Date: Saturday, 14 Dec 2013
Location: Sipsey Wilderness, Bankhead National Forest, Alabama
Trails: 208 - Northwest
Members: Gary, Keith, Larry, Mimi, Vanessa; Blessing (dog)
I think this was my bright idea – to hike Northwest Trail 208 end to end, something the club had not attempted in over eight years. We decided to walk from east to west. The problem with hiking this trail is not the walking which covers only seven fairly easy miles.
The difficulty lies in positioning transportation at both ends. The two trailheads, Gum Pond on the eastern side and Thompson to the west are as far apart as any two trailheads in the Wilderness. Via unpaved Forest Service roads, the distance comes in at 19 miles. Opting for the down and under alternative using the paved Cranal Road pushes it to 25. Either route requires an hour of driving.
So were we to meet somewhere and then spot the vehicles, we would be looking at two hours of musical cars, then seven miles of hiking (unpredictable duration), then another hour to get back to where we started. All this on a day where daylight is only a suggestion at 7 AM and the sun is behind the trees by 4 PM. Figuring out the logistics was the challenge here, not the walking.
The original idea had been for some to camp overnight on Friday and get all this vehicle stuff out of the way. The backup plan was to do the spotting early on Saturday. Weather scuttled both these schemes.
The overnight rain was still pelting down on Saturday morning about 5:30 AM. But the forecast indicated that this deluge should pass through by the time we needed it to. So those monitoring the situation, all independently, decided to try it and we convened at the Gum Pond trailhead, not knowing exactly what we were doing.
When we arrived, Gary, who is recovering (rather splendidly) from a recent illness, opted to drive over to Thompson and then hike up to meet the rest of us and so everything would work out as originally planned with at least most of us doing the through hike.
Maybe the it-could-rain-again weather pushed us forward but we sure did this one in a hurry, though it didn't feel like it at the time. We left at 8:20 and arrived Thompson at 11:40, that including some breaks. The cool temperature (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit) and the dampness, nevermind the desire to move as quickly as possible through the low-lying mucky spots, probably contributed to our rapid pace.
As for the trail condition, there are some trees fallen over the pathway but most of these are easily stepped over or walked around. There was only one we had to stoop to get through and even that could have been detoured.
There are some lovely places on this trail. Walking west, just after crossing Hagood Creek, you walk up an incline to the end of a hollow where the trail turns 90 degrees. On one side, you have a marvelous bluff rising way over your head. Turn around and you are looking down the hollow, right smack in the middle. There is a similar spot further along where the moss-covered rocks are a trip just by themselves.
If there is any bad news, it would be that the trail bed is becoming more and more seriously eroded. We found ourselves frequently walking in a small stream. I grant you we were just a couple of hours since a downpour but this trail is in need of some serious maintenance, such as water bars to divert some of this flow out of the middle of the path. (A water bar in this context is a piece of trail construction engineering, not a place you go to get a glass of Perrier.)
Despite the gray skies and muddy boots, everyone seemed to enjoy the hike and came away with a favorable impression of what trail 208 has to offer. And it is always a pleasure to be joined by our favorite weatherman, Kirk, who came all the way from Brownsville TX to hike with us.
These days we have photos posted both on our Picasa web album at Sipsey Hike December 2013 as well as other postings on Facebook and who knows where else.
Submitted 15 Dec 2013
Photos: Vanessa, Mimi