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Thursday, 07 February 2019 13:11

Hikers get a grip on slippery trails, enjoy the quiet winter woods

Written by  Ice Age Trail Alliance Helwig’s hikes
The Wednesday long-hikers compare ice cleats, which were a must for the slippery conditions of this week’s Ice Age Trail hikes. The Wednesday long-hikers compare ice cleats, which were a must for the slippery conditions of this week’s Ice Age Trail hikes. Andy Whitney photo
The Tuesday hike report by Jake Gerlach: This Tuesday was much warmer; the temperature was about 27 degrees, but a strong northeast wind made it feel colder. Five experienced hikers showed up and we all used ice cleats of some kind, which were necessary. In order to have the wind at our backs when we were in the open areas, we went around Lake La Grange in a counterclockwise direction.

Starting out on the snowmobile trail, walking was quite good with either packed snow or bare places. When we left the snowmobile trail, things were much more difficult. There had been foot traffic on the trails when the snow was just slush. That remaining slush was now rough ice. It did make walking difficult. When we finally got to the open areas the wind was at our back but the trail now varied from firm grass to mud and in any shady spot to ice and snow. The Ice Age Trail going up the hill was particularly difficult, with mostly the frozen slush ice all the way up. At least we were going up the steps instead of down.

When we finally crossed the snowmobile trail at the top of the hill, we saw two of our hikers, who had been trailing, waiting for us. They had walked up the hill on the snowmobile trail and said that that trail was in good shape. We arrived back at the parking lot at about 5:15 p.m. and there was still plenty of light.

The Wednesday short hike report by Ellen Davis: I was awakened very early this morning by the sound of a snowplow scraping at the icy surface of neighborhood roads. A couple of hours later I struggled to remove the layer of solid ice that coated the walkway and stairs — to no avail. Putting on my ice cleats and sprinkling sand on my path up the hill to my car worked well enough, at least temporarily. The ice scraper did nothing to the ice on the car windows. Starting the car and running the defroster finally softened it enough that it could finally be scraped off, leaving just enough extra time to drive cautiously to the hike.

Only one car was waiting in the un-plowed U.S. Highway 12 parking lot when I arrived, but it didn’t take long for others to appear. By 10:30 a.m., eight short-hikers — all equipped with ice cleats — appeared eager and ready for a challenging and icy hike on the snowmobile trails.

Jake led us up the hill toward the snowmobile parking area then back down onto the access road, heading toward Lake La Grange. This track had seen a lot of action during recent thaws, and footprints were several inches deep in some places, creating uneven surfaces striped with ridges of ice where snowmobiles had packed down the snow. It crunched as we walked.

We soon turned off onto a snowmobile trail leading into the hills. It was somewhat less traveled, making it easier to find a more even surface. The top layer of ice on the trail offered enough support that the lightest of us left no footprints and the heaviest left only an occasional indentation. All were thankful for ice cleats!

The woods were silent except for our crunching footsteps and quiet conversations. Very few animal footprints marked the snow. Jake led us onward on this trail and that, up and down the hills through a world utterly silent except for us.

Offered an option of ending the hike after 2.5 miles, we vetoed it in favor of completing the whole three miles. We returned to the trailhead at noon, having done our three miles in an hour and a half — an excellent time under the circumstances. Hiking under these icy conditions was a first for several in our group, but all said that they had enjoyed it and would definitely do it again. Still energized, seven of us regrouped for lunch at the La Grange Country Store with conversation over bowls of excellent homemade soup. This had been a very different — and enjoyable — Wednesday short hike.

The Wednesday long hike report by Barbara Roeder: “Hikers on Ice” was the theme for this week’s Ice Age Trail outing. Last night’s freezing rain left the trails with a sheet of ice covering the snow. Thirteen brave long-hikers geared up in various kinds of ice cleats headed off to the La Grange Lake trail behind the U.S. 12 kiosk.

The trail was slippery and would have been very treacherous without cleats. We all maneuvered cautiously down the steps and followed the rutted trail to Russ’ bench where we showed off the variety of cleats.

We continued on the trial and turned onto the Ice Age Trail away from the lake. It was a long, slow climb up that hill and turned out to be more than some bargained for. They took the first crossover to the snowmobile trail while the rest of us trudged on to the second crossover from the trail which had meandered in an easterly direction. It was easy going on the snowmobile trail which meandered in a westerly direction.

We ended up back at the parking lot all “stars on ice” as we all managed to stay vertical for the entire hike. The La Grange General Store was our destination after a five-mile adventure.

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