I should have met Ed by now. But I’m not really worried, at least not yet. Right now I’m too entranced with my surroundings. Last night’s snowfall clings to the thick stands of trees lining the Timm’s Hill Trail, coating every branch, thick and slender, with an inch of powdered sugar. Little snow caps are perfectly mounded atop every signpost. And the balsams’ wide, lacy branches, so prettily dusted with snow, resemble sugarcoated funnel cakes.
Deeply breathing in the crisp, fresh air, I pause to snap a few photos, then make my way toward the narrow bridge ahead. The snow, covered with a feather-light layer of ice, makes a delicate crunch with each of my steps, quickly followed by a clumsy clop as the rear of my aluminum snowshoe slaps down. I hate marring this pristine trail, which has seen no other human traffic since the snow fell, but it’s unavoidable. So I don’t look behind me, but instead concentrate on the path stretching ahead, which is smooth and undisturbed save for pint-size tracks made by residents of Timm’s Hill: rabbits, deer, birds, foxes, turkeys and more.
I bend to photograph some particularly interesting tracks, then clomp over the bridge, leaving a slashed snow cover in my wake. Ed is still not visible — or audible — on the trail ahead of me, so something is definitely amiss. And I’m pretty sure I know what it is.
The two of us had driven up to the 10-mile Timm’s Hill Trail in north-central Wisconsin to snowshoe or ski from its southern trailhead in Taylor County to its northern terminus at the Timm’s Hill observation tower, which sits a little southeast of Prentice. At 1,951.5 feet above sea level, Timm’s Hill is the tallest point in Wisconsin, and one of the highest natural points in the Upper Midwest.
When we arrived at the trailhead, we deemed snowshoeing the better mode of transportation, as the trail wasn’t yet groomed for skiing. But instead of leaving our car there and beginning the trek together, Ed had me start in on the trail while he drove ahead 4½ miles to the much larger parking lot at Spirit Park. The plan was for him to then snowshoe back toward me. But Ed is notorious for his poor sense of direction, so he must have accidentally headed north on the trail toward the tower, not south toward me.
Sure enough, after crossing the road slicing through Spirit Park, I see snowshoe prints marching off northbound through the otherwise unblemished snow cover. Seconds later my phone rings, and a panting Ed, now jogging back toward me, admits he went the wrong way.
“I figured the trail to the tower would be all uphill,” he says, “so I took the path that was going downhill. But the trail isn’t all uphill. It keeps going up and down.”
“No worries. We should run into each other in a few minutes.”
First official side trail
The Timm’s Hill Trail was created in 1986 by members of the Rib Lake and High Point Ski Clubs. The trail connects a stretch of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail with Timm’s Hill. In 1990, the federal government recognized this path as the first official side trail in America’s National Trails System.
Impressively, the entire trail runs along private property save for its northern end, which winds through Timm’s Hill County Park and then up to the observation tower. Property owners allow the trail to be open year-round for hiking, mountain biking, skiing and snowshoeing, with the exception of one 2½-mile southern section that closes Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 for hunting. Trail maps are available online that indicate the sights along the route.
There’s the Blomberg Sugar Bush, for example, a stand of sugar maple that’s tapped annually for syrup. Despite being clear-cut in 1920, the sugar bush naturally rebirthed itself. The Old School Trail is a section of the path once used by local kids to get to their one-room schoolhouse. En route, the kids had to cross burbling Helms Creek via a downed log. Today, the sturdy Beaumont Bridge ushers travelers across.
Ed and I reconnect just as I huff and puff my way up the side of the Stone Lake Esker, a long, snake-like hill, some 60 feet tall, that’s a 10,000-plus-year-old glacial remnant. For the next few hours it’s just the two of us in the vast woods. The trail undulates regularly; thankfully, there are no massive inclines. Occasionally, the trail crosses a road. At one point it passes a cemetery and then, curiously, leads us past fake tombstones — perhaps part of some Halloween festivities?
When we arrive at Timm’s Hill County Park, the sky is covered end-to-end with a pearl-gray comforter of stratus opacus clouds — not optimal conditions when standing atop Wisconsin’s highest point. But we remove our snowshoes and climb up the observation tower anyway, then gaze out over what, in clear weather, would be a 30-mile view.
After taking the obligatory selfie, we look at each other and grin. Timm’s Hill is just a conical mound, it’s true. But we’ve just climbed to the highest point in our home state. We’ve conquered Wisconsin’s Denali. And to us, it feels pretty darn good.
Melanie Radzicki McManus writes about fitness and travel from her home near Madison, Wis.