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Thursday, 21 December 2017 10:38

Brisk pace, warm layers help hikers enjoy winterlike days

Written by  Ice Age Trail Alliance Helwig’s hikes

The Tuesday hike report by Jake Gerlach: On a cold December evening four veteran hikers showed up for our hike. As usual on these days of early sunsets, we just went around Lake LaGrange. 

There was about a half inch of snow on the trail, but hiking boots with good tread was all that was needed to walk at a normal pace. The 20-degree weather meant that we walked at a brisk pace to keep warm. The lake was mostly covered with ice but we still were surprised to see ice fishermen on the north end of the lake.

When we got on the connector trail there was still a large tree down across the trail. The tree also was pushing over a sapling that we had to duck under. The other tree we saw last week had been mostly cut and cleared although there was a section on the edge of the trail. When we entered the parking lot I had to turn on my headlamp to read my watch. It was 5 p.m., so it had taken us just one hour to hike the circuit.

The Wednesday short hike report by Ellen Davis: Jake and I had the same idea for today's short hike — a scenic loop beginning and ending at the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest Headquarters on Wisconsin Highway 59, between Palmyra and Eagle. This would provide an opportunity for the hikers to purchase 2018 state park stickers and see what else this destination offered.

We set off in single file following the trail along the base of a large esker. There was a thin, patchy layer of snow. The trail then took us upward to the ridge of the esker; we paused briefly at the shelter to admire a long-range view of the prairie. The land dropped away sharply on either side of the trail as we hiked along the ridge; twisted and broken oaks told a tale of strong winds. The path down was rocky and steep.

We cut across a meadow to find ourselves on one of the hilly McMiller ski trails, which took us through more scenic woods to the historic Stute Springs Homestead. We were warm after the woods and the hills and did not tarry in the breezy, open expanse of the homestead property. The old farm road beckoned, and we found ourselves once more in the woods on our way to County Road Z. Since there was no vehicular traffic present, our group took over the southbound lane on our way to the Emma Carlin trailhead. There we picked up the connector trail to reach the Ice Age Trail, which we would follow back to forest headquarters.

On the east side of the road, the trail was a lumpy track of bootprints in frozen mud. A vista opened out as we entered the prairie; still brushy on the right, the wide expanse on the left had been mowed, revealing gently rolling terrain. The trail climbed ever higher through tall golden grasses and clusters of white-barked aspens stood out starkly against the forest backdrop.

One last stretch of wooded hills took us back to forest headquarters. About half the group ended up at the La Grange Country Store for lunch and conversation and agreed that this had been an exceptionally nice hike on a not-so-nice cold and windy day.

The Wednesday long hike report by Marvin Herman: In temperatures below freezing, hikers are advised to wear warm clothes in layers. Eleven long hikers presented themselves properly dressed for vigorous walking. Those with stinging fingertips will find they are warmed up after about 20 minutes on the Ice Age Trail.

In a move calculated to keep us out of the wind, leader Andy suggested a walk on the Whitewater Lake segment right across U.S. Highway 12. The trail immediately climbs steeply and was covered in a light blanket of snow with icy patches. During the hike, light snow began to fall, but it didn’t accumulate.

The pace of the hike was near 20-minute miles. Our plan was to take the IAT to the top of the hill overlooking Rice and Whitewater lakes and to return on the horse trail starting from County Highway P. When we reached Norwin’s Rock, we paused for a moment to remember our departed friend. As we crossed County P, I was amazed to see how the Department of Natural Resources had cleaned out most of the invasive vegetation so we could see through the woods.

On the way down the hill, one hiker toppled over after slipping on an icy step but jumped back up uninjured. I found that my hiking sticks helped with balance.

When we returned to the parking area, the consensus was that we had gone 7 1/2 miles and that it was time for lunch.

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