Ice Age Trail – Solo Hiking and Camping

Segment Hiking Ice Age Trail Day 1

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to head up to the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit in Wisconsin for some solo segment hiking on the Ice Age Trail and winter camping at Ottawa Lake Campground (where we’ve been several time for The North Face Endurance Challenge Series trail races).

Day 1 was cold, overcast, but otherwise problem-free. Since I was solo hiking, I knew that each segment had to be hiked twice, out and back, so that I could get back to the car. The first segment I chose was the Stoney Ridge segment, since I could park at the Forest Service Headquarters, get information and water, and not be too far from the car. This was a segment featuring wide open spaces, for the most part, so the hiking wasn’t too strenuous. After finishing the two out and backs (I parked roughly in the middle of the segment), it was time to head to the next segment.

What a different experience the Blue Spring Lake segment was, starting off immediately into an uphill with panoramic views, then staying within forest the entire time. I stopped off to check out the Stone Elephant – for the life of me I couldn’t see it as elephantine, so the natives who revered it must have had better imaginations than I do. This was a hilly and rocky trail, so, with the afternoon coming to an end, I decided to head over to the campground, get set up and have dinner, then see how I felt. I completed only half of this segment, so I’ll have to come back to finish the other half in the future sometime.

Winter camping - Ottawa Lake

No problems setting up the tent, though I realized I had forgotten a pillow – not  a big deal, as I stuffed my jacket into the sleeping bag sack, not luxurious, but usable. A bigger deal was that the camp stove I had brought was not compatible with the gas canisters I had – could have been a huge deal if I was in true backcountry, but I hied myself to the nearest brewpub about 20 minutes away, and enjoyed a tasty burger and craft beer flight in a warm restaurant. Kind of disappointing in that I had a bunch of camp food I wanted to test out, but there’s always next time.
One thing I was especially excited about was testing out our new Mr Heater – made especially for situations like winter camping, this was so hot in my little tent (even on low), that I turned it off for sleeping. It was really nice to lounge around on top of the covers reading a book. The next morning, I turned the heater back on and was toasty warm when it was time to get out and about. Definitely a great addition to our winter car camping gear.

Segment Hiking Ice Age Trail Day 2

No stove meant I had to find something to eat for breakfast, so a stop at the local diner was in order – can’t remember the last time I had chicken fried steak, but it was really good. With a warm breakfast in my belly, it was time to get out and cover more ground.
I opted for the Northern section of the Scuppernong segment – I had covered the Southern section as part of the 50K at the TNFECS 2012, so this ended up being just a 3 mile hike. Just? This was the prettiest hiking I did over the weekend, but also the most elevation change; up, down, up, down – so many switchbacks! And did I mention it was snowing? While the day before had been somewhat blah, the huge flakes really made the landscape look stunning.
I had planned on finishing the Blue Ridge segment, but after packing up my campsite, I decided to head home instead – my legs were complaining and I realized I would be hiking more for completion than for enjoyment. Plus, the kids were headed out for a 2 night sleepover with relatives, so going home early meant I got to see them before they left.
Not sure when I’ll do more hiking on the Ice Age Trail – I love that we have this National Scenic Trail just a few hours from home, but the double hiking since I was solo was both tiring and a bit frustrating. I think thru-hiking a few segment might be more interesting or finding a driver to shuttle me might be the way to go next time. I love how much variety the Trail has – even over just a few segments, the views and experience were amazingly varied.

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