Sipsey Wilderness
Trails 202, 209, 200

Date: Saturday, 16 Nov 2013

Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, Alabama

Trails: 202 - Randolph 209 - Sipsey River 200 - Borden Creek

Members: Bart, Gary, James, Keith, Larry, Mimi, Sherry, Vanessa

Guests: Betty, Zach; Blessing (dog)

SWHC 16 Nov 2013

The outing had been intended as a day hike with some folks camping out on the Friday night before and joining the rest on Saturday. It did not turn out quite like that. The backpackers did camp and we all did meet up but then both parties opted for different routes out. No problem, worked out well for all concerned - just not what we expected to happen.

Speaking of what all of us expected to happen - or rather did NOT expect - was the rain on Friday afternoon which not only lingered into Saturday morning but even intensified. For all of the preceding week, the forecast had been for cloudy skies but with only a slight chance of showers. Several of us were caught a little short in the foul weather gear department.

Fortunately the Saturday temperature ranged from 55 degrees Fahrenheit to 63 by the end which meant that while one might be a little damp and uncomfortable at times, hypothermia was not a serious threat.

The backpackers parked at the Randolph Trailhead since for them the hike was essentially a loop. The day hikers parked (the largest) vehicle at the Sipsey Trailhead and carpooled to Randolph, about six miles away.

Crossing the Sipsey

Larry's report on the Saturday-only hike: I'll just get the timing out of the way first. We met at the Sipsey TH at 8 AM, drove to Randolph, and were walking by 8:20. At the river by 9:55. About a half hour break to take off shoes, cross river, put on shoes, watch others doing the same. Lunch stop at 11:56 (Mimi announced loudly). About 35 minutes to eat (with more silence experienced than heretofore - or after) and then about another 80 minutes back to the Sipsey parking lot.

So we came in at about five and a half hours, covering a distance estimated at about eight miles; Sherry's GPS pegged it over nine. Bart was going to claim 25 in his hiking log. Somewhere in the other two ranges I suspect.

So it was a wet day but with only a brief period of actual rainfall, that occurring after an hour out on 202. But the water falling off trees and from the brushed-next-to plants made one wish for rain pants as well as a rain jacket.

The river crossing, despite all the noise some people made, was not all that bad. The water temperature was about 43 degrees, the depth about 12 to 18 inches, and the current not enough to be a concern. I mean like I was in this cold water, barefoot, for about 20 seconds. My feet didn't freeze and fall off.

River scenery

I enjoy 202. It's an easy walk to the river with enough change of scenery so as not to be boring. Then into the hemlock forest and down the hill, preferably using the path along the bluff, with a sometimes great waterfall just before the more serious descent. The waterfall today was more of a water-trickle.

209 started with more of the wonderful hemlock forest followed by beech-oak-pine habitat. The bluffs sprung up again as we approached Fall Creek Falls, the amount of water surging over the falls better than anticipated.

As to trail conditions, 202 was fine. The trail erosion on 209 is getting serious. Never mind the few blowdowns that need to be conquered; some of these have been here for years. But in some spots, especially near the river banks, the trail narrows to a width of less than one foot. Some areas we remembered as requiring nothing more than stepping across a simple stream have evolved into the necessity to traverse a narrow bridge spanning a shallow gorge.

We encountered at least three dozen other hikers and chanced upon several occupied campsites. When we started, there were about eight or nine vehicles in the parking area at Randolph. It reached twice that many at Sipsey when we finished. We did not count over ten persons in any group (Sipsey Wilderness maximum) either hiking or camping all day.

These days we have photos posted both on our Picasa web album at Sipsey Hike November 2013 as well as other postings on Facebook and who knows where else. I suspect most of you reading this are much more clever at finding this stuff than I am, *sigh*.

Submitted 18 Nov 2013

Text: Larry

Photos: Gary, Mimi