Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ice Age Trail - Grandfather Falls, Part 2

I took my own advice and headed into the woods this weekend. I sat on a rock, listened to the wind in the tree branches along with the roar of the nearby falls, and let nature center my spirit. The terrain was all new to me since the last time I was here there was 2 feet of snow covering everything. Rocks, tree roots and leaf debris, combined with dampness from the recent snow-melt and rains made traversing the narrow trail difficult in some areas.

We quickly covered the previously hiked section of trail and were excited to explore the next section above the dam at Grandfather Falls. Having studied the map and trail description from the Ice Age Trail Companion Guide, I was better equipped with the knowledge of where to go. After reaching the dam and crossing the parking lot, I had a little trouble figuring out where the trail was, and then I spotted a narrow stone staircase.

We walked through a brief wooded area and out into the open fields of the hydroelectric plant. This area is immersed in history - all the way back to the Ice Age - and I paused to absorb it all. The logging industry has been a huge part of this landscape dating back to the late 1800's and it's also the site of the Wisconsin Conservation Corps Camp McCord from the 1930's. I was most looking forward to seeing the wood-banded pipelines that carry water down hundreds of yards from a man-made reservoir upriver. The Ice Age Trail Companion Guide describes the "fascinating tubular fountain effect" made by hundreds of small leaks occurring at knotholes in the wood. Amazingly, wood was used for these pipelines because it doesn't corrode or rot under the constant water pressure. I was completely in awe; these tubes were MUCH larger than I had imagined! 

Next up were the 1.8-billion-year-old boulders at Grandfather Falls. If you sit on one of these rocks and think about how old it is, you really begin to appreciate the grandness around you. And also how "small" your lifetime is in comparison. It's a humbling experience.

The trail became quite challenging from this point on. Tree roots wove themselves around the rocks and at times, the rocks and boulders took over the trail so much that I needed to find the yellow rectangles on trees to make sure I was still on the trail.

The trail is beautiful and very remote. I felt like I was the only one out there, although I did pass fisherman along the shore a few times. It's difficult to hear much of anything except the falls roaring alongside the trail. We experienced just about every type of weather on this day and I was grateful to be wearing my winter coat and earmuffs. One minute there would be smurf-blue skies with fluffy white clouds, then with no warning the skies would turn steel-gray with 40 mile-per-hour wind gusts. There would be sunshine one minute, and then it would start snowing. All I can say is, welcome to Wisconsin! And be prepared for any weather conditions on the trail.

The landscape and rock formations are truly magical. I wanted to continue on, but Charlie was showing signs of crabbiness due to being overly tired, so we headed back. I'm looking forward to hiking this trail and the next segment, Turtle Rock Segment, without my dog along. While I know the exercise and fresh air are good for her, I don't get to fully relax when I'm worried about bear and wolves attacking her. Plus, she nearly scared the shit out of me when she got too close to the falls where I thought she might decide to go for a swim. Next time will be just for me.

Amazingly, on our way back, we ran into the same man that we met the first time we hiked the trail back in February. I told him I'd taken his advice and hiked up past the dam where he had told me the landscape was just beautiful. He had hoped that the spring wildflowers would be in bloom this weekend, as they have been on past Mother's Day weekends, but the late winter has delayed them. He recommended coming back in a couple of weeks to see the flowers. I'm pretty sure I will.