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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.