Sunday, December 27, 2015

Hiking and Camping at Governor Dodge State Park, December 2015

On a crisp, cold December day we headed to Governor Dodge State Park in Iowa County on Wisconsin State Highway 23 to test our gear for cooler weather. We've typically avoided camping when daytime highs fall below freezing. With  a dusting of snow on the ground, and the day's high at 25°F (-4°C), we set up our 3 season tent, immediately noticing the stiffness of the fabric. Dressed with long underwear, a fleece mid-layer, and a parka, I kept warm for the most part with the exception of my feet and hands. My hands felt coldest after exposing them for cooking. 

Our daughter enjoyed the campfire from  the confines of a sleeping bag. I concluded the low twenties feel great for hiking and sleeping inside the tent in a good down sleeping bag. However, for sitting around camp relaxing, the low twenties require a fire larger than ours. With the wind such a fire would have been less than safe, but had the wind been low, a larger fire would have done the trick.

Snuggled up and staying toasty warm in camp.

With most of the park open for bow and compound bow deer hunting, only a portion of the Twin Valley Campground remained available for camping. We saw only two other groups out camping, and enjoyed a walk-in site not visible from the road through the campground despite the leaf-down conditions. We woke up to warmer weather Sunday morning, and decided to take a hike.

The old spring house.

Stephen's Falls.

Some nice folks out hiking offered to take a family pic for us.

Stephen's Falls iced-over.
Break-time overlooking the canyon on the Lost Canyon Trail.

The 3.4 mile (5.5 km) hike around the Lost Canyon Trail offered outstanding views of amazing icicles in the canyon and at Stephen's falls. The Lost Canyon Trail is mostly easy with moderate stretches where the elevation changes. As the park is open for deer hunting, we wore blaze orange while other hikers we ran into, including a family with small children, did not. I don't feel right hiking unsafely through areas open to hunting, even if it is just bow hunting.  If you don't see the hunters, it doesn't necessarily mean they aren't there. It can mean that as good hunters they've done a good job camouflaging themselves.

Map of the Lost Canyon Trail.

From our attempt at moving our family to camping in colder weather, what have I learned? My system of clothing layers proved effective, but we need better solutions for keeping our hands and feet warm. The bottle of warm water in the sleeping bag worked great for our daughter's feet, but good warm footwear for walking around camp is needed. Also, bringing water into the tent helped as the water left outside froze solid. Filling the cooking pot with water and keeping the pot in a cozy over night worked well. The water didn't freeze all the way through as did the jug of water, and we found ourselves nicely prepared to melt ice to water at breakfast. 

Washing dishes proved quite a challenge as hot cleaning water turned to ice the moment it hit the plate. Prepackaged meals that require added water and just a spoon to wash in the end look mighty appealing after trying to wash dishes in cold weather. Like anything else, there are solutions for these things and we will figure them out, one trip at a time. 


Trail Conditions - Well groomed trail with wet, muddy patches. Mowed grass with areas of mud and sand. Gray and cold.

Distance Covered Today - 3.4 miles (5.5 km).

Difficulty - Mostly easy with a moderate level of difficulty on the steps at Stephen's falls and at the areas of elevation change.

Location - Parked roadside at Stephen's Falls, Governor Dodge State Park on Highway 23 near Dodgeville.

Highlights - Views of the canyon and falls decorated with long icicles.

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