Hiking the Ice Age trail Summit Moraine Segment


foggy morning lake

The Summit Moraine Segment of the Ice Age National Trail is a 12.2-mile easy to moderately difficult footpath in north central Wisconsin. It connects directly to the Highland Lakes Segment to the west and the Lumbercamp Segment to the west.

This segment is centered around Langlade County´s Veterans Memorial Park where there is a campground at Jack Lake and popular mountain bike trails. The Ice Age trail west of the park follows wide mowed grass tracks along the Jack Lake Ski Trails through mild terrain. East of Jack Lake the trail narrows to a single track and becomes hillier and more scenic, passing lakes and winding through a variety of pine and hardwood forests.

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SOUNDS OF THE FOREST

My campfire crackled and jumped to flames licking the blueness out of a winter evening sky. Snow at the fire circle edge sizzled and melted into steam. The peaceful night beneath snowy pines beside Game Lake that I had imagined was at hand. Then a horrifying song pierced the air, as pure as a church bell, a howl that reverberated off the frozen face of the lake. No recording can prepare you for the sound of a wolf howl in nature … or was it a coyote? One by one the pack checked in with their discordant chorus. It seemed I was surrounded.

Coyote, wolf, or coywolf … it made little difference to me as I primitive camped solo in the depth of winter - as vulnerable as one could be. This pack only moved from one part of the lake to the other, and each time I was about to lose myself to sleep they´d remind me that they were still there and I’d unfurl myself from my sleeping bags and stoke the fire back to flames. Coincidently they´d go silent, and I’d try for another hour of sleep. By daybreak I had gotten a sum total of 1 hour of uninterrupted sleep. That is how my first attempt to hike the IAT Summit Moraine Segment ended.

THE SECOND ATTEMPT

Sunsets were pushing days to last till 7:30pm by late May and just as dusk was settling at Jack lake campground, the halting cry of a loon lifted from the still surface of the lake. Its familiar haunting shrill stills the air on a north woods evening. I was sitting beside my fire only a few feet from the lake when I heard this loon song, the first I’d heard in 2021, and it was as though the whole lake heaved and cried out, ‘Summer is now’.

As that vanilla and amber sunset faded to the red flickering of my campfire I contemplated these sounds of nature and became nostalgic for music. One of my earliest memories is of going to the high school band concert at 5 years old – my brother the trombone player being ten years older than me. It is my first memory of hearing live music.

I remember exactly how the band director snapped up his baton and held it in the air in silence followed by a rush of brass and wind filling the chamber. It is one of the most powerful moments of my life. I spent the rest of that concert giggling in my seat – my emotions unable to react in any other way to that unfamiliar experience of being bathed in music and delight. I determined right there that when I reached high school I would play in the band. Since then, I have become an accomplished saxophonist and along the way soaked up all the music theory knowledge I could. There is a peculiar combination of notes that makes up a wolf howl that is shared by the cry of a loon. They both ascend in an augmented fourth interval. I’ll attempt to demonstrate this with the only instrument I have on hand (an end-blown notch flute) in a 30 second video below. The augmented fourth is a dramatic, or perhaps the most dramatic of harmonics. It is known as the tritone, or commonly as the Devil’s Chord, an interval avoided in European music through the Middle Ages. If the harmonic intervals of a full octave are visualized as a circle the augmented 4th would be halfway around the circle from the starting point. And by being halfway around the circle it is an equal distance in reverse as it is forward – making this sound difficult to locate spatially. That is … when a wolf, coyote, or loon cry out, their sound seems to come from everywhere all at once. The sine waves of their calls reinforce each other harmonically, allowing their calls to penetrate every crevice and crack in the forest and to crawl down our spines.

HIKING THE SUMMIT MORAINE SEGMENT

I woke up the next morning before sunrise and a dense fog obscured the lake. I started a morning campfire to make coffee and breakfast over and watched the loon fishing in the bay in front of my campsite. Just before the sun rose, I was ready to start out on my first day of hiking. I walked out of my campsite up the road for a few yards before turning off eastbound on the Ice Age Trail.

Just as the trail leaves the main campground it enters a county forest arboretum. The Langlade County Forest was the first county forest in the state, established in 1928 as a way to acquire land from tax delinquents. Most of this land had been completely cut over. Now there are over 125,000 acres of mature forest for harvesting timber, hiking, and riding atv and snowmobiles through.

After the arboretum there is short walk along a camp road towards the Game Lake Primitive Site. Just before reaching the site you’ll find a narrow single track trail cutting off to the other side of the lake. The forest is at its most dense in the area around Game Lake. I could tell now why this was a great area for a pack of wolves or coyotes to make their winter home.

After a few big hill climbs the trail becomes easier-going and winds through a variety of forest types, dense and young, plantations, and older growth. There is a very small and uneven dispersed camp area beside a lake near the end of this segment. The site is covered by a grove of large pines, but it is hard to imagine where you could setup a tent on level ground. Otherwise, the bench in the site is a nice place to stop for a lunch break.

I hiked to the end of this segment before turning back to return to Jack Lake. I stopped beside a pond for a long break and heard there another unique sound of the forest. It had a distinct leaking pipe sound that is quite evocative. I am told this is a bittern.

The next morning, I packed up my camp and then set off for another out and back, this time heading westbound. It was a sunny and warm day and the trails were wide and easy. The trails west of Jack Lake mainly follow along wide mowed grass cross-country ski trails. The trail was rerouted to avoid the old railroad grade which is now a thoroughfare for ATV traffic. And the trail also passes a pair of warming shelters which can be reserved in the summer from the Jack Lake Campground if you’d like to shelter overnight there.

There’s not much to report from the western portion of this segment in regard to scenery. Just a quiet walk among the songbirds of spring.
Along the Ice Age Trail Summit Moraine Segment





Ice Age Trail Summit Moraine Segment


COUNTY
LANGLADE
COMMUNITIES
SUMMIT LAKE, PEARSON, DEERBROOK
TOTAL MILES
12.2-MILE POINT TO POINT
DIFFICULTY
EASY TO MODERATE
LOWEST ELEVATION
914 AMSL
HIGHEST ELEVATION
950 AMSL
TOTAL ELEVATION GAIN
590 FT
NEXT IAT SEGMENT EASTBOUND
LUMBERCAMP SEGMENT
NEXT IAT SEGMENT WESTBOUND
HIGHLAND LAKES EAST SEGMENT

CAMPING
Jack Lake Campground, Dispsersed Camp Area, Anywhere in Langlade County Forest outside the boundaries of Jack Lake Park



Directions and Trail Map


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If viewing on a mobile device, open the trail map above to load into Google Maps App by touching the expand rectangle in the upper right corner.

Address for your GPS: N8375 Park Rd, Deerbrook, WI 54424
| coordinates: 45.32972057482726, -89.10474802866347 |

From Milwaukee3.5 Hours
From Madison3 Hours
From Green Bay2 Hours
From Wausau1 Hour
From Minneapolis3.5 Hours
From Chicago4.5 Hours



Photos


The Jack Lake Campground has lakeside drive-in campsites. The Ice Age Trail courses through the campground, so the campsites are great place to start an IAT hike from.


The loon fishing on Jack Lake entertained me for hours


The Ice Age Trail passes on the far side of Game Lake. Looking across the lake you can see a peninsula where there is a reservable rustic campsite


Along the Ice Age Trail Summit Moraine Segment near Game Lake


Along the Ice Age Trail Summit Moraine Segment near Game Lake



Along the Ice Age Trail Summit Moraine Segment



Along the Ice Age Trail Summit Moraine Segment at Narrow Neck Ponds


Along the Ice Age Trail Summit Moraine Segment into a young white pine plantation



Along the Ice Age Trail Summit Moraine Segment



Along the Ice Age Trail Summit Moraine Segment


There is a very tall White Pine along the IAT Summit Moraine Segment


The Summit Moraine Segment runs in the grass alongside a State Highway for a bit before joining the 






























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