Sipsey Wilderness
Trails 208, 205, 206

Date: Saturday, November 17, 2007
Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, Alabama
Trails: 208 - Northwest (partial), 205 (old trail now closed), and 206 - Thompson Creek (east side)  
Members: Anthony, Danny, Emily, Gary, Jennifer, Larry, Mike, Mimi, Myrna
Guests: Gwen, Pepper

SWHC on Trail 205 According to those who remember the advent of the Sipsey Wilderness, the roadbed that became trail 205 was the best of the existing roads at the time. This is quite believable since we were still able to follow most of it three decades later.

We parked our vehicles at the T3 - Thompson trailhead. Our plan was to follow trail 208 as far as trail 224, take the very short jog to the northern end of 205, bushwhack that all the way to the Sipsey, and return via the portion of trail 206 east of the river.

Ten humans and Pepper, Anthony and Jennifer's Toy Poodle, set out at 8 AM. Temperatures started in the low 40's, rising to about 65 F by 4 PM. Skies were sunny during the morning but mostly cloudy in the afternoon.

The only surprise at the beginning was that Thompson Creek, usually flowing briskly under the bridge at the trailhead, was almost dry! Otherwise, trail 208 afforded easy hiking with few fallen trees. The sometimes streaming ruts down the center of the trail were dry. The trees retained just enough of their autumn-colored leaves to provide strikingly scenic views backlit by the early morning sun.
After about 500 yards down trail 224, trail 205 begins off to the right. An old trail marker post indicates the start. Danny reminded us that one reason for the forming our hiking club was to attempt to improve this inadequate signage. We understand that this is a Wilderness Area but one should at least be able to find where the trails begin and end. The situation has improved greatly in recent years.

Trail 205 was dropped as an official Forest Service-maintained trail some ten years ago. Its old trail marker post is the least of one's worries. We expected downed trees everywhere, or at least where the briars weren't holding them up. At first we were delighted. The roadbed was easily discernible and we could either step over or stoop under the few obstacles.
Danny at 205 Trailpost
But that last step is a killer Maybe we should not have stopped for lunch. Soon thereafter we ran into serious entanglements such as blow-downs with domino effects. These could not be stepped over. Frequently when we thought we had detoured around one, we would find that the path had turned sharply in the meantime and we had to search for it, seriously on occasion.

As we neared the end of the trail as indicated on our maps and GPS, it appeared we were to veer to the west and then follow a stream bed south to the river. This almost worked but the dry stream in the hollow terminated rather abruptly, high on the bluff and we found ourselves staring straight down what would undoubtedly be a fine waterfall in wetter times.
So we had to climb back up one ridge and down another to reach the river. Unfortunately the slopes were steep and the only good thing you could say about all the shrubbery in your face was that it gave you something to grab onto when you slipped. But everyone made it without any more serious problem than soiled clothing.

We emerged in the middle of that section of trail along the east side of the river between where 206 turns to cross the river and 209 has crossed it. Trail 206 presented few obstacles, though we encountered many people (and dogs). Twenty vehicles crowded the parking lot on our return at 4:15. We had hiked about ten miles.
Heading down

Overall, the impression was that it was a good hike though obviously it would have been better to have avoided climbing down the bluff. Although we all came away with an appreciation for the geography of the Wilderness, it is irresponsible to recommend trail 205 to anyone who is not prepared to put up with considerable difficulty. Pepper held his own remarkably well but he had someone to carry him through the rough spots.

For these and more of Mike's photos, see November Trail Hike.

Submitted 23 November 2007
Text: Larry Barkey
Photos: Mike Henshaw

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