We weren't very far down the trail when we were met with a different kind of delight...wildflowers *everywhere!* Spring Beauty carpeted the hills alongside the trail. The treetops were just beginning to show that soft green haze of emerging buds, allowing the welcome sunshine to penetrate the forest floor. Spring ephemerals could be seen along the trails, varying based on the terrain and vegetation. We had trouble making any forward progress, with so much to capture our attention at every turn.
A good portion of our hike today involved a big loop through Little Canada and the Ice Cave Trail, so we didn't have as much of the doubling up that has become so familiar here. Our loop meandered through pine forests as well as open deciduous woods, the ones letting the light through for those wonderful flowers everywhere. Did I mention? They really were everywhere in abundance.
Over the years, it has become a winter tradition for us to explore the ice caves scattered at certain elevations within the Reserve. Some we visit as part of group tours, often led by Chuck Hatfield, but other times, we use what we've learned on those tours and look for them on our own. Nestled somewhere along today's hike is one we've visited many times, referred to as the Valley of the Ice Grotto. We've led groups there ourselves, but always coming in from the river level. Would we even recognize it traveling on top? Would there be any ice left? Sometimes, after a particularly long and icy season, ice can still be found in these shelters well into the beginning of summer. This past winter, things weren't as spectacular, since we had repeated thaws and freezes that compromised the quality of the ice sheets, so we weren't surprised to find...no ice remaining.
While there was no evidence of remaining ice in any of the ice caves, we found streams into which it likely melted, making its way to the Kickapoo River and guaranteeing some water movement for the paddlers to come in the months ahead...including ourselves before year's end!
KVR Trail Challenge segments hiked....Segments 6, 10-12, 14 and 15