Weekly Walk: Snowmelt and other signs of spring on the trails

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Ellen Davis | March 15, 2016

The Weekly Walks for March 8 and 9,  2016

The  4 p.m. Tuesday hike,  reported by Norwin Watson:
 I headed out to the Highway 12 Ice Age Trail crossing around 3:30 p.m. The temperature was 68 degrees with a strong wind out of the south and plenty of blue sky – a great day for a hike.  Reaching the trailhead I found just one hiker waiting, but a few minutes later seven more arrived – a very good number for a Tuesday afternoon hike.

We started out traveling east on Sherwood Forest Road, then crossed over the berms to the horse trail. George wondered if we would encounter any ice or snow on the trails; I predicted that we would not see any on the whole hike. After about a mile, we connected with the Ice Age Trail and turned west toward Russ's bench. The trail was in pretty good shape with a few muddy spots once in a while, but good walking over all with no standing water remaining.  

We took a short break at the bench and watched a pair of geese on Lake La Grange, which was now almost free of ice. Heading back toward the trailhead, we did run into a very muddy section of trail about a quarter mile from the end. It was still pretty light out when we reached the parking lot, though the sun was fast disappearing behind a bank of clouds. It had been a very nice four-mile hike, and we celebrated with a treat of smoked pork tenderloin and appropriate beverages!

The 10:30 a.m. Wedneday long hike, reported by Marvin Herman:

This morning was cloudy with temperatures near 60 degrees. It seems that winter is now far behind us. Of course, I would not advise betting money on this because we know how the weather can turn very quickly and we could soon be under two feet of snow. I expected the trails to be somewhat muddy today and that turned out to be the case. Norwin, our leader, chose to hike at the Nordic Ski Trails to minimize the muddiness due to the wideness of the walking surface.

There were 17 long-hikers who reassembled at the Nordic trails to hike a combination of blue, green, and purple trails. Many made use of the restrooms there since the portable toilet at the Highway 12 trailhead had been vandalized in a most disgusting way rendering it, in my opinion, unfit for use.

Once the hikers were ready to go, off we went. The first point of interest was a tree against which someone had discharged several blue paintballs. Fortunately, this paint is water soluble and will wash off in the next rain. As we walked along, we observed that 99 percent of the ice and snow that was on this trail last week had melted. As we reached the part of the trail on which we usually find pasqueflowers, we noted that none were yet present. These early spring blooms are not expected until Easter. We did see several sandhill cranes flying overhead checking out the area for nesting possibilities.

Once past the four-mile mark our group split up. Nine of us decided to take the green trail back to the parking lot for a hike totaling nearly five miles. The other eight continued on the blue trail and over the hilly “Alps” to cover a distance of six miles. Most hikers reconvened at the LaGrange General Store where, for the first time this year, we could bring our food outside to eat at the picnic tables. The hikes and the lunch were much enjoyed by all who partook.

The 10:30 a.m. Wednesday short hike, reported by Ellen Davis:

The weather forecast for our area promised a fine day, yet the cloudy sky grew ever more ominous-looking as we gathered at the windy Highway 12 trail crossing, waiting for the rest of our group to arrive. We decided to hike the Muir white trail (hopefully ice-free), and 10 short-hikers and two very small canines re-assembled at the trailhead.  

Don Howell returned to hike with us today, fresh from the American Birkebeiner where he won first place in his age category—and  was awarded a gold vest for 30 years of completing the 31-mile annual skiing event.  

We met the first patch of ice early in the hike—a large area extending across the trail with barely enough room to get past it along the sides. Those who attempted to walk on it got off quickly, noting that the skim of water on the surface made it extremely treacherous. We encountered many more small icy areas on our journey, but they were easily avoided. Our route on the whole was soft hiking with very little mud.

By the halfway point the cloudy sky was turning a respectable blue and the jackets we had added in anticipation of rain were unzipped or removed. The trail showed evidence of the past winter with little patches of ice and occasional waxy deposits from Moonlight Hike candles.  The mosses beside the trail and on fallen logs were a bright healthy spring-like green in the still grayish-brown woods. New leaves—garlic mustard, unfortunately—poked through the detritus from last fall. We found several small clumps of stiff white fur about two inches long on the trail, but could not identify it or find an explanation. Small birds were active in the brush along with a few cardinals and blue jays. A tree sporting two recently-created holes and a scattering of rectangular chips showed evidence of a pileated woodpecker at work, and a handful of shiny black feathers marked the spot of some recent altercation involving a crow.  

We reached the trailhead warm, energized, and ready for lunch after a comfortable 3.3-mile hike on a pleasant spring day.
Happy trekking.

Respectfully submitted,

Ellen Davis

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