Sipsey Wilderness Adventure

 

I had been looking forward to this trip for a couple of reasons. First, it had been too long since I have done an overnight trip in the Sipsey Wilderness. Second, our group contained a great mix of people and experience. A couple of the guys were prepping for a section hike on the AT in June, several had very limited exposure to the Sipsey Wilderness and it was the first multi night trip for one Cub Scout. Lastly, after this trip, I will have hiked all the official trails in the Sipsey Wilderness. The smallest of exception is the section of trail 209 from the 202 junction to the junction of Ugly Creek and the Sipsey River.

Our plan was to drop cars at Randolph and then drive around and depart from Gum Pond. Friday night we were hiking trail 208 to either Hagood Creek or the Braziel Creek area. After camping at one of those locations on Friday, our plan for Saturday included the rest of trail 208 and having lunch around Thompson Trailhead once we were back on water. Saturday afternoon we were going to hike 206 and camp somewhere around the headwaters of the Sipsey River. Either Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, a trip to Ship Rock and Eye of the Needle was planned along with a stop at the Rippey Cabin on the way out using trail 206 to trail 201. Of course, we would end at Randolph trailhead, drive around and pick up the other vehicles, and go home. Well…… that was the plan.

After meeting and introductions, our group left Decatur, AL right at 3 pm on Friday. After dropping a couple of vehicles at Randolph Trailhead (our finish point), we loaded up and drove around to Gum Pond Trailhead. Six people (including a father and son) and two dogs headed into the woods around 5 pm. We made good time and quickly came to Hagood Creek, snapped a few pictures, and headed on to Braziel Creek. After a total distance of 2.5 miles we had crossed Braziel Creek and found the large campsite where the spring supplied our clear and cold water for the night.

 

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Hagood Creek Bridge

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Looking upstream on Hagood Creek

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Bluff along trail 208

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Camp Friday night

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The 4 legged friends enjoying the trail

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Easy downhill going in

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small fire on Friday night

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Nearly a full moon

 

Hammocks and tents (yes, those things) were set up, firewood collected, water filtered, and food was prepared. Just about dark we heard a large pack of coyotes making a bunch of noise in the distance, but that was the last we heard of them. We reviewed our plans for the next day and had social time around the campfire until people started calling it a night and drifted off to bed. Going to sleep that night we were prepared for the storm in the weather forecast Friday night from our last weather update.

Saturday morning came without rain as we all slowly made our way to the campfire for breakfast. Finally, we were all packed up and hit the trail as the only rain was a short light drizzle as we packed away our gear. As we were leaving the Braziel Creek Campsite and headed West on 208, we climbed the ridge and saw a lot of burned material on the South side of the trail. We speculated that these may be backfires from the fire in the Sipsey Wilderness last Spring since the valley below seemed to be untouched, but we weren’t sure.

As we made our way down the ridge, a decision was made to alter our plans and take a left on trail 224 since several members of our group had never been to the Big Tree, including the youngest member of our group. He was pretty excited, so we decided to go. We took a left on trial 224, followed it to 204 where we took a right, then took another right on trail 204A. Of course, this brings you to the top of East Bee Falls which was flowing well. We climbed down and enjoyed lunch and a well-deserved long break at the Big Tree. Surprisingly, we were the only ones there the entire time.

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East Bee Falls

After another discussion, we decided to take the Whiteoak Hollow Shortcut to Thompson Trailhead as that would be much shorter (and quicker) than retracing our steps back to trail 208. Every time I go down East Bee through the blowdown it does seem to be getting better but it still isn’t a lot of fun with a full pack. After the multiple over/under from the blowdowns, we came to the junction of East and West Bee for a quick break. After another short discussion (you see the trend?), we decided it was silly to climb out to Thompson when we would just hike South back to trail 209. With a sigh of relief, we headed to trail 209 on a much shorter and easier route.

I have not been on trail 209 since the Christmas Day flood and I was not quite prepared for the condition of the trail. The power of the raging water has totally changed the dynamics of the trail along the river. Whole banks and campsites have been washed away. Tons of sand now cover the trail so it is like walking on a beach in many places. There are sections where groups of large trees have had the soil washed out from under them and the trees are now just laying down. I’m so glad I hiked all but a very small section before the flood. It will take years for this area to recover and it will never be the same as it once was. One thing I did notice was the evidence of wild hogs. It was everywhere. There were some sections that appeared as someone had a tractor and tilled up the area.

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Downed Trees from the flood

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Wild hogs having fun

We took a nice long break at the large campsite just East of the 209/201 junction. After hiking less than a mile, we made a quick stop at the Sipsey Rapids, Ship Rock, and Eye of the Needle. Of course, there were lots of people in this area. After a quick scouting trip, we decided it was best to cross the Sipsey River just below the rapids. We were going to get wet since the water was up a bit and our vehicles were on the South side of the Sipsey River. I think to the amazement of the people watching, we crossed the mid 50-degree water. The water was mostly below knee level with a few deep spots. The temperature of the water was quite a shock to a few people. The current was fairly brisk and the rocks were slippery but we all made it across without any major incident and climbed the bank to claim the large campsite just above the rapids (another change in plans from camping at the head waters). From my information and best estimate, we covered about 8 miles on Saturday.

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Sipsey River Rapids

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Eye of the Needle

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Crossing the Sipsey River

A quick service announcement…. I normally use one certain kind of battery in my GPS and it performs very well. Using my battery of choice, I can usually use a set of batteries for several trips. I did put in a fresh set of the non-preferred battery right before I left. I believe I may have left my GPS on overnight on Friday, but by Saturday afternoon my GPS had drained the batteries. I do know it was 6.5 miles from our campsite on 208 near Braziel creek, through East Bee, down on trail 209 to the intersection of White Creek and the Sipsey River. That is all the official data I have for this trip because my batteries were dead at that point. Use good (name brand/type) batteries in your electronics. Luckily, I mostly use my GPS for tracking and use map and compass for navigation. Service announcement is over.

Our guest of honor – squidbilly – stopped by and joined us after pulling privet on the West bank of Thompson trailhead Saturday afternoon. Some fishing was done in the calm deep water above the rapids, but only received one nibble. The temperature was significantly lower Friday night with the clear skies and there was a bit of wind although it quieted down by bedtime. Most of us did not stay up nearly as late after the full day of hiking, but much laughter and social time was had by all Saturday night.

 

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Father and son fishing

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Group Camp

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A view above the rapids

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Sunday morning view of the river

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Camp Saturday night

Sunday morning brought plenty of sunshine and warmer temperatures was we all slowly climbed from camp to gather around the fire. After breakfast we slowly packed up and headed out to Randolph trailhead. We stayed on the South bank of the Sipsey River and went West to meet up with trail 206. Taking a left, we climbed up to the ridge. We dropped our pack at the end of the driveway and went down to see the Rippey Cabin. Leaving the Rippey Cabin, we hiked out to the Randolph Trailhead using trail 201 covering around 3.5 miles on Sunday.

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Headed out to the trailhead

 

That makes a trip total of about 14 miles on a wide variety of Sipsey terrain and saw some of the Sipsey Wilderness highlights including East Bee Falls, the Big Tree, Ship Rock, the Eye of the Needle, and the Rippey Cabin. We waded across knee deep mid 50-degree water and had two great nights with old and new friends. To the best of my knowledge everyone had a great time and everyone came out safely without injury. And that is the end to another adventure in the Sipsey Wilderness.

As a side note,  there were lots of flowers in bloom. My wife loves flowers so I search for them while I’m hiking – it also forces me to slow down and enjoy the scenery as well.  Here are the ones I found this weekend.

 

 

 

Posted in Backpacking, Hammock Camping, Hiking, Report | 2 Comments

Birthday Bushwack through the Sipsey Wilderness

Being unemployed on your birthday does have at least one benefit – you can go hiking regardless of what day of the week! That is exactly what I decided to do since my wife had to work all day and I really didn’t want to be at home by myself while the weather was beautiful. There are many areas of the Sipsey Wilderness that interest me, so I researched some areas that I had been wanting to explore for some time and made a plan for a reasonable day hike.

As I opened my eyes that morning, the weather was perfect and I was ready! Maya (my yellow lab) has been having withdrawals from our adventures as it had been way too long since the two of us had any quality time in the woods together. My pack was ready, so I grabbed a quick shower and loaded up the car. As I was backing out of the driveway, something didn’t feel right. Then I noticed the “check tire pressure” light was illuminated on the dash. Oh No, that could mean trouble! Sure enough, my back tire on the driver’s side was flat.

Maya was returned to the back yard as she looked at me with a strange expression. She must know the significance of my hiking clothes and pack. After putting on the spare tire and providing the wife with an update, my new destination was in order – the tire store About an hour later (minus a screw and a nail in the same tire), I was on the way to the woods. A little flat tire was not going to rain on my parade!

My start time was a little delayed – that wasn’t a big deal. My plan was to park at Thompson Trailhead, go south until Whiteoak Hollow, and follow Whiteoak Hollow almost all the way to the end. I was then going to find a spot to climb the ridge and follow the old ridge road trail (that hopefully wasn’t too bad) to a spot I picked out on the map that I thought I could climb down into West Bee Branch. I wanted to explore West Bee Branch and see the waterfall at the head end and check out a few other areas of interest. When I had finished exploring West Bee Branch, I was going to take the unofficial trail back over to Whiteoak Hollow. If time allowed, I had another area or two that I wanted to see.

I set off right at 11 am – about two hours later than I had originally planned. First off, Whiteoak hollow is beautiful! There is a resemblance of a trail, although the further you go into the hollow, the less visible the trail becomes. The navigation is easy – just follow the creek and there are remnants of previously used campsites along the creek. The creek bottom is fairly flat, mostly free from storm debris, and there are even a few waterfalls not too far from the creek.

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A small creek runs through Whiteoak Hollow

I didn’t venture far from the creek since my time was a little shorter than planned, but there are hints of waterfalls further up than I had time to explore. There were a couple of deep holes that would be great for swimming or cooling off and several cool rock formations. One thing that struck me as odd, though, was this green slime looking stuff growing the creeks in Whiteoak Hollow. I haven’t noticed it anywhere else in the Sipsey Wilderness. My favorite spot was where the creek made a 90 degree turn on a rock. In another location at the base of a small waterfall, a small stone had carved out a large hole in a larger rock from the movement/vibrations from the water.

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Small flowers were blooming

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vSmall flowers were blooming

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View of Whiteoak Hollow

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Small Waterfall

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Hole formed by a rock

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View of Whiteoak Hollow

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Several deep pools were present

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Another small waterfall

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A side view of the 90 degree cascade

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A closer view of the 90 degree turn

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Green Slime stuff growing in the water

Near the far end of Whiteoak hollow it appears that most people take a left at the last creek and climb out to trail 208 a short distance away. I had considered continuing East to Trail 224 (also a short distance away), but decided to backtrack and climb the ridge between Whiteoak Hollow and West Bee Canyon. I saw some old tree carvings although I forgot my chalk to outline them so I couldn’t really make out more than the big “T.”

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Old Tree Carving

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Another old tree carving (I think, but it’s difficult to see)

Following a large drainage to the south, I saw an old logging road and decided it would probably be a bit easier. This logging road intersected with the old road/trail traversing the ridge. Not wanting to go all the way to the Whiteoak Shortcut to the Big Tree, I saw a spot on the map where I thought I would be able to climb down to West Bee. From the ridge, it appeared easy enough, so I headed south following the second drainage down. Although there wasn’t a trail, it wasn’t too rough and I dropped elevation rapidly. Then I heard water. At my elevation, that wasn’t a good thing. In front of me was a 6 foot or so waterfall, but just beyond that was a fairly tall waterfall and there wasn’t any way down in the immediate area.

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The Ridgeline trail/old road

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Small waterfall up top

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Tall waterfall down below

From looking at the map, there was another drainage just a bit more Southwest from my location. Not wanting to climb back out to the ridge trail just to descend again, I spotted a pig trail. Literally. It was well worn, full of tracks, and it meandered in the direction I needed to go. Unfortunately, it was fairly close to the edge of the bluff and was only cleared about 3 foot tall. Maya had no problem following it, but there were several places that caused me to go around because I wasn’t crawling under the deadfall.

What was only about a quarter of a mile but felt and took much longer, I found a spot where I could safely climb down. I did find a piece of old metal at the base of a small waterfall, but no other evidence of a still, and figured it was storm debris. I slowly and carefully made my way down to West Bee and found a spot for a much deserved lunch.

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I climbed down beside this waterfall

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This looks like a good spot – for lunch

I quickly discovered why not much is said of West Bee Branch. Because it sucks. It is a narrow canyon with steep terrain, full of huge boulders and downed trees, and the hogs have had a field day tearing up the ground. There was no resemblance of a trail whatsoever that I could find. After my break, I ventured upstream wanting to see West Bee Falls, but navigation was tough and slow. I wasn’t having fun. After looking at the time, I had to make the decision to turn around.

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West Bee Canyon

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West Bee Canyon

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West Bee Canyon

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West Bee Canyon

My wife was told about my approximate “get out time” of 4 pm and my tentative route before I left. I try really hard to stick to it so she doesn’t worry – ESPECIALLY when I’m by myself. I wasn’t going to make it to West Bee Falls and back out in time on this trip and be anywhere close to my time limit. It takes me about an hour to hour and a half to travel from the Big Tree to the trailhead using the Whiteoak Hollow shortcut so that was used to determine when I needed to head back.

I reluctantly turned around and began the bushwack downstream. The suck factor was a 12 on a scale of one to ten. After what seemed like forever, I came to the trail leading up to the ridge and over to Whiteoak Hollow. If you have been this way, you know it’s a little climb, but I was so happy to finally see a trail! I climbed up and over Whiteoak with my legs screaming the whole way. I returned to the car and headed home. As soon as I got a signal, I sent my wife a text letting her know I was on the way. The text was sent at 4:06.

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Maya leading the way back down into Whiteoak Hollow

I had covered about 6.5 miles with the majority of if being “off trail” and lots of it being “off-off” trail. What did I learn? Whiteoak Hollow is beautiful and I will probably go back. As much as I want to see West Bee Falls (just because I know it’s there), I’m not sure it is worth the suck factor to get there. West Bee Branch is the toughest terrain I have seen in the Sipsey Wilderness, and not very scenic by Sipsey standards.

I saw lots of new things, had a great time with my dog, and was glad to be out without injury, and FINALLY sitting down in the car headed home. THAT’s a good day in my opinion.

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I had a GREAT adventure with my Dad!

GPS Track

GPS Track

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

Posted in Backpacking, Hiking, Report | 1 Comment

Had to say goodbye to an old friend today

imageToday I officially said goodbye to an old friend. We have shared many miles together in the woods since March 2011 and he has been with me through the good and bad.

He was right by my side for countless miles never saying a word when things were rough and I kept going – in fact, he was always ready for an adventure. From the beginning, I knew Charlie didn’t have any legs and I would have to carry him everywhere we went.  I carried Charlie and in his own way he helped me when no one else could.

He had been with me while I traveled everything in red on the map – and that doesn’t even account for our adventures outside the Sipsey Wilderness. Sadly,  Charlie was quietly lost by recklessness.  I was careless one time, didn’t secure him properly and he quietly slipped away to live forever in the woods he so loved. Maybe he’ll get lucky and be found by someone who will cherish him as much as I did. Charlie Compass, you will be missed, but your replacement was in stock at Academy.

 

 

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Bankhead Forest Winter Adventure

Life has been interesting recently and my priorities have shifted so I do apologize for not updating my blog recently. But fear not – you haven’t missed anything because I haven’t done much of interest recently. Until two weekends ago.

I have been volunteering with my church to organize/lead outdoor activities for a wide range of age groups and abilities. A couple of weekends ago we had a trip planned but canceled due to the possibility of snow and/or ice. Since I had planned an adventure and I REALLY needed to get out, I called up my trusty all weather adventure buddy, and we made plans for early Saturday morning.

He picked me up in his 4X4 Jeep and off to Bankhead National Forest we went. The anticipated North Alabama blizzard of a couple of inches did not come to fruition (at least where I live) but we did see a dusting once we begin our ascent into the Warrior Mountains. We really didn’t have a set agenda, but did have a few places we wanted to check out. After driving around on the Forest Service Roads a bit, we did hop out and check out one promising area that held a waterfall just a few minutes from the car.

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Just a few minute walk from the car

 

From there, we had heard about a nice waterfall that was not marked on the map. After a minute or two, we found our starting point – an old cemetery. I thought it was interesting that the markers were mostly modern but the dates were in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The oldest marker had a date of 1833, but there were many graves just marked with plain stones that could have been older.

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new marker – born in 1827 and 1833

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old marker – born in 1864

After surveying the cemetery, we headed toward our destination. To summarize, we saw a small 6 ft waterfall and turned around. After we returned home, we discovered that if we had continued there was a huge bluff shelter with a waterfall about a fourth of a mile further. Oh well, now we have an excuse to return. We did manage to catch some pictures of snow and icicles, though.

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Icicles and snow

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Waterslide

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Small Waterfall

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Being underwhelmed by what we had seen up to this point, we decided we should check out at least one more spot on the map that we had been wanting to see. After looking at the map to decide the best route, we headed down another Forest Service Road and parked at a clear cut area. After following a logging downhill, we finally came to Collier Creek.

Here we saw something interesting – an underwater bridge. It was a fairly wide wood bridge resting on the creek bottom. It didn’t appear extremely old, but it was out of place as there didn’t appear to be a crossing at this location, and bridges are a pretty uncommon sight in Bankhead. I’m making the assumption that it was washed downstream by the recent heavy rain, but I may be wrong.

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Bridge under cold cold water

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Some idiot wading across when there’s snow on the ground.

After looking downstream, I decided to tough it out and cross the stream here. The far side of the creek was fairly level,easy terrain and the near side appeared challenging to say the least. Yes, the water was extremely cold, but I was thankful my quick draining shoes and wool socks. After a few minutes, we arrived on the top of Collier Creek Falls. There are two stone columns here dating to the early 1900’s (I’ve heard 1907) built to support a mill at this location. The only problem was that it was the end of a box canyon and we did not see a way down to the water and base of the columns.

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The top of the columns are visible on the left

Seeing the resemblance of a game trail to the left, we decided to go downstream to find a way down. The trail (which is an over-exaggeration of what we were following) continued downstream and it seems that every 50 feet or so we heard another waterfall. We continued to explore safe options down to the water, but the walls of the canyon were nearly vertical. Finally, I made the call. If we could not find a way down to the water in the next few minutes, we would have to come back as I was running out of time until the time I promised to be back.

I told my adventure buddy that I would check one last time to see if I could find a way down and went toward the edge of the bluff to explore my options. Alas, once again it was too steep. Dejected, I climbed back up to where we had split ways only to find trees instead of someone waiting on me. I wasn’t worried – I figured we was also looking. I took the few minutes I had to shed some layers for the hike out, drink some water, and have a quick snack.

Then from the distance I heard a voice. It couldn’t be – the voice was below me! He had found a way down to the water! I followed his directions, climbing down and came across the beauty.

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Shangra La Falls

Although this appears tropical, this is North Alabama in late January with snow on the ground. The green are mostly Hemlock trees and Mountain Laurel. Although we swore the water was blue because it felt like ice, it is actually from the dissolved calcium from the limestone rock. This was gorgeous and worth every bit of crossing cold water, climbing through Mountain Laurel and following a game trail. We decided to go upstream to the stone columns and hopefully find an easier and shorter route out of the canyon.

With the recent rain, the water level was up a bit. That is great for waterfalls, but it is not so great when you are hiking up a creek without a trail. If there was a trail, it was underwater. We didn’t care – we had found a way down to the water and now just upstream was our destination.  Lots of pretty things to see within a short distance.

 

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Icy Branch

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Icy Bluff

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Another waterfall

Around every bend was another cascade or waterfall. I’m sure several of these are only active during and following a heavy rain, but it was awesome! There was a place or two where the water covered the entire floor of the canyon and we were forced to climb up the waterfall very carefully.

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cascades

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more cascades

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cascades/small waterfall

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ripples in the rock formed by the water

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everything was frozen and cold

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another waterfall

Finally we arrived at the base of the stone columns. After pictures and a quick snack, we decided to head out looking for a shorter way out since we were not excited about retracing our steps on the way in. After a few minutes, we found a narrow ledge that if we could climb onto it would allow us to climb to the ridge line and bushwhack our way back upstream.

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Collier Creek Falls

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Stone columns at Collier Creek Falls

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Collier Creek Falls

Luckily we made it without anyone getting hurt (it was still pretty icy and slippery) and we made it back to the Jeep in record time. It took a long hot shower and some thick wool socks under a blanket for my feet to feel warm again – but I would do it again without thinking twice.

Posted in Backpacking, Hiking, Report | 4 Comments

Caney Creek Falls in Bankhead Forest

After hiking all but just a few miles of official trails in the Sipsey Wilderness, most of my time is now spent far from any road (or official trail) exploring the many sights the area has to offer. I generally enjoy being off the beaten path for the solitude and it seems the best scenery or sights are “off trail.” There are several locations that have been on my list for some time to visit, but because they are short hikes (1-2 miles) that I just haven’t made the time for up to this point.

Caney Creek Falls in Bankhead Forest is one such location. Once you find the spot to park just off the road (a quick Google search will pull up multiple sets of directions), it is nearly impossible to not find the upper falls as you just follow the old roadbed straight ahead.   Following the well worn path, one will arrive at the upper falls just under a mile from the parking area and it is well worth the walk. As a note, there is a footpath trail on the right (with your back to the road) that I assume takes you toward the lower falls, but more on that in a minute….

After parking the car, I was greeting by “Red” – the friendly four legged welcoming committee that lives across the road.  My yellow lab and “Red” got along great as he (I think “Red” is a male) joined us on the hike. I gathered my gear, locked the car, and headed down toward the falls.  The very beginning of the trail has several spots where the path has been eroded by rainfall, but the rest of the trail is great condition.

The trail intersects Caney Creek just above the Upper Falls and I went upstream just a bit to take a picture down toward the falls.  Climbing down to the water below the falls is a little tricky but just go downstream a little bit and you will find a way down.  Be careful and don’t slip here! I went down to the water and took several pictures.

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Looking downstream above the falls

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Approaching Upper Caney Creek Falls

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Upper Caney Creek Falls

After enjoying a quick snack I decided to venture down to Lower Caney Creek Falls. My research informed me the far side of the creek was the preferred route so I crossed and downstream I went.  As with most unofficial trails, the creek was crossed several times to stay on the easiest route. While there were a few areas where trees were down from storms, enough people have been this way to easily see the way around.

After about 3/4 mile or so Lower Caney Creek Falls was within sight.  It is a little more tricky to find your way down and around, but several ways are available.  More pictures were taken and this part of my trip was over. (Besides wondering just how far this trail followed Caney Creek which may turn into a multi night trip.).

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Side Falls on Lower Caney Creek Falls

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Lower Caney Creek Falls

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Lower Caney Creek Falls

 

Now I had a decision to make.  I could retrace my steps all the way back to the Upper Falls and out to my car, but my map and compass told me it was shorter to go out following a creek and I thought I remember seeing a trail branch off in that direction.  If the trail followed the drainage all the way out, it appeared that it would bring me out on the footpath I referred to earlier in this post and be a little shorter.

To spare you the details, I missed it. Looking at my GPS track, I think I turned one creek too early but I followed what I suspect to be an old logging road then bushwhacked the last 100 yards to the road.  I came out about 0.1 miles east of my car, so I just walked down the road – no big deal.  Total distance covered was just over 3 miles.

Except now I want to know where the mystery footpath leads – that may be one of my next trips!

 

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Bankhead Forest Group Hang Trip Report 23-26 October, 2015

About twice a year we try to have a group in the Bankhead National Forest.  This is an ideal location because there is a large area to car camp for both hammocks and tents and we can also take small groups hiking in the Sipsey Wilderness during the day.

Wolfpen Hunter's Camp

Wolfpen Hunter’s Camp

I was so excited for this group hang until last week when I learned of a fire in the area. Conditions have been very dry without any rain in the forecast and a fire had been reported burning in the middle of the Sipsey Wilderness.  From my understanding, there are limited actions that can be taken in a national wilderness – even when it concerns wildfires and I was concerned that this would have a large impact on our plans. A flurry of messages was exchanged, a scouting trip was conducted, conversations were held, and the decision was made to go forth as planned.  I am so glad that decision was made as we had a great time.

Of all the people attending the hang, I live much, much, closer than most (maybe the shortest distance?) and when I finally arrived at Wolfpen Hunters Camp on the south side of Cranal Road, I was greeted by several that had driven much further than me but had beat me to the group hang by several hours. Greetings were exchanged, gear was set up, and much relaxing was done while others continued to flow into the area. This process (arriving, greeting, setting up, and relaxing) was the theme for much of the weekend. We also had several tents in the area as the Wild South volunteers also set up there for the weekend. In fact, a fire ring was removed from under one of the Wild South volunteer’s hammocks and moved a short distance and we also ensured that all combustible materials were raked a good distance away from the area.

As we sat around a SMALL campfire, most of us caught up with the others we have not seen in many months while other new friendships were made.  Of course, many jokes, stories, and maybe a couple of lies were told as the night progressed. Many of us were also initiated into the “Roasted Peep Society.”  Instead of roasting marshmallows, hold a marshmallow Peep over the fire until the sugar coating on the outside begins to melt.  Remove it from the heat and blow on it.  The sugar will caramelize but the inside is still melted.  They are pretty yummy.

We were also treated with “Tales from Thomas” as he spoke of the history and stories of the area as he has learned from relatives and others that have lived in the area for many years. He grew up in the area and spent much time in the woods as a child.  He also has relatives that actually lived there before it was Bankhead National Forest. By speaking to this generation, he has learned much of the history and things to see that are not labeled on any map. Sadly, much of this history is being lost as the older generation perishes and should be captured in some form while there is still time. But I digress…

Friday night was cloudy with a very small chance of rain – so I decided to sleep without my tarp which was something I have never done before.  I kept hearing about how great it was to sleep tarpless, but I have never tried it. All was great until I woke up to the sound of a very light rain.  I hopped up and slid the tarp out of my snake skins and quickly staked it out.  Of course, the rain did not last very long, but I left the tarp up the rest of the weekend.

Early Saturday morning the light rain had stopped and people slowly wandered to the group gathering area for coffee and breakfast.  We were glad Kirk and Austin were there the night before, but sad to see them leave and think football was more important than a group hang.  We did manage to take a group picture before they left, though.

Saturday Morning Group

Saturday Morning Group

Since most of the Sipsey Wilderness was closed due to the fire, a “meeting of the minds” was conducted and a plan was made for some sights to go see.  Just as we were about to leave, we had a VERY SPECIAL guest – our very first female participant of the Bankhead Hang.  (Go Charlotte!)  Just to note: any female is welcome as we do not discriminate whatsoever, but for some reason up to this point all of our participants have been male.  Once again, greetings were exchanged, gear was set up, and then we loaded up for our adventure. What an adventure it was!

Just down the road from Wolfpen and a very short hike, we came upon a concrete “dipping vat.”  These are located throughout the area and were built by the government in the early 1900s to “dip” the cows in order to control ticks by mostly an arsenic solution (doesn’t that sound healthy?).  This one was dated 1919 and there was also an old well nearby. Hopefully the well was used to fill the vat, and not drink from since it was very close to the dipping vat.

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Our next adventure was further down the road and we followed Thomas and parked at one of many blocked/old roads in the area without any sign or description. We headed down the old roadbed “off trail” meaning this wasn’t a maintained trail, but you could see a resemblance of a trail from people walking the same path.

Old Roadbed

Old Roadbed

After some time, we went “off – off trail” meaning we were heading in a general direction without any trail whatsoever.  Downhill we went, playing follow the leader and picking our way through vines and thorns. After what seemed much longer than ¾ of a mile, we arrived at this huge shelter area where we enjoyed lunch.

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Deer tracks covered the soft ground and we spent some time taking pictures and enjoying the sights of the area. After lunch, we went just around the corner to another huge bluff, where it was sickening to see the destruction caused by people digging out the ground looking for artifacts.  Of course, this is illegal, but that doesn’t stop some people. Several of the locations in the area had been dug down to depths of six feet and there wasn’t hardly a single place under this bluff where the ground was level due to all of the digging.

Vandals!

Vandals!

Vandals!

Vandals!

We worked our way back to vehicle taking several breaks due to the nearly 300 ft. change in elevation – most of which was “off-off trail.”  We also stopped by Kinlock Shelter where a group picture was made, Native American petroglyphs were viewed followed by a stop by Kinlock Falls. I have been to these places previously, but for many in our group it was the first time.

Kinlock Shelter Group

Kinlock Shelter Group

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

While most everyone headed back to camp, Thomas was kind enough to show me a spring that I had asked about on a map. You wouldn’t find it by accident unless you were REALLY lost and I wouldn’t drink out of it, but I’m always interested in different areas I find on the map and was happy to find this one.

Old Spring

Old Spring

Saturday evening the world renowned “Hate Beans” were made, consumed, and appreciated by all.  A huge “thank you” goes out to Todd for making them for us.  I think they should be called “Love Beans” because there’s nothing to hate while you are eating them. Another night of sitting around the fire hearing a few more jokes, stories, and maybe a couple of lies as we enjoyed the evening.

Sunday morning was different than any other morning I have EVER had while in the woods.  First, a cell phone went off.  Not once, but twice.  OK, someone had an alarm set and forgot to turn it off – but we won’t mention any names, will we Wayne?  Then, as the Wild South volunteers got up, a car alarm went off.  At that point, I just got up as it was after sunrise and I knew I wouldn’t be going back to sleep.  THEN as I was enjoying my coffee and the somewhat stillness of the early morning, I hear a guitar and someone singing.  Then a harmonica. Now, I’m not against music by any means, but before 7 in a crowded campground MAY not be the time or place.  Maybe it’s just me….

A light rain moved in and the forecast was for more rain.  That’s great for the forest fire, but not so great for hiking.  People began to pack up and leave.  Goodbyes were exchanged and the crowd dwindled while the rest of us sat under the large tarp enjoying the company and not really wanting to leave.  After a couple of hours, we all decided it was time to leave, so we packed up, ensured the fire was completely extinguished, and said our final words until next time.

Oh, and the fire in the Sipsey Wilderness? We didn’t have any smoke in our area until Sunday morning and I couldn’t smell the fire until I was on my way out after 11 am on Sunday.

There was also a rumor of a Bankhead Winter hang in a few months – possibly late January.  Keep posted for details and I hope to see you there.

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Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve

I had the pleasure of hiking at the Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve in Northwest Alabama this past weekend. This place is amazing for several reasons.

One of the reasons this place is amazing is the scenery.

The Preserve is situated around a complex of small sandstone canyons in the upper portion of the Cane Creek watershed of the Tennessee River basin. The area has rugged topography that includes a number of waterfalls, creek cascades, boulder fields, and rock shelters. The hiking trail that descends to the main Cane Creek Canyon has approximately 350 feet of elevation change from ridge top to creek level. It is listed as “moderate” in difficulty. 15 miles of marked and maintained trails lead the hiker to scenic canyon overlooks, rich wildflower areas, creek access points, pioneer cabin sites, and other natural, cultural and archeological features.

Another reason this place is amazing:

The 700 acre privately protected and maintained scenic natural area is open year-round during daylight hours at no charge for hiking and other outdoor educational and recreational activities…. The property has been granted official status as a nature preserve through a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy of Alabama.

The very friendly couple that owns this property is amazing. When you arrive, you must sign in and then sign out when you return. Laminated maps as well as trail/geology descriptions are available where you sign in (and on the Facebook page). There are hiking trails for all ages and fitness levels. Water stations and privies are located throughout the preserve and are labeled clearly on the map. Benches are located in various locations if one needs to rest a bit. Of course, “Leave No Trace” principles apply to all visitors. Camping is only allowed for groups such as Boy Scouts or other outdoor educational activities – it’s best to contact them with questions prior to arrival about camping.

The REAL reason this place is amazing is it is a beautiful, privately owned preserve. The trails are very well maintained, and while not “blazed,” every intersection is very well labeled and very easy to follow. The preserve is always open (during daylight hours) and doesn’t charge admission. No donation bucket is visible, but the owners may take a donation if offered. I know I wanted to contribute after seeing the beauty of this area and how well it was maintained and organized.

As of 10 October, 2015, a bridge was out on the main road coming from the highway, but they offered an easy to follow alternate route that took me straight to their location. If you are headed that way in the near future, that is something to keep in mind. Here is their address: 251 Loop Rd, Tuscumbia, AL 35674.

All quotes are from the “Friends of Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve” Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/Friends-of-Cane-Creek-Canyon-Nature-Preserve-126802417335447/info/?tab=overview).

I will be going back in the near future. This place is amazing!

Here’s just a sample of the scenery available.

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