Trekking the NCT: Adapting to the power of ice. 

February 27, 2022

Trekking the NCT: Adapting to the power of ice. 

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

On Dec. 1, 2021 Amber Township resident Joan Young began her journey to hike the entire North Country Trail continuously. She began her year-long trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. The first half of the hike will take her to Middlebury, Vermont. She will then drive to Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota to begin the hike back to Michigan. Young, 73, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010.

I’m still walking the North Country Trail. Hitting the far southeast corner of Ohio tomorrow. But that ice storm I mentioned a couple of weeks ago sure has affected the progress of this hike.

For starters, the ice created a Level 3 Emergency in the county where I was staying. That means anyone found driving would be ticketed unless there was a valid reason to be out. Going to take a hike does not count. 

Many highways were closed for days because so many trees came down. Some people were without electricity for more than a week. Utility crews from all over the region converged on south-central Ohio to replace broken power poles and repair broken power lines. It was anybody’s guess whether a particular back road might be free of downed trees and drivable.

We ended up resting three days in a row. Although relaxing, my companion Denali and I were more than ready to get back on the trail. But wait! Clearing trails is way lower in priority than restoring essential services. 

In fact, the next place we needed to hike sequentially was Tar Hollow State Forest. Those folks were not even going to send their trucks up the hilly roads for another several days because of the ice and snow. We tried driving in anyway—I’m from the north, right?— only to have our way blocked by downed trees. But we figured a way to hike the trail from open parking areas by adding five miles to our total. Surprisingly, the pathway there was mostly clear.

We were not nearly so fortunate in other places. Usually, we did a few difficult trail miles and then leapfrogged to add some road miles, so our total for the day didn’t look too pathetic. This also kept us from ending the day too tired and sore to move.

But the truth is that for almost two weeks, we did not come close to my hopeful average of 15 miles a day. One day, we only managed seven miles, and we high-fived each other when we hit double digits.

What was the problem, you ask? Fallen trees. Trunks so large they had to be crawled over. Huge crashed piles of broken limb debris on the trails. One large tree might topple downslope, catch another, and then another, making a line of several full-sized trees that had to be bushwhacked around. Almost always, this was on a steep slope so that we had to scramble uphill or down and then return to the level of the trail. Usually through greenbrier. 

Some public lands were closed. In fact, Hocking Hills State Park remained closed for three weeks. I will have to drive back there at some point to pick up those missing miles. The trails there were so icy that when they first re-opened, seven people were injured the first day, and they closed the park indefinitely until conditions improved.

The highlight of the area has been Burr Oak State Park. Although we did have to work around some flooded areas (the ice and snow all melted, of course), the day spent there was sunny. There were surprisingly few fallen trees on the trail. Bluebirds, hawks and eagles cheered us. For the first time ever, I saw “needle ice,” columns of ice that freeze from ground level up when there is flowing water below freezing air. The resulting formation is sometimes called a “frostflower.” We made our self-imposed quota of 15 miles, mostly on natural surface trail. It began to feel as if the hike were back on track.

Meanwhile, we have continued eastward and are currently making our way through the Wayne National Forest. Our next nemesis will be Ohio mud. I say “we” because I will have various companions on the trail for the next week or so.

My current total is over 1,100 miles, not quite a quarter of the way in three months. However, I still believe I’m on schedule to finish in a year. I came really close to the 1,200-mile mark in that time, despite a number of adverse conditions in the most difficult of the four seasons. 

I am still finding intense joy in the journey. Even ice can’t cool my passion for the North Country Trail.

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This story is copyrighted © 2022, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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