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Emily Ford Completes Historic Winter Thru-Hike of Ice Age Trail

Emily Ford completed a winter thru-hike of the Ice Age Trail on March 6th, 2021 after 69 days on trail. She is the second person—and the first woman—to ever thru-hike the trail in winter.

When Emily Ford set out to thru-hike Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail this winter, she wasn’t nervous. “I tend to lean away from worrying, probably to a fault,” she says with a laugh. It’s an optimistic attitude that served her well on the snowy trail as she hiked 1,200 miles through temperatures that routinely fell into the negative double digits over the course of 69 days.

The Ice Age Trail traverses Wisconsin from East to West, roughly following the glacial reaches of the most recent Ice Age period, known as the Wisconsin Glaciation, which ended about 10,000 years ago. The trail is a work in progress, with road walks connecting yellow-blazed trails that wind through geological marvels and directly through towns.

Emily’s choice to hike the trail in winter was mostly a logistical one. She’s a gardener for Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, Wisconsin, and gets furloughed from her job every winter. “The biggest dump on my dirtbagging dream is that I have such a cool job,” she says, “and I’m just not ready to leave it yet.” When she decided to hike the trail, it had been three years since her thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail, and as she says, “I just wanted to get back on the trail. I was determined.”

Confidence in the Cold

Growing up in Wisconsin and spending a lot of time gardening, snowmobiling, hunting, and ice fishing, Emily is no stranger to having fun in the cold. But it was a backcountry dog sled and ski trip with Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge that gave her the winter backpacking itch. “That’s where I got in touch with the deep desire of wanting to sleep outside in the wintertime,” she says. That trip, combined with a winter camping trip in a canvas-walled tent with a friend, gave her the confidence that it could be done, and for Emily, that’s all she needed.

Explore more of this historic winter thru-hike written by Tina Mullen here.

LAST UPDATED

October 22, 2023

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