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Thursday, 14 March 2019 09:24

Ice-rutted trails are a rough reality for some late-winter hikers

Written by Ice Age Trail Alliance Helwig’s hikes
The Tuesday hike report by Jake Gerlach: After a two-week absence while I went south on a family vacation, I was glad to get back to hiking. This Tuesday the temperature was about 18 degrees and there was a strong breeze out of the west. I was glad to see both Marvin and George as they had been absent for a lot of the winter. A total of six hikers went around Lake La Grange.
I decided to travel in a clockwise direction so that the wind would be at our backs in the open areas. The next decision was to go down the hill on the snowmobile trail, which had relatively good footing, rather than risk the steps on the Ice Age Trail. When we got back on the IAT, the footing was much worse. The biggest problem had been caused by footsteps in slush that had then frozen and made for uneven footing.

At Russ’s bench we took a break just long enough for Andy to take a picture. When we entered the woods and turned west, the trees made an efficient wind barrier. Then it was snowmobile trails and the relatively easy footing, then back to the kiosk. I had not done much walking on vacation and was definitely suffering a little from my lack of activity. Everyone else was in fine shape. We got back to the kiosk at 5:10 p.m. I heard several say “good hike.”

The Wednesday short hike report by Ellen Davis: This morning we ended up with nine well-prepared and enthusiastic short-hike participants. The big question: Where shall we go?

The IAT is difficult to hike this time of year. Those who do hike during a thaw leave deep footprints that freeze solid when the temperature drops, resulting in a lumpy surface. Frozen mist or rain adds a coat of ice. Snow covers it, disguising the lumps and hollows. Some of it melts in the sun and re-freezes flat and slippery. Even with ice cleats, it’s a challenge. Today we were looking for a different kind of challenge. Jake’s suggestion of the Muir Bike Trails was greeted with enthusiasm, and off we went.

We started down the main trail, going counterclockwise. It was in good condition for a hike, with a relatively smooth surface packed firm by fat-tire bikes. The snow-covered terrain was dramatic as always, and the hills and trees protected us from most of the wind. We soon left the wider main trail for the narrow orange trail. The trail took us through a series of switchbacks down a steep hill, the across the side of another hill, and finally along the edge of a small bog.

We took a short break at the next intersection, then went on, passing another small bog. Another series of switchbacks took us back uphill again, through an area where all of the old-growth trees on one slope were on the ground and those standing looked to be less than 5 inches in diameter. It looked as if it could have been a touchdown spot of the 2011 tornado, traveling through this forest on its way to Eagle.

A short time later Jake led us onto the purple trail which would eventually take us back to the trailhead. The temperature had risen, but the footing was still good and solid. Animal tracks were plentiful: mouse, deer, fox, squirrel and a few small birds. Our narrow trail rejoined the main trail, and we were again able to walk abreast for easier conversations. We reached the trailhead warm and energized. All agreed that this had been a perfect three-plus mile hike for a cold but sunny winter’s day.

The Wednesday long hike report by Marvin Herman: Freshly returned from three weeks of summer, my fragile system is shocked by the bone-chilling cold. All hikers at the meeting place have ice grippers affixed to their boots. The air temperature is around 15 degrees and the clouds are mostly preventing the sun from peeking through.

The 13 long-hikers are heading to Emma Carlin Trails to hike the bike trails. When we arrive at the parking area, the bike trails are indicated as “open” and we will therefore hike against bike traffic. The leaders gather around the map and decide that the orange trail, posted at 4.9 miles, will be a good starting plan. The woods shelter us against the wind as we begin our adventure. The trail surface at the start is nice and flat and the undulating hills cause our hearts to beat a bit quickly and our hands, feet and faces to start warming up. But soon we come to a place where the trail is pocked with boot-caused depressions that are frozen solid. It seems that this trail was hiked during a warmer, wet period followed by a subsequent quick freeze. To navigate the trail in this condition without twisting an ankle, it is wise to look to see where you step in order to find a flat space for your foot.

There are no stops until we reach the overlook, about two miles out. There, we drink water and sample refreshments. As we start hiking again, the trail continues to be in rough shape for a mile or so but soon it improves and I can look down across the kettles at the snowscape.

The hikers are tiring. We reach an area of switchbacks that does not seem to bring us closer to trails’ end, and then suddenly the parking area can be seen from the trail. When we reach it, the consensus distance is 5.5 miles, but some have clocked closer to six miles through rough trail. It feels like more.

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