Monday, April 13, 2009

Sipsey River Canoe Trip

In my quest to find some weekend adventure, I noticed the Huntsville Canoe Club was planning a canoe trip down the Sipsey River in the Bankhead National Forest on Saturday. I am a member of the club, so I replied on the club's forum that I would be happy to join the fun. We had 9 boats and 11 people show up. One neat thing about these kind of events is that you never know who you are going to meet up with and spend the day with. I knew only two of the eleven people that went.

We did the "usual" canoe trip that hundreds of people do each year in the Bankhead. Launch the canoes at Sipsey Recreation Area and take out on Highway 33 on the way to Double Springs. It is about a 11 mile trip.  After meeting them at Warrior Mountains Trading post, we launched from the Sipsey Recreation area around 10:30 a.m. The water level was just about right for a smooth ride and no log jams. If you have ever been canoeing, log jams can really mess up a good trip and I have been on trips where you felt like you pulled the canoe as much as you paddled it!   Around 12:30, we stopped at a beautiful bluff area for lunch.  As it is with many of these trips, you get a full array of skill levels and all kinds of boats. 10 years ago, everyone that showed up would have the standard old canoe. Today, they may show up with 7 foot kayaks, sit on top ocean kayaks, very large canoes, and the list goes on. We had several people who had not been down the Sipsey river and also had not been in a kayak or canoe very much. Those people are the ones that make you nervous going on the trip, because you know (and they don't) that one tip over and a soaking may mean hypothermia setting in or not. Many of them don't even bring a change of clothes for this, and so with temperatures not getting out of the 50's all day, without other people to help you though the situation, it can get from bad to worse quickly. Most people don't realize that water related deaths are more from hypothermia than the accident itself.

Three highlights of the trip were this. The beautiful bluff area about 3 miles into the trip where we stopped to eat. The absolutely stunning Hurricane Creek Waterfall that is about 1/4 of a mile off of Sipsey. It empties into the Sipsey River about 7-8 miles down on our trip. See picture of Hurricane Creek Falls. The last highlight of the trip was one where you really feel sorry for someone.  At about mile 9 of the trip, we came upon this gray-haired man who looked in his mid to late 50's, standing in waist deep water clutching tightly two 7-9 foot long kayaks. That looked strange? When we got down to him (I and a couple of others who were in the lead of our party), we asked him what was wrong? He said he and his buddy lost control of their kayaks and flipped over back at the 100 yard dash and he lost his paddle, his $250.00 Magellan Meridian GPS, and his shoes. We asked where his buddy was, and he said he is walking beside the creek back up from where they lost control of their boats. I felt really sorry for the guy. He was in short pants, it's 56 degrees outside standing in creek with a temperature in the upper 40's. The 100 yard dash he is talking about is something everyone that canoes Sipsey knows. It is a stretch of fast moving water, class 2 or 3 depending on the water level (class 1 is pretty much calm water), that is supposed to be the fun of the trip. This 100 yard dash is fun to ride unless you wind up like these guys. The new folks with us were periodically questioning us about this 100 yard dash, with a little bit of "nervous tone". It is nothing though. Just a lot of fun....but somehow, these two guys we came up on, must have really hit it wrong! 

After helping these guys for a few minutes, some of our folks helped him find his paddle, but no luck on the shoes and the expensive GPS unit. This guy had a great attitude over it. With my conservative raised background, I would be sick for days losing that much money. He said the GPS unit floats, so someday, somewhere, when someone least expects it, they may get rewarded with a GPS unit. As we were resting in our canoes/kayaks on the side of the bank at one point waiting for the rest of the crew to catch up, I discovered some cheap aluminum cooking pots and pans on the bottom of the creek right underneath my canoe. With some help, we were able to gather the items up and collect the "trash". We all laughed and said they must have come from another "dump" of a canoe or kayak at the 100 yard dash upstream. As we came up to the take out point, the line was sort of "bottle necked" waiting in line to pull our kayaks and canoes out of the water. I looked back and there, sitting in the kayak with his white legs propped out of the cockpit of his small kayak, and still in short pants, was the man who dumped out back at the 100 yard dash. Shortly behind him was his partner paddling up. As we loaded boats for the next 20 minutes, I noticed this guys partner never ever spoke to him. Evidently, he was not in a "good mood" over their spill, and he never smiled the entire time we loaded boats...Oh well..That is why they call it adventure!.....At 5:40 p.m. I came flying in the driveway (running later than I thought I would be). My wife and daughter had steaks going on the grill outside and both of them wearing coats.  Another adventurous day in the beautiful Bankhead National Forest, and my mind "cleared" to face the work week.