Ice Age Trail Chronicles: Eau Claire Dells

Ice Age Trail Chronicles:
Eau Claire Dells Segment, Marathon County
January 18, 2016

Anyone that knows me well, knows that I want to do everything. I guess I’ve always been that way and I’ve learned to love it over the years. One of the things on that list of everything is to hike/bike the entire 1,000-mile Ice Age Trail. With a busy life and missing my family way too much, I’m not able to drop everything in the spirit of Eat, Prey, Love and spend months hiking. Instead, I plan to do it in smaller chunks, an afternoon here, a weekend there, as time permits. It may take 20 years, but that’s okay, even better maybe, because it makes the adventure last.

Last year, my friend Kevin and I got started hiking the Ice Age Trail at Eau Claire Dells. The great thing about having a flexible schedule and a friend that works for the federal government, is that every month or so they get a random day off for an adventure. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was crisp, clear, and extremely cold. Both of us had our snowshoes but quickly saw they were not needed. Well beaten paths could be found throughout this popular destination. That was probably a good thing because at this point we had no maps, and were just winging it. Isn’t that how all good adventures start though?

We started through the woods, linking up with the downriver side. A slight breeze rattled some oaks leaves that have surely seen their share of explorers.  Deer had scraped the ground bare searching for acorns. As we stood on the impressive bluff, we could see the frozen river below. Tracks of the foolish and daring showed that they tempted fate and won, making it across. This time. Upstream was the breathtaking dells. We’d save that best part for last. Our first destination was to head downstream where the river was flowing and still open. It wasn’t long before we came to a bridge spanning the river and connecting to the south side. Here we disappeared into the woods. To our left was mixed forest and to our right we could still see the river flowing through the trees. The conversation was lively as we reached a fork in the road. We continued downstream, coming to a fork in the river, where the water circled an island on both sides. The secluded island was enticing, just as secluded places always are. What would we find there? Pondering we vowed to return and find out one day, maybe on another adventure. At last we came to a sign that we were entering private property. One of the many great things about the trail is the amazing generosity of landowners to open their property for the trail. Without them, the trail would be a patchy mess.

It was here we turned around, working our way upstream to the dells. We weren’t disappointed. Finding an scenic overlook, we sat in silence soaking in the beauty. Large rocks comprised the dells with water flowing every which way as it tumbled over the boulders. The temperature caused the water to freeze in a variety of ice creations. Shelves of ice formed everywhere. The water kept flowing, causing additional sheets to form with a magnificent layering effect. Closing my eyes, I could hear the power of the water rushing through. But, I didn’t want to keep my eyes closed anymore. I wanted to see the beauty one more time before we continued upstream.

Across the highway that split the park, there is an old dam. A small lake is formed above where summertime campers no doubt have their picnics and swim. Today the otters are the only ones swimming with their trademark slides crossing the ice and disappearing into the icy water below. We cross the dam back to the north, meandering back through the park. Finally, we head back to the truck, our journey almost complete. But before we do, we are drawn back to the dells. Jumping across the rocks, we now find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the dells. For a few blissful moments, we remain, captivated once more. Then our journey had to end, but only for a while. Soon, we would return to our adventure once more.

Published: March 10, 2017

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