Sipsey Wilderness, AL Hike Report [Video]
This weekend a friend of mine and I hiked 2 days in the Sipsey Wilderness in NW Alabama. I shot a few trial updates and pieced them together for one longer video. Overall a good hike, but the lack of trail blazing and downed trees made many of the mapped trails impossible to pass or even missed. It was a great chance to test out some gear for my AT Section hike in 2014. Overall was very happy with my MSR Hubba tent as well as the ULA Ohm pack. I also tried PackitGourmet trail meals for the first time and I am sold on them. Never again will I buy a meal from Mountain House.
Love the Sipsey, I agree some of the trails are confusing........I've been there about 4 times and never have found the big tree!
So glad to know we are not the only ones. We hiked down the split 204 and hit a spot that the trial just disappeared.
Originally Posted by Last Call
One of the tornados on April 27, 2011 in North Alabama, cut a path across Sipsey. When some friends of mine and I hiked there that summer, one of the main trails was closed. The less traveled trails can be hard to follow. I have known of hikers getting lost overnight.
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I'll agree that the Sipsey isn't as easy to follow as some place like the GSMNP where every "official" trail intersection is well labelled...
...but I'm surprised you had as many problems as you described.
I took my (then) 6yo on a hike in the Sipsey back in February of this year. We started at the Bordon trailhead, hike the 'unofficial' North Bordon trail, then the 209 past the 202 intersection (which was well marked). Camped at what happened to be the last good tent site before 204. We hiked up the 204 and then the 224 back to our car. We encountered some downed trees, but nothing like you guys are describing. Our biggest problem was creek crossings after a recent rain. Each creek crossing seemed to require hiking down a muddy slick embankment. Had it only been adults, it might not have been too difficult. But with a 6yo, the mud and downed trees made for some slow going. I think we averaged 1mph.
I do recall loosing the trail going up the 204 as you leave dirt and start climbing some rocks. But we just had to keep looking and moving upwards until we saw in the distance a spot someone had tied a piece of orange marking tape to a tree.
Of course the other thing I had with me was a GPS with major trail intersections marked off.
Visited Sipsey in 2011 just weeks after the tornadoes hit. I too found the trails difficult to follow, but I managed. I had to crawl under, through, and climb over lots of debris to find the "big tree". Its sad that its been over 2 years and it has yet to be cleaned up. I paid the price on my trip though, and still have the scars to prove it (literally). I was infested with bugs and poison after this trip. Its the worst Ive ever been, and I've had it pretty bad. Details here
We said while hiking many times that a GPS would make this a much easier experience.
Originally Posted by HooKooDooKu
I don't recall if you specified in the video, but I take it you started at the "Sipsey" trailhead near the intersection of 209 and 200. If so, I'm a bit confused that in the video, you say something along the lines that you think ya'll are on the 200, but it turns out that you're not. But yet you were later walking the ridge line on 224. So I don't understand how you got to 224 if you were not taking the 200. (I'll point out that there are two trails in the area of 200, the 'official' trail that runs along the east side of the creek, and the 'unofficial' trail that runs along the west side of the creek).
I've hiked in the Sipsey over 50 times in over 15 years, and I've always found the trails easy to follow. The PDF copy of the map is the most accurate, I think. You didn't say whether you started from the north or the south on 200. If you started from the south paved parking area ($3 parking fee), there is a sign showing 209 crosses Borden Creek about half a mile from the parking area. That would be the east end of 209 which parallels the Sipsey River until it crosses south through the Sipsey and goes up to the intersection with 201. If you started from the Bunyan Hill Road bridge at the north end (as HooKooDooKu said, above) you had a choice of hiking on the official trail on the east side or the unofficial trail on the west side. When I was there in April, there was a good sign marking the 209 crossing of the Sipsey.
May I suggest that you go to the west trailhead of 206 and hike west to east on that trail until intersects with 209 just past Ship Rock/Eye of the Needle. There is a little section that is private land, so the maps show the trail cross Thompson Creek and recrossing to get back to the trail; but most folks just hike through the private land and go around the end of Ship Rock to get to some campsites near some riffles in the Sipsey which provide good white noise for sleeping.
An alternate plan might be to come up 201 or 202 to get to the Sipsey. If you go up 224 (Bunyan Hill Road) to the top of the ridge, there is scant water there. You will eventually intersect with 204 and 208 and 253 along the way, but, again, there isn't much water up there along the north ridges.
Reminder: this is a Wilderness Area ... some of us like it without blazes because if you keep oriented with Thompson Creek, Sipsey River, and Borden Creek (and their tributaries) you can wander all over the area and never be lost. It is a wonderful area and there are at least 15-20 waterfalls (depending on the time of year).
I LOVE the Sipsey! I have camped there many times and finally made the trip to the Big Tree on the last trip. Since this is a wilderness area, only the trail instersections are labeled. A compass and map are almost necessary - especially if you are not familiar with the area. A GPS makes it much easier, but sometimes in the canyons (especially the deep, narrow ones) a signal can bd unreliable. Once you find the intersection of 209/204A, keep going North-ish. You will eventually find the Big Tree - keep going and you will eventually see/hear (east?) Bee Falls as the canyon ends at this point. You will see the tree within sight of the falls. Since this is an "unofficial" trail, it is actually illegal to clear this trail. As others have stated, expect many blowdowns in this area due to the tornado. There are plenty of walk arounds, but it is a tough hike in this area.
There is no sign we saw on the main 200 trail, but a jaunt left (if heading north) that is then marked of where to connect to the 209 across the river. Agreed it is a wilderness area and some thing are marked and others are not. The main issue I had was the markings in place now are just poorly maintained, as are the trails.
Originally Posted by SipseyFreak
The map I was using I purchased in Birmingham at Mountain High Outfitters and is the latest (my hiking partners was a few years older and not as updated). This led me to believe it would be accurate, but a few trails did not line up to the map. This could be due to many factors, but did create some level of frustration. As stated above by Last Call, a GPS would have made things much easier to navigate.
OK, now I understand...
Originally Posted by jvreeland
Of course it didn't help (me to understand) when the 1st map I looked at did not make it obvious that the trail from the parking lot to the 200/209 intersection is 200. Since 209 is the more popular trail, I assumed that segment was 209.
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