Tuesday, September 3, 2013

IAT: Harrison Hills Segment + Lookout Mountain

Since my trail assistant recently injured her knee and isn't available to help out, Charlie and I are limited to how far we can hike on these segments, needing to leave enough energy to back-track to where we've parked. Typically on longer segments, we'd get dropped off at one end and picked up at the other, allowing us to hike further. With that in mind, I chose to hike a small section of the Harrison Hills Segment from County Hwy B to Lookout Mountain (the Ice Age Trail's highest point), a total of about 3 miles roundtrip.

A boisterous group of hikers began this segment at the same time as Charlie and I did, although we quickly walked ahead of them so Charlie wouldn't be too distracted. I typically prefer solo-hiking and the peace and quiet that comes with that, so we kept a brisk pace to put as much distance between our groups as possible.

The terrain climbed steeply as we ascended to the top of the moraine. I was in too much of a hurry to escape the constant chatter of the other group and had to remind myself to be careful not to trip or twist my ankle on the smattering of rocks covering the trail. While beautiful, they can be dangerous! The signature marks of the Ice Age can be seen easily on this part of the segment as we walked along the ridge on top of the moraine looking down at hills, valleys and rocks scattered across the landscape. A few ATV trails intersect the IAT but the trail markers were easy to follow and we only found one tree with a yellow blaze that was blown down in a recent storm, which we'll report to the local chapter.

We arrived at Lookout Mountain tired and sweaty despite cloudy skies and cool 55 degree temps; climbing up and down the hills and ridges was quite a workout! It was immediately clear to me that Charlie would definitely not be able to climb this tower, as she had recently at Timm's Hill, since the railings were open. The other group caught up to us as we approached the tower and began to climb the stairs so Charlie and I took a break on the ground and played some fetch with a tiny piece of wood. A girl from the group stayed with us to chat and play with Charlie since she was afraid of heights and was kind enough to take a photo of us, although the view from the base of the tower wasn't much to look at.

Charlie was too distracted with her stick to sit still.

The IAT Companion Guide notes that the view from this point is marred by numerous buildings and towers, which is true, but what it doesn't tell you is the amount of noise droning from the buildings' air conditioning units and buzzing from the towers. There was nothing scenic or peaceful about this location. I suppose if I'd climbed the tower, the views of the Antigo Flats and kettle lakes would have been something to see, but I decided to get a head start on returning to the trail so we could put some distance between the other hiking group again since they would be headed back in the same direction as us.

The recent rainfall and week of hot, humid temperatures has brought the flora to life in these woods. Fungi of every type were growing on rotted tree stumps and along the moist debris of the forest floor. Ferns and other foliage were bright green and laced with drops of rain, dripping to the damp earth below. Everything smelled earthy and green.

We were able to enjoy a more leisurely pace on the way back and I took advantage of stopping for pictures more often. Charlie cooperated with these frequent breaks since she was well-exercised by now!

The trail was just as challenging on the way back since the hike to Lookout Mountain isn't a single ascent, but rather a series of ups and downs.

Charlie watching a deer in the valley.

Because it was quiet on the return hike, wildlife was more prevalent. The sound of birds and squirrels chattering and chirping surrounded us and we even saw a deer as it bounded off into a valley, leaping over logs with its white tail waving good-bye.

I would have loved to hike further and check out the beautiful kettle lakes along the trail, reported to contain beavers, but hiking with a dog has its challenges and can be limiting at times. No matter though, I love being out there with her and wouldn't trade it for anything!

We saw some beautiful landscape today and enjoyed a *somewhat* quiet hike in the woods. Charlie met the other group of hikers where we socialized back at the parking lot and played a game of fetch with her tennis ball. Everyone was enamored of her and were in awe of her athleticism. I was outwardly glowing from the exercise but also inwardly glowing with pride for this awesome dog that I'm so lucky to share my life with.