Sipsey Wilderness
Trails 201 and 209

Date: Saturday, October 13, 2007
Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, Alabama
Trails: 201 - Rippey and 209 - Sipsey River  
Members: Larry, Mimi, Gary, Bart, Milton, Kelley, Danny, Kim, Chelsea, Emily, Anthony, Jennifer
Guests: Murphy

Anyone who had doubted the severity of the drought in Alabama needs only to have hiked with us along trail 209 on Saturday to have experienced first-hand how bad conditions had become. The club had purposely chosen to hike this trail in October since we wanted to avoid the stream crossing difficulties that we had experienced in the past when we hiked later in the year – difficulties such as the fording of water that is flowing right along, knee- to waist-deep, with a temperature under 59 F (15 C). We may have over-corrected this year.

We dropped vehicles at the Picnic Area (trailhead T1 - Sipsey) and began the hike from the T2 - Randolph trailhead at about 8:30. Twelve humans and Murphy, Gary’s Border Collie. Murphy had less to carry in his pack than the others, especially the ten who were planning on staying overnight; they required food, water, tents, food, water, sleeping bags, food, additional arcane gear and still more food.

From the trailhead, we followed trail 201 to the junction with 209. A more pleasant way to start the day would be difficult to image; the morning light filtered through the trees highlighting this forest’s remarkable palette of late summer leaf colors.

SWHC Group
Crossing the Sipsey Other than momentarily losing track of Mimi, 201 was otherwise uneventful. The trail was in excellent shape with only a few downed trees to step over or walk around.

At the end of 201, we turned right onto trail 209. At its western end, hiking the steep descent is sometimes referred to as “walking down the waterfall” since a stream competes with the trail for a path over the rocks. Not today – completely dry. The river itself was no more than ankle-deep and everybody managed to cross without wet feet at the designated 209 crossing by stepping over a dozen well-placed stones. Okay, Murphy got wet feet but he seemed to enjoy it.

Murphy further enjoyed himself just a little way past the crossing when we spotted a medium-sized feral hog next to the trail. Murphy barked and chased him up the bluff. We encountered no other pigs or any snakes.

Trail 209 does not have much change in elevation but is frequently interrupted by small streams and rivulets feeding into the larger Sipsey Fork. The hiking challenge with these is getting down and up the steep, usually muddy and slippery banks. The challenge now was not to slip in the fine sand on the banks; only a couple of these streams managed even anything like mud in the deepest spots.

Break Time Larry and Gary

Anyhow, Mimi and Larry departed from the rest of the group at the quite nice campsite at the junction of 209 and the East Bee Branch Canyon/Big Tree trail. The day warmed considerably but the light through the leaves continued to enchant us, particularly in the beech-hemlock sections. As mentioned, we usually hike this trail later in the year and are not accustomed to so much greenery – or shade.

Fall Creek Falls was more like Fall Creek Trickle. The biggest surprise awaited us at Borden Creek which usually manages a decent flow of water where it joins the Sipsey, even in autumn. We skipped across on two, flat stepping stones! The water would not have covered the toes on our boots. We even had to look around to make sure we really were where we thought we were it looked so strange.

Trail 209 had a number of downed trees, some requiring more than little detours or some climbing or stooping. Perhaps a candidate for some trail maintenance soon? Another point perhaps worth mentioning is that although 209 boasts numerous campsites, many were claimed by midday, particularly in the vicinity of the Big Tree trail.

Larry and Mimi arrived at the Picnic Grounds at about 3:30, the total hike lasting about seven hours, including a forty minute break for lunch and photos.

All reports from the next day were equally favorable. Notable sightings included another hog and just hordes of people. Well maybe not hordes, but more than we're used to seeing.

This overnight was Anthony and Jennifer's first backpacking experience in the Wilderness. Interestingly enough, the chosen campsite was the same one that both Gary and Danny, on separate occasions, had selected for their first backpacking trips here. However, it was decided that a commemorative monument might not exactly be in keeping with the spirit of "Leave No Trace". Besides with all the food, no one had any room for concrete. And melting down brass on a Coleman stove just takes forever.

Submitted 14 October 2007
Text: Larry Barkey, Gary White
Photos: Milton Barker (or his camera at least)

Milton and Kelley

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