Sipsey Wilderness
Trails 203 and 207

Date: Saturday, October 25, 2008
Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, Alabama

Trails: 203 - Lookout and 207 - Braziel Creek

Members: Anthony & Jennifer, Gary, Larry & Mimi
Guests: Marsha, Pam, Yvonne

Under the bluff on 207 Because of the limited parking space at trailhead T7 -Flannagin, we met and deposited most of the vehicles at the end point, trailhead T5 - Gum Pond. We left T5 shortly after 8 AM and were parked at T7 and on the north end of trail 203 by 8:15. We returned to T5 about seven hours later.

It would be difficult to imagine more perfect weather for hiking. Even with abundant sunshine, temperatures remained pleasantly cool all day. The fall foliage was just starting to kick in so there were plenty of leaves for that sunlight to filter through, sometimes to dazzling effect.

The near-normal amount of rainfall this area had experienced in the spring and summer manifested itself in form of numerous saplings overgrowing the trails.

Maybe it's just me, but I still found trail 203 very difficult to follow. The first half mile went okay but then just as we were approaching Borden Creek, we lost the path completely. But no matter. We bushwhacked to the creek, successfully forded the inch deep water, and found ourselves at the southern entrance to a cave, the same one usually approached from the former shooting range accessible from FS Road 208.

After exploring the cave as best we could with only one working flashlight, we had a steep climb up the slope from the side of the creek to where we discovered the trail again.

Pam at the cave
In the woods along 203

The trail-marking flags made from deteriorating orange plastic stripping helped us to keep on track but it certainly was advantageous to have as many people as possible looking out for those clues. To be fair, about 75% of the trail is fairly obvious and not difficult to follow at all. But there are these sections where you will take all the help you can get.

Overall, other than our little mishap near the beginning where we crossed Borden Creek somewhat to the west of where intended, we negotiated the rest of trail 203 without that much trouble - maybe not smoothly, but we didn't get lost. (Some of us remember the trail 203 hike from three years ago which we are still too embarrassed to talk about.)

Trail 207 proved to be in slightly better shape but also difficult to find, particularly at its south end. After we recrossed Borden Creek, we headed towards the confluence with Braziel Creek. We stopped for lunch at an open area next to the stream with numerous chair-sized rocks and couch-sized fallen trees to accommodate our sophisicated dining needs. I mean like who eats peanut butter sandwiches while sitting on the ground? Really now.

As lovely as this spot was, it turned out that we had veered a bit off the designated path. So after lunch, we once again had to clamber up a rather steep slope to get back in the groove. Not so bad after that. A cairn at one point indicated that the path continued straight ahead, up over a rocky outcrop. And about half a mile from the end, the trail takes a turn in what is intuitively the wrong direction. That had us scouting around for a few minutes until we figured it out.
Cinnamon ferns
For the naturalists, the flora fared better than the fauna though grasshoppers danced around us all day and we did manage to ruin one small garter snake's afternoon nap.

The Cowcumber (Magnolia macrophylla) trees caught everyone's attention with their leaves and fallen seed blossoms all over the place. We frequently crunched over the fallen fruits of Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) trees. Hearts-a-Burstin (Euonymus americanus) and Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries brightened up the trail sides. We found Cinnamon ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) growing out of the rock under the bluff where we stopped for an afternoon break.

All in all, a pretty good day - no problems with insects and NO TICKS!

Submitted 30 October 2008  
Text: Larry Barkey Photos: Mimi Barkey

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