Sipsey Wilderness
Trails 203 and 207

Date: Saturday, November 13, 2010
Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, Alabama
Trails: 203 - Lookout and 207 - Braziel Creek
Members: Bart, Gary, Mike, Mimi, Larry, Owen, Scotty
Guests: Kirk, Mark; Webster (dog)

Gary, Mike, Scotty, and Webster camped out Friday night along trail 203. The rest of us met on Saturday at the Gum Pond Trailhead by 8 AM and carpooled to the Flannagin Trailhead where the parking space is somewhat narrow to say the least.

The day hikers started south on 203 and met up with the backpackers after an hour. We all followed 203 to 207, crossed Borden Creek, walked more or less north, arriving back at the Gum Pond Trailhead after a short stint on the east end of trail 208. The total distance came in at about 9.5 miles and took the better part of seven hours including three rest stops and a longer lunch break.
SWHC 13 November 2010
Crossing Borden Creek
We could not have asked for a more beautiful autumn day with the temperature starting at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and rising to the low 70's. Though many of the colored leaves had fallen from the trees, enough remained to make a spectacle of the abundant sunshine.

Though the moisture situation had improved considerably over the last month, the creeks could still only push along a few inches of water. The six-week old campfire ban had only been lifted as of the previous Wednesday.

Since everyone at least claimed that they enjoyed the hike, for this report I would like to focus on the condition of the trails rather than on the state of mind of the hikers. Neither of these trails has seen very much traffic so the trail bed was not terribly well-defined in some places. The preponderance of fallen leaves only exacerbated the difficulty.

203: Wild South volunteers have expended considerable effort over the past couple of years to improve 203 and it shows. Sections that were completely overgrown or blocked by downed trees are now easily passable. One particularly nasty gully sports a new natural-looking bridge; it looks like a couple of logs just happened to fall into the right place. Nice job.

We still found the northern part confusing, especially as it approaches a stream about a third of a mile in. There was some flagging but it was not clear where to cross nor where the trail continues on the other side. (We found out later that some of this flagging was bogus, not on the trail at all. There are some steps indicating where to cross the stream if you look hard enough.) With more footsteps on the trail, these route problems should be resolved and no one will think about leaving private flagging hanging about. Trail 203 features some exquisitely beautiful overlooks and deserves more attention.
On the Rocks
207: Well, there's no trail maintenance on this one. Fortunately most of the downed trees blocking the path require only minimal effort, but we all came home with little nicks in our skin from briers and twigs snapping at us along the way.

On two occasions, our perceived trail along the creek proved false and we had to bushwhack 20 yards up the hill to put us back on course. This happened at the south end just after crossing Borden Creek and at a point near where Clifty Creek branches off of Braziel. Considering that these spots may be popular areas for camping or picnicking, we probably just missed some subtle forks in the trail. (Or maybe not so subtle. There is a cairn marking the turn at the south end but we breezed right by it.) With everyone's eyes wide open, we managed to right ourselves and keep on track but it shouldn't be this hard.

This trail does have a couple of nonintuitive places where you walk one way to go the other. These are why you need a map and not what I am complaining about. I am more concerned about the spots where you are walking along fine and then the path just dies. Trail 207 seems to pose more of such challenges than one would desire. The same could have been said of 203 several years ago.

Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch. All in all it was a splendid day of hiking.

We have some more photos in our Picasa Web Album, unimaginatively entitled Sipsey Hike November 2010.

Submitted 23 Nov 2010
Text: Larry
Photos: Mark, Mimi

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