It’s almost that time of year. You know the time I mean – wedding season. It seems like everybody I know knows somebody who is getting married this summer! In celebration of romance, I thought I’d blog about how we spent Valentines Day, 2015. My husband and I may be a bit unusual when it comes to romantic gestures – we don’t go in for the stereotypical heart-shaped candy boxes and flowers and a fancy dinner out. Nope – we went hiking! It was, I’ll have to admit, a spur of the moment decision to hike that day, but I’m counting it as a romantic gesture anyway because we went to one of my very favorite places – the Sipsey Wilderness. Designated as a wilderness area in 1975, the 24,922 acre Sipsey Wilderness lies within the Bankhead National Forest near Moulton, Alabama, and was the first designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. There are miles of trails and dozens of waterfalls. Just my kind of place!
We knew we were going to get a late start on the trail that day so we picked the Thompson’s Creek trail, which we thought looked to be about 4 miles round trip. Remember that number for later, folks. The best laid plans….
We got to the trailhead around 2:15 and headed off down the trail. The trail signs in the Sipsey mostly use trail numbers instead of trail names. Thompson’s Creek is #206. The first 1/2 mile is an easy one leading down to White Oak Hollow where a small stream feds into Thompson’s Creek. There we found a group of guys camping out. They’d been hiking and camping for a few days and wanted to spend one last night in the wilderness. After chatting about the weather – though it was a pleasant 50 or so at the time it was supposed to drop down to 15 that night – Chet and I continued on down the trail.
From White Oak Hollow we followed along or at least close to Thompson Creek for several miles. One of the reasons I love the Sipsey so much is the rivers. The color of the water is so startlingly beautiful that just walking beside it restores something in me.
Another reason we picked Thompson’s Creek to hike this time was to give it another chance. Chet and I have been married almost 30 years now, and believe me you don’t make it that long in any relationship without handing out some second (and third and fourth) chances, so a second chance hike sort of fit right in with the Valentine’s Day theme. We had hiked Thompson’s Creek in 2011 but unfortunately happened to be there right after a series of tornadoes had gone through the area. It turned the trail into an endless series of bushwhacks around more downed trees than you could count. We ended up losing the trail, even losing the river, and just giving up in frustration. Recently, much work has been done in the area and the trail is back to being navigable again.
After a bit, the trail curved away from the creek and back into a little slot canyon. Even though my beloved water was not in sight, we still had interesting rock formations a small waterfall, and just beyond the waterfall an area with giant boulders strewn down the hillside.
The trail curved backed towards the river, where this tree caught my eye and then there it was again – that lovely blue water.
At this point, we had already gone 4 miles and we were only at about the halfway point on the route we’d mapped out – so much for our estimate! Still, we were making good time so we decided to just continue on our route. Here I want to remind you of our weather chat with the camping guys. It was February, and had been getting down into the teens at night. Our route now took us across the Sipsey River, but not via a bridge. Nope – that’s right – we took off our boots and socks, strung them around our necks and waded across.
Let me tell you that water was painfully cold! Lest you think we had foolishly missed the bridge just around the corner or something, here’s the trail sign. This is the way you are supposed to go. Bet it feels great in the summer, though!
Our feet warmed up again pretty quickly once they were back in our still-dry socks and boots so we climbed up Sipsey River Trail (#209) to catch Rippey Trail (#201) which would take us back along the river the way we had come, though on the other side. When I said “climbed up” trail 209, I really mean climbed up. It’s a short but pretty steep little trail that takes you up what looks for all the world like the mostly dry section of a steep cascade/waterfall. Once we hit 201, we headed about .1 mile and then took a side trip to Rippey Cabin. While I believe this cabin is technically on private land, it is no longer lived in and is well-known by hikers in the area. At one time the cabin had running water pumped by a windmill and a small kitchen of sorts as well as cots for about 8 people.
We were getting a little worried about the time so we headed back to 201 and on down towards the river. Here the trail is on the back side of a bluff away from the river. It’s a narrow trail hemmed in on each side by lots and lots of rhododendron. I’ll bet this spot is beautiful when they’re in bloom! In this area, I think that would be June.
Hmmm. Looks like we were right to be concerned about the time.
Our next challenge was getting back across the Sipsey River, but at a different crossing point than the one we’d done earlier. We looked up and down the bank in both directions for at least 20 minutes but could not find any sort of sign indicating where we were supposed to cross. With light fading on us, we just picked a lowish spot and went on across. Then of course we didn’t come out on the trail, so we had to just bushwhack until we found it again but that didn’t take too long.
By now it was twilight and we just walked as fast as we could back, skipping the loop back into the slot canyon and the waterfall to save some time. We spotted our camping friends’ bonfire at White Oak Hollow right as the last light died out then made it the last 1/2 mile back to the car using flashlight apps on our phones. While that worked pretty well, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as the normal thing to do! It did help that we’d walked this part of the trail before and we knew it was only 1/2 a mile, but do as we say, not as we did and plan your time better than we did.
Final stats: planned mileage, about 4 miles; actual mileage 8.25 according to the GPS. River crossings: 2. Trails hiked: #206, 209, 201.