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Hiking Lower McCarthy Lake

February 15, 2017

Larry and I set out around 8:00 am from his place; once again McCarthy was our destination. This time we went up from the bridge. We began our walk at 8:17 am. It was a beautiful morning, only a few wispy clouds, the temperature was still crisp at 18 degrees but not as chilling as last week’s outing. I stood taking in the frozen “lake” ahead of me, the trees rising up out of it, the bluffs beyond were all bathed in gold from the morning sun. Before trekking up McCarthy, Larry wanted to check out the ice under the bridge, see if there was anything interesting. I marveled at various patterns in the ice, round whitish dots and clear squiggly lines where the ice had cracked or shifted. On the other side of the piling a spot in the ice looked like a cracked vehicle window, the glass broken but not yet fallen apart. I looked down Schmoker’s Channel, it looked frozen solid. Larry and I checked out the bird nests, piles of hardened mud stuck on top of each other. They were built by swallows, in the spring the noisy birds will occupy then once again. The ice was quite slippery, even for Hank; we were amused that he left claw marks on the ice as he ran.

We walked out from under the bridge and began our hike up McCarthy, following our canoe path. The channel was much wider than it had been in October, the vegetation had died back so what was left above the ice was shorter and much reduced. We went up along the various “islands” as we had with the canoe. The first one didn’t really resemble an island now but just a couple of trees sticking out above the ice. Beyond the islands, there was a strip of thin ice, it was completely transparent and may have only formed last night. We could see the water flowing beneath the ice as it made the vegetation dance. This narrow strip of ice that had probably been open water only yesterday went on a ways, snaking along the vegetation near the bank. McCarthy Lake looked vast up ahead of us. To our left were some sort of tracks in the ice, I wonder who had left them behind, they almost looked more human than animal. There was also a crack where the ice had shifted. We were still walking along near the thin ice area, it held Larry’s attention. Hank way up ahead of us plunged in for a winter swim; he was quickly back on to the ice however.

Larry said, “Something moved in the water; I don’t think it was Hank. It wouldn’t have come down this fast.” I peered into the water below the ice, intrigued. We continued walking, veering a bit to our left, heading northwest, past what had been the lily patch and where we saw the rails, and past where we’d seen the great blue heron. We came up along a muskrat lodge, just a domed shape pile of rushes. There was a small hole in it on the other side. We’d left the open ice behind us and where now in the thick bulrushes and cattails. There was another muskrat house, larger and a bit taller than the first. We’d left the channel for the rushes to take a look at the muskrat house, but we were still walking on ice not ground. Again I was trailing behind Larry through the tangle of rushes. His feet left no prints and it was hard to know exactly where he placed his feet. So as I was walking away from the muskrat house, my left foot went through the ice up to my knee. I quickly pulled my leg out of the water. I was angry with myself and felt like a fool for having stepped on thin ice. Concerned Larry asked, “Did you get water in your boot?”

“Yeah.”

“Is it all the way in your toes yet?”

“Yeah, it is.”

“We better keep moving then, start making our way back.” He also mentioned getting on land. Although it was cold it wasn’t so cold to worry too much about my wet foot. He led the way through the rushes and cattails; I tried to stick close to him as possible. It felt like the water was sloshing under my foot, going from one end to another as I walked. (Sometimes it would feel almost numb but then all of a sudden it would barely feel cold and it went back and fort h between the two until we got back to the truck.) We got up on the bank, ducking under tree branches and pushing past them. Once through the trees, we were walking on the prairie. The little bluestem was a beautiful amber color; there was no more snow left. We hiked through the prairie, trees on our right, to what seemed like the corner of it. Larry said, “This is where we saw the nesting turtles.”

“That’s where we are?” I hadn’t recognized the place because we came out to the prairie from the opposite direction. We then entered the wooded area again. Hank found sticks and begged Larry to throw them, which he did a few times. Larry went along the bank trying to find a good place to get back on the ice. He then took us southeast. We walked out from the trees and among the rushes again, leaving behind firm ground, returning to the ice. Again, I stayed close behind Larry as I could, paying more attention to where he placed his feet than to the landscape around us. Even then it was hard to know exactly where he placed his feet in the tangle of rushes. We headed westward at first to rejoin the channel. Then we were through the rushes and headed southward back the way we came. Larry put his arm around my shoulder and asked, “How’s your foot feeling? Cold?”

“It’s not too cold. The sloshing of the water is annoying though.”

“You must have gotten a lot of water in your boot. If you fall through the ice, you should get out fast, lay down on top of it and lift your foot up to drain the water before it reaches your toes.”

“Ok. It feels weird though because my other foot is actually too hot and is sweaty.”

“It should even the two out then,” Larry joked.

The lily patch area was behind us. We walked past the first island, fallen down trees reached out in to the ice, trying to grasp at something. Hank found another stick that Larry threw for him. As we walked along I said, “This vegetation and trees separating the two channels was a lot bigger.”

“That’s because the vegetation died back.” We examined it closely and saw a lot of old stumps.

Soon we were nearing the bridge. While Larry threw one more stick for Hank, I looked back up the lake one more time, taking in the beauty. The beaver lodge next to the bridge was still mostly hidden but I think it was occupied because there looked to be a pile of branches under the ice near it. Only an hour or so out on the frozen lake we climbed back into the truck. We drove along 84 and down Pritchard’s to the landing and then back along 84. We weren’t done on the prairie for the day though.

Back at Larry’s, I took my boots off and winter layers, and my socks. I pulled up a chair to the wood stove to warm my feet and to try drying my pant leg. Larry pulled up a chair too. We snacked on cookies and enjoyed the warmth of the stove for a few minutes. Larry found dry socks for me and then we went to pick Thelma up.

As soon as we pulled up and stepped out of the jeep, she came out of the house all ready to go, binoculars around her neck. Larry walked with her, holding her arm and helped her get in the jeep. Then we drove around the barns. She had Larry stop to talk about the bluff and the Weaver Bottoms. Then we continued along the long driveway to the highway and went to the Weaver landing. We stopped there for about twenty minutes as Thelma talked about fishing and how Weaver used to be. Then we drove through Weaver. Larry and Thelma talked about it.

From Weaver, we returned to the prairie. Just past the railroad tracks on 84, Larry halted again. Thelma talked about hunting in that area. While she was talking an Amtrak train went by, she told us of the first passenger train that went through. We then drove along 84 and out through West Newton, all the while Thelma talked about the changes. At Halfmoon Landing, she talked about fishing again and maintaining the landing so it’s more family and elderly accessible. We returned her home two hours later.

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