Sights, sounds of spring materializing on trails
Six adventurers showed up last Tuesday during a light rain for a walk around Lake LaGrange. We again chose this route because of its relatively heavy use making the trails packed for easier hiking. Hiking in slushy snow is not easy, and there were puddles half way up our boots. On the east end of the Ice Age Trail and the connector to the snowmobile trail made some of us wish we had worn our snowshoes. But the snowmobile trails had been better packed so hiking was easier again on the last part of the hike.
There were geese at the spring hole near Kangaroo Walk and many animal tracks in the settling snow.
On the way home I heard sandhill cranes for the first time this year. Other years when the weather warmed earlier we often have seen them in February.
Short walk by Ellen Davis:
The temperature was just below freezing as nine of us set out for a short three-mile hike around Lake La Grange. As we left the parking area, a new hiker pointed out a lone sandhill crane flying overhead – an indicator that perhaps spring really was finally on the way.
At the beginning, the snow was crystalline and crunchy; we anticipated an easy hike until we saw the wavy sheets of ice that covered the snowmobile trail. Even with ice cleats and hiking poles, the footing was potentially treacherous and we picked our way with care.
Once in the woods on the connector trail, our route became a lumpy terrain of frozen slush preserving the tracks of previous hikers. We tried walking on the snow beside the trail, but the crust was often too fragile to support weight and, once the crust was broken, the snow underneath was over a foot deep. Only Jake, leading the way on snowshoes, appeared not to be struggling.
Chickadees were practicing their spring songs in the bushes as we entered the prairie section on the Ice Age Trail. Though the trail was icy, the open vistas and bright sun renewed our flagging energy.
After a pause to admire the lake, we began the last half of our journey.
As we neared the Kangaroo Walk, we noted a variety of frozen tracks – rabbit, goose, canine, and a very large raccoon – as well as several muskrat houses in the marsh and more chickadees in the bushes. Green moss was visible here and there on trees and logs as we climbed the final hill. From the top, Jake pointed out two willow trees in the distance, their trailing branches bright yellow against the snow. Then back to the trailhead – and lunch at the La Grange General Store.
Bonnie Nommensen suggested that we hike in the Bald Bluff area as she and her husband Dave hike there regularly and the trails are much better than around Lake LaGrange and at least as good as the Muir trails. We took her advice and she was right. Starting out from the Bald Bluff Parking lot we took the connector trail to the Ice Age Trail on which we hiked over the bluff and to the Stone Elephant, a very large erratic (a large rock left by the glacier). From there we hiked to the snowmobile trail which we took back to County Highway H and back to our parking lot. This was a distance of four miles.
Most of us used our ice gripping footwear but those who did not had little trouble as there was snow alongside of the occasionally icy trail on which to walk. One person who was getting a little overconfident with his YakTrax did slip and fall one time but quickly got up and had no trouble finishing the walk. YakTrax work well but do slide some on smooth ice so one must always use caution.
These trail pass through the Oak Opening State Natural Area which has had most of its invasive underbrush removed so one can easily see the steep and varied terrain in the oak forest. It was a great hike.
We then met the others at the LaGrange General Store for soup and sandwiches.