In part because I felt the need to wrestle with some things that kept bubbling to the surface in my life, and because at 32 I don't think I had ever been alone, I struck out for the Sipsey Wilderness in the Bankhead National Forest.
I guess I'm a cotton headed ninnymuggins because I didn't bring a real camera. The only pictures I took was on my cell phone of camp the first night. I cut it off that night and put it in my pack. I'll do better next time I promise.
It ended up being about 12 miles with a few detours (some intentional, some not). I started at the Randolph Trailhead and took 201 to the 201,209,206 intersection, then took 206 down to the headwaters of the Sipsey River. 206 was bad with blowdowns between the intersection and where it crossed the river (near the Eye of the Needle and Ships Rock) but I fought my way through and around with just a few scrapes and bumps. I made camp on the south side of the river for the night. It got down into the upper 20's that night but I stayed toasty with my -15 Eureka bag, Thermarest Trail Scout, and a couple of well placed Hot Hands. The next morning I had ice all over my tarp and some on my bag from my breath condensation. I hung out (literally) until almost 9 hoping things would dry up a bit but being down in a holler (that's southern for a hollow or valley) I still had only indirect sunlight. I had to pack up wet then spent a while exploring the rock formations around.
Eventually I made my way to 209 which follows the winding Sipsey River providing lots of great sights. A few more trees were down from the storms this April but some decent pig trails have been worn around them which made following 209 fairly easy. I really took my time walking and thinking. I only met one other hiker (with his dog) all day long. I had intended on making my way up 204a (not an official trail but well traveled) to the Big Tree to make camp in the canyon. It was a good thing that I had took a few minutes to talk to my fellow hiker who had just come down and said it was all but impassable. He suggested I take 204 instead unless I was a glutton for punishment.
Having my shortcut taken out of the picture, I listened to my sore feet and back, wimped out and made camp near the 202/209 intersection since 202 would take my loop back to the trail-head the next morning. I gathered a bit more firewood than usual since there is so many trees down so I could spend some extra time poking the coals before bed. Some squirrels were playing tag in the trees above my hammock but settled down as the sun finally gave up on the day. The second night was much warmer and I held out on bed until almost 9. I didn't zip up my bag until almost 4 in the morning when I woke to a slight chill.
I broke camp about 6:30 and just ate a snack instead of making breakfast and coffee (Hardee's biscuit and brew just sounded like a welcome comfort). Crossing the river was colder the second time but I filled my Sawyer bottle up and it was perfect drinking temperature especially once I started sweating on the way up 202. My biggest unintentional detour was just after crossing on my attempt to follow 202 up and out. As I started up the hill the path seemed to be clearly taking a left which I just followed. I thought the map showed it staying straight until most of the ascent was over but instead of stopping to check I just trudged along. It seemed like bluffs were rising continually on both sides of me so I began to wonder how this trail could possibly pay out. Well, it dead ended at a huge rock shelter and waterfall. I didn't know it then but I had made it to Feather Hawk Falls. Well worth it now but where on earth was I? I pulled out the map and sure enough the trail shouldn't have went left or followed the Sipsey like it did so I backtracked and looked for the correct trail but was at a loss. I decided to go all the way back to river crossing where the 202 started and seemed so obvious. I began following it again and sure enough there was a tree down across the trail. It was super easy to follow once around the tree and I made my way up out of the valley. 202 joins an old road and runs in between the two old Johnson cemeteries. It was a very peaceful and serene seeing the old headstones as I made my way out. What a good place to be laid to rest.
I'm still new to hanging and have a lot to learn. It sure is cool learning on here and out there as well.