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Thursday, 01 November 2018 10:46

Great turn-out on a beautiful fall morning

Written by  Ice Age Trail Alliance Helwig's Hikes
Hike leader Jake Gerlach of Whitewater admires the view from Big Hill on the McMiller Ski Trails. Hike leader Jake Gerlach of Whitewater admires the view from Big Hill on the McMiller Ski Trails. Submitted photo by Ellen Davis
The Tuesday Hike report by Jake Gerlach: On a fantastic fall evening 11 hikers showed up, including first-time hiker Jamie. This evening we drove to the Bald Bluff parking lot and proceeded to climb to the top of the bluff. After everyone had a brief period to regain normal breathing, we headed down the back side of the bluff.

At one point in the woods I noticed one maple tree with red leaves. The other trees were either green or missing their leaves. After many twists and turns we came to the horse/snowmobile trail. We turned right on the horse trail. I heard a lot of comments about the leaves crunching underfoot and the smell of the leaves. When we got to Young Road we took a break. Then it was on across the road and more horse trail. Eventually the trail turns up another hill. Thankfully, when we get to the top, I know it is the last big climb of the hike.

At Confusion Point we turn right on the Ice Age Trail and head back for the parking lot and our cars. This was a little longer than our normal hikes and definitely more strenuous. Still, everyone seemed to enjoy it and being with nature in the big outdoors.

The Wednesday short hike report by Ellen Davis: It was a glorious cool, sunny fall day, and a larger-than-usual number of hikers turned out for our Wednesday hikes. Fourteen elected the short hike, including firefighter Pam and Sandy and Frank, who had been otherwise occupied over the summer. It was good to see them again – especially on the day of the long-awaited Big Hill hike on the McMiller Ski Trails.

We arrived at the Emma Carlin parking lot in good shape. The mood was almost festive as we hiked along County Highway Z a short distance to the access road to the Stute Springs Homestead. Jake soon led us off-road, across a muddy place, onto the ski trail and up and down a large hill. We went up another large hill, which turned out to be an esker. We hiked along the ridge of the esker for quite a while, viewing the Stute Springs buildings far below on one side and a deep ravine on the other.

Eventually we found ourselves coming out of the hills and approaching a meadow with mowed trails. There was a trail sign at the far side for Big Hill. That’s what we wanted. Almost immediately the trail went steeply upward. That was followed by about a hundred feet with little elevation change, then another steep slope. This pattern repeated until the final long surge to reach the top. The first sight to greet us was four of our hikers (with two dogs) occupying the bench. A sharp turn to the right revealed the land below in all its glory. It was worth it. This was not a colorful fall, but the vista was a contrast of green and yellow leaves, cloud-shadows over golden prairies and dark evergreens, rimmed by glacier-formed hills. We took a break to rehydrate and admire the panorama below us.

The hike back down was more gingerly done, as there is a greater risk of slipping on a downward slope. We reached the trail junction safely to discover the same four hikers (with two dogs) sitting on a fallen tree, though in slightly different positions. Now back on a ski trail, our path led us away from the meadow and deeper into the woods. The fall colors — what was left of them — were muted, with the exception of the occasional bright yellow maple. Hot from our exertions on Big Hill, most of the group unzipped jackets or removed a layer. The trail was wide and conversations flowed easily.

At last we came to an area that a few of us recognized. We had completed a large loop and were now headed back, stopping at Stute Springs for another short break and a look at the springhouse. The hike down the old farm road to County Z and our vehicles was a good cool-down — and a return to everyday life. It was agreed that this was one of our best hikes ever, on a close-to-perfect fall day. We had hiked about 3.5 rather challenging miles. Most of the group went on to lunch, feasting on soups, sandwiches and wonderful desserts, trading stories, advice and information along with a lot of laughter.

The Wednesday long hike report by Marvin Herman: On a beautiful fall morning, 18 long-hikers regrouped at Nordic Ski Trails to begin this day’s adventure. Before we would finish for the day, the temperatures would soar to 50 degrees and hikers would shed their heavy jackets and sweaters.

The plan for today’s hike was to hike the first blue loop in reverse direction to that in which the skiers would go. When we got to the bike connector trail toward Emma Carlin Trails, we would cross Bluff Road and take the connector to Young Road. We accomplished this rather quickly as a group and only stopped to examine a frog. A caterpillar also was seen and she predicted a mild winter by our examination of her brown stripes. The connector trail is very narrow and it was often necessary to hobble along with one foot on the trail and the other off the trail about 6 inches higher. Also at trailside was desiccated Goldenrod which felt silky to the touch and red leaves on dormant raspberry bushes. These were only a couple of the withered flora that cast a dim pallor on the landscape as we tromped through.

At Young Road we partook of grapes and Goldfish crackers to replenish our energy for the return trip via the eastbound connector on which we hiked west. There was only one call for us to get off the trail for four cyclists, two having the fat tires, which are now familiar to us. We left the connector and got back on the blue ski trail and then completed about a 1-1/2 mile trip back to the parking area. I was at the end of the line of hikers and when I inquired as to the miles shown on various devices, I was told we had done seven miles. It didn’t seem that long of a hike to me but since there were not very many steep hills, I was feeling less tired at the end.

Most hikers met for lunch and reminiscences at La Grange General Store.

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