Weekly Walk: Hardy hikers tackle snowy trails

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Ellen Davis | January 11, 2017

The Weekly Walks for Dec. 27 and 28, 2016

The 4 p.m. Tuesday hike, reported by Jake Gerlach:

When I left home for the hike, my wife asked me how many crazy hikers I expected to appear today. The temperature was in the mid-20s and conditions were not bad, still only three of us showed up for the hike. I bought a new pair of ice grippers this fall and was very glad to have them for this hike. As usual for December and January hikes, we headed around Lake La Grange in a clockwise direction. The skies had been overcast all day but cleared up as the wind died down, making it quite pleasant for our outing.  

The first thing I noticed was that a lot of people had been on the trail after the warm and rainy weather, and had left big footprints in the slush – which had then frozen hard by Tuesday evening. When the lake came into view, there was open water around the big spring and the last of the day's sunshine was striking the trees on the far shore. I made sure not to say much about the trail conditions until we got to where the snow had drifted last week. The rain and warm weather had certainly made a big difference. While there were still some small drifts across the trail itself, in most places the area just beside the trail was free of snow and ice.  When we finally got to the snowmobile trail the walking became even easier. We arrived back at the parking lot at 5:05 p.m., after our very brisk walk that was much easier than last week's.  We all thought it had been a great hike!
The 10:30 a.m. Wednesday long hike, reported by Marvin Herman:

The morning was clear and sunny as I approached the U.S. Highway 12 meeting place. Temperatures were in the mid-30s and I would have expected to find a large group of long hikers ready to walk off weight gained from too many Christmas parties and Christmas dinners. The snow that fell over the last weekend had largely melted and refrozen, leaving large ridges of ice which would be crunchy today on some of the trails. Ice grippers worn over hiking boots would be advisable in these conditions; today I heard such footwear referred to as “stabilizers.” This is not an inappropriate designation since they do tend to contribute to balance while walking on uneven ground.

We had 10 long-hikers today (plus the big dog Mufy) and our leader decided that we would hike the Ice Age Trail Blackhawk segment along Lake La Grange and then, at the map post, continue on toward Duffin Road. We set off in single file along the narrow trail through the hilly and rocky part of the segment until it widened out. After two miles we reached the map post and, after partaking of some nice chocolate (two kinds available) furnished by Andy, we bore to the left up the long gradual elevation that constitutes the next part of the segment. We were now deep in the woods and quite spread out. Some of the hikers in the lead reported seeing two horses on the horse trail to our right. No other critters were observed though deer tracks were plentiful.  We passed the first two opportunities to cut over to the horse trail for our return trip and were searching for the third and last cut before Duffin Road, which had been marked by a post the last time we were there. The post had been removed but we still found the place to walk through the woods, a short bush-whack to our right, to access the horse trail.  That trail was wide and flat but consists of undulating hills. Over this part of the hike we became even more spread out. Two of us, falling a bit behind the rest, received a phone call checking on our location. We had apparently taken a different turn, which lead us in a longer loop.

The distance of the hike was at least six miles and those at the tail end put on an additional half mile. After the hike, most regrouped at the La Grange General store for hot soup and sandwiches and also a surprise treat from Barb S. in the form of three kinds of home-baked cookies that went down well with or without coffee. After wishing each other a “Happy New Year” the hikers departed in good spirits, thankful for a wonderful hiking experience.

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

As we assembled before the hike, I saw a new couple approaching and asked if they were going to join us on our hike this morning. The response was a smiling “Yes!” It turned out that they were from China, visiting Whitewater, and were very curious about Lucy's antique cactus-needle hiking poles. We started out, looking forward to some interesting conversations on the trail, but they got into their car and left, waving. Apparently there was some language confusion on both sides.

That left us with a group of 11. Well aware of the lumpy state of the trails, Jake's route today would be on the horse trails north of Highway 12. First, however, we had to traverse perhaps a half mile of frozen slush deeply pitted with footprints interspersed with patches of glare ice.  (Luckily, we had the option hiking in the crunchy snow on the sides if necessary.) The conditions on the horse trails were significantly better and the trails themselves wide, hilly, and scenic. At this point the hike became more like aerobic exercise than an icy balancing act!

Our group today included two hikers we hadn't seen in seen in several months and Jake's son Charles (with his dog, Howie), visiting from Minneapolis. As a result, three or four or more conversational groups formed and re-formed as we went along. We noted canine tracks in various sizes (dog, coyote, fox), plus deer, horse and human. A piliated woodpecker had left a scattering of large rectangular splinters under the tree on which it had been working. Juncos flitted through the bushes. Our route became easier once we reached the smoother snowmobile trail, and the short hike back to the trailhead was comparatively easy and uneventful. Mark's GPS indicated that we'd hiked only 2.3 miles, though it felt like more. Thoughts of  hot homemade soup (carrot-ginger this time) beckoned us to the La Grange Country Store for lunch – and it was truly as good as anticipated!

Happy trekking.

Respectfully submitted,

Ellen Davis

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