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Sipsey River Wilderness in Alabama

Trip Overview

I woke up early on the morning of May 24, 2003. I got out of bed, and immediately started going over my gear list to make sure I had the essential items for the trip. My buddy, Mark Harrison was to arrive between 9 and 10 am. I finished packing my gear and loaded my Mad River Explorer canoe onto the trailer, followed by the Old Town Loon 120 which I brought for Tait Davis. Just as I finished, I noted it was 10 am, so I decided to phone Mark to see if he was close. 'Hello' says Mark, 'Where you at?', 'Just walking out the door', says Mark. "Holy Cow" I said, "Hurry." Mark reassured me, 'Sorry man, I'll hurry.' "No problem, be careful." I quickly phoned Tait and told him we would be late. He said to call him when we left, and he would meet us. Jill had to work, so she left before I did. As she departed, I gave her an extra long hung goodbye.

That additional hour was pure torture. I went over my gear list ten times, packed the cooler, lunch, and everything else. I was almost pacing when Marks red truck with the loud mufflers came rumbling into the drive. He jumped from his truck with a 'sorry man', no worries now that he was here, and I was sure glad to see him. We quickly loaded his gear into my truck, and strapped his Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 on top of the other two boats that were already on the trailer. I ran into the house and dialed Tait's cell. After one ring Tait says "there's the call", I said 'yep, were on our way, see you in 20 minutes, bye'. Mark and I jumped in the truck and headed for Whitehouse, Alabama to meet Tait.

After a quick 20 minute ride we stopped at the gas station at Whitehouse. I pulled to the side and sat for all of 30 seconds when Tait's little red Ranger came over the hill. When he pulled up beside us and rolled down his window, He was all smiles. He said 'I'm ready!' we concurred. After checking to make sure the boats were still secured to the trailer, we headed toward Double Springs to stop and pick up some food. We pulled into the parking lot and quickly discussed what we had packed and what we needed to get. I had the camp stove, bacon and eggs, and hotdogs. Mark had a skillet, plates, and silverware. I ran into the store to get steaks, butter, chips, and ice. We met back in the parking lot, packed up the food items, and headed for the take-out.

I had gotten the idea somewhere that the take-out of highway 33 was hard and steep and an alternate take-out was listed on the map that was on a dirt road. This sounded good to me and I thought it would be easy to find. With a map in hand we turned down what I believed to be the right road. As we began to travel down this pig-trail of a dirt road, it began to get worse and worse. It began to become really muddy and I started to have doubts if we were even on the right road. After about a 15-20 minute ride, we hit the end of the trail, and a big mud hole. We exited the truck and began walking toward were we thought the river should be. Mark scouted far ahead. Tait and I waited for his return because the brush was very thick. We he returned he said, "It's the river alright, but its way down there." We knew it was to far the carry the boats out, so we decided this was a bad idea. "Sorry guys" I offered because I had led them down this dead end path. We had to unhook the trailer so I could do a three-point-turn in my truck to get turned around. It was hot and we got muddy.

We finally got back to the Highway 33 bridge and found the take-out. It was marked with a large 'Public Access' sign, boy, I felt stupid. We dropped off Tait's truck and all squeezed into mine. We headed for the put-in. That first look at the blue-green water of the Sipsey put me at ease. It still amazes me how it seems so hectic getting to the river and dealing with shuttles, but once you get to the put-in, time almost stops. Now with the three of us at peace knowing that we had arrived, we took out time getting the boats loaded and into the water. There were a couple of outer groups fixing to launch, one was a large group of 3 young couples and way too many dogs. I said, "Tait, I sure am glad we ain't got no stinking dogs." He agreed wholeheartedly.

We launched the boats around 1:30pm. The weather was perfect, sunny and about 80 degrees. We passed a couple with a small child sitting on a rock shortly after launching. The father was curious as to how we got back to our car. "I know you don't paddle back upstream, do you?" I explained that we had left a vehicle at both ends of the run and that seemed to satisfy him. "I always wondered how they did that." He added as we floated by. We went through a few small rapids and shoals, none very big. Tait then said what was probably the funniest thing that happened on the trip. He said very convincingly, "I sure wish I was at work." Picking up on his sarcasm I added, "Yeah, I wish I was sitting at my desk working right now." Mark looked at the two of us like we had to be crazy and we all said, Yeah right!

It was now mid-afternoon and we had started looking for our camp site. After eliminating a few spots for one reason or another, one appeared on the river left bank beside the trickle of a small feeder creek. We climbed the bank and knew this was the spot. Across the feeder creek facing our camp was a large rock bluff 75 to 100 feet high. Several caves were on the sheer face of the bluff. Many, many giant hemlock trees were scattered among the bluffs and all through the campsite. A fire pit was already built and as we looked around we found something odd. Right in the middle of the camp, hanging from a small hemlock, were two large turkey feathers. They were tied up in a 'Blair Witch Project' manner. We all agreed it was odd, but kind of cool, and started sitting up camp. This was about 3:45pm.

In about an hour we had all three tents up, and were starting to gather firewood. We worked some and rested some, taking our time and relaxing. At about 5:30 or 6:00pm we decided light the fire and fix supper. I put our New York strip streaks in some marinade when we first arrived at camp. By now they looked dark and they had taken the marinade well. A few groups of canoes floated past our camp as we started supper. We lit the stove and Tait commenced to cooking. He must have cooked a pan fried New York strip before because he sure knew what he was doing. Mark was cooking mashed potatoes and gravy. I got my steak first and absolutely devoured it. Very tender and the flavor was excellent. We finished eating, cleaned our plates and pan and rubbed our bellies for a minute.

After eating we went on a little hike around the caves and bluffs across from our camp site. Tait went ahead and I followed behind. I turned back to Mark and told him to grab his camera when he came. We hiked to almost the top of the bluff and found this very interesting tree that was on a point. This was some sort of hardwood tree that was 5 feet around. It went horizontal out from the ledge before bending at a right angle back toward the sky. We all stepped out onto the tree and there was nothing below us, about a 75 foot drop. This was an incredible birds-eye view down into the canyon. As we turned to head back to camp, we paused for some pictures, but it was getting dark fast and we were out of daylight.

Upon returning to camp we found our fire going stronger than before, so we split up to gather more wood. About 15 minutes later, Mark returned announcing that he had lost his camera. By this time it is dark, so we all grabbed flashlights and Tait gets the lantern and we retrace Marks steps. We walked and looked carefully everywhere Mark went and the camera didn't turn up. We looked for a while, but decided surely he only misplaced it or we would find it in the morning. We sat down around the campfire and talked, had a few drinks and told a few stories. Mark decided to take a 'nap' around 10:00pm, Tait went to his tent about 11:00, and it sat by the fire with my flashlight until midnight. With the fire burnt way down, mostly glowing coals, I headed for my tent. I unrolled my sleeping bag and zipped myself into it. I had deep thoughts running through my head as the soft night sounds of the forest lulled me to sleep.

I awoke just after dawn by the sound of a small plane flying through the river canyon. I thought this was odd for a small plane to be flying through the forest, but I didn't get up to check it out. I also noted it was cooler than I expected and overcast. About 8:30 I decided to get up, I was concerned when I stepped out of the tent. Cool, cloudy, misting rain? This is not good. Mark and Tait show no signs of life yet so I decided to look for Marks missing camera, since I now had daylight. I walked down to the feeder creek and spotted the camera in the ravine almost immediately. I was amazed that we did not see it the night before. We had looked in that very area. After a tricky climb down a steep bank, I retrieved the camera. It was sitting in wet sand and water dripped from the face as I picked it up, I'm not sure if Mark could save it or not. I walked back into camp and hollered to Mark that I had found his camera. He got out of his tent shortly after and started brewing coffee.

The coffee smelled great (although I don't drink it) and I was getting hungry and ready for breakfast. The frying pan and plates were in Tait's tent and I had to unzip his tent to get them. This got Tait up and I noted it was 9:45am. Several groups of canoes and kayaks floated by the camp while we prepared the bacon and eggs. I cooked the bacon, and Tait cooked the eggs, all of which were very tasty. It was sprinkling rain again as we ate. I felt good after eating a good breakfast to get me started. After cleaning the dishes and stove, we quickly began packing up camp. We had the campsite clean and everything loaded in the boats a little before noon. We pushed off and headed for the take-out.

It rained off and on for a while and we paddled through a lot of flat water. We came upon a small rapid and around the next bend we could hear the roar of a larger set of rapids. We have finally arrived at the 100 yard dash rapid. This rapid is said to be 100 yards long with a large boulder at the bottom that is known for wrapping several canoes. It was a fun rapid but somewhat less difficult than I expected. It was still an easy class I with a few nice waves. It is probably a good thing that the rapid was easy because with the load that I had in my canoe, it handled like a pig. After the 100 yard rapid all that is left is a flat-out stretch all the way to the Highway 33 bridge take-out. We paddled past a fishing boat with a 10 HP motor. I still don't know how he got there. It was just past the fishing boat when the rain started. Heavy rain. We could see the bridge now and were sprinting for it. We pulled over under a bluff to try and wait it out. After about 30 minutes, it slacked enough and we decided to go for it. We landed at the take-out at about 3:30pm.


$2.00 launch fee

  • Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip