By Scott Morris
If those who can do, and those who can’t talk about it, count me in the latter group when it comes to paddling Brushy Creek.
As the drought of 2016 lingers into the new year, there isn’t enough water rolling out of the canyons of Bankhead National Forest to float a boat. So, I have to be content talking about one of my favorite trips down Brushy Creek with a few guys from Huntsville Canoe Club.
When we made our trip Jan. 28, 2012, the creek was churning. Although the U.S. Geological Survey has no gauge on Brushy Creek, the USGS reading at nearby Sipsey River was over 600 cubic feet per second. That compares to less than 50 CFS most of the time this winter, although recent rains have improved the levels.
Brushy is Sipsey’s little brother. I think it’s more scenic with its narrow canyon walls, numerous tributary waterfalls and banks lined with hemlocks and mountain laurel. In the winter and spring, these parallel creeks transform from crystal clear into a luminescent green.
The float down Brushy begins with a chore. You have to paddle across Brushy Lake, then portage around the dam and down the steep bank. Generally, if there is enough water to float over the rapids directly below the dam, there is enough to paddle the rest of the creek.
We stopped about three miles downstream from the dam and hiked up a tributary on the left to Coal Mine Branch Falls. Two of our guys tested their waterproof drysuits by swimming in the deep pool below the falls.
Although Brushy Creek is tame by whitewater standards, it does hold a little excitement immediately downstream from the convergence of Coal Mine Branch. The creek pours into a narrow passageway called the String of Beads, with boulders serving as the charms of the necklace.
Mile 6 features one of my favorite spots in Bankhead forest. The small tributary on the right leads to the great Sougahoagdee Falls. A recessed rock shelter here allows hikers to walk behind the falls and peer out into the mouth of the canyon.
Rush Creek enters Brushy Creek about a mile downstream from Sougahoagdee. The Brushy Creek take-out awaits on Forest Service Road 255, or Hickory Grove Road. Including the side hikes and a stop for lunch, our trip lasted about 4.5 hours.
When the water is too low to make this trip, I have launched at the usual take-out and paddled down to U.S. 278. This lower stretch is scenic, but it requires a couple miles of flat water on Smith Lake.
Hopefully, the rains will return and raise the water levels in Bankhead National Forest. But, for now, there isn’t enough water to do, so I have to be content to talk about it.