Date: Saturday, 15 Mar 2014
Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, Alabama
Trails: 202 - Randolph
Members: Bart, Bob, Jane, Larry, Mimi, Ray
Guests: Rich, Elder Berg, Elder Barben
Since we did not have the advantage of our GPS experts with us, we kind of scaled back our original intention of some grand waterfalls tour in favor of something we could do without getting seriously lost. So that goal translated to starting (and ending) at the Randolph Trailhead followed by hiking all of 202 to the river. After that, the bushwhacking began. We checked out Feather Hawk Falls, followed the river back down to Little Ugly Creek, turned right and stayed there to Deer Skull Falls (which had been billed as the lunch stop). From there, more bushwhacking back to 202 but then relatively easy hiking to the parking lot.
To get the statistics out of the way, we managed to get started by 8:10 and dribbled in around 3:15. The forecasted showers held off all day with some sunshine for the latter part of the morning. Deer Skull Falls was even glistening in the sunshine when we arrived though that did not last. The temperature was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit most of the day.
Trail 202 was in good shape, no obstructions worth mentioning. Quick stop at the Johnson Cemetery and at that large tree with the Resurrection fern growing all over it, next to the rusted remnants of what I think someone once identified as a 1937 Ford pickup.
That waterfall near the end of 202 was flowing nicely.
Managed to find Feather Hawk Falls with a minimum of difficulty. The path, as it were, starts just to the left of where 202 ends (where you would cross over to 209 if going that way). A small trail takes you up to what looks like an old road. You basically follow the creek, keeping it to your right. After a few minutes, there is a decision point where you can either take the low road by the creek or climb up nearer the bluff. This situation happens twice. The first time, go either way though the low trail is easier. The second time, go up towards the bluff because there are some large boulders on the lower path which will cause you grief.
The falls were splendid, plenty of water. We lingered about 30 minutes. The temperature definitely dropped while nearer to the falls.
We backtracked to the river. For some reason, it seems obvious on the way back which way to walk while on the way out we had all these decisions to make.
There is sort of a trail along the river between 202 and Little Ugly Creek, a trail in the sense that people have walked this waay before but there are plenty of downed trees, briers, vines, and little twigs in your face. But relatively open sections surprise you now and then.
We arrived at Little Ugly Creek after about 50 minutes. It is the first stream of any size on the right that you come to. We kept to the north side of the creek. I suppose we could have zigzagged across and back to find easier walking but ultimately we wanted to be on this side so that ís what we did.
The hiking was tough. Besides all the just experienced stuff blocking our way, we had some steeper banks to contend with and the level ground only a memory. We had to balance on 30 degree slopes or worse at times. But we all just took it slowly.
After about 30 minutes, the creek forks with Eagle Creek going off to the left and I guess it ís still called Little Ugly Creek going right. It is not another quarter mile to Deer Skull Falls.
This is real pretty country along Little Ugly, even without the falls which were performing excellently. We stopped 40 minutes for lunch. The sun emerged from behind the clouds now and then. And again the temperature was noticeably lower; this can be a consideration on these waterfall hikes.
After a bit of a false start after lunch, we found our way up the falls, crossing the higher falls just above its ultimate descent. We then fought our way through more fallen trees, vines, etc until we got up on higher ground. From there, we just followed compass direction NW until we hit trail 202 again.
The group did get separated into two parties during this last stretch but managed to get back together by whistling at each other. It also helped that two of the guys, one in each party, had cell phone service. Up on the ridges, this is not such a miracle but in general cell service is real spotty in the Wilderness.
After what we had been through, the walk out on 202 was a piece of cake.
These days we have these and more photos on our Picasa web album at Sipsey Waterfalls March 2014 as well as other postings on various Facebook accounts.
Submitted 25 Mar 2014