A couple of friends have been planning a winter backpacking trip in the Sipsey Wilderness since earlier this fall. In the beginning, the trip was planned to be four of us that have spent a lot of time in the Sipsey Wilderness, and Todd, who has limited experience but wants to explore and learn more. Todd (who drove 5 hours from Mississippi) named this trip “Four Horseman and My Little Pony” due to the people that had originally planned on attending. It ended up being Four Horsemen and 2 Little Ponies. I’ll let you decide between Horsemen and ponies….
I met Todd at the Sipsey Recreational Area around lunch on Friday. He was now an official Sipsey Wanderer after buying a map of the area at the trading post. Not wanting to set up camp and sit, we decided to take our time and visit a few new-to-him places. We started by taking the trip down Mize Mill Falls, Turkey Foot Falls, past the old car remains, and hiking out to the old bridge at the Sipsey Recreation Area. With the recent rain, the water was flowing well and the waterfalls were impressive. This is a short hike but filled with lots of great scenery. While I didn’t track this trip, I estimate it to be around a mile
Finally it was time to head to camp. I strapped on my “heavy” 25 lb pack. My pack was substantially heavier than normal because I had planned on a short hike in and I wanted to experiment with a few new items. We headed up Trail 200 from the Sipsey Wilderness area and quickly arrived at the water crossing for Trail 209. Remember the pictures from the waterfalls? Well, the water at the crossing was also up a bit (only a foot deep at the most but cold). We didn’t have Wiggy Waders and I hear they didn’t help one person keep dry feet (cough, Tom, cough) so plan B was activated. After a very short discussion, we decided Todd needed to mark off more miles traveled on his new map. We decided to travel up Trail 200 to the Borden Creek Bridge, cross over, and hike down the unofficial West Borden Creek trail. We knew this would add around 4 miles to our trip, but we had plenty of time, so off we went.
The trip up and down Borden Creek was mostly uneventful and we saw very few people. I say mostly uneventful because the creek banks were very slick with the recent elevated water level. We both slipped and fell several times, but I was informed it’s not officially “Man Down” until the buttocks touch the mud. After several close calls, we both were officially “Man Down.” Another highlight was the “Fat Man Squeeze” at the northern end of Borden Creek Trail (trail 200). Todd and I decided to be adventurous and climb over the top instead of climbing down through the mud. While this may be possible with day packs, with the recent rain and full packs this was not the smartest idea we’d had that day. After a few pictures, we climbed back down and went through the “cave.” It wasn’t as muddy as I expected and we made it through initially without difficulty. Upon reaching the northern end, Todd discovered his knife had disappeared. He dropped his pack and went back through the “Fat Man Squeeze” to find it. Of course, it was at the very southern end. After retrieving his knife, Todd came back through to continue the journey. So in a matter of minutes, Todd had navigated the “Fat Man Squeeze” a total of three times. Waaaaayne, he is trying to beat your record for trips through in a single trip. LOL.
We stopped at each waterfall to take pictures and enjoy the scenery. We finally met back up with Trail 209 and headed west toward our campsite. We arrived at the GPS coordinates Thomas had provided just before dark and set up camp. While this wasn’t the ideal campsite (one reason hammock are great), who am I to doubt Thomas? We quickly set up camp, filtered water, ate, and started a fire. Instead of the short 1.5 miles we took the scenic route and hiked about 6 miles on the way to camp.
Just as we started to wonder about the rest of our group (Thomas, Wayne, Rex, and soggy foot Tom) we saw headlamps through the trees as they made their way to camp. Greetings were made and I was honored to meet Rex – I have been reading his blog for years. In fact, that is where I first heard of Thomas a couple of years before I actually met him. Small world, right? That evening was normal camping routine – sitting around the fire enjoying the company of others.
We awoke to a chilly morning – one thermometer showed the low of 20 the night before. THAT’S why I love my Hammock Gear quilts. I was nice and toasty until the “pee at 3” but it only took a few moments to warm back up once I was surrounded by the downy goodness of a top and under quilt.
The next day agenda was to explore the Garrison home site and canyon. As many of you know, there were quite a few people living in Bankhead up to the 1920’s or so when the government bought up the land to establish Bankhead National Forest. That’s another story for another day, though.
After breakfast we loaded up and set out. In true Thomas fashion, we went off-off trail, exploring every place that might hold a secret from years ago. Uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill we went. This is not a hike for the timid or out of shape. Thomas informed us to be prepared to see sights that would “fascinate” us and he delivered. We managed to see a few treasures including an old grave, an old tree carving, an old piece of metal (not sure what it is – we assumed a part of the frame from an old buggy), Garrison Falls, the old Garrison home site, a Native American Mortar Stone, and the “Artesian Spring.” After just a few miles that felt much longer, we headed back to camp to relax for a bit. We only hiked a total of about 2 miles but had “scads” of elevation gain and loss.
After a few minutes, we took off for the last adventure for the day. Above and behind Fall Creek Falls is an old marker boundary tree. When they first surveying areas for the National Forest, they marked areas/boundaries by carving in Beech Trees. They have since replaced them with the official metal markers. From my understanding, this is one of the few boundary marking trees still remaining in Bankhead. You have to outline to carving in chalk to really see it. The newer official marker is just a few feet away. This was about a 1.8 mile hike round trip.
Saturday night was not as cold – a balmy 28 degrees as we relaxed around the campfire. Sunday morning we slowly began the process of leaving our beloved area. I decided to brave the cold water of the Borden Creek Crossing and just in a few minutes and 1.6 miles from camp, we were back at our vehicles at the Sipsey Recreation Area.
This was another great weekend with new and old friends. My total for the trip was around 12.5 miles with a combination of official trails, unofficial trails (off trail), and no trail (off-off trail). As always, much laughter, fun, and tired legs followed another trip to the Sipsey Wilderness.
I nearly always learn something on every trip. This trip I learned I need more raisins in my trail mix and now I know where to find them thanks to Thomas.