Date: Saturday, 17 Oct 2015
Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, AL
Members: Jane, Larry, Mimi, Rick
This outing had been billed as a loop walk with optional backpacker overnight camping at Cedar Grove, a lovely little campsite located near where trail 208 crosses Braziel Creek, also accessible from a shortcut off trail 210.
Unfortunately, the four of us that showed up were not familiar with the shortcut. I had done it once before but in the company of someone who knew the way. The idea is basically that you drop off the ridge and then follow Braziel Creek until you come to an excellent place to camp, surrounded by cedars. But you have to know the proper angle to get started. Rick was the only one who planned on camping overnight.
Long story short, we hiked to where we thought the cutoff was but could not figure it out. We had already experienced some difficutly all day in just following the regular trail. Many leaves were freshly fallen, especially Big Leaf Magnolias, and these obscured what is arguably an obscure trail to begin with. The task required all four sets of eyes to keep us on course.
We attempted a downhill route to the creek but I think I panicked first; we had vines and brambles in our faces and not a clue to where we were going - other than down there, someplace. Maybe I have been lost out here more than others (an experience I did not wish to repeat) but I suggested that we might be better served by just finding our way back to the trail (while we thought we still could) and then try to retrace our steps out. Rick was having some second thoughts about the by-himself overnight camping anyway. So all agreed to let it go and get ourselves back to where we came from.
This turn of events may have been fortuitous. During the time of our retreat to the kiosk for trail 223, the Forest Service had posted a warning that a wildfire had broken out in the Wilderness in the vicinity of the Big Tree and that at least four trails were closed. Half of the parking lot at the Braziel Creek TH had been cordoned off.
While the cause of the blaze (as of this writing) has not been determined, it may have been lightning, though frankly we could use some rain. But all too often on these club hikes, we encounter campfires that have not been properly extinguished, some with open flames. The Leave No Trace ethic does not mean wipe the place out as if it never were there. This is the USFS, not ISIL.
(Having seized an opportunity to carp about the lack of respect that some people show to beautiful and vanishing areas such as the Sipsey Wilderness, let me get down off my soapbox and back on the ground.)
The forest was absolutely gorgeous. The club's experience on trail 210 usually encompasses only the trail maintenance season (October to March). So we were delighted, and a little confused at times, by all the leaves on the trees. This year with its long cool wet spring, adequate summer rain, and no early autumn cold nights has kept the trees greener than I have ever seen them at this point - not that there was any shortage of fallen leaves, in fact so many that we encountered sections that had never looked like that before, enough to make us wonder if we had lost the trail.
Okay, so bottom line, we had a really nice walk in the woods. Rick's GPS clocked about four miles each way. We started at about 8:20 AM and ended about 1:50 PM. Although off to a cool start at 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the weather cooperated with beautiful autumn sunshine, pushing the temperature to 65 degrees by the end with a little wind along the way to keep it interesting. No problems with ticks or yellow jackets. The area was extremely dry with no water in the feeder streams to the creeks.
Submitted 23 Oct 2015