Monday, September 9, 2013

Ice Age Trail to Dog Lake

Sunday was an awesome day for a hike! But then again, when isn't it? We headed north on Hwy 17 again this weekend for a solo-hike on the Underdown Segment of the Ice Age Trail where I wanted to go as far as Dog Lake and then backtrack to the car, approximately 6 miles in total.

We started out at 10:30 a.m. at the Copper Lake Ave. entrance and parked on the edge of an ATV trail across the street. The sun was beginning to crest the trees and was slowly drying the dewy grass. It was a cool 62 degrees and I was worried that I hadn't dressed warm enough, although after we got going and worked up a little sweat, I was fine.

Within the first quarter-mile, we came across several piles of what I assume was bear poop that consisted of mostly berries, and it was obvious where they came from - the blackberry bushes were filled with dark, ripe berries that were hanging over the path. Charlie was careful to avoid the thorny branches, but I ended up with a few scratches on my shins and wished I had worn long pants.

The terrain went up and down like a roller coaster giving us a healthy workout. I loved the narrow, rocky trail that wound along the tops of the ridges with sloping views of the valleys and forest below. The slight morning breeze grew stronger causing the branches in the canopy to rub together. I had to pause occasionally to make sure the spooky noises weren't actually wild animals!

We came across sporadic swampy areas containing the peat bogs that were referenced in the IAT Companion Guide. Charlie pulled toward the swampy water but I kept us moving quickly past these areas so she wouldn't be tempted to jump in. Yuck!

At one of the higher points on the trail, there was a momentary view of distant hills and a strong breeze to help cool the sweat on my forehead. I paused to take in the view and catch my breath while Charlie nibbled grass, waiting to continue on.

We came upon a Leopold bench on one of the ridges but weren't ready to take a break. I sometimes wonder at the placement of these benches - often they are never where I wish they'd be.

The delicious wind swirled through the woods causing leaves and pine needles to rain down on us as I smiled wistfully at the changing season. Warmed patches of earth radiated heat as we hiked through open areas, while relief awaited us back in the shade of the woods. The alternating scenery kept us going at a quick pace, anxious to reach our destination where Charlie could go for a swim while I caught up on my trail notes.

We ended up off-trail twice but quickly realized that I hadn't seen a yellow blaze and traced our steps back to the trail. The yellow blazes are strategically placed so you always have a sense of where you are, which is very helpful since my mind drifts and daydreams on this trail so often. Don't second-guess yourself; if you haven't seen a yellow blaze in awhile - go back.

Finally we arrived at Dog Lake and Charlie was elated to be let off leash for a swim and a game of fetch. I sat down on a tree root to write while Charlie played with sticks in the water. I wondered again, why there are never Leopold benches when you need one! This would have been the perfect spot.

Shortly, we had visitors:  an older couple that had arrived at the trail head just after us. We chatted for a moment as Charlie persuaded them to throw her stick and I learned they were also segment-hikers. It's always nice to meet other people who have committed to hiking this treasure of a trail.

A dog swimming in Dog Lake - so perfect!

I'm glad we made it all the way there and even though we were both tired and sore, it was an awesome hike! I even took a break on that Leopold bench during the walk back when I needed to catch my breath. The ascent up the hill had been a long one and I was already tired; turns out that bench wasn't in such a bad spot after all!

I also remembered to watch for the old Homestead Site near Loop Rd. mentioned on the map. When I came across a pile of rocks, at first I thought it was an erratic but upon closer inspection, I saw an old milking pail amidst the stones and weeds. Perhaps these stones were actually part of the foundation? So much history to soak up for the day!

Rusted milking pail?

The old homestead site's foundation?

We had a magical hike along a must-see section of the Ice Age Trail full of challenging but beautiful terrain. The weather was perfect, the mosquitoes were persistent but not horrible and we were able to observe several distinct features of the Ice Age. This was a Sunday afternoon well-spent - observing and appreciating Mother Nature.