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!