Woman Completes 1,900km Winter Hike in Northern U.S.

Emily Ford and canine pal Diggins.

Emily Ford made history earlier this week, as the first woman and only the second person ever to hike Wisconsin’s 1,900km Ice Age Trail in winter.

She and her canine pal (a borrowed sled dog named Diggins), hiked through temperatures ranging from 7˚C through to -37˚C, spending all but just a few hours outdoors on their 69-day journey.

The Ice Age Trail is one of only 11 National Scenic Trails in the United States and roughly follows a terminal moraine from the last ice age. It skirts eskers and bypasses glacial erratics and other signs from that era more than 12,000 years ago when most of northern North America was under ice. Today, more than one million people a year hike, backpack, and snowshoe parts of the trail.

The meandering path of Wisconsin’s 1,900km Ice Age Trail.

The 28-year-old Ford, who hails from nearby Duluth, began her east-to-west hike on December 28 near St. Croix Falls. She walked 25km each day, with just a couple of rest days that slightly delayed her projected finish but kept her fresh and open to what she called “trail magic”.

“Magic just happens,” she said. “People find you and they do great things for you…They’d leave me stuff at the trailheads…like water and socks…A lot of people leave candy, Snickers. When it was really cold, people left hand warmers.”

Aside from the food that she received through trail magic, Ford pre-packed food bags that friends deposited along her route. She tried to consume 4,000 calories per day, including rich snacks like almonds, Snickers bars, dried apricots, sunflower seeds, and M&Ms. Although most of her journey meandered through uninhabited areas, she occasionally replenished her snacks at a store.

Cold spell. Photo: Emily Ford

Ford says she did her trek in part to break social norms. After George Floyd was murdered, she wanted to do something, but unlike many of her friends, she was not sure how she fit in.

“I don’t rally. I don’t do this and I don’t do that. Where is my space in this? The outdoors is where my space is. I know not everyone feels comfortable hiking, especially people of color.

“I want people to know that literally anyone can play outdoors, no matter which boxes you do or do not check,” she said. “Through my time backpacking, I’ve never really met another brown person backpacking, skiing, or mountain biking.”

She’s unusually candid and spontaneous on social media, although she now has almost 10,000 followers on one account and a handful of generous local sponsors. For Ford, this adventure is about encouraging people of color to enjoy the outdoors.

“I started hiking this trail at first for kicks and giggles and then to show, after that, that anybody can hike,” she said.

Emily Ford makes tracks on the snowy Ice Age Trail. Photo: Duluth News Tribune

As a New Zealand Pakeha (that’s the Maori word for a New Zealander of European descent), it’s hard for me to grapple with the idea that the color of someone’s skin has anything to do with nature. But that’s the entire point; that many of us simply don’t understand the prejudice that others face.

When The Duluth News Tribune asked her if she felt she’d accomplished her mission, she replied, “I’m hoping I planted seeds at least, and we may not see the fruit of that for a while. Because how easy is it to follow someone’s journey on Instagram? You click a button and you’re following. But now the other people have to start doing the work. If you still want to keep this going, you’ve got to do the thing yourself. Get out there…”


About the Author

Chasing Dreams Travel

Alex Myall

After 22 years in the exercise industry, offset by long-haul adventures around the world, Alex Myall found a better option a few years ago and has never looked back. She took a diploma in travel journalism, backed it up with travel industry certificates, then launched Chasing Dreams Travel NZ, her own travel agency.

Now she combines her love of writing and world travel with running her business from her home on the spectacular South Coast of Wellington, New Zealand, while simultaneously being mum to a gorgeous baby girl. She maintains a “life’s too short to do things by halves” attitude.

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Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
4 months ago

Thanks for this story. I hadn’t heard about the trail, the hiker, or the expedition. I hope it will make a difference.

Sara Whittleton
Sara Whittleton
4 months ago
Reply to  Lenore Jones

Congrats on this accomplishment! I hope Emily Ford will write more about her IceAge hike experience. I tried to hike some this summer with my son and our packs were super heavy because we were carrying so much water. How did she get water on the trail. Did she melt snow? Please write book or host a Zoom about this maybe to benefit a women of color hiking scholarship…? You’re awesome Emily and Alex thanks for bringing story to wider audience.

Sylvia Harris
Sylvia Harris
4 months ago

Hi I am a black senior citizen who trail ran at 60 at clear creek in southern Ohio. At 67 hiked at least 24 or more rugged to tame parks, walk 40 miles per week in winter and summer urban hikes. Some of the hikes were with people but in every instance there were no people of color. When I started I weighed 270 lbs now about 155.

Eddy De Wilde
Eddy De Wilde
4 months ago

69 days in that weather takes a lot of determination for anyone. That’s a huge achievement. Well done Emily and Diggins!

3 months ago