With Spring Break now only 26 days away the need to get in as much training as possible has become urgent. Fortunately the weather cooperated today and Zoe and I were able to head to Matthiessen State Park to take the hike she planned for my Christmas present together. That’s right, I got a hike for Christmas and it even include an assortment of snacks for on the trail! Ellie was off at boy scout camp so Molly graciously agreed to stay home to pick her up when she returned and shuttle her to play rehearsal.
Zoe and I were on the road before 8 and after a stop for coffee and bagels sailed down the highway in no time. As we neared the park we discussed how many other people we expected there to be on the trail with us. We both agreed that we weren’t sure what to expect. Sure, the temperature was in the 50’s, but it is February. Would people get outside? We made the final turn in to the lot and counted 8 other cars, it seemed like like our answer was that we’d be mostly alone.
The first mile of trail was really really icy. So icy that when we came to a spot that was a bit of an incline downward I gingerly stepped onto it and immediately began sliding. I surfed the ice for a few feet before coming to a stop and making a leap back to the side of the trail where there was some clear ground poking through. This was the second time this year that I wished I owned crampons. I guess that we may have reached the point in our hiking careers that we can embrace ice hiking.
For the most of the next 3-4 miles the trails were in stellar shape. We wound our way through the trees and along the cliffs. The official park map says that there are about 3 miles of trail in this area and we managed to cover nearly all of them. Our plan was to take the one mile horse trail down to the southern unit of the park, so at a three way junction we turned on what we thought was the trail that would bring us there. It was really the only option since the other two trails were one that was marked as closed and one that led back to the parking lot. We found it a bit odd that the trail seemed to be newly created. There was sawdust laying on top of the leaves and it was clear that the undergrowth had recently been pushed down as well. However, the trail was clearly marked with orange blazes so we just chalked it up to trail maintenance. We soon reached a dangerously steep looking cliffs and noticed an abrupt end to the blazes. Confused I pulled out my GPS and discovered that whatever we’d been following didn’t seem to be the trail we’d intended. In fact, it was pretty clear that the trail which had been closed was our intended route. We guessed that the closed trail was probably permanently closed and that we were hiking on it’s still under construction replacement. Rather than risking the cliff we doubled back for the last portion of the available trails.
We soon discovered that the reason we hadn’t seen many other people hiking all day was that they were all crammed into the mile or so of trail that descends into a canyon. They were right to be there because they were without a doubt the prettiest part of the day. We saw several waterfalls and icefalls as we alternated between stepping across careful placed paths of rocks and actually wading in ankle deep water. The most excitement came when crossed a series of rocks that became more and more slanted as well as more and more below the actual surface of the water as we went. When we finally reached the other side we were faced with an additional obstacle, a three foot high wall with just a few toe-holds to help get us to the top. There was also an audience of eight people watching us as we maneuvered, I think so they could copy our path if we were successful.
Zoe was leading the way, and she was not successful. The foot she had placed onto the ledge slipped into the water causing her to lose balance on the other leg and she landed standing calf-deep in the stream with both feet. She was a good sport though, and from that position, with no pretense of staying dry she quickly scrambled up to the top. I was relieved to make it up without filling my boots with water. We decided that we’d probably had enough for the day. Hiking in cold wet boots is no fun at all and we were close to the parking lot anyway.
Although we’d noticed more people in the canyon than we’d seen the rest of the day combined we were still surprised to discover the parking lot was completely full. There were actually cars circling looking for a spot. I’m a little proud of people for turning out to hike, even if only for a mile or two, on such a beautiful day. It’s been weird having the trails completely to ourselves most of the times we’ve been out in the past couple months.