Weekly Walk: Into the woods

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Ellen Davis | March 20, 2017

The Weekly Walks for March 7 and March 8,  2017

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

When I arrived at the U.S. Highway 12 Ice Age Trail crossing, I noticed a new hiker and her little white dog waiting. Her name was Connie and she said that she had picked up some literature about the Ice Age Trail and eventually got in touch with Andy, who told her about our weekly hikes. A second new hiker, Gerry, arrived soon after; he had been on the recent owl hike and decided to sample a Tuesday hike as well.  

By 4 p.m. our group numbered six. I did not want to be in the open on this very windy afternoon, so we chose a route that would keep us in the woods and the hills. We set out on the access road as if to go around Lake La Grange in a counterclockwise direction, then turned right on the Ice Age Trail heading toward Duffin Road. We then took the cross-country cutoff to the horse trail and returned to the starting point. This turned out to be a great choice — the trails were beautiful and we did not have to cope with the wind.

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

Though it was 40 degrees, clear, and sunny, the star of the "weather show" today was the wind, howling out of the west at twenty-five miles per hour with gusts near fifty.  The woods might be hazardous due to dead branches and other debris blowing around.  On the other hand, prairies and open areas would leave hikers exposed to the wind in all its fury. The 11 long-hikers decided to start at the Emma Carlin bike trails and stay in the woods.

Due to recent wet weather, these trails were closed to bikes so we had them all to ourselves and could walk them in any direction. Hike leader Andy decided that we would hike the orange trail to the overlook and then take the connector trail. The roar of the wind could be heard high above us during the entire hike. We felt the wind intensely only when we ascended some of the highest hills that this trail offers. The rest of the time we were nicely sheltered.  When we reached the connector trail Jo, recently returned from her Florida vacation, broke out the sweet melon we had been missing for a few weeks. Thus re-energized, we carried on down the connector toward the Muir bike trails. Before long, we found a short trail through the woods and down a long deserted flight of steps to access the Ice Age Trail, which led us to Horse Riders' Park near Palmyra. Andy and Rich found this little "mystery trail" on a hike we took a few months ago, and we have been waiting to hike it on an official hike day.

We followed the IAT back to the Emma Carlin parking area. Other than encountering the faint reek of skunk blowing in the wind for a short while, the hike was perfect and all agreed that it was just what we wanted. The consensus distance was just under seven miles.

Almost all the hikers regrouped at the Main Street Family Restaurant in Palmyra for lunch, conversation, and examination of old photos taken by Norwin and given to the group by his wife to examine and divide as we saw fit.

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

 The gusty wind in the IAT parking lot was so strong this morning that it was a fight to get my car door open. Arriving hikers quickly headed for the kiosk for a bit of shelter; the only nearby trails to hike in this kind of weather would be the John Muir bike trails. Jake concurred, and 14 short-hikers set off for County Highway H.  

Our group this morning included our two newcomers from last week, plus Jake's two house-guests and a friend of a long-time IAT hiker, ready for an adventure on the trails. We chose the white trail, traveling counterclockwise. In the woods, the force of the wind diminished as the trail dropped and rose over and around the hills, but returned in full force when we trekked along or over the top of a high esker. We were soon in the pines — an excellent windbreak—and comfortable again.

The trail led us past a lookout high over a large kettle lake, now mostly filled in by cattails and marsh grasses, and often home to nesting geese and cranes. We paused for a brief break at "The Stinger" trail intersection, and then went on past a hillside dotted with the tiny leaves of wild strawberries to a very narrow section of trail cut into the steep bank directly above the kettle lake. (No geese were in evidence today.)  Then onward up a steep bank, across a bridge spanning a gully featuring a giant cottonwood tree, and eventually past a marshy area bordering the lake, stopping several times to clear fallen tree limbs from the trail.  

The journey back involved negotiating a series of switchbacks up an extremely long slope. We came to a large fallen tree across the trail and, unlike several smaller trees we had encountered earlier, this one was too big to go under, too long to go around, and just a bit too thick to clamber over easily for those of us under six feet in height. Awkwardly, we managed.

Mark's GPS indicated that we had traveled 3.67 miles by the end of the hike. In spite of the wind, this was a very nice hike under bright blue skies through woods beginning to show signs of spring. Most of the group adjourned to the La Grange General Store for homemade soup, good coffee, and comfortable conversation.

Happy trekking.

Respectfully submitted,

Ellen Davis

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