Sipsey Wilderness
Trail 210

Date: Saturday, November 17, 2012
Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, Alabama
Trails: 210 - Mitchell Ridge
Members: Charlie, Gary P, (Keith), Larry, Mimi, Ray

Ray, Larry, Gary, Charlie Five of us met at Gum Pond Trailhead and were on our way to Braziel Trailhead by 8:15. (Keith had emailed us that he would be late and due to various circumstances, we never connected at all. I received a phone call from him just as I returned home explaining what went wrong. His voice sounded sufficiently far away that he - and his dog - get credit for making the hike.)

The early morning temperature could not have been much above 40 Fahrenheit but the day was already promising to be at least meteorologically perfect with blue skies and plenty of sunshine. Promises kept.

As this trail is the one that our club maintains, the object of this day's exercise was to actually hike it without the usual clearing, cutting, and snipping distractions. Indeed, four of us had just been out here a week ago armed with the customary saws and loppers.

We did manage to restrain ourselves this week, though we considered the occasional kick or toss of a fallen branch away from the path to be no more than common courtesy to the fellow behind. But (and maybe this is just a note for ourselves), in the middle section which we last visited in March, conditions are generally good. It is not like we can leave the pruners at home since we need to discourage the encroachment - if not blatant defiance - of red maple and oak saplings in the path and some muscadine vines have grown so heavy that they drape across the trail.

A couple of eight- to ten-inch diameter trees are lying on the ground though these are easily stepped over. At one point, a three inch beech is blocking the path at about chest height. We ducked under it but backpackers might have to stoop lower. The next club maintenance work day should be all it will take to eliminate these obstructions. All in all, we were pretty pleased with the condition of the trail.

OK, the previous couple of paragraphs were all about what we were not supposed to be doing on this outing. What we were supposed to do and did was to stop much more frequently to admire the views from the top of the ridge. The four of us who were out here last week remarked that the number of leaves that had fallen in the meantime was a bit surprising. The color of the forest changed from red, yellow, and orange backed by some greenery to basically tan beech leaves against a backdrop of bare branches - just in seven days and with no crazy weather to blame.

Top of waterfall
Top of waterfall Perhaps needless to say, the trail was covered almost to the point of obscurity with leaves. I cannot recall ever crunching through so many magnolia leaves.

We indulged in a short off-trail jaunt over to a waterfall that we had visited last spring. At that time the water was gushing, today only trickling. Nevertheless the scenery is well worth the detour. (The location is about 2.5 miles from the north end. At one of those hairpin turns where the trail steeply ascends, there is what looks like an old road following a stream. You follow this for about 100 yards or so and find yourself on top of a bluff where the water plunges to a valley below. To get back to the trail, the best idea is to just backtrack the short way you came though you could climb the adjoining steep hill if you are so masochistic.)

We spotted more birds today than usual, mostly American Robins and Dark-eyed Juncos but once I flushed what must have been a Barn Owl, golden-brown back, almond white underneath.

We stopped for lunch at what we customarily describe as the "big open area," realizing today that with quite a few trees having fallen nearby and the number of small trees trying to make their stand, the area is neither all that "big" nor "open" any more. It is still a nice place to have lunch.

Because of the fallen leaves, we found the trail difficult to track on a few occasions. Of course, having me out front as leader never helps in this regard.

But I think we all would encourage more hikers to try this route. More footsteps is all it really needs. Take a map and understand that the nature of trail 210 is that you have many twists and turns up and down hills and hollers. Definitely allow more time than you might normally allot.

We were back at our vehicles at the Gum Pond Trailhead by 2:00; that's five and a half hours for an eight mile walk, medium paced.
Indian Marker Tree

Submitted 18 November 2012
Text: Larry
Photos: Mimi

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