Sipsey Wilderness
Trail 203

Date: Saturday, February 16, 2008
Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, Alabama
Trail: 203 - Lookout  
Members: Larry, Mimi, Tim
Guests: Katelyn, Mike

The Lookout Trail is aptly named. The path takes you up down and around numerous hills and hollers and the views from the top are among the most scenic in the Wilderness. But "lookout" also describes the task of actually following this trail.

Since the intent of a Wilderness Area is to let nature take her course, the Forest Service is justified in not decorating the trails with signs and blazes. Some of us like that. But the policy presumes that hikers can somehow find the trail. This one gets difficult in the middle.

Someone, presumably the Forest Service, has hung some flags made from strips of colored plastic tape along the path. Though against policy, without these the path itself can be very ambiguous.

But these aging flags provide only half-baked service. True blazes would help you follow the trail and alert you to turns. The flags do not. They are too unevenly spaced. Moreover, you need to be watching not only in front of you (your usual perspective I would think) but to the sides to catch where the trail turns. The trail bed itself is too poorly defined to provide any definitive help.

Mind you that what I am complaining about is only about a one mile section in the middle. But that threw us for a loop on our outbound walk. Okay, maybe not a loop but we missed one of the turns and ended up bushwhacking our way up and down one hollow until we finally connected with the trail again.

Not that anyone particularly objected. Getting "lost" can be very educational - teaches you how to read topo maps and use GPS devices for instance. And this whole area was quite winter-pretty with brown beech leaves contrasting with the hollies and moss-draped outcrops.

Our plan for the hike had been to walk north to where the trail crosses Borden Creek and then turn around and return. It turned out that we could have crossed Borden Creek without too much trouble but we chose to stop there and have lunch. We wanted more time to find those portions of the trail that had alluded us on the way up.

On the way back, everyone was more attuned to what we were looking for, namely these little faded strips of plastic hanging here and there. We succeeded completely and were able to follow the path back to the trailhead without too much difficulty.

The weather cooperated all day with cool temperatures in the morning under muted sunshine. The clouds increased as the day progressed but the temperature rose into the mid 50's Fahrenheit.

We hiked about eight miles total and arrived back at the Borden Creek Trailhead at about 2:15. There were 21 vehicles parked along the road at that time. That's a lot.

Submitted 20 February 2008
Text: Larry Barkey

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