Alabama’s Sipsey Wilderness
Sipsey Wilderness is known as “The Land of 1,000 Waterfalls
Johnny has been working on a book called 50 Hikes in Alabama and it was late spring when he hit the Sipsey for several hikes that he worked into a 3 night backpacking trip. Heavy rains preceded the trip, which meant the waterfalls were fallin’ good! However, the trails were muddy and the woods were wet throughout the trip. But to see the waterfalls was more than worth it. This Sipsey also has other beauty – clifflines, giant boulders, rockhouses, rapids and an everywhere-you-look-beauty — after all the Sipsey Fork is a federally designated wild and scenic river.
Waterfall near the Tunnel of Borden with Borden Creek below
Johnny left the Sipsey Picnic Area on County Road 60 and headed up the Sipsey Fork before turning onto the Borden Creek Trail. He passed more waterfalls then came to the Tunnel of Borden, a place where boulders have blocked the trail and you must crawl through a tunnel or scramble over it then reach a waterfall and continue the trail. Johnny found the camp just beyond here.
Waterfall near the Tunnel of Borden Waterfall from the Tunnel of Borden
Johnny then headed up the Bunyan Hill Trail, heading for the Big Tree, the largest tree in Alabama, located along East Bee Creek. The woods were completely deserted as he traveled the sodden trails to reach East Bee Creek Canyon. The Big Tree is a tulip tree and is very large!
East Bee Creek Falls The Big Tree East Bee Creek Falls
Johnny headed down to Sipsey Fork, traveling the primitive and overgrown trails down Bee Creek to get there. Once there, he headed up the Sipsey and set up camp along the river, relaxing by the fire on a cool, overcast day. Johnny explored the immediate trails and geological features such as the Needles Eye.
Sipsey Fork Wild and Scenic River
The evening cooled to 50 degrees, leaving a surprising chill in the early May air. Johnny still hadn’t seen a soul on his weekday trip.
Tulip tree bloom Johnny at camp on the Sipsey Fork
The next morning Johnny did a 10 mile loop hike before returning to his campsite, loading the pack and heading up Thompson Creek, then joining the Northwest trail which took him over to Braziel Creek. He couldn’t find a campsite on this stretch of Braziel Creek, so had to continue on to Hagood Creek, where he found a site but also extended his day beyond 20 miles.
Another Waterfall Sipsey Fork Rapid on Sipsey Fork
Johnny left Hagood Creek, did a 13 mile loop on the Mitchell Ridge Trail, then began working his way back to the Sipsey Picnic Area. He saw much more beauty along the way, including more waterfalls rockhouses and an area truly deserving of its wilderness designation.
Johnny’s camp on Hagood Creek
Umbrella magnolia Rockhouse Braziel Creek
Johnny Molloy and Jeff Cochran at Lake Okeechobee
Johnny and tough hiking pal Jeff Cochran excitedly left Lake Okeechobee, heading east on FL 76 before turning into DuPuis Wildlife Management Area. There they picked up a footpath that wound through a mosaic of South Florida forest. Pine flatwoods dominated in higher ground. Wetter areas often had prairies, still other areas were covered in cypress. Just a few feet in elevation change can make a big difference in the vegetation here.
Orange Blazes mark the trail Obligatory trail sign Dark clouds on the horizon
Their 12 mile first day ended at the Loop 4 Campsite. The evening was fairly warm as the clouds continued to build and the rain fell overnight. Johnny was sleeping under a mosquito net and had to rig up his rain shelter in the middle of the night. Jeff was snug and dry under his new tarp.
Jeff poses by his new tarp Loop Four Campsite
Johnny intrepidly started a fire despite the morning rain, and the two of them cooked breakfast and broke camp in the rain. Luckily, the rain held off for the rest of the dark afternoon as they made 12 more miles, reaching the Little Gopher Campsite. They left Dupuis WMA, entering Corbett Wildlife Management Area. The weather radio announced big storms coming and the rain eventually hit about 6 p.m. Johnny scrunched under his tarp, feeding mosquitoes. Jeff fell ill during the storm, due to smoking a big cigar that hurt his tum-tum. He also broke out into a massive sweat. It was hilarious. After the rain, they hung out by the fire a little bit before returning to their respective shelters. Overnight cold air followed the rain front, completely changing the weather situation.
Jeff hiking away the day on the Ocean-to Lake Trail
The third day cleared, became sunny and cool, great hiking weather, and pushed out a long day, camping in an area known as Hungryland, named by the Seminoles as they were hunted by the U.S. Army. Since the north winds were blowing they found a sheltered campsite and hung close to the fire.
The fourth day was quite short, as they rambled 7 miles, ending up near the Hungryland Canal. It was quite cool and windy all day long and they enjoyed hiking in the sun. That night went down to 33°, very chilly weather for South Florida. Jeff was laid up, as he had twisted his ankle getting water.
Hiking along the Hungryland Canal Jeff and Johnny at their palm encircled campsite
The Ocean to Lake Trail then cut through a little bit of civilization before reentering wilderness at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. They kept pushing past the Loxahatchee River and made the Scrub Jay Campsite after 16 miles, despite Jeff’s ankle. The north wind had been relentless all day and continued into the night. Their campsite was vulnerable to such blows, as it was sheltered only by a little bit of low lying palmetto scrub. Their final and fifth night was another cold one.
Palm Cathedral Classic pine flatwoods
The final day led through Jonathan Dickinson State Park and a short road walk to the ocean. They crossed a bridge and ended up on Jupiter island and reached the ocean at Martin County Beach Park, completing the Ocean-to-Lake Trail.
Jeff leaving JD State Park
Johnny by a sign identifying who he is Jeff on Jupiter Island
The Atlantic Ocean! Jeff on the beach
Johnny runs for dry land after dipping his foot in the Atlantic Ocean
Backpacking at Yosemite National Park
Johnny and Tom depart the High Sierras
I took a trip to California, ostensibly to see the University of Tennessee Volunteers football team play the UCLA Bruins. Yosemite – the land of granite
However, before the game my friend Tom Lauria and I went backpacking at Yosemite National Park. It is the crown jewel of the High Sierras—a land of granite domes, dramatic waterfalls, alpine lakes, and enough trails to keep you busy for many a year. If you haven’t been here before consider giving it a shot. The classic tourist places such as Yosemite Valley are good for auto touring but it is in the backcountry where you can really get the sense of remoteness that is found in Yosemite National Park.
Granite Mountains Sunset on Chain Lakes
How Yosemite Came to Be
“Inspired by the scenic beauty of Yosemite and spurred on by the specter of private exploitation of Yosemite’s natural wonders, conservationists appealed to Senator John Conness of California. On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the State of California as an inalienable public trust. This was the first time in history that a federal government had set aside scenic lands simply to protect them and to allow for their enjoyment by all people.”
Johnny Fishes Chain Lakes
We took off from the south end of the park and headed for the South Fork Merced River. Central California was in the midst of a heat wave so temperatures were mild in the normally chilly Sierras. We camped on it for two nights before heading into the Chain Lakes, which offered superlative alpine scenery. We fished the Chain Lakes, catching many trout and hiked around the treeline.
Campsite on South Fork Merced River
They then headed to the car and on to the Tennessee-UCLA game.
Mount Rogers High Country Trek
Johnny has had the distinct pleasure to update and revise his Mount Rogers book. To that end, Johnny and long time friend John Bland took a three night tour of the Mount Rogers High Country. They started at Elk Garden, and took the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail To Deep Gap, barely reaching a designated campsite before dark, since they waited at the trailhead for summer storms to abate.
Mount Rogers High Country offers a superlative scenery
Next morning, John and Johnny continued their scenic loop using a combination of trails to circle around Wilburn Ridge, then descend into the Wilson Creek drainage where they set up camp. The weather started foggy but then cleared off. Despite being July, the temperatures never rose above 70°.
John Bland crossing stile Johnny trekking a mile high
Their campsite was a mixture of woods and meadows beside the raging torrent that is Wilson Creek. Johnny engaged in his usual campfire cooking, conjuring up a meaty gastronomic challenge that left John reeling. Overnight, a light drizzle saturated these majestic highlands, but didn’t dampen their spirits nor get them wet since they were sleeping under a red maple.
Ponies in the High Country Rock Outcrop on Pine Mountain
Next day, they ate blueberries on their way to Scales. From there they took the Crest Trail, which has unbelievable views, then joined the Pine Mountain Trail, trodding onward among the rock outcrops, heath balds, and fairy tale-like spruce fir woodlands.
John Bland and Johnny have a laugh at their camp beside Wilson Creek
Beyond Pine Mountain, the pair walked in the shadow of Mount Rogers before dropping down on the Cabin Ridge Trail, finding a remote campsite. A high country drizzle ensued, but Johnny simply set up the tarp and they proceeded to enjoy the evening unhampered by the precipitation. John was challenged by the evenings fare: kielbasa, pinto beans and rice. A moon rose overnight, illuminating the nearby meadows. Next day, the pair took the Appalachian trail back to Elk Garden, Completing another adventure in the Mount Rogers High Country.
Want to go on your own adventure at Mount Rogers? Check out this book!
Mount Rogers Outdoor Recreation Guidebook
Enjoy all the natural beauty that Mount Rogers National Recreation Area has to offer with the first comprehensive guide to this reserve in southwestern Virginia. With complete descriptions and condensed trail lists, it’s easy to pick among scenic, remote, easy, or challenging trails. Waterway descriptions, tips for fly and spin-cast fishing, and recommended scenic drives are also included.
Isle Royale National Park
Ellie Connolly and I started in early August for a cross island traverse of Isle Royale National Park. We started on the Minong Trail and camped at Todd Harbor. The mosquitoes were troublesome. We jumped some ridges and made our next short day to Little Todd Harbor. Took a swim, then explored the shoreline.
Lake Superior shoreline Typical trailside aspen woods
We left to climb Mount Desor, and enjoyed great views along Minong Ridge, then made camp at Lake Desor. I tried to fish but no luck.
View atop Mount Desor
Ridgetop view of Superior Grass waves in the stream
We left Lake Desor the next day and trucked it all the way to Windigo, then took the ferry on back to the mainland, ending our trip at Isle Royale.
Sunset on the lake
Buffalo River Trail
Johnny and hiking pal Bryan Delay traversed the length of the 37 mile Buffalo River Trail during the fall season. They had stellar weather. After leaving the upper terminus at the Ponca trailhead late in the afternoon, the two of them wound up at Arrington Creek, where they listened to the Vols beat Georgia.
Johnny and Bryan under rockhouse beside Buffalo River
They continued along the ridge above Boxley Valley, known for its elk population, then stopped by the Villinas homestead, then completed the 9 mile day at a campsite on the Buffalo River. They fished some nearby holes, catching a few bass and bream.
Villinas Cabin Campsite in woods near Buffalo River
The next day had the most ups and downs, as they climbed over mountains and back down to the Buffalo River. They entered the Ponca Wilderness and ended up camping on Beech Creek, where a cool breeze drifted down the valley. Johnny trekked up to Big Bluff, on of the largest on the river, while fishing. Bryan relaxed at the campsite.
Overlooking Buffalo near Steel Creek Bryan splits rock walls
The climbs eased up and they stayed mostly along the river, then camped on a gravel bar overlooking a bluff. The day was warm and cloudy, but little rain. Next day, they passed through the historic Erbie area, where homesites aplenty are fun to explore. Old fields allowed views of the mountains.
This hike is detailed in Johnny’s book 50 Hikes in the Ozarks. Click on the cover to learn more.
This book details 50 hikes that take place in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri, from the Buffalo Wild and Scenic River and Ozark National Forest of the Natural State, where incredible views await the hiker, to the special destinations of Missouri, including the highlands of Taum Sauk Mountain and the open vistas of Hercules Glades Wilderness in the Show Me State. Many treks along the master paths of the Ozarks, the Ozark Trail and the Ozark Highlands Trail, are included.
The wind blew later that day, the sky cleared and cooled off. Despite the frontal passage, they managed to catch a few fish in a hole directly in front of camp.
Bryan casts a line Johnny at gravel bar campsite
The final day, they took it on in to Pruitt Landing and ended their trip, just as an icy mix was falling.
Alaska’s Resurrection Pass Trail
Scott Davis and Johnny flew from Washington, D.C. to Anchorage, got a ride then took off for the Resurrection Pass Trail in the Chugach National Forest. While at the trailhead they met up with Dallas Debatin, who was looking for someone to hike with, as they were entering grizzly country.
Scott and Johnny fixing to backpack in Alaska
They headed up fast flowing Resurrection Creek, camping for a couple of days, keeping their days relatively short, til they made it over Resurrection Pass, entering Juneau Creek, which was more fisherman friendly. The scenery was unbelieveable throughout the trip, however, and Johnny was marveling and taking in every moment of the trip. Johnny saw moose and black bear while fishing, as well as Dall sheep on the mountainsides. The weather was mostly cool and cloudy, but little rain.
Sun sets on peak near their campsite on Juneau Creek
The water was cold when fishing but they ended up having trout for supper three nights, cooking the trout over the fire. The arctic char were especially good..
Johnny with stringer of fish Fireweed grows all over Alaska
Though they didn’t see a griz, they saw some huge prints on the trail and Johnny saw prints on streamside sandbars while fishing. Luckily, forest service provided bearproof storage boxes were located at campsites along the trail
Trailside griz prints Johnny, Dallas and Scott at campsite. Note bearbox
Meadows near Swan Lake
The last night, Scott had a special surprise. While camped in an aspen grove, a continual strong wind blew a tree over and it fell on Scott’s tarp and hit him, but the blow was eased by the tarp ropes and a little luck. Scott made it. Next day they walked out, passing Juneau Falls. Their 7 nights out were over all too soon…
Scott with the tree that fell on him Juneau Falls
A Thru Hike of the Florida Trail
Swamp Sloggin’ Thru Bradwell Bay Wilderness