Sipsey Wilderness
Trails 202, 209, West Borden

Date: Saturday, January 15, 2011
Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, Alabama
Trails: 202 - Randolph, 209 - Sipsey River, West Borden Creek
Members: Charlie, Gary, Keith, Larry, Owen
Guests: Mark

SWHC 15 January 2011 Winter snow is not all that uncommon in this part of northern Alabama but to have six inches on the ground for a week is unusual. Needless to say, the whole area shut down, though the post office clerk did remind me that their "neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night" motto specifically fails to mention snow.

By Saturday morning, the major roads were fairly clear thanks to some sunshine in defiance of half a week of freezing temperatures, but the forest roads were still covered with ice and snow. Gary managed to park his truck as near our end point at the Borden Trailhead as he could without having to tempt fate on that last quarter mile slope. I picked him up and we met the others at the Randolph Trailhead. Arguably, driving conditions on the paved road were more treacherous than on the gravel road.

With the temperature only at about 28 degrees Fahrenheit, it was 8:30 by the time we all had donned our motley collection of winter hiking gear, making sure we could still move with all those layers on.

The Wilderness can be astoundingly beautiful at times but today was one to remember. Even with the pale gray sky, the white snow (which admittedly we don't get to see very often) just perfectly trimmed the dark tree trunks and rocks – and with green accents from the hollies, hemlocks, and mountain laurels that showcased a beauty that is sometimes overlooked in the abundant foliage of warmer seasons.

We found all the trails in very good shape. Past the cemetery on 202, the few more walk-arounds and step-overs than on the other trails slowed our progress a little and twigs tried to grab our faces now and then. But we saw no screaming need for serious trail maintenance yet.
Winter Water

The river posed no problem other than its estimated 40 degree temperature. (No one stopped in the middle to take a reading.) The depth ranged from about 6 inches to 15, not over anyone's knees. And with only about 10 yards and 10 seconds to cross, putting your shoes and socks back on presented more of a problem than hypothermia.

Crossing the River Obstacles along the eastern half of the River Trail were minimal other than we couldn't find a suitable place to have lunch until we got to Fall Creek Falls. Keith had been here about two weeks before during a torrential rain storm. He told us stories of stranded hikers and washed-away tents and backpacks. To the point, our lunch spot had been underwater. Most campers are unaware of the danger of flash floods in this area.

The West Borden Creek Trail (200A?) was the messiest. Many of the blowdowns from previous years have been removed but some remain. More of a problem were the steep banks of the streams feeding into Borden Creek. By the time we arrived, the temperature had climbed above freezing and what had been just wet snow was turning to slush. Worse yet was the saturation of the soil underneath, creating slippery mud.

The last hour presented the most difficult hiking of the day with everyone reporting either a fall or close to one; allegedly, we almost lost Charlie to a snow drift (though club members' stories - especially those of unverifiable events - are prone to exaggeration with the scope and untrustworthiness only increasing exponentially with time).

We arrived back at Borden Trailhead at 2:30 with another quarter hour required to carefully slog up the still ice-laden hill back to the truck. Despite the unconducive weather, half a dozen vehicles were parked at the trailhead and, contrary to expectations, we encountered at least four parties of backpackers during the day, the majority of them in the vicinity of Borden Creek.

For those who have never seen snow or revel in watching others wade through freezing water, we have a Picasa Web Album of questionable value at Sipsey Hike January 2011. Don't expect Ansel Adams.

Fall Creek Falls

Submitted 21 Jan 2011
Text: Larry
Photos: Gary, Keith, Larry

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