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Thursday, 10 January 2019 09:21

Well-prepared hikers navigate icy trails, appreciate winter scenery

Written by  Ice Age Trail Alliance Helwig's Hikes
Jerry Gilson of Mukwonago puts on his ice cleats before a hike. Jerry Gilson of Mukwonago puts on his ice cleats before a hike. Photo by Ellen Davis
The Tuesday hike report by Jake Gerlach: There were two New Year’s hikes on this Tuesday. One was a hike at 1 p.m. at Natureland Park. I did not make that hike as we had company at home. I did manage to get to the regular 4 p.m. hike. There were three of us ready to go around Lake La Grange, including first-time hiker, Chris. Chris is still employed but he had read about our hikes in the paper and since he had the day off, decided to join us. Chris is a good hiker.
Earlier in the day I had walked near home and the sidewalk was ice covered and slick. It was necessary to use the penguin walk to keep from falling. When we started the hike around Lake La Grange the trail had snow, not ice. The footing was fine and we walked at a normal pace. The snow on the brush and trees give a walk a completely different feel. I did use my hiking poles going around the turns on the hill. Our time for going around the lake had only slowed by four minutes because of the snow.

The Wednesday short hike report by Ellen Davis: It was “snowing” lightly when I left home this morning — tiny hard pellets of ice, piled about an eighth of an inch deep, coated the walkway and my car. Conditions at the U.S. Highway 12 parking area were somewhat better — no falling ice pellets, but a light layer of snow on the ground covering quite a bit of ice.

Almost all of our experienced hikers had come prepared with various kinds of ice cleats, having learned that the weather at home is not a good indicator of what to expect on the trail. One of our newer hikers was convinced by Jerry G. to try a pair of his, and she soon noted the more secure footing and better traction that the cleats provided. Finally our group of 10 safely crossed the highway and started up the first steep, narrow, rocky, icy section of the Ice Age Trail.

Almost immediately one hiker was having difficulties with the ice on the trail. (This section of trail is popular, and the more people that hike it, the more icy it becomes.) He took it slowly and carefully, but slipped and fell at a steep downhill passage a few minutes later. Not hurt but discouraged, he decided to go back. A few minutes later Don B. decided to backtrack to make sure that our fallen hiker had made it back safely.

The woods were starkly beautiful in the snow — the ridges and valleys well defined, the topography accentuated by the dark, bare trees. Most of our attention was downward and on the trail just ahead, but the vista around us could not be ignored. As we climbed the hill toward the power lines, Don B. appeared in the distance behind us. He reached us a few minutes later and reported that our fallen hiker had reached his car safely and all was well. We went on through the pines to Esterly Road, noting the new gate and signage as we took a short break, then began the trek back — this time on the horse trail.
Wider and less-traveled, the horse trail was a pleasure to hike. We could spend more time admiring the landscape around us and walk side-by-side for easier conversations. Details were more apparent now. We noted the contrast of snow on lichen-covered trees and oddly shaped rocks, large galls on a stand of wild cherry trees, woodpecker holes in dead trees and bent dried grasses rimmed with frost. After we crossed the highway, we removed our ice cleats and went our separate ways — some to lunch, some back home and one to work. We had hiked an enjoyable three and a half miles.

The Wednesday long hike report by Marvin Herman: The skies above were grim and gray but nothing like that was going on down below at the U.S. 12 meeting place as the hikers gathered in colorful attire for their first regular Wednesday long hike of the new year. The bright shades of our parkas contrasted with the background of frosty trees that lined the parking area. The white stuff continued to fall lightly throughout the morning. Since the temperatures were below freezing, there was a fair chance that we might encounter ice on the trails today, so at least half the group wore some type of ice gripping-gear on their boots.

Today’s hike, scouted earlier by Ron, began at the Rice Lake parking area and involved a nearly three-mile walk over the Nature Trail and the IAT, up the big hill to the overlook and on to Esterly Road. Once at Esterly Road we took a refreshment break.

Now the first adventure of the new year began in earnest. Most of the group had never hiked the horse trail/snowmobile trail heading south toward Rice Lake. The hike led us on a nice loop alongside farm fields and then into a forest of white pine showing signs of having been recently cleansed of invasive foliage. Soon, we were back on the IAT for a short stint and finally onto a spur that took us back to our vehicles. Our total distance covered at least six miles.

All of the hikers really enjoyed this day’s activity, which provided strenuous walking at the beginning and then a chance to avert our eyes from the trail and enjoy the beauty of the fields and forest. Most of the hikers regrouped for lunch at the La Grange General Store.

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