Trip Report for Group Hang in Bankhead Forest 24-26 April 2015

Group Hang: a gathering of people who sleep in camping hammock in one location. This normally takes place over a weekend and some people travel great distances to participate. Most often it is advertised on http://www.hammockforums.net.

The time for the Spring Group Hang in the Sipsey Wilderness/Bankhead National Forest in Alabama was finally here! I left work a bit early and drove with anticipation to the Wolfpen Hunter’s camp in the early afternoon and was greeted by those that had already arrived. I selected my new home for the next few days and quickly set up my tarp as the weather forecast was calling for heavy rains, thunderstorms, and hail.

Since I normally backpack and hike in and this was car camping, I just threw my gear box in the car and made sure I had plenty of food. Everything I need for camping is in my gear box. Except both of my down quilts – they hang uncompressed on the garage wall and I had left without them. Well crap, that wasn’t in the plans. With the forecasted low to be in the low 50’s, I knew I would need something. Instead of making an hour and a half round trip back to get them, one of the people I knew fairly well came to the rescue and offered up a loaner. He carries extra items to group hangs just in case someone like me needs something. I’m so glad he did! As I only have one set of down quilts rated to 20 degrees, this also allowed me to use a ¾ length underquilt which is what I want to purchase for summer use.

After camp was set up, I headed over to the campfire under the community tarp. More greetings were made as new people arrived and meals were prepared. I met several new people (some from Georgia and Tennessee). My hiking buddy Wayne (who we now call “skillet” or “Wayyyyyyyyyyne”) once again performed his culinary delights of bacon wrapped venison and other goodies for dinner. It was delicious as always and I was full. After eating, some of us stayed up sitting around the campfire telling different stories and listening to bad jokes. Even though heavy thunderstorms, hail, and possible tornados were in the forecast, the weather had been very mild with some light rain. After midnight there still had not been any substantial rain, but we were all tired and went to swing between the trees.

As I was laying in my hammock that night, I could hear a few Whip-poor-wills and an occasional owl lull me to sleep. The lack of rain and wind did not last all night as about 2 am the heavy rain arrived and woke me up. The storm didn’t seem to last too long and was over before sunrise. I woke up to mostly sunny skies and birds chirping.

Everyone survived the night and I believe everyone stay dry through the storm. Breakfast and coffee was made and enjoyed. We finally got around to deciding what hike we were going to do as there are so many to choose from in the Sipsey Wilderness. The decision was made for going to White Creek Falls with a side trip to the Rippey Cabin. We loaded up and drove down to the Randolph trailhead leaving others for a welcoming committee.

We headed down through the woods walking on trail 201. We continued down trail 201 until we arrived at the 209/206/201 junction, then continued straight on 206 for a few minutes. We found the old driveway to the Rippey cabin and turned right, going to the cabin first. The Rippey cabin is an old hunting cabin that is actually on private land, but is often visited. It’s a cinder block building with a tin roof. Inside there are some cots, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Of course, the kitchen and bathroom do not have any electricity or water. There is a shelter journal where one is able to leave a note, and some people have left a few items such as Ramen, cooking propane, etc. on a shelf in the wall. For the most part, people have taken care of the cabin when they visit. There is a tower that used to hold a windmill to generate power and pump the water, but the tornados a few years ago knocked it off and it now lays at the base of the tower that used to hold it. After visiting the cabin for a few minutes, we left the cabin, walked around back, and headed downhill on the backside of the cabin toward 201. We passed an old outhouse on the way back down to trail 201. When we reached trail 201, we were at a place I call “the staircase.” The rocks form “steps” and the water runs over them on its journey downhill. It is pretty and slippery, but everyone made it down without incident. We continued downhill and eventually arrived at the Sipsey River. With the rain the night before, the water level was elevated although not severely, but it was moving quickly and still a lot of water volume. I wouldn’t want to have to cross it in those conditions.

We continued west and in just few minutes we arrived at lower White Creek Falls. The volume of water with the overnight rain made this waterfall very pretty. We climbed up to upper White Creek Falls and it was also flowing well. Someone decided it would be easier to bushwhack from upper White Creek Falls due East to trail 201. Man cards were quickly gathered. With the exception of Bebop (the small dog with us), everyone thought this was a GREAT idea. The dog and company retraced our steps and return out the way we came in and we all agreed to meet on trail 201.

Sometimes what seems like a great idea really isn’t. This was one of those instances. The terrain was not easy and several of the bushwhackers were wearing shorts instead of pants. That’s NEVER a good idea in the Sipsey Wilderness if you ask me. I believe if I could read minds, the thoughts would not have been all positive and reinforcing…. To make a long story short, we all finally made it to the trail (some before the others) and headed back down the trail to the trailhead and rode back to camp.

Saturday evening/night brought more friends, laughter, and great food. One of those in attendance made a pot of chili over the fire and it was delicious! I even have a new home made meal to try on my next trip (thanks again). We even had a guest of honor as bankheadboy stopped by for a bit. He even showed us an old well within walking distance! I always enjoy talking to him as his knowledge of the area is amazing. After hiking approximately 6 miles or so, everyone went to bed much earlier on Saturday. The weather for Saturday was nearly perfect – no rain (that I can recall), but a breeze that evening would have been welcomed as it was just a bit warm trying to sleep.

Sunday morning I awoke to bright skies and birds chirping again. I slowly packed up because I hate when it is time to leave the Sipsey. Goodbyes were exchanged and people started the long journey home. Since I’m less than an hour from home, three of us decided to take a short hike down Riddle Creek before leaving.

There were waterfalls, an old moonshine still site, and the “hands up” tree. The story (as I remember it) is that Mr. Riddle was caught in the process of making moonshine. After he paid his debt to society for his infraction, he came back and carved a “hands up” figure in the tree where he surrendered to the revenuers. My GPS said it was around 3 miles round trip and none of it was on an official trail. Over the hills, through the woods, (and several times) down the creek we went.

There were three major waterfalls on Riddle Creek. The last one was the most impressive, but I took the worst picture. Now I have an “excuse” to go back again…. We finally pulled into Wolfpen camp, said our goodbyes, and the last participants headed home toward hot showers and unpacking gear.

It was a great hang with people from 4 states (Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama) and I enjoyed meeting new friends and reconnecting with those I haven’t seen in quite some time.

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Sticker Addict

Hello, my name is Jim and I’m addicted to stickers….

I have a large box in which I store most of my hiking/camping gear excludimg my down quilts. The gear box is fairly large and a dark green in color, but I wanted it to look better. As I made purchases upgrading my gear over the last year or so, if they were not included for free, I purchased decals when they were available. There were also a few stickers I purchased because I wanted them (for example, the “Shug” sticker).

Things were looking promising, both in gear and decorating the gear box. However, I have decided I’m pretty content with my gear and probably won’t make any major changes (maybe some summer quilts, but that’s about it). My lightweight packing list is addressed in a previous blog post if you are interested my gear list (it needs minor updating). Even after my upgrades and other decal purchases, the gear box looks still looks sad and there’s WAY too much green. So, on the advice of a hammockforum member, I took an afternoon (or two) and sent emails to various companies or used the “Contact Us” section on the webpage requesting a sticker for my gear box.

It was very successful as I will have lots of stickers now! My gear box will now be spectacularly smothered in vinyl goodness. I purchased a few decals, some were given to me by others, and a few I had to send a self address and stamped envelope in order to receive the decal.

Here’s the “before” picture:
Gear Box

I thought I’d post a list just in case there were other people that wanted to add to their sticker collection. My goal is to have at least one for every letter of the alphabet. As of 4/22/2015, this is the list of stickers I have received and are proudly displayed:

2 Trees Outdoors
Alabama Outdoors
Alite Designs
AlpineAire Foods
ALPS Mountaineering
AntiGravity Gear
Arrowhead Equipment
Backcountry Outdoor Gear and Clothing
Backpacker’s Pantry
Badgerbalm
Big Angus
Clif Bar
Columbia River Knife and Tool
Costa (sunglasses)
Daily hiker
Darn Tough Socks
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Dutch Ware Gear
Easton Products
Elemental Horizons
Evernew
Exped
Feathered Friends
FITS sock
GoLite
Goosefeet Gear
Gossamer Gear
Granite Gear
Gregory
GSI Outdoors
Hammock Gear
HammockForums
Hammeck Hammocks
Honey Stinger
HYOH (here is the thread for this one: http://whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php/79927-Free-quot-Hike-Your-Own-Hike-quot-stickers?highlight=hyoh)
Hyperlight Mountain Gear
Icebreaker Clothing
Kahtoola
Katabatic Gear
Katadyn
Keep Calm and Hike On
Komperdell
Lightheart Gear
LRI (photon micro lights)
Marmot
Merrell Footware
Mountain House
Mountain Laurel Designs
Mountainsmith
MSR
Nemo Equipment
Our Life Outside
Osprey
Packit Gourmet
Petzl
Platypus
QiWiz Ultralight Gear
REI
Seal Line
Shut (Woo Buddy)
Sierra Designs
Six Moon Designs
Snow Peak
Speer Hammocks
Superfeet Insoles
Tarptent Ultralight Shelters
Therm-a-Rest
Trailspace
Trek Light Gear
Ultimate Direction
Vargo
Warbonnet Outdoors
MISSING SOMETHING STARTING WITH THE LETTER “X”
Yukon Outfitters
Zpacks

There are other companies that haven’t sent a response and I’m still missing a few letters. I will keep this list updated as additions are made to my collection.

If you have some suggestions for the missing letters, please let me know.

Edit: here’s an updated picture of the front:
image

And the right side:
image

And the left side:
image

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Sipsey Wilderness Map Information

I am often asked where I obtain my information for the Sipsey Wilderness. I’ll give away (some of) my secrets…..

My most often used map and in my opinion the best map for for backpacking use is the CartoCraft map. It’s water resistant (I think waterproof may be too strong of a word, but it can get wet), folds up nicely, and has enough detail to navigate as well as some GPS coordinates. It can be purchased at various places including Alabama Outdoors, Mountain High Outfitters, or the the Warrior Trading Post in Wren, AL. It includes the Sipsey Wilderness on one side and Bankhead Forest on the other side. My last map cost $4.95 so it’s not a huge investment.

Another great resource is http://www.sipseywilderness.org as they have maps that may be downloaded for free of the various trails. They also host hikes on a monthly basis although I have never been on one with this group. I see LOTS of people hiking with these printed out. The only disadvantage would be the weatherproofing on an overnight trip since you print these yourself. They are still very handy and the price is great since you can print at home! I have used these and often print out for day hikes since you can zoom in and crop only to the area of interest.

An older, but still very useful resource is the briartech map. It is slightly dated, but is also available to download for free. I actually was able to print out the whole map on a blotter printer full size (approx 30 inces tall). Here is the link: http://www.briartech.com/sipseyonepagea.pdf. This map has LOTS of GPS Coordinates I have not found anywhere else. I often reference this map. The detail is lacking, but it’s worth checking out.

Another source I use are older topographical maps that I find online. Often these will show the old roads through the area which sometimes makes navigation easier or may give me ideas on interesting places to explore. I generally use a combination of these (along with information obtained from others) to plan my adventures.

While most people stay on the main trails, any of the above listed maps will be sufficient for your needs. Just remember, since the Sipsey Wilderness is an offical Wilderness Area, there are no blazes marking the trail (or bridges, or other manmade objects). The only trail signs out there are at the trail junctions. You should have at least basic knowledge of land navigation or of the area before heading out.

If you are just wanting to explore this area for the first time and are uncomfortable with “finding your way” I would suggest going with someone that is familiar with the area or participating in a hike with a group such as http://www.sipseywilderness.or or Wild South http://wildsouth.org/home/main/get-outside/.

I hope you found this beneficial.

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Davis Creek Bushwack in Bankhead National Forest

I have been looking at my maps recently looking for places to explore outside of the normally used areas in Sipsey Wilderness/Bankhead Forest. My hiking/camping buddy and I decided to explore the Davis Creek area south of Cranal Road. We picked a Forest Service Road that we thought would take us almost to where we wanted to camp. Once we arrived, we discovered the road was blocked not far into the forest, so we would have to hike in. This wasn’t a problem for me as I normally pack pretty light, but my buddy had brought everything but the kitchen sink! He carries it, so he can bring whatever he likes…. I was very grateful for his heavy pack later!

When we arrived during the late morning hours we began the walk in. There was a very good roadbed that we followed down the hill to the creek. The hill was pretty steep in places so I understand why it was blocked – it would be tough for most vehicles to climb the dirt road (especially when it was wet). There were also several birdhouses placed along the road which I found odd. Birdhouses in the middle of a National Forest? I assumed there was more to the story, but I wasn’t aware of one. Once we arrived at the creek, the water was VERY clear – even more clear than other areas of Bankhead/Sipsey we have visited on previous trips. We were also surprised that storm debris was caught in branches over 12 feet above the current water level. The streambed was also composed of shale/slate which is very different from the other areas of Bankhead I had visited.

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We hiked upstream and found a suitable camping spot, set up, and ate lunch. After lunch, we went upstream exploring. We knew there were several waterfalls in this area and it was our mission to find them. Since the creek scenery was boring, we climbed up to the bluff and followed it upstream. There are still old roads visible through this area so we followed some of them and even found the remains of an old vehicle. Continuing upstream, we found a total of 3 waterfalls before heading back to camp. This is an area that I will have to explore further as we didn’t get to cover each off branch of Davis Creek as we initially planned.

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We finally reached camp just before sundown and rested a few mintues before cooking. This is where I was thankful for my friend’s heavy pack! We had deer tenderloin wrapped in bacon cooked in an iron skillet. They were delicious! After a full day of hiking and a full belly, I was soon asleep! The low was 28 that night and I slept great! After we woke up, we had bacon and scrambled eggs with cheese once again cooked by my friend in an iron skillet! I did share my coffee with him, though.

After cleaning up and packing everything it was time to leave. We dreaded climbing the hill that was such a breeze on the way into the area. We made it to the car and safely home – another great trip. I plan on going back and exploring more of this area.

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Big Tree Day hike in the Sipsey Wilderness

The Big Tree is a yellow poplar (a/k/a tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera). The tree is approximately 150 feet tall and has a circumference at the base of about 25 feet.  This is the largest poplar in the state of Alabama. To the people out West with the REALLY BIG TREES, this probably seems to be a twig, but for Alabama, it is dang large.  I have read somewhere that they approximate the age to the 300-year range.  Maps and more information may be found at http://www.sipseywilderness.org/trails/BigTree.html.

I had the honor of taking a few friends and family (including my daughter and Son-in-Law) on their first trip in the Sipsey Wilderness.  Since this was a day hike, I chose to use the Thompson Trailhead and utilize the Whiteoak Hollow shortcut. With all of the recent rain, it was a slippery, gooey mess – and that is just getting to the trailhead! The trail wasn’t much better – some places were extremely slick.

We set out and had a great hike – it is about 2.5 miles each way and is especially easy maneuver in a few places- especially for people them did not know what to expect.  As a note – one person was told (not by me) that it was only a mile!  Needless to say, she was quite unprepared for what lay ahead, but I have to brag – she was a trooper, hung in there with the rest of us, and made the entire hike.

After a couple of miles, the lofty goal of keeping our feet dry was subdued by the mud, sloppy trail, and the elevated water crossings due to all of the recent rain.  East Bee Creek finally defeated the group’s attempt of dry feet, although many of us had already given up.   The good news was that water crossings were now much easier!  The only downside was we discovered the ticks are already out.  One person found one on them mid-hike.  We did not see anyone on the way in although there were many vehicles at the trailhead, but met several people at “the tree.” After a short rest, we hiked out while looking forward to dry socks and a warm shower.

We met several groups hiking in including one carrying a small cooler – a decision he already regretted and he still had quite a way to travel.

As a note to people interested in hiking in the Sipsey Wilderness in the future:

1) Groups should be less than 10 people per wilderness guidelines

2) Know where you are going and how to get there, as the trails are not blazed.  While easy to follow if you know how to read a map, the Whiteoak Hollow shortcut does require a few turns and is not a yellow brick road to the Big Tree.  I ALWAYS meet people on the trail that ask me “Is this the way to the Big Tree” and are way underprepared.

3) Use Leave No Trace principles.  While I may not adhere to every detail, I try to minimize my impact to the environment. A great trip is one where you can’t tell I was there.

Spring is here – go outside and see God’s wonderful creation!

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“The Climb to Katahdin” movie review

I have been following this couple (and dog) on http://www.whiteblaze.net for quite some time.  As many others, they started the Appalachian Trail documenting their progress the whole way.  Their Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/TheClimbToKatahdin?fref=pb&hc_location=profile_browser

The movie they filmed on the journey has just been released on Vimeo and you are able to rent it or buy it here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/theclimbtokatahdin.

While it may not be a blockbuster, I enjoyed the movie and all of the extras.  It is filmed in a documentary style and seems to be filmed in HD as the video quality is very good.  It may not be particularly insightful, but does show the good, bad, and the ugly of hiking the trail for days and months on end.

I really enjoyed the views and experiences from the Appalachian Trail as shown by this film and hope to one day enjoy some of the same experiences.  If you are interested in hiking, backpacking, or the Appalachian Trail, you may want to check out “The Climb to Katahdin.”

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Ski trip and GoPro video

My wife and I love to snow ski but just can’t afford the time and expense of going to the “good slopes” out West every year. So this year we took a trip over Valentines Day Weekend to The Perfect North Slopes located in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Their webisite is http://www.perfectnorth.com. For East Coast skiing, it is our favorite. It is especially great for beginners. For the same price, you can snow ski, snowboard (and switch back and forth), go tubing, and a session of ski school is included! It is very family friendly, affordable, and organized.

I took my GoPro and shot some video and attempted to make a short interesting video. Please note: I am an absolute amateur…. If you are interested, it may be viewed by clicking on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQCaRJP0OnA

If you view the video, watch how the weather changes. The first day of skiing, it was sunny to partly cloudy with a high temp of around 33 degrees with light winds. The second day a storm moved in and the high was 14 degrees with heavy snow and winds over 20 mph. Even with the colder temps (my wife hates cold weather) we had a great time and I highly recommend The Perfect North for an East Coast skiing experience.

I was not compensated in any way to promote one ski area over another….

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