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Hikers encounter ice, mud, sand and even geese on the trails

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Russ Helwig | April 2, 2014

With temperatures in the twenties and a stiff wind five of us hike around Lake LaGrange last Tuesday. We used ice gripping foot gear which was helpful as a good share of the trail still was icy with a dusting of fresh snow from the night before. The trail was bare where the sun hit.

There were a couple geese at the edge of the ice near the spring hole at the south end of the lake  They seemed as curious about us as we were of them.

Twenty six of us met for the walk last Wednesday. I chose to join the short walk this day and am appreciative of Ellen, who volunteered to put her spin on our adventure:

Since all of the short hike participants were well equipped for any eventuality today, Jake's proposed hike at Bald Bluff was met with enthusiasm. We car-pooled to the trailhead, put on our ice cleats, grabbed our poles, and started up the hill. The rocky trail was almost clear of ice; at this hour the surface was still solid, though it would soften up considerably later in the day as the temperature rose.

At the first intersection we took the Ice Age Trail south around the base of the bluff. Trail crew volunteers had been working there over the weekend, and Andy pointed out the areas where downed trees had been removed. The trail here in the woods was frozen mud studded with islands – and sometimes whole continents – of ice. So far, this was not a problem for our intrepid bunch....

We crossed Young Road and entered the oak savannah. Soon we found ourselves on a very narrow trail cut into the side of a very steep north-facing slope. And it was covered with several inches of lumpy ice – a fall here could have serious consequences. Moving very carefully, one short step at a time, choosing our footing with care, we succeeded in traversing this area with no mishaps. A few minutes later, at the summit of the next ridge, we found ourselves walking through sticky mud.

As we  re-grouped at the intersection with the snowmobile trail, Andy noted that the large wooden trail map sign was lying in the snow, snapped off at the base, and he started making plans to repair it. We took that trail to the left; the width of the snowmobile trail and its gravel base allowed us a better choice of footing, and we were now able to increase our pace. 

The trail turned to sand as we left the woods for a sunny section of prairie. Don Howell caught up to me to ask if I had lost one of my ice cleats. I looked down – and found that I was wearing only one.  It had been found by Meg McCormick and Russ at the rear of the group. Thank goodness!

At the next intersection, some of the faster hikers elected to go on ahead while the rest of us waited for those still behind us. The climb up the very long steep slope at the rear of Bald Bluff was – surprisingly – uneventful. The view from the top showed very little snow remaining. As we rested, the conversation centered on Chief Blackhawk and the historic Indian encampments formerly at the base of the bluff. 

And then – a cell phone was found. The battery was charged. One of the hikers who had gone ahead had been taking pictures with his phone. Hmmmm.  We finished our hike and went to lunch, giving the phone to Russ to contact the suspected cell phone owner. It was indeed his phone and plans were made for its return. In less than two hours, we had experienced ice, frozen mud, slippery mud, sand, prairie, little, big, and huge hills, two lost items found and returned to their owners – all on a beautiful windy but sunny day just right for a hike.

In the meantime Norwin Watson led the long walk at the Nordic trails. Thirteen adventurers walked counterclockwise around a five mile loop on a combination of the white and orange trails.

All enjoyed the walk, although most of the trail was ice packed and ice gripper footwear was a necessity. I would not recommend hiking there without good ice grippers until the ice melts and these trails stay icy much longer than other trail due to packing of snow by the trail groomers.

Afterwards the group joined the rest of us for lunch at Backyard Bikes and LaGrange General Store.

Happy Trekking,

Russ




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