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.