My hike into Sipsey Wilderness in Alabama proved to be everything I had heard about this place – densely wild, trail tight, and cliff-a-riffic! I dropped in at the Randolph trailhead that led me down to an old settler’s road that dead ended at two old cemeteries holding remains of the courageous folks who spent their entire lives in this rugged backcountry during the 1800’s. The markings on the headstones were hand carved. Other graves were marked only with an upturned stone in the white sand.
The trail at the end of the settler’s road was thin and barely noticeable. I was practically free hiking! How thin was it? It was so thin that brush on both sides reached over and fought with each other. Spider webs crisscrossed the trail as well. I grabbed a stick and swung it into thin air to clear may path as I meandered down to the river. It had recently rained and it wasn’t long before I was soaked from the waist down from wet brush rubbing up against me.
As the trail descended, things got really quiet. I was pinched in by cliffs rising straight up above the trees in a canyon the Sipsey river cut eons ago. I took extra precaution not to twist an ankle. That would really suck down here. I made sure to stop walking before I looked up.
Once down along the river the trail hugged tight to the bank. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of the canyon walls above me and it proved too allurring. I peeled off the trail and free hiked through all kinds of thick sticky stuff until I reached the absolute base of the cliffs. I placed my hand on the cool rock wall and looked straight up until I lost balance but still could not see to the top. The cliffs blocked out the sun. This was a good thing because no brush grew right up against the wall and I made my way along without too much trouble. After awhile the terrain got more intense with fields of hugh boulders tossed about like pebbles. Trees were literally growing on top of them with their exposed roots draping over the edge and digging into the moist ground.
When I got back down by the river, I missed the path to walk out of the canyon and ended up adding a few extra miles making the day a 13 miler when it should have been only 9. Like the path, some of the trail markers are barely noticeable. They don’t even have names, just numbers.
Driving out of Sipsey wilderness, I stopped by a diner to snag some good ‘ol Alabama bar-b-que for the road. I sat in the lobby and picked three ticks off me. I drove to Oak Mountain State Park just South of Birmingham to camp for the night. The dude behind the counter asked what I was sleeping in and I casually said my van. He pointed to a sign glued to counter that said you couldn’t sleep in your car and only RV’s or tents were allowed. Dog it! I made a mental note to throw my tent in the van for the next trip. I drove 3 hours back to Atlanta. The next day I got another surprise when both my legs started to itch. Sipsey gave me a nasty rash of poison ivy.