Saturday, May 21, 2016

Remote trails and water crossings

As members of the Kickapoo Reserve, we get regular notifications of different events taking place, and we knew today was the "Tromp and Chomp" race. Knowing the course would have lots of activity near the areas we'd been hiking, we figured it only made sense to pick a different area for our hike. The weather has finally shifted from....Will spring ever come? (We had snow last weekend during our rummage sale) to It's here! Spring is here! No sweatshirts or winter caps anymore!

One of the more rugged suggested hikes is the Billings Creek Trail, in the northern part of the Reserve. We knew we'd have a major water crossing as well as the possibility of smaller ones along the two miles of up and down trail we'd be wandering. We were ready! It's been quite some time since we've had the pleasure of rolling up our pant legs and wading through spring fed waters. We arrived at the trailhead near Bridge 8, greeted by a large colony of Cliff Swallows trying to set up housekeeping under the bridge, and taking wing anytime another paddler came along. We found the traihead nearby and we were on our way.

We'd last hiked the Reserve at the beginning of May, and the wildflowers carpeting the forest floors were varied and many. Imagine our surprise today when we encountered at least as many, even some scattered patches of Spring Beauty, which dominated the forest a few weeks ago. Many Trilliums literally covered the hillsides, though the pinkish tones in some blooms told us if we'd waited much longer, we'd have missed that show. Wild Geraniums, which my mom calls "mayflowers," were abundant, and skunk cabbage has gone from the curious little purple hooded thing poking up from the soggy places to huge green leaves.

We climbed up above to the edge of a ridgeline, but still in deep shade along the blufftops that paddlers below could enjoy. From time to time, we caught glimpses of those enjoying the river by kayak, and momentarily wished, hidden from view as we were, that Dick had brought his banjo so he could sit on a stump and play "Dueling Banjos" anytime someone paddled round the bend. Twisted, yes, but it would be fun to try sometime! Part of the time we were hiking along the property line, with old fields on the other side of the fence. This delighted me, because I knew that's the kind of place I might get to hear the crazy song of the Bobolink, and sure enough, they were out there. After hiking up high, we'd find ourselves from time to time crossing a small little trickle from a spring, charging down a deep ravine toward Billings Creek and ultimately the Kickapoo. At one such very deep ravine, movement caught my eye near the bottom. Could it be? Dick had to indulge me for quite some time here, as I had a pair of Waterthrushes down there, working the trickle of water. Deep shade made it tough, and I just couldn't be sure until later, I heard the singing of...Louisiana Waterthrush. Yes! I had originally hoped to join a birding trip in Wyalusing State Park where the trip leaders could find what I never could down there...or anywhere. This bird. Though life interfered with my original plans, I was rewarded with this life bird sighting. Naturally, since this was a hiking excursion and not a birding one, I had the small camera along. I am convinced that leaving the good camera behind will always ensure something cool is seen.

We were glad for the deep shade, as that spring-like weather was rapidly feeling like July. We went up to ridgelines and down to valleys a few times before we were faced with...The Crossing. Some of the photos we'd seen showed several large blocks of stone creating steps to jump across. While our spring has been dry, the water had some of them submerged. Off came the shoes, up rolled the pants and Dick led the way. Though the creekbed looked sandy, there were very sharp rocks hidden there at times, so our pace was as glacial as the ice sheets that missed this area. Spring fed waters are never much warmer than 50 degrees and after almost two miles of hiking, that crossing was mighty refreshing!

The trail on this side was quite different, with tall sumac, alder and other lowland vegetation. We were glad we did this one now, rather than in the depths of summer. We passed an open area that had been burned. When we were here a few weeks ago, that burn was taking place but we weren't sure exactly where. Now we know. We followed a deciduous forest with maple as the predominant tree until we came to County F, our turnaround spot. We turned around.

Returning as we'd come, we knew we'd be back at the water crossing before long. Off came the shoes once more, up went the pant legs, and while Dick did as much rock hopping as possible, I just chose to get good and wet in a more direct approach. It felt great!

We'd met no one else the whole time we were on the trail, but after donning the socks and shoes and heading up the trail, we met three Amish boys, carrying a picnic lunch and all ready for that water with bare feet. We said hello and "Nice day" and the older brother charged with the two seven-ish boys said...""Nice week." It has been a nice week at last. We saw our trip from the opposite vantage point this time, and sometimes spotted things we'd missed on the way out. Though the trail is just over two miles, we'd doubled our mileage, which is a typical pattern out here in the Reserve. This was a really enjoyable trail, one we'd never experienced before today.

KVR Trail Challenge segments hiked today....Segments 54 and 55

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