Sipsey Wilderness
Trails 209, 204, 224

Date: Saturday, January 17, 2009
Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, Alabama
Trails: West Borden Creek,  209 - Sipsey River,  204 - Bee Ridge,  224 - Bunyan Hill
Members: Bart, Gary, Johnnie, Larry & Mimi
Guests: Copperhead

Bart (in blue) at Fall Creek Falls In spite of exceptionally cold temperatures, six of us gathered at the Borden Trailhead shortly before 8 AM. We began this rather long walk promptly on the hour.

The overnight low temperature had sunk to around 22 degrees Fahrenheit and had only advanced to 28 by the time we started out. By midday, all our various thermometers and GPS devices registered about 37 degrees, never pushing higher. And the skies were cloudy all day (the Bankhead Forest ain't exactly home on the range you know). Sprinkles of rain urged us forward in the afternoon.

The basic plan for the hike was to cross the bridge at the trailhead, follow the "unofficial" trail down the west side of Borden Creek to 209, take 209 to 204, north on 204 to its end at 224, and finish back down 224 to where we started. We figured the distance to be about 12 miles, certainly not much less. Originally, some had planned to camp over on Saturday night. The temperature torpedoed that idea pretty early on.

One of our objectives was to avoid water crossings. Due to the rainfall during the previous month, we expected much higher water levels than we encountered. Borden Creek at the terminus of 209 was only about eight inches. The depth of the river at the junction of 209 and the 202 crossing was also less than a foot. None of the little feeder streams punctuating 209 posed any difficulty either. While this lack of water plus the frozen earth made for easier hiking, at the same time, we were kind of puzzled by the situation.

Everyone wore multiple layers of clothing to fend off the cold. We also kept up a brisk walking pace which helped, though it was easy to become chilled when we stopped for a break. By the end, all the layers of clothing were still on our backs, not in our packs. I was glad to have brought more clothing than I thought I would need, especially the two pairs of gloves with different thicknesses.

The highlight of the day had to be the icicles hanging off the bluffs sheltering the West Borden Creek and 209 trails. Fall Creek Falls was none too shabby either. While it is not abnormal to see ice in this part of Alabama in winter, the icicles are usually less voluminous and more short-lived.

Also notable were the winter landscape views seen while climbing the ridge along the southern part of trail 204. The bare tree branches colored black, white and all shades in between reached to silhouette against the milky gray sky while interspersed leaves of evergreen hollies and hemlocks completed the collage.
Icicles along Borden Creek

As for trail conditions, the West Borden Creek Trail is in good shape as is 209. It is necessary to climb over a few fallen trees but no worse than ever. The same can be said for 204. It might be worth noting that when walking north on 204, you come to a steep section where the route seems to vanish among some boulders. Not to worry; the trail actually just hugs the bluff closer than you might expect. But if you cannot find it, just carefully climb up over the rocks and the path is easily rediscovered at the top.

Iron Bacteria at Fall Creek Falls Sipsey Fork

Trail 224 presented a totally different picture. The loblolly pines have been encroaching on the trail for a number of years and now they have almost reached the point of choking it in some places. In addition, at least half a dozen large trees have blown down, some with bypasses already established around them. With the gray skies blending dismally with the gray fallen timber along the way, trail 224 certainly provided a study in bleakness on this raw day.

Ice, schmice. Why in '87 ... We were surprised by the number of other hikers - almost all backpackers - that we encountered during the day. There must have been at least 15. Maybe they were taking advantage of a day off for the King/Lee holiday on Monday. The weather sure wasn't bringing anyone out.

We arrived back at Borden Trailhead at 3:45. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed the experience. The scenery, at least for the first two-thirds, was a wintertime treat. The brisk pace provided more exercise than we sometimes get. And we got to utilize some of the cold weather gear that, fortunately, sits in the closet for much of the year.

Submitted 23 Jan 2009
Text: Larry Barkey
Photos: Larry & Mimi Barkey

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