Blue Hills Trail CONDITIONS
Hiking: There's good hiking despite rain November 9th, and now snow topping the trails. If the ground isn't frozen, probably avoid two areas: 1)East Side trails with logging activity; 2)West Side trails between Y & Z.
Biking: please don't bike now, the trail surface is soft and unfrozen. We need to protect the surface of the trail so it's smooth when it freezes and we start grooming for x-country skiing.
Loggers have been working two separate timber sales on the East Side: 1)the vicinity of the Otter Slide and Far East trails (those trails are the furthest 'east' trails), and 2)the 'Red Pine' timber sale (north of the warming house). Click here for a map showing trails the loggers may be using.
November 20: dusting
November 19: 1.5" fluffy, wind blown snow
grooming & MOWING
If the weather is favorable, we'll consider grooming the ski trails as the gun deer hunts wind down in early/mid December.
Winter 2021-22 was a roller coaster weather ride. The thrills really took off with the 14-inch snowfall on December 10th. On December 11th our groomers worked 20 hours and skiers enjoyed really nice conditions -- for a couple days. But a few days later record warm temps were accompanied by rain and tornadic winds, and almost all that snow disappeared by December 15th. How cruel!!!
Just after Christmas, wintry weather returned, and we had decent skiing conditions by New Years. The rest of the winter, temps fluctuated between subzero cold and temps in the teens and twenties. Precipitation often was in the form of dry snow. Following that nasty rain event in mid December, it didn't rain again until March 5th. As a result, we experienced good skiing without icy conditions for most of the winter - pretty unusual.
We groomed a total of 49 times this past winter. Here’s the breakdown: 13 times in December, 16 times in January, 17 times in February, and 3 times in March. Our groomers worked approximately 350 hours during that time. Much of the grooming was in the dark of night, during cold temps, and challenging weather. Hats off to our groomers!
Overall, it was a fairly long winter with very good skiing and snowshoeing in the Blue Hills. Good skiing lasted until mid March. The last grooming of the season on March 19th created rocket fast conditions on the East Side Core Loop, a great way to say goodbye to winter. We hope the following photos trigger some good memories.
Weather forecasters predicted a narrow band of heavy snow for northwest Wisconsin. For our area, we were hoping for a nice 4" snowfall to add to our early season thin base. As the storm moved in, late the evening of Friday (December 10th) we measured 7", and awoke Saturday to snow accumulations guesstimated at 14"-18" in the vicinity of the Blue Hills Trail. WooHoo! Biggest snowfall in YEARS! First double digit snowfall since a 10-inch snowfall November 10, 2014.
At that point, the grooming challenge begins for two tough guys: fight your way to the trailhead while the snowplows are out working the main highways; use our Honda Pioneer UTV and Arctic Cat Bearcat to bust through the deep snow as you start to open some select trails; return home for a change of dry clothes; come to the rescue of the local plow operator when his big snowplow truck got stuck in the ditch near the trailhead; grab some hot food from town (10 miles away) because the grooming wouldn't end anytime soon; deal with dry slick snow that made it difficult for the grooming machines to climb the hills without the tracks slipping (note: there are lots of hills in the Blue Hills); burn up gas like it's going out of style; stop and remove snow sticking to the rollers; after sunset enjoy the clear skies and a winter wonderland. And hope skiers the following day would appreciate your efforts.
Just a couple weeks ago we were out hiking bare ground. Skiers on Sunday (December 12th) enjoyed a wintry wonderland. The select trails that were groomed on the 11th weren't in top shape, but they provided loads of fun. The 14" snowfall (dry snow!) compressed into a 2" base that was thick enough to allow the use of good skis. Sure, skiing wasn't perfect today, but who's complaining? Take a look at the following photos of happy skiers as we begin winter 2021-2022.
The many acres of trails on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail are often home to beavers. In years past, we've been able to tolerate a few of their permanent dams while trying to maintain the adjacent trails in the summer, and groom next to their dams in the winter.
Sad to say, too often we've resorted to trapping to remove 'nuisance beavers' (we report the problems to the County Forestry Department, and they hire out the work to a professional trapper).
All summer we've observed an active 200-foot long beaver dam that is located next to the ski trail (between intersections I and H), with about 130 feet of the trail wet enough to perhaps make it difficult to groom and ski this winter. Instead of trapping out the beavers at this spot, we decided to try a different approach. We'd like to learn how to coexist.
The first photo (below) shows this location in early September. See the small bridge? Beyond the bridge the trail has water slowly moving over the trail. We've debated various options, and yesterday (November 13th) decided to install a small beaver deceiver (pond leveler) device.
Here's what Sam, Benny, and Tom did...
· Purchased five 10-foot lengths of 4" corrugated HDPE pipe ('drain tile') and one filter
· Breached the beaver dam with the goal of dropping the water level about two feet
· Screwed the pipe sections together, and fastened the filter on the upstream end
· Drilled holes in the first 20 feet of pipe (to allow trapped air to escape)
· Attached a weight five feet from the upstream end (to hold the pipe underwater)
· Waded into the pond with the upstream end of the pipe (and the weight)
· Placed the downstream end of pipe (30 feet in length) through the breach in the beaver dam, and under the bridge on the ski trail
· Dropped the upstream end (and weight) into water that was probably five feet deep
· Placed a vertical wood post in the breach of the dam, and attached the pipe to that post
· Confirmed a nice volume of water flowing through the downstream end of the pipe
The materials cost about $30. We’re hoping the beavers quickly show up and repair the breach in the beaver dam. This hopefully would seal the pipe into the dam at a height that will control the water level – leaving enough water for the beavers to use the pond, but keeping the water level low enough to minimize the tendency for water to leak through the dam and flow over the ski trail.
We learned a lot from this first attempt at installing a pond leveling device. It was a nice muddy day playing in the beaver habitat, here’s hoping we can coexist.
Snowshoe Trails - Here's the scoop
- Back in 2012, John Kann developed the first of our 'Snowshoe Trails'. Soon he was joined by Dan Bjugstad - and they've been primarily responsible for maintaining and expanding the network of trails. From time to time, several of our members/volunteers have helped brush out the trails.
- The snowshoe trails weave up and down through various stands of timber.
- John and Dan quickly realized that good directional signage would be important. Sheets of yellow poly were purchased for the sign material.
- Pretty soon, clever directional signs began appearing. And as the trails expanded, this required a lot of signs.
- Recently, John shared more of the background regarding our highly visible snowshoe trail signs. Ryan Kann (his son) has been doing the screen-printing, and Ryan provided photos and videos as an example. Fascinating!
- Many thanks to Ryan and Ambient Inks (Eau Claire) for donating the time and materials.
Check out the videos and images below - an eye opening introduction to the art of screen-printing. Ryan makes it look pretty easy.
Enjoy stomping our snowshoe trails. The signs are placed at critical locations to keep you on track. If you'd like to be high tech and follow yourself on your smartphone, our georeferenced maps are free and available when you 'Get the Avenza map' from our website. This app communicates with satellites, and works in the absence of cell towers!
Screen-printing photos/videos are courtesy of Ryan Kann. Photos from our 'Ridges' snowshoe trail were taken February 2019.
This step shows the design being printed on to the screen which is coated in a light sensitive emulsion.
Next the screen/design is exposed with a bright light which hardens the emulsion around the design creating a stencil.
This step shows the unhardened emulsion being washed away with a power washer leaving you with a screen stencil to print with.
This step shows printing the signs using the screen previously made. In this case 15 signs were put on one screen to be efficient, and the signs are cut apart later with a bandsaw.
The Blue Hills Trail is a favorite place for many hunters during the fall. Since it is non-motorized, it provides solitude that’s hard to find elsewhere. Bird and deer hunters are especially appreciative.
For many decades, a certain group of hunters from the Chippewa Falls area has camped in the parking lot by the warming house during the Thanksgiving gun deer hunt. Their tradition includes decorating their campsite with Christmas lights and inflatable characters. Quite a site!
The Blue Hills Trail has 20+ miles of trails that grow on you, and many trail users give back in their own way.
The group from Chippewa Falls has ‘given back’ by helping develop the signage for the Blue Hills Trail. At each of 60 intersections you’ll find a metal map holder that protects our laminated maps from the weather and curious critters. Each trail that branches from an intersection has a metal reflective sign providing directions. Thank you to our friends from Chippewa Falls for their part in keeping us oriented and safe on the Blue Hills Trail.
Skiers February 12th enjoyed wonderful conditions. Following the arrival of 2" of fresh snow on February 9th, our head groomer worked the evenings of February 9/10/11 and created some of the finest grooming of the winter. Firm trails, wide flat skate lane with corduroy that was often seamless across the skate deck, and a solid classic track with great pole plants. The photos with this message were taken February 12th on the West Side trails.
Next grooming is anticipated either Friday evening (Feb.14) or Saturday morning - probably touching up the most heavily skied trails so Saturday's skiers will be able to enjoy primo conditions.
First things first: packed powder conditions, skiing is great, especially in the classic track set this past weekend; and on the skate deck where touch up grooming was performed Tuesday evening (January 28th). Don't let the East Side logging operation scare you away. We are currently grooming 17 km of trails on the East Side, 9.6 km on the West Side. As an example, if you ski all the trails on the West Side, it'll add up to 14 km by the time you're done.
Snow Rollers, a pretty amazing natural phenomenon. We noticed one while skiing the Hemlock Canyon trail on Wednesday the 29th.
Here's our latest 'Gator Tale'. A true example of rolling with the punches...
- A few days ago we performed scheduled maintenance on our Gator. Oil change, check fluids, lube the Camoplast tracks, and check tightness of the hub bolts that secure the bearings and hold the tracks in place.
- Three of the four hub bearing bolts were a bit loose (that's why we check them). We removed and replaced two bolts.
- Shockingly, when removing the third bolt it snapped off. Now what??? (photos below show a partially removed bolt and washer on the left; snapped off bolt is shown on the right).
- We had access to the tools needed to extract the broken bolt. But we decided to enlist the help of a professional machinist from CPH Enterprises on County Hwy O, located just 3 miles away. With a bit of begging, one of their pros came out to the trailhead to help us out.
- These bolts are held in place using red Loctite. Removal of the broken bolt required drilling a hole in the center of the bolt, inserting an extractor (a special tool), and repeatedly heating the bolt with a torch while trying to extract it. The heat helps loosen the Loctite.
- After many attempts, the broken bolt seemed to move slightly - but at that point the extractor snapped off. Another 'Now What???' moment. Those might not have been the exact words we used.
- Next step? We were stuck. Late afternoon on Tuesday. Next step would require the use of a generator to weld a nut on the end of the broken bolt and use that nut to back out the bolt. This was set up for Wednesday morning.
- When cautiously trying to move the Gator from the shed to the parking lot on Wednesday morning, the bearing mechanism on the right rear track started shifting - which meant the entire hub assembly and track could fall off - with possible serious mechanical damage to various components.
- The crew of two that was working on the Gator on Wednesday was able to use several ratchet straps to secure the Camoplast track enough that it was moved to the parking lot.
- A nut was welded onto the end of the broken bolt; then with difficulty, the bolt was removed and replaced with new parts.
- The last challenge? Prior to the welding operation, the Gator battery needed to be disconnected by removing the positive lead. When doing that, the battery terminal broke off (a bit rusted). This meant a trip to Ladysmith to buy a new battery terminal (connector), then returning to the trailhead to repair the positive battery lead and tuck the Gator in the shed.
All set for some Friday evening grooming of the skate lane if all goes as planned. Should be a great weekend in the Hills!
When you're out enjoying a groomed ski trail, give special thanks to the groomers and volunteers that are so integral to cross country skiing on groomed trails.
Big snowfalls (10+ inches on November 27, 7+ inches on December 1, 4+ inches December 9) have kept our groomers busy. Early December hasn't provided this type of wintry weather in recent memory. Groomers worked 66 man-hours wrestling the heavy snow into shape for the weekend of December 7/8 when conditions ranged from fair-good-excellent.
A couple news worthy items...
- WE NOW ARE GROOMING EXCELSIOR ROAD up to and well beyond Letter A on the West Side. There's great skiing available out to the end of Excelsior Road, 3 km in one direction if you start at the Firelane Road. Either park along Firelane Road (well to the side of potential logging traffic), or at the warming house. Please do NOT try to drive on Excelsior Road up to Letter A, that's where we plan on grooming. Look at the modified West Side map (below) to better understand this change.
- If the beginning of Excelsior Road is rutted (hunters may be driving there until the gun deer hunts are completed December 15), you can enjoy the West Side trails by starting at the warming house on the East Side and skiing the trail that crosses from East to West at Letter L. Or you can park at Letter L - just be sure to leave plenty of room for logging trucks.
- Loggers have been working on the northwest part of the East Side this fall - along Rut Road in the vicinity of intersections 20-21-22 and Hemlock Canyon Trail between 21 & A - avoid this area until they're done. Images below include an East Side map that shows trails that are groomed, and how to avoid the logging activity.
Picture(s) with this message were taken the first week of December.
Blue Hills Trail
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