On a warm(ish) winter Sunday, I finally got my butt back out on the trail. Thankfully had 4 wonderful companions, one of whom was an energetic little dog.
I guided my companions out west of Milwaukee, to the Emma Carlin trails, which, during the summer months, are flooded with mountain bikers. We only saw one fat-tire biker heading into the hills at the trailhead, didn't see anyone else the rest of the time.
It was great to see this little spot without the trees, the views peeked as the mountain biking trails took us up and down ridges.
We walked the Emma Carlin trails for about 3 miles, then cut cross country (hooray, off trail!) and linked up with the Ice Age trail, hiking a mile or so of trail I'd hiked this summer.
Watching Artie (the dog) rushing around between our group, making sure none of us got too separated was a good time. He'd tear off through the brush, spot one of us, then rush back to the rest of the group to let us know everything was okay.
All in all, it was a good, relaxing day.... a short hike that really satisfied my need to wander.
I awoke a few times during the night, the wind really kicked up and I was cowboy camping, so I didn't have a wind break. I slept better than the previous 3 nights, however.
I was up and walking before dawn came (although I suspect the sun was up on the other side of Isberg Pass already) and I wandered cross country until I found the trail leading up to Isberg Pass.
The walk up was much less strenuous than the previous day (it was also only about 800 feet, and not 1500), and the pass itself was broad and beautiful.
As I wandered the pass, I remembered that Rocky had told me I'd get a solid cell signal up at the pass. And figured I would give my parents a call and let them know I was okay.
My mom answered and I gushed for about 5 minutes about the spot I'd camped at the night before and how good my body was feeling. I'd been extremely worried that my legs were going to fail me, but my daily routine of walking the miles, resting often and going up the passes early in the morning had made my travels amazing thus far.
Somewhere on the pass, I left Yosemite and entered Ansel Adams wilderness.
After hanging up with my very happy mother, I sat and ate my breakfast, looking east from the pass. Just as I was finishing up, Aaron and Krystle came wandering up. I am pretty sure I made Krystle's day by offering her some of my shelf-stable bacon, and as I stood to wander down, they followed me.
Heading downhill, my legs felt great, my feet felt great. I was ready for a long day.
About 2/3 of the way down, I stopped to have another small snack, and bid Aaron and Krystle farewell... wondering if our paths would cross again.
At some point, I passed Aaron and Krystle and then decided to camel up at a water source that was definitely the sketchiest I'd drank from on my trip so far.
I ran into a couple guys who'd hiked from Red's Meadow about 8 miles into my day, and they gave me a water report (which from their telling, freaked me out, simply because it was blatantly inaccurate).
They told me that it was dry from the place I planned to stop midday until Hemlock Crossing (about 10 miles) and that it was dry beyond Hemlock Crossing for about 12 miles. This meant I'd have to carry a LOT of water to prevent dehydration. Probably a full 6L, because I'm paranoid like that.
I soldiered on, and kept putting on the miles, resting when I got tired, and walking when I wasn't. I knew this was going to be a long day and I was prepared for the challenge.
About 2 miles from Hemlock crossing, I got to a stream that was flowing amazingly well, (bad water report #1) and decided to push on, despite the rumble in the back of my mind that that was a great spot to camp.
It was only about 2 more miles, and it was downhill... how bad could it be?
Well, it was awful. My legs were tired, the trail was poor (at best) and it was mostly loose talus and it took me forever to walk that two miles.
Every step was slow, cautious and strenuous.
By the time I got to the valley, the sun was hidden behind the ridges and it was getting dark fast. I barely had time to get water, set up my tent before it was pitch black where we were.
I'd made it to my goal, but I had a horrible blister from walking down that talus on the outside of my left heel.
The next morning, I'd realize that that blister was caused by the insulation from the inside lining of my shoe 'exploding' and leaking over the course of the day. (The spot inside my foot, between the laces & my heel).
All in all, it was a beautiful day of hiking, but I pushed too far, too hard, and should've listened to my internal clock and stopped at that first opportunity.
With this amazing Wisconsin weather (for December), I decided to get outside and wander today. My friend Amy decided to join and the two of us had an amazing little 4ish mile wander into the woods near Holy Hill.
As we wandered through the Holy Hill area, we climbed up on one of the blue-blaze side trails to the "Glacial Errata" This trial took us high up onto a moraine and gave some outstanding views. It's one of my favorite sections of the Ice Age Trail as a result.
We wandered through the woods and had a wonderful time just being outdoors in the beautiful weather. As we wandered down from the high point of the hike, the trail became very smooth and just wandered through the trees. It was the first time I'd hiked this section without leaves covering everything up and it allowed for some spectacular views.
On the walk back, we took the Yellow Blazes and wandered by a small frozen pool of water... I was a bit surprised that anything was iced over. Clearly it was colder there than it was in Milwaukee the last couple days!
All in all, the time outside was needed. I didn't really realize it until I was out there. A couple quiet and beautiful hours spent outdoors.
Shouldering my pack I said a brief goodbye to the three people who were sitting atop the pass with me, and began my downhill wandering, calling back up to them, "Downhill is so much easier!" as my pace picked up and I was cruising down towards the tarns on the northeast side of Red Peak Pass.
My legs felt great, my lungs felt great and after an hour or so of walking, (as the sun started to really heat up) I sat down behind a big boulder next to a tarn and filtered some water and had a snack. As I sat there relaxing, Krystle and Aaron cruised past me with a brief hello. I'd see the two of them over and over for the next few days.
After my brief water break, I tossed my pack back on and continued on downhill. It was a great day to walk, and I was cruising. As I wandered the switchbacks, getting lower and lower, the valley really opened up in front of me. I flew downhill, and was cruising. My lungs felt great and I found my groove, my perfect pace -- where I was going quick, but not exerting myself so much that I had to stop every 2 minutes to catch my breath.
It was absolutely gorgeous that day, but as it began to heat up a bit, I knew I had a (relatively) long dry stretch coming up, so I stopped for another snack and to refill my water by a gorgeous lake.
After lunch, I kept descending, and ended up fully back in the forest. Knowing my goal was to get up and over Isberg pass, I kept pushing on.
Suddenly, while wandering down a long straight stretch of trail, I saw a beautiful buck, about 200 yards away, running towards me. I stopped, fumbled to get my phone out and watched it in silence. It kept coming closer, and closer... finally when it was about 20 yards away, still charging full tilt towards me, I yelled out, "HEY DEER". It immediately froze and then wandered off into the woods.
As I continued down the path, I went to peek at the deer, and he turned back to look at me... I managed to snap a fairly awesome picture (if I do say so myself).
I kept plowing forward, and shortly after a break by the Triple Peak Fork of the Merced river, I started to climb the switchbacks towards Isberg Pass. My body still felt great as I wandered up, and I came to the tarns below the pass, there was still plenty of daylight and almost no clouds... and I briefly considered continuing with my plan of making it over the pass that evening.... but just looking around, I knew I'd found my campsite for the night.
As I was relaxing, before I'd picked set up to camp, I ran into a gentleman named Rocky. He came walking over as I was taking in the views, just relaxing for a few minutes and we chatted for about 45 minutes.
He was on his way on a 5 day trip, wandering all over Yosemite, and he'd swapped keys with his brother, halfway while they were walking to one another's cars.
He knew the mountains the same way I knew Milwaukee. The peaks, the passes, everything. I wish I knew an area of the outdoors as well as he knew that area of Yosemite.
I ended up not even setting up my tent. Simply tossed down my sleeping mat and slept under the stars (bundled in my sleeping bag with a hat on, as it got cold that night!).
That day of walking was probably the most beautiful I'd ever experienced, and as the sun began to set it only became more spectacular.
It's tough to describe the way the 360 degrees of mountains and the blazing sunset made me feel, but even after 3 days and 35 miles and about 9,000 feet of elevation gain, I felt solitude, I felt at peace, I felt amazing.
My only regret is that I didn't snap pictures when I woke up in the middle of the night, the stars were simply incredible.
Spent Sunday morning/early afternoon wandering the ~7 mile segment from the Emma Carlin trailhead to Bald Bluff with my buddy Rick.
It couldn't have been a more perfect day to hike, upper 50's and a crisp, beautiful blue sky, and I was hiking a completely new segment of the Ice Age Trail for me.
While most of the trees were still mostly green, the Ash (I think) were a stunning golden.
We kept walking, up hills, down valleys, spotting a neat little pond, completely green with algae.
It was such a bright day, even being beneath the trees, everything was bright. It was a difficult thing to capture in pictures, but it was almost as though the woods were dancing with the sunshine.
Every time the breeze blew, the shadows seemed to disappear and the sun peeked through even farther. It was clear to me, I needed this day to wander... and even though my calf started bugging me midway through the hike, it felt so good to be outside.
We came upon a knife-like ridge as we wandered up, a really cool feature you don't see much in Wisconsin, and the trail wandered along it for a couple hundred yards. Looked like a lot of trail work had been done there, and it was a really cool little stretch of trail.
Of course, right after this stretch, there was another amazing golden Ash tree, and I couldn't help but snap a few pictures of it.
As we passed the halfway point, and the horse campground, we came upon the world famous Stone Elephant -- although I have no idea how it got that name, and I doubt it's world famous.
After searching a bit online, hoping to figure out the origin of the name (no luck on that, but it apparently used to be an important spot for the Potowotomi Indians), I will say it's amazing how different the spot looked than even 5 years ago, the amount of undergrowth is crazy.
We continued walking enjoying the scenery, and finally slowly began to climb up a long stretch of trail. Suddenly popping out from the woods and finding ourselves on Bald Bluff, with a very pretty view to the Southwest.
Kid A is an avid hiker, backpacker and outdoors enthusiast located in Milwaukee