Weekly Walk: Sure-footed solutions for winter trails
The Weekly Walks for Jan. 3 and 4
The 4 p.m. Tuesday hike, reported by Jake Gerlach:
On this heavily overcast evening with temperatures in the low 30s, three regular hikers were joined by Vicki W., a first-time hiker from Madison. As usual in the dark days of winter, we hiked around Lake La Grange. It turned out that Vicki was an excellent hiker who had no trouble keeping up.
At the north end of the lake we saw two ice fisherman out on the lake, and all of us agreed we would not trust the ice after all the recent warm weather. The footing was not the best, with patches of ice interspersed with patches of mud, but ice grippers on our boots and hiking poles added a lot of stability. Since there was very little new to see, the whole group just wanted to hike for exercise, and that's what we did. The sun is setting later by seven or eight minutes each week now, and we were able to finish our short fast hike without having to use our headlamps.
The 10:30 a.m. Wednesday long hike, reported by Marvin Herman:
As I left the U.S. Highway 12 meeting place today, the thermometer on my vehicle registered nine degrees. Whatever moisture remaining on the ground after the weekend thaw would be frozen solid. That means that there would be lots of ice on the trail and the surface would be uneven and filled with ridges threatening to upend hikers who dared to step upon them. The remedy for this unfortunate diagnosis would be a pair of good ice grippers.
Eight intrepid long-hikers, deserving some credit just for coming out to hike in such conditions, put on their grippers and regrouped at the John Muir Bicycle Trails. Though the sun was bright and the sky was blue, the biting wind at the meeting place was ample inducement to a quick departure into the sheltering woods of John Muir. Because of proper footwear no falls were noted on the 5.6-mile hike. Confident that there would be no overtaking bicycles, we hiked in the direction of normal traffic. No bikes were seen as we trudged along our way. In fact, the only other human we met was a snowshoer taking a break from his normal cycling routine. It was pleasant to hear the crunch of ice and hard snow as our grippers bit into the trail. Those of us who used poles added to the winter symphony as they stabbed holes along the trail-side.
As usual, our hiking plan was not followed exactly. We started on the purple (Rainy Dew) trail but soon found ourselves on the green. Stopping at a crossroad, Andy passed around some delicious chocolate-covered almonds and we all appreciated the energy boost provided. A sign indicated the trail to the parking lot where our hike would end. By then, all the hikers were warm with the exertion provided by a strenuous walk and were sorry to see that the hike would be concluded so soon — but to our great joy the hike did NOT end soon! We found ourselves on a segment of the long blue trail which added to our distance. Resting again at a map stand, we saw that we were close to the end of our hike with either a right turn or a left. We correctly guessed the latter, and the end was soon in sight. Our leader announced that we traveled at about twenty-two minutes per mile, a nice pace for these conditions.
All eight hikers regrouped at the La Grange General Store for hot soup, sandwiches and coffee and, of course, interesting conversation on a variety of topics.
The 10:30 a.m. Wednesday short hike, reported by Ellen Davis:
The temperature was 11 above zero as I left home; the National Weather Service reported that with the wind it “felt like” 11 degrees below. I had to agree, and our six short-hikers were eager to get out of the wind and into the hills. We drove to the John Muir Bike Trails and safely navigated the topographical nightmare of ice ridges and sunken frozen footprints near the trail-head. Jake selected the narrow less-traveled white trail for our hike today, traveling in the same direction as (very unlikely) bike traffic, and we set off into the woods.
The wind was minimal here in the hills. The trail featured the usual rocks and roots, with areas of icy footprints in the middle and fresher ones in the snow at the sides. All the hikers wore ice cleats and most had poles, and were able to move briskly in spite of the hazardous trail surface, switching from one side to the other to avoid the ice. The sun was bright and the woods were silent — no birds, not even a squirrel — except for the crunching of our ice cleats and poles, loud enough to make conversation difficult.
We took a very short break at “The Stinger” intersection, and then began the return trip, still on the white trail. Recent re-routes without signage generally cause confusion in this area and those in front played “guess the trail” with Jake calling out, “Nope —wrong one!” when we guessed incorrectly. (That turned out to be a reasonably good way to learn the new trail sections!) We began to see a few fresh bicycle snow-tire tracks as we drew closer to the trail-head but did not see any cyclists. Finishing our three-mile hike with no slips or falls — and very warm indeed — most of the group departed for the usual excellent Wednesday repast at the La Grange Country Store.