15.2 miles: Trails 210, 223, and 208 Loop hike in the Sipsey Wilderness

As you may know, I’m participating in the 2018 Trailblaze Challenge for the Alabama Make-A-Wish Foundation. You may read more about it HERE (https://jnunniv.blog/2017/11/04/help-me-help-others-2018-trailblaze-challenge/). Not only am I raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the physical  challenge is hiking 26.3 miles on the Pinhoti Trail in one day. That’s not something I can just wake up and do without preparation, so I wanted a baseline of where I stood and just how much training I needed to be ready in May for the official hike. I figured the best way to assess this was to hike around half the distance in one day and time myself.

After looking at the map and the weather, I decided on a route in the Sipsey Wilderness that should keep my feet dry but be challenging. I decided to park at the Gum Pond Trailhead and do a loop of trails 210, 223, and 208.

This hike would accomplish three things.

1. It would give me a baseline for time and distance.

2. Since this would be a solo hike, I would be testing out my new SPOT Gen 3 Satellite Messenger (which you can read the review HERE (https://jnunniv.blog/2018/01/03/spot-gen-3-review/)

3. Give me an honest assessment of my physical ability. I haven’t been to the gym, hiking recently, or prepared for this in any way.

Keeping with my plan, I left the house early and arrived at the Gum Pond Trailhead. I powered up my SPOT device, sent my initial Check-In message (8:05 am), and got ready to hike. Knowing that layering is the key to hiking, I was wearing everything I brought with me in the beginning as the temperature was hovering around 20 degrees. I was a bit cold, but I knew that would not last long.

Trail 208 is an old road traversing the Sipsey Wilderness and is one of the few trails in the Sipsey Wilderness that horses can be ridden. It is wide and easy to follow.

I headed down trail 208 and 0.4 miles later came to the turn-off on my left to trail 207. I had initially considered including this trail in the loop but remembered there was a water crossing on Borden Creek on the southern end of the trail. Considering the temperature, I wanted to keep my feet as dry as possible so I decided against it and continued straight on Trail 208.

I continued downhill and crossed Hagood Creek using the bridge there.

After another 0.4 miles, I arrived at the sign to Trail 210 on my right. When planning I had decided to travel the most difficult of the trails first and leave the easier trails for the end. This was both a good and bad decision, but I turned onto Trail 210 and immediately began climbing up the hill.

PLEASE NOTE: Trail 210 is one of the least used trails in the Sipsey Wilderness and I would not recommend for a new hiker unfamiliar with the area. It is more difficult to follow that some of the more used trails that read like an Interstate. To me, that is the appeal of this trail. If you pay attention, it is not difficult to follow and since it is a ridge trail, offers views (especially in the winter when the leaves are off the trees) not often seen on most of the other trails that follow water. Speaking of water, there is water on the trail, but most of it is on the northern end of this trail.

The first time I hiked this trail I did not realize the trail climbs up on the back of the ridge. It does, so be prepared for that. After climbing the hill, the trail hugs the back of the bluff and many icicles were there to greet me.

As I followed the bluff around, there is the first manmade signal that the trail turns. There are rocks curving to the left. To the casual observer, you may miss these and continue straight. As you turn to the left, a series of steps can be seen climbing up to the top of the bluff. This is where I took of my down vest and gloves and stored them in my pack. For the rest of the day, I just wore a long sleeve synthetic shirt over a thin wool T Shirt with convertible hiking pants and a wool toboggan. The lack of traffic and the numerous leaves did make following this trail somewhat challenging and kept me on my toes more than once.

In MANY places, logs and/or rocks have been placed as a signal. There are many old roads on this ridge and the trail meanders in and out of them. Logs placed across the trail are almost always a signal. As you climb, this log signals the trail turns to the left and begins to follow the road for a short distance.

After a short distance, you cross another road and for some reason I wanted to turn right. This small tree is a signal the trail crosses this road and continues straight.

I noticed this tree the last time I hiked this trail and it appears to be an Indian Marker tree. Taking a compass reading at the ‘point” on the left, it points straight to the spring on 208 halfway between the intersection of trails 208/224 and the intersection of trails 208/210.

Not much further there appears a pile of rocks alongside the trail. It took me a few minutes to figure out the trail turns to the right here.

Another interesting site along this trail is this tree carving. It has been here a long time but I have no idea what it means or why it is there.

For the most part, Trail 210 is easy to hike once you learn the “personality” of the trail. It wanders along the ridge line and often you can see both where you are going and where you have been at the same time.

After following an old road for some time, the terrain somewhat levels out and I lost the trail for just a few minutes. If this happens to you in the same spot and you see this:

The trail turns to the left. I think it was at this point I checked my SPOT device and realized it wasn’t tracking. I have it set to drop my location every 10 minutes. I check my Gaia GPS app and it wasn’t recording either. Double electronic failure! I turned on my tracking on my SPOT and restarted my phone and began recording another track. I also moved my SPOT device to my shoulder strap so I could ensure it was working without removing my pack.
Here’s another log signaling the trail turned to my left.

Over 7 miles into my hike, I arrived at the intersection of Trails 210 and 223. I was roughly halfway done with my hike and the rest of the way was old roads/horse trails. I wouldn’t have to look for the trail – it’s like an Interstate compared to the pig trail I had been on for the past several hours. I made quick time traveling down the mile and a half to the intersection of Trails 208/223. I took a quick break to sit down and stretch out my legs and have a snack.

Turning left, I began the last trail of the day. Just a few minutes later and 0.4 miles I came to the intersection of Trails 208 and 224. I continued straight. As a note, the trails that allow horses on them have a tendency to be churned up and muddy at the smallest bit of moisture on the trailbed. Trail 208 did not disappoint me in this aspect and parts were quite muddy but partially frozen.  I managed to keep dry feet the whole way although my shoes did get quite muddy.

I FINALLY arrived at the spring just west of Braziel Creek. I had been looking forward to this for some time. I needed water, food, and a few minutes of rest. I filtered 3 liters of water and took about a 30-minute break for a late lunch. I ate Texas State Fair Chili from Packit Gourmet (https://www.packitgourmet.com/Texas-State-Fair-Chili.html) and it was DELICIOUS as always and drank about half of my water. I quickly got chilled and had to put on all my gear including a rain jacket to block the wind. I topped of my water bottle and decided it was time to finish this hike.

Leaving the spring, I quickly reached the bridge crossing Braziel Creek.

A few moments later I came across this:

This was crossing a feeder creek to Braziel Creek just east of the bridge. I don’t remember it being there from my last hike on this section of 208. It was only about 3 feet across and I easily jumped across the gap and continued along my way.

After what seemed like forever, I finally arrived at the intersection of Trails 208 and 210. I wasn’t about to do another loop today and said my goodbyes to the sign. I also knew from earlier I was less than a mile from my car.

The bluffs along 208 still had plenty of ice on them as I continued up the hill.

Finally, I had the bridge in sight! As a note, once you cross Hagood Creek, it is uphill all the way to the Gum Pond trailhead. I had forgotten this little detail and my legs were starting to feel it.

Halfway to the car from the intersection of Trail 210 I once again saw the sign for Trail 207. I wasn’t about to turn now – I was too close from finishing!

FINALLY. I made it to the car. I sent my final Check-In message signaling my family I had finished the hike and I was on my way home. The Check-In message was sent at 2:19 pm.

After I returned home, I joined the two tracks from the Gaia GPS app and realized I had hiked 15.2 miles between 8:05 am and 2:19 pm. I think that’s pretty good time in the Sipsey Wilderness considering that includes breaks, lunch, and navigation issues.


I like the SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger and so does my family. I will continue to use it but move it to my shoulder strap so I can just glance down and know that it’s working by the blinking lights.

I didn’t drink enough water on Trail 210. I knew there wasn’t any water on Trail 223 and not for several miles on 208. I should have stopped to drink and filter water on Trail 210 as there were several opportunities.

I should have taken more snacks. By the time I got to lunch I was hungry. A few snacks on the trail would have given me more energy and I probably would have felt better.

I need new shoes. I have been debating on getting some trail runners and I think I’ll make the change from my Merrill Moab Ventilators.

Posted in Backpacking, Hiking, Report | 1 Comment

Distances between points in the Sipsey Wilderness

One of the frustrating things about planning hikes in the Sipsey Wilderness is finding the distances between trail intersections or from one intersection to the trailhead.  All that is officially listed are the lengths of the individual trails.

Well, I am here to help.  I compiled the following information from various hikes and tracks from my GPS.  While they may not be 100% accurate today (in part because the trail changes) they should be within 0.1 miles of actual distance.

It’s a spreadsheet and the easiest way to use it is applying filters on the “to” or “from” columns.  If you see anything I missed or an obvious mistake, let me know and I’ll check (or recheck) my data.


Updated Sipsey distances 01072018

Posted in Backpacking | 1 Comment

SPOT Gen 3 Satellite Messenger review

Where I spend most of my time hiking is outside of cell phone service and I wanted a way to allow some communication with my wife and family. I have been debating for some time what type of device to purchase because of the many options and range of prices and services. I decided my best option was the SPOT Gen 3 device.  My main reason is because I just wanted them to know I was OK or to call for assistance should there be a situation where it was needed.  I got lucky – it was on sale for $75.00 until December 31st, 2017.  I purchased it straight from their website (https://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=100).  There is a required monthly service and I selected the $19.99 option.

If you are not familiar with this product, it allows the user to send one way predefined messages to sets of contacts as well as tracking abilities. The device is 3.43 inches tall, 2.56 inches wide, and 1 inch thick.  It weighs right at 4 ounces with batteries. There are a total of three types of messages you can customize as well as an SOS button.

Each of the three customized messages can be changed and sent to up to 20 different contacts if so desired via email and/or text message. This must be done before you leave as they are not editable in the field (unless you have an Internet connection, a computer with USB drive, and the cord included with the device). The email will include the text as well as a link showing the location when the message was sent.  The text is text only but includes GPS Coordinates. Here are my messages and reasons each would be sent. The following was sent to my contacts describing the messages and why they would receive each of them.

1.)    The “Check-In” currently reads: “All is well – Following plan. Either leaving camp, eating lunch, or reaching camp. There are no known issues.” The contacts should only receive one “Check-In” message every time I check in for a total of three a day. This requires no action.  I send as I leave camp/trailhead, at lunch, and when I reach camp.  They may/may not receive all three.  A “Check-In” also lets them know all is well as a follow-up if you receive one of the other messages.

2.)    The “Custom Message” currently reads: “I have been delayed/plans have changed but do not require assistance. Suggest checking track from my device.” The contacts should only receive one message every time I check in. This requires very little action.  I will send when my plans have changed due to condition and I may be delayed, or a minor injury such as a lightly twisted ankle.  If/when the situation is resolved/no longer an issue, a “Check-In” will be sent.  If the situation does not change, I will continue to send a custom message when either leaving camp, eating lunch, or reaching camp.

3.)    The “Help Message” currently reads: “I need nonemergency assistance and staying in place or making my way to an exit point. Look at my tracks!” This message will continue to send every 5 minutes for an hour unless cancelled by me. This does require action.  I am either unable to safely move or making my way to the closest pickup point, but DOES NOT REQUIRE EMERGENCY police, ambulance, rescue squad, etc.  If I’m on the move (by looking at the tracking) I need picked up at the closest road crossing.  If I am stationary, I do need assistance to exit my location. If the situation is resolved, I will cancel the Help Message and the contacts receive a Help Cancelled Message. If cancelled, I will also send a “Check-In” message to signify all is well when either leaving camp, eating lunch, or reaching camp.

4.)    The “SOS Message.” This goes straight to GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC) along with my GPS Location.  This is a last resort – as in a critical life-threatening situation. This message is not customizable and will send every 5 minutes until the batteries are drained. GEOS notifies the appropriate emergency responders of my S.O.S. based on GPS location and personal information. Your account has emergency contacts and may be contacted for information.

I think another interesting feature is the ability for others outside your contact list to “follow” you.  This can be done by downloading the SPOT LLC app and giving them your user name and password or giving them the link to your Spot Adventures page (I think that’s what it is called).  For example, here is mine: https://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0V2XG14fKrY4UWEl2bNbWVV4crnvFmuhe

Last week I decided to test to see just how it performed.  I went to my usual area (Sipsey Wilderness in the Bankhead Forest) and went on a 15 mile solo hike. I’ll do a separate hike report in the next few days. According to plan, I sent a “Check-in” message as I left the trailhead.  Due to my excitement, I neglected to activate the tracking feature for the first few miles.  When I realized this was not active, I turned it on.  I have it set to save a tracking waypoint every 10 minutes. Once it was activated, it worked flawlessly.  Both my beginning and ending check in messages were received and I had no issues with the device.

I did learn one lesson.  The only way the user knows the device is working are when the lights are on/blinking.  Since this was my first time using the device I checked it often.  In the beginning of my hike, it was attached to the very top of my daypack.  Once I realized it wasn’t tracking, I moved it to the shoulder strap where I could simply look down and see the lights blinking. The only change I made was instead of using the Velcro strap and large biner included in the box, I simply used a small biner through the slot in the top of the device and attached it directly to the shoulder strap.  It kept it from swinging around and saved a gram or two.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the SPOT Gen 3.  It gave my family a piece of mind as I’m out wandering in the woods.  It performed as designed and was only a 4 oz weight penalty.  I don’t need two way communication at this point – but there are devices that do allow that.  For the price, weight, and performance I would highly recommend the SPOT Gen 3 to give loved ones a piece of mind while outside of cell phone coverage.

Posted in Backpacking, Hiking, Report, Testing | 1 Comment

Help me help others (2018 Trailblaze Challenge)

Do you enjoy reading my blog? Do you ever wonder how you can help people like me that do this for enjoyment of helping others?

I have a way you can help me help others.  I am raising money for the Alabama Make-A-Wish Foundation by participating in the 2018 Trailblaze Challenge.  To find out more about this program or donate, click the link below.  The donation only takes a few moments, it’s tax deductible, and any amount over $5 is acceptable.



Posted in Backpacking, Hiking, Thanks | 1 Comment

Our adoption story

I’ll apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I believe it is well worth the read.

First, a little bit of history.  I have two children from a previous marriage and had a vasectomy shortly after they were born.  My wife and I were married in 2007 and we had many discussions about her desire to have children.  My wife had not been married previously and does not have but has always wanted to have children. This has been a desire of hers from a very young age. We knew the first step was to “fix” (or unfix, LoL) my situation but she also has suffered from endometriosis for many years and also has had several surgeries to assist her battle with pain and discomfort.

Several years after our marriage I successfully corrected my situation and we began the process of trying to get pregnant. We were not successful and even tried some medical assistance with the process without any success except for one ectopic pregnancy which was a pretty traumatic experience for both of us (especially her). The treatments from the medically assisted procedures inflamed her endometriosis and became nearly disabling.

We still had the desire to raise a child together and explored different options including adoption.  We attended the local DHR (Department of Human Resources) classes for many months to become foster/adoptive parents.  That process did not work out for several reasons including our work schedules.  We both work full time and with DHR Foster to Adopt, you have to bring the child to DHR once a week during the day to meet with the birth parents.  We did not understand why God was closing the door. More tears followed as we tried to understand why people who didn’t want children could have them so easily while we really desired to have/raise a child but all of the doors were closing.  It was a dark time mentally trying to understand/comprehend for us both although it was probably more difficult for my wife.

After a consultation (and exploratory surgery) with a new doctor, it became evident that it was physically impossible for us to have children. Sadly, we came to the realization that we would not be able to produce a child own our own and my wife was in so much pain. The endometriosis had damaged my wife physically and mentally.  After much prayer and tears, we decided the best thing to do was to eliminate the source of the pain and my wife had a total hysterectomy.  This was a difficult decision but was necessary to improve her quality of life.

We decided to focus on “us” and to address some issues that we had put off too long – namely my wife’s back issues.  It was another situation that needed to be addressed to relieve pain and suffering and finally on May 15th, 2017 she had several vertebrae fused in her lower back. Because we were in an odd stage and life (older without children) and other reasons, we felt led to leave the church we had attended more than 10 years together (and my wife even longer). We visited and eventually joined a different church and signed up to serve on one of the ministry teams.

Less than a month later (Saturday, June 10, 2017) following my wife’s back surgery,  my wife shared something on social media about the teenager (19 years old) that left her two children in the car overnight in Texas. Sadly, both children passed away.  While this is upsetting, it is especially sad to a couple that want children so badly.  She shared the story with the caption: “This is so heartbreaking. If you know someone or you are someone who is struggling with being a parent, I know several couples including us who would love become parents to these little ones.  Please consider adoption over neglect.” It was just an innocent, true, heartfelt opinion shared on social media.

The next day, someone (we’ll call her Beth) sent my wife a message that she wanted to talk to my wife about what was posted on social media.  My wife, being the compassionate and caring person she is, was afraid she offended Beth. When they spoke on Monday (June 12, 2017), Beth stated she knew of someone that was considering adoption for their unborn child. This individual (we’ll call her Jane) was due just about any day and because of her situation was not going to be able to raise her child because she did not have the necessary resources. Jane had mentioned to Beth that she was considering adoption. Beth read my wife’s post and reached out to know if we knew anyone that would be interested in adopting Jane’s unborn child.  My wife said she did – US!

Beth arranged a meeting with Jane, the father of the baby (we’ll call him John), and us two days later (June 14, 2017). We met at a local park on Wednesday afternoon. They (Jane and John) told us their story and my wife and I shared ours. In the end, we basically said that IF they wanted to give their child up for adoption, we would be overjoyed to raise him. Toward the end of the meeting, John prayed for them, us, and the child. We told them to take their time and decide. We were not pressuring them in any way.  The next day my wife received word that Jane and John made a decision. They wanted us to raise their child.

We went into overdrive.  While most couples have months (around 8, to be exact) to prepare for a child coming into their home, we had an unknown but very short time.  Jane had not received much prenatal care so they weren’t exactly sure of the expected birth date but she was close! They shared it was a boy and healthy. Since we had never been through this process we weren’t really sure what to expect or what needed to been done. We have several friends that are lawyers so we reached out privately and asked who they recommended.  They all came back with the same name.

My wife reached out to the recommended lawyer and started telling him the situation and inquiring about private adoption.  Because of our previous experience, we did not want to involve DHR. As she began describing the situation, the lawyer asked if the parents were Jane and John.  This surprised my wife that the lawyer knew their names, but stated that was correct.  The lawyer had met with John recently as they were exploring adoption options.

The lawyer explained to my wife the process and we went to work.  We had to hire a private social worker for background checks, home inspection, etc. to meet state guidelines. It just so happened the one referred to us by the lawyer (quick turnaround was important due to the circumstances) attended the same church as us previously. We sent off our fingerprints for the background checks and met with him together and individually for interviews as he ensured our house met the requirements.

Because Jane and John did not have an ideal situation, my wife reached out to one of the organizations in the community.  They were able to provide hotel rooms, gift cards for food, and some basic necessity items. We were warned by our lawyer to severely limit our assistance as this could appear as if we were “buying” the child from them.  The outpouring of support shown by several individuals (who shall remain nameless on the Internet) was overwhelming. During the next few days/weeks Jane would send my wife messages that “Your baby boy is kicking me.” I can’t even comprehend being able to say that.

On Friday, June 23, 2017 I had one of the most humbling experiences of my life. We picked up Jane and John (they didn’t have a vehicle) and took them to the courthouse (with the lawyer’s approval).  Our lawyer, Jane, John, my wife and I went into the Probate Judge’s office.  Jane and John were sworn in and we watched as both the birth mother and birth father signed over rights to their unborn child to my wife and me. As a parent, I cannot even imagine being able to do this, but as the recipient I was so humbled, honored, and thankful.  It appeared that our dream was going to come true! Jane stated she wanted my wife in the delivery room so she could bond immediately to the baby. As we took them back to their hotel, Jane stated that we were some of the nicest people she has ever known. This is coming from the mother of a baby that she is giving to us.

The next several weeks were filled with preparing for baby.  Did I mention we didn’t really have anything? A baby bed was borrowed. Diapers, baby wipes, outfits, bottles, formula, etc. were bought and/or given to us. We made an effort to keep this mostly a secret except for family and close friends.  There were still issues to work through and things could happen.  It was a crazy, hectic, but hopeful and joy filled time.

On Saturday, Jane called us and she was at the hospital. It was just a check-up, but she wanted us to come.  We were able to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time just days before he was born.

On July 5th, we received THE call. Jane was in labor and the baby was on the way.  We headed to the hospital. Both grandmothers made the short drive over to join us. Before our moms showed up and in the EARLY stages of labor, both my wife and I went back to the delivery room to see/visit John and Jane.  I can’t explain the feeling of seeing someone about to have your son that is not your wife.  Thankful. Humble. Uncomfortable. Exciting. It was all there with other feelings as well. We were asked to leave the room when it was time for the epidural.

Beth was called and she also showed up at the hospital.  When the epidural procedure was complete, Beth came and got my wife because Jane wanted my wife in the room.  I waited with my mom and mother in law.  Just before 12:00 pm, a healthy 9 lb. 12 oz. baby boy was born.  According to my wife, as soon as he emerged, they took him and my wife to the nursery. The initial weight, height, and measurements were made as well as the initial cleaning.  My wife came to the waiting room and got me and I also went into the nursery where we were with him while they finished all of the things that must be done to a newborn.

I have to brag on the hospital.  They were fully aware of the situation.  We had our own room.  Once my wife had the bracelet to match the baby, we were able spend all day with him.  We had a full hospital room to ourselves.  Because of the situation, our name was not on the outside.  The only thing they didn’t furnish was meals.  We spent a lot of time holding him and getting the physical bonding time.  Both grandmothers were able to hold him within hours of being born.  Beth came in and held him.  It was truly a special time and I’m very thankful of the hospital and staff.  Finally, late that evening, we took him to the nursery so we could go home and get some sleep.

The initial report: He was perfect!  Nothing was wrong and he had all of the right parts in the right places.  When the pediatrician came into the room, the question was raised who we were going to use in the future.  That was something we hadn’t really researched fully.  The pediatrician we wanted to use (We’ll call Dr. Q) was on his first shift at the hospital, and he was the one that checked on the baby. Now he was in the room asking who we wanted. When Dr. Q asked, we said we wanted him, but thought he wasn’t taking new patients. Dr. Q said there was a new doctor joining the practice, and he would be honored to take our baby as a patient. Wow.  Just Wow.

Remember that organization in the community that had been helping Jane and John? It just so happened that Dr. Q’s wife volunteered at that organization and had been praying for Jane and John and the adoptive parents (she didn’t know us).  She also prayed that her husband be the one to see/ treat the baby.

The next few days were a blur.  Lots of baby time.  So very thankful and blessed. BUT the parents still had 5 days to change their mind after the baby was born.  We didn’t think that would be a problem, but you never know. On July 7, 2017 we took him home.

He’s just over two months old and doing great.  We have a date set for the official adoption hearing.  It has been and still is an amazing journey and I’m sure I have forgotten details, so future edits may be necessary.

What have I learned from this?  God answers prayers.  He will provide the desires of your heart – especially when you quit trying to fix things and depend on Him.  My wife and I went from hopeless when it comes to children to having a newborn in our arms in just three weeks from the day we initially met Jane and John. God does amazing because then we can see that only HE is possible of the impossible.  Keep trusting and don’t give up.

I know this isn’t normal. I can’t promise that your situation will work out the same. What I can promise is that when God moves, no one can stop Him. EVERY potential barrier in our situation was cleared wide open. There were too many details that worked out WAY ahead of time.  I’m shocked and amazed how smoothly things have gone.

It is too good of a story not to share.  I hope you enjoyed it.

Posted in Adoption, Faith, God, Thanks | Leave a comment

My LAST (new official trail) hike in the Sipsey Wilderness!


I finally did it! After a couple of years in the process (I’m slow, I know) I have finally hiked every step of every official trail in the Sipsey Wilderness.  That’s just over 50 miles of trail.  I have done several of the trails MANY times and I’ve also hiked many miles on several unofficial trails as well. I can now concentrate my full attention on more off-off trail adventures.  I finished up the last little remnant this past weekend on an easy 7 miler on an overnight trip.  

What was the section I was lacking?  Believe it or not, a section on Trail 209 from the junction of 202 east to where the Little Ugly Creek dumps into the Sipsey.  Ironic that the most popular trail is what I needed to finish, huh?

I left my car at the Sipsey Recreation Area Friday afternoon, I was the only car there and there were only 3 or 4 vehicles at Randolph Trailhead. We hiked in from the Recreation area to an area a little west of Fall Creek Falls and didn’t see anyone the whole time.  It was the first time in a long time that Fall Creek Falls was desolate and no one was on the trail.  We made it to our campsite just before dark and set up camp and started a fire. I was hoping to get a glimpse of the lunar eclipse, but I never saw anything special. I may have missed it and/or the trees blocked our view.  We heard some coyotes in the distance early in the evening,  but otherwise it was quiet. Very quiet. 

Saturday morning was a slow morning just because we knew we didn’t have far to go and we weren’t in a hurry. We eventually left camp around 1030 (which is VERY LATE by my normal standard).  We headed west on 209 and crossed at the 202 junction.  We saw a few people on the trail, but not many.  After crossing the Sipsey, we headed upstream to see Feather Hawk Falls.  Rather than backtrack all the way to the river, we climbed the VERY STEEP hill at the first break in the bluff and came out just a few minute walk down the trail from the big Mossy Tree.

We continued down the trail toward Randolph Trailhead. I hadn’t been on 202 for some time and it was a welcome sight after hiking 201 so many times.  We saw quite a few people headed in – most of them day hikers.  When we got to Randolph Trailhead, it was rather full of vehicles.  We drove to the Recreation Area to pick up my car, and there were over 25 vehicles there.

It was a great trip and I finished up the last little bit of official trail I had not done in the Sipsey Wilderness.

I have now hiked (at least once) everything marked in orange!

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Four Horseman and My Little Pony trip in the Sipsey Wilderness

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.


Grave of Sue Garrison. The weather was so bad they couldn’t get her to the cemetery


Old 18?? carving in tree


Old piece of metal. Any ideas of what it could be?


Native American Mortar Stone


One of many bluffs we explored


Our leader leading the way


Garrison Falls


Some type of gears in the bluff under Garrison Falls


Old Garrison Home Site (1888-1920)


Another view of the Home site


The “Artesian Spring”


OLD tree stand

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.


Old Marker Tree


Old Rock carving


Fall Creek Falls

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.

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