Forest County Highpoint Trip Report

Sugarbush Hill (1,939 ft)

Date: January 14, 2007
Author: John Hasch

The road to Sugarbush Hill (the highpoint of Forest County) was mostly uneventful. Not long after the gate at Lookout Mountain (the highest point in Lincoln County), I realized I was passing familiar territory. I had intended to go to Highway 17 and drive northeast. However, I had driven off northeast from the gate and I soon was passing the roads around Lookout Mountain where I had been just moments before. Realizing the mistake, I turned around, drove to Highway 17, and turned left/northeast.

Have you ever noticed large clumps in the trees high overhead? At one point as I was driving down the road toward Sugarbush Hill, I spied two such clumps in the trees above me. I am talking about what you might see after the leaves have fallen and nothing remains on the branches except for the most stubborn of leaves. Sometimes the clumps are just patches of stubborn leaves. Sometimes the clump of material turns out to be a birdís nest. Sometimes the clump is a large hornet or wasp nest. Sometimes, as in this case, the clumps are -- bald eagles!

Being from the relative flatlands of Indiana, the only bald eagles I had previously seen were on the coins in my pocket and in a cage at the Toledo Zoo. Now, right above me, two majestic birds were sitting in the canopy over the road. They were sitting in two separate trees, maybe 25 feet apart. I drove on for about 100 yards when I decided to pull over and see if I could capture this treasure on film. I pulled over, grabbed my camera, and began walking back down the road toward the "clumps". As I was walking, a pickup truck crested the road and pulled over, obviously spying the same birds. I got close enough to see the near eagle clearly and I raised my camera to take a shot or two. As I did, the ever-alert bird was spooked and he flew away. Not lost forever, however, the eagle circled the area before terminating the flight by landing right next to the other eagle! Like twins, the two birds sat head-to-head, wing-to-wing. What a treat. I continued walking closer to the birds. When I felt I was as close as I dared go, I raised the camera again to capture the event. This time, both birds went airborne and I hurriedly snapped a couple pictures of the departing birds. I am not sure what I got but I am sure the pictures will not even begin to capture the moment that had just ended. I believe I got the two eagles flapping their broad wings as they climbed in altitude and flew away over the surrounding trees.

At this time I acknowledged one of my greatest regrets of the trip. While packing at home to embark on this adventure, my wife had suggested that I take the telephoto lens that goes with my camera. Thinking it would just be excess baggage that would never be used on any of the successful summits, I chose to leave it behind. I now agree that the lens would have been ideal for the scene I had just disrupted. Had the lens been available, I would have had some great shots from a farther, safer distance. Now, as the pickup drove away, I was walking back to my car with less than ideal pictures. My memory would have to serve as the greatest memorial to this moment. I climbed back into my car and drove away knowing that anything else that would happen today would probably be anticlimactic.

A short while later, on Pelican Lake, I saw trucks in the middle of the lake, transportation for the eager ice fishermen. I thought this was peculiar since the ice was not as well-formed on most of the shallower creeks I had passed along the way. Apparently, the deep and cold waters of the lake can stay frozen better than the creek waters. A short while later, I arrived in Crandon, WI and stopped for gasoline and ice cream treats. I was only about 5 miles away from the Sugarbush target.

From the gas station, I was blessed with paved roads all the way to the summit area. Sugarbush Hill is home to a tall communication tower. When I arrived at the summit area, I drove past this fenced-in tower about 100 feet from the higher ground where the true summit was located. I parked at the top of a circular drive and noted a pile of graffiti-covered stones a short distance away. I made the quick 41-step hike to the rocks and climbed on them as I claimed this summit "bagged". North was behind me, the tower was due east on a heading of 90 degrees, and the rock pile was located on a bearing of 220 degrees. My altimeter told me I had ascended an unheard-of 5 feet on this hike, and I was exhausted! I paused for a quick break while I became accustomed to the nosebleed altitudes.

I took some pictures and, in about 15 minutes, I was driving away from the summit. It was now 4:57 pm and I had one more target to attempt before the day would be called done. At 4:59 pm, I pulled over to take another look at the maps to the Kent Lookout Tower (Langlade County), the highest point in Langlade County. I drove away knowing this final ascent would be a race against darkness.