed Ryan. Soon we were all on the other side with significant water in our shoes. We only had about a mile or so to camp, and we arrived in the afternoon to both lean-tos vacant. We chose the one closer to the water, and just relaxed for a while as we had plenty of time. George and Tammy had left the Calkins Brook lean-to book for me to deliver. I was already carrying 4 others (Ouluska, Seward, CR-3 & 4. They had written as the first entry into the Calkins book, "Russ, please bring me to the Calkins Brook lean-to". I literally laughed out loud upon reading it.
With our wet socks hanging to dry, we focused on camp chores interspersed with just sitting around. Dinner was eventually made as well as a fire. A couple hiking the NPT southbound stopped over to say hello. They chose to stay at the other lean-to. I was tired. The sound of the river coupled with the fact I was up at 3am had me in bed not long after sunset. I barely remember even lying down in the hammock. I slept great.
I was up rather early as usual even though I tried to sleep in. Ryan was in the lean-to, so I did little to avoid disturbing him. Once he was awake, I restarted the fire to make a quick pot of water for coffee. Not long after everyone else was up. The couple from across the way started down the trail. I half-expected to see them again at Cold River 3 or 4. We were on the trail a little ways after 8am with a big day ahead of us. At least we would be going downstream for a majority.
The NPT between the junction and Rondeau's hermitage is difficult no matter which way you go. Constant up and downs with not easy footing. It is a long few miles with little to see along the way except for the big green tunnel. One earns these miles. The old logging camp is growing in a lot. I remember it being more field-like but the shrubs have given way to small saplings. The old implements can still be seen scattered around.
We paid our respects to Noah John, the Mayor of Cold River and headed the last half mile to the Ouluska Lean-to. A fellow hiker was here taking a break. He was doing the same loop as us counter-clockwise. There was some gear in the lean-to which he said was not his. He also mentioned the couple who was ahead of us. I glanced at the gear in the lean-to and immediately recognized the sit pad as belonging to Tammy; this was George and Tammy. I was hoping to run into them. I signed in to the register, and said "hi" to G&T. A few moments later they came down the trail. We chatted for a bit. They had spent the last two nights here and were on their way back to camp. We also had quite a few miles left for the day. A few sprinkles began to fall, but it never coalesced into a rain.
We stopped again for a longer break at the Seward Lean-to. We had a little scare as Ryan seemed to have misplaced his car keys. He was using them to open his bear canister. With a methodical search, they were found sitting on his pack. The trail between Seward and Big Eddy was a real mess in the years after Irene but has since been cleared. Some new blowdown now exists along the rest of the trail. I dropped of the register as CR-4, and we rested more at CR-3. I somewhat expected we would stay here for the night as it was later in the day than I anticipated. The group opted to press on even with the knowledge we would be climbing steadily to a higher elevation. The trail would be a lot easier though being the old horse trail, and a road in previous times. I had forgotten about the final downhill section immediately before we reached our destination, Calkins Brook. This was longer than I remembered. It was early evening when we arrived to the two lean-to's finding them both unoccupied. We were all tired as this was about a 14 mile day, and the tough miles in the beginning. I gathered a small amount of wood even though a decent amount was already there. I try to not use what others have collected without at least doing my part. Dinner was made. I strung up my hammock. Kalie went to hang her bear bag. It wasn't completely dark before I wandered off to my hammock. The three of them would crash in the lean-tos. It was a little colder this night. Partially due to the wind.
Again I was up before the rest. I quietly made a fire and had some coffee before anyone else even stirred. We only had 6 miles to go, but it would be mostly uphill. Plans were already made for lunch at the Lumberjack diner. The hike out was quiet as everyone was tired. We were finishing the last few miles of a 30-mile trip and I was already contemplating the next iteration for next year. Gotta love Cold River Country.