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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Sipsey Wilderness Quillan Creek Area Bushwack

My hiking buddy and I went on a little exploratory trip this past weekend to an area I’ve wanted to visit for some time. Neither of us have been in this specific area before but knew the general directions and areas we wanted to visit.

This was a true bushwack trip. We began our hike at the curve in the road heading downhill into Thompson Trailhead. Leaving the vehicle, we quickly saw a trail to our left and took it. It was well trod and easy to follow. That quickly changed as the trail suddenly vanished without a sign of a trail in any direction. We discovered the “flagging fairies” have been having a war in this area. There were orange, pink, blue, green, red, and even a white with orange polka dots flagging tape all over the place. Since this is an official wilderness area, flagging trails with tape is not only frowned upon, but also illegal. I wish people would remove all of this as it’s an eyesore. The flagging didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason so we bushwacked (and I mean bushwacked) in a generally downhill direction because that’s where we were headed.

After some time we began to follow a small stream (still without any real trail in sight) and after some sliding/scampering we FINALLY found ourselves in the splendor of a box canyon. It was beautiful! There were huge icicles hanging from nearly every ledge.

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We continued downstream toward Quillan Creek and found the juction easily. Our route led us upstream, so away we went. Here we found an unofficial trail and followed it quite easily. The walk along the creek was beautiful – I will be coming back to this area to explore more in the future. Since this is an unmaintained and unofficial trail, we had to cross the creek a couple of times. The water was very cold, but thankfully less than knee deep.

Once again, the Sipsey Wilderness has many surprises. This area is amazing!

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We followed Quillan creek upstream to the old Arnold Motorway and followed it uphill and out to the main road. Our vehicle was just downhill from where we exited the forest. It was a great area that I plan to visit again once it’s a bit warmer. This time, I’ll take someone who knows the area a bit better to point out the easier way as well as several items I know are in the area but I missed.

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I survived the cold! Testing gear in the back yard.

I survived the night!   The weather on the phone said 7 degrees,  my Accurate on the ridgeline had a low of 12 with wind gust up to 30 mph. It’s my personal best either way.

I used my Superfly, 20 degree HG TQ and UQ. I had my UPQ underneath and slept in merino tops,  bottoms,  and socks.   I had a fleece toboggan under my black rock hat.  About 4 am I got a bit chilly so I covered my TQ with a poncho liner,  tucking it in underneath me.   I also put a reflector pad in the footbox. I was warm,  but not toasty since I was pushing (exceeded) the limits of my gear.

For the gear I presently own,  I don’t have the desire to try and go lower, but I know how low I can go.

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New Year’s resolutions

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions as I believe one should be willing to make changes to improve at any time. However, I have set some goals this year that should be easy to obtain and next month is a good time to start!

It is my desire to sleep outside in my hammock at least once every month. My challenge will be the hot and muggy summer months as I have the cold weather gear. It may simply be in my back yard instead of the woods, but I think I can do that. In addition to the challenge, I hope to learn about hanging in different conditions that what I presently experience.

I also want to SCUBA dive the USS Oriskany this summer. I’m setting a lofty goal of 25 dives in 2015. Sadly, most will probably be in a rock quarry in Eastern Alabama, but a day blowing bubbles is a good day. My goal here is experience as well.

I have several personal goals that I’ll keep to myself (and my family), but I thought these were OK to share. I hope everyone has a very blessed and happy 2015!

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New wetsuit!

I must have been a good boy this year….

For Christmas I received a new 5 mm wetsuit with matching hood and gloves! It is the Henderson AquaLock (http://hendersonusa.com/series/aqua-lock/).

It’s my very first brand new wetsuit as the one I have been using was a hand-me-down from my father-in-law. I have no complaints as I have used it many times over the past several years including my recent live aboard experience. It works great but it is several (I’d hate to guess how many) years old and is getting pretty worn. The new Henderson wetsuit is a 5 mm versus the 3 mm of the older one. Although since it was a two piece, I really had 6 mm covering my core. I didn’t have my own hood, the gloves I have been wearing were only 1.5 mm, and my boots were 3 mm. Considering this, the Henderson AquaLock set should be much warmer overall.

The Henderson wetsuit is lined with a “golden micro fleece” which feels awesome! It is almost a semi dry suit as the wrist and ankles have tight fitting seals to keep out water. The hood and gloves are also designed to work with this system. Maybe I will be good enough to get the boots for my birthday, so I can be covered head to toe (literally) in 5 mm warmness!

I look forward to diving in the early spring and being warm(er) in the quarry where I usually dive. Look forward to a trip report and review in a few months!

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