I awoke bright and early at my friends’ cottage on a cold, snowy, Saturday morning in November, brewed myself a cup of coffee, and ladled out a big bowl of oatmeal.
I am by all means NOT a morning person, but I was eager to get moving, because my friend Megan and I had a long day ahead of us.
After having done a gorgeous fall hike along the Jordan Valley Pathway the month before, we decided to head back in winter to hike the entire stretch of trail from the Deadman’s Hill to Landslide.
We parked Megan’s car at the end of the trail, then had Luke drop us off at the Deadman’s Hill Overlook, which offered quick access to the North Country Trail and Jordan Valley Pathway.
Although we got a bit later start to our day than I was hoping for, we still had a reasonable enough amount of time to hike the first few miles, take a lunch and water break at the Jordan River Fish Hatchery, then hike the remaining miles to Landslide.
As we made our descent along the trail from the parking lot, we noted how differently our surroundings looked. In one month’s time, the area had gone from a landscape of fall color and crowded trails to a snowy winter wonderland that was basically devoid of crowds.
Aside from tire tracks in the Deadman’s Hill parking area, the only signs of other human life we saw were a few sets of footprints along the trail from the parking area to somewhere between Posts 2 and 3.
Hiking the trail in the snow was actually a lot of fun, but it did make the little foot bridges and the wooden plank walks through marshy areas a bit difficult to traverse.
Around 1.5 miles or so into our hike we could see animal tracks–probably from a fox– that made their way alongside the trail and down to the water in the valley.
Eventually we found ourselves at the pond.
We took a few moments to admire the view. The late morning sun cast a warm, golden light upon the icy blue water, snow covered pines, and the dead trees upon the hills around us.
After snapping a few quick photos, we decided to hit the trail again before we had a chance to get cold. Our next logical place for a break would be the Jordan River Fish Hatchery, which was still a couple of miles away.
We hiked on towards our destination, taking care to follow the blue blazes marking the trees. Any sign of human footprints had disappeared at least a mile ago.
Eventually, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks.
“Are those, bear tracks?!” I asked Megan.
She looked down, examining them closer.
“I think they might be,” she said.
“Do you want to turn back?”
“I don’t know. We don’t have to. What do you want to do?”
We both glanced ahead, our eyes locked onto the long trail of bear tracks, following the exact path of the North Country Trail for the foreseeable distance ahead.
I looked down at the large print in the snow next to my foot. I could see the imprint of its claws, piercing through the snow.
“I’m going to call Luke.”
I pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed my husband, who was back at the cottage preparing soup for that night’s dinner. I told him where we were and explained what was going on.
“So, what are you guys going to do?” he asked.
I thought for a moment. “I really want to do this hike, but if it was me doing this alone, I would definitely turn back. I have my bear spray and I know what to do if I actually see a bear, but I really don’t like the idea of walking into an area where there is very obviously going to be a bear.”
When all was said and done, Megan and I made the decision to turn back, have Luke pick us up at the trailhead, then drive us back to her car. If we felt like it, we would do a little bit more hiking near the other end of the trail.
We made our way back through the snowy woods to meet Luke, taking care while traversing the slippery obstacles, until we finally reached Post 2.
After stopping for a moment at the trail register to scratch out a quick note that said, “Signs of bear between posts 4 and 5,” we began our ascent back uphill to the Deadman’s Hill Overlook parking area.
With perfect timing, Luke pulled up to the trailhead just as we reached the top of the hill.
Megan and I sipped some water and recounted our tales from the day’s hike, then loaded up our gear into the vehicle so he could drop us off at her vehicle.
After we reached the parking lot for Landslide Overlook and unloaded our gear, Megan and I decided to check out the lookout point and do a little bit of hiking on that section of the trail.
The overlook offered a spectacular view of the Jordan River Valley. We spent a few moments here, taking everything in.
The clouds finally parted for good, allowing the afternoon sun to cast a golden light onto the snow and leafless around us.
The rest of our hike was pretty much uneventful. We kept a consistent pace and made it back to Megan’s car all in one piece.
We reached the car and took a few moments to load up our gear, drink some water, and wolf down our snacks.
As we stood at her car, me munching on goldfish crackers while she downed a bottle of Vernor’s, we made conversation with one of the hunters who came by. After recounting him with our tale of a bear on the North Country Trail / Jordan Valley Pathway, he told us another hunter had spotted a bear in the area after it had stolen his deer. We also learned of another hunter’s encounter with a pack of coyotes.
Suddenly, our decision to turn back when we did instead of continuing onward felt completely validated. Any guilt that I felt for “failing” a hike completely melted away.
While we probably could have continued on and finished our hike and been totally fine, doing so might have also been a very stupid decision. Turning back might have made us overly cautious, but do you know what it did not make us? Lunch.
Megan and I drove back to the cottage, where Luke had resumed finishing up dinner and hanging out with out other friends, Matt and Amanda.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening resting up, playing with the dogs, and doing some yoga until it was time for dinner.
Later on, we all sat down together and enjoyed a nice, hot dinner of chicken soup, chili, whiskey, and chips. It was glorious.