Pinhoti Trail, December 20-23, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
After an adventure staging my truck at the trail’s end at Jackson Chapel Trailhead in Georgia, my wife dropped me off at Burns Trailhead. I had finished my October hike here and was pretty excited to hike the last 38 miles of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail. My wife took a picture of Dewey and me as we entered the Dugger Mountain Wilderness.
I made good time heading up the Dugger Mountain ridgeline. At the top of one section, I stopped to rest at an excellent dry camp.
As we ascended Rocky Top # 6, the ridge once again more than lived up to its name, chock full of various formations.
I had considered hiking the full 9 miles to Dugger Mountain Shelter, but ultimately (due to the shelter being less than a quarter mile from a road) I chose to stop a mile short at North Dugger Flats. My hammock, with plenty of orange around it, stood out well to any deer hunters in the area.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Sunday night was a cold one despite being sheltered from the wind. My thermometer read 29 when I retired to bed. It was 25 at 6 AM, and my hammock, quilts, and gear were covered in frost.
I packed up quickly and headed off to cook breakfast at North Dugger Mountain Shelter.
The temperature was still hovering around freezing, so my Gigapower stove was a bit crotchedy and underpowered. I heated about 4 ounces of water until it was hot, but not boiling. I then placed the water and my canister in the bowl of my cookset, and my stove took off with excellent power.
From here I was able to cook my grits and heat water to deice my bottles. Around 9 AM, I packed up and headed off, looking for all the world like Yukon Cornelius just before Christmas time.
As I pushed on uphill, a fairly large owl swooped by to my right in the valley next to me. It was a bit of a shock since the owl was actually a bit lower than me as it flew by. It was a memorable moment.
The sunny day was finally warming up and I enjoyed the view of Terrapin Creek Watershed as I descended toward it.
I sat on the grassy berm above the dam and ate a snack as I soaked up more sun. I knew I would want more calories as I hiked up Oakey Mountain. I was pretty well wiped by the time I crossed the ridge atop Oakey. I headed downhill from there and stopped to gather water at North Oakey Campsite, the last water source for those heading to Oakey Mountain Shelter.
If I stayed at Oakey Mountain Shelter, it would only make for a 7 mile day. But I wanted to dry out my damp gear. I didn’t feel like climbing any more, but I could only walk another couple of miles before I began the ascent up Augusta Mine Ridge. This meant I would need to stealth camp near the Chief Ladiga Rail Trail which is right next to County Road 94. I also wanted to avoid the chill of staying in a valley, and the dry ridge at the shelter would prevent that. So at 1:30, I hung out my quilts and hammock at Oakey Mountain Shelter and relaxed. Another hiking day done.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
It was a good choice to stay, as the overnight low was only 44 on the ridge. My day started earlier than expected however. At 5:12 AM, I awoke to quick choppy footsteps in the leaves. It was too big to be a squirrel, not big enough to be a deer. I shined my headlamp and spotted a coyote as it hopped off the picnic table where it was sniffing my cookset. It bounded away quickly. It wasn’t surprising since I had heard coyotes howling on at least three different occasions the night before.
I chose to pack up and get an early start since even at 5 AM, I’d already gotten over eight hours of sleep (you have to love winter camping). I ate breakfast, packed, and headed off after catching the sunrise.
I smiled as my 6:30 alarm went off a few minutes after beginning the day’s walk. The chill became increasingly intense as I dropped into the valley. I soon began the half-mile walk along the Chief Ladiga Trail.
The temperature was more than 10 degrees lower than on the ridge, because as I hit a section where water had seeped over the trail, it was a solid sheet of ice.
I pushed up Augusta Mine Ridge with more energy than I had expected. It stopped for lunch as the campsite at Lanie Gap. There I enjoyed a strange hiker delicacy, the spamwich on MRE bread.
As I continued I passed a large signal tower on my left. My map showed it as “Wolf Ridge Microwave Tower”. I jokingly thought, “Man! If I had walked another half mile, I could have had a HOT spamwich.”
I continued on to Lanie Creek. About half a mile before US 278, the creek was routed by a spillway, for what purpose I don’t know, though it made for a pleasant little cascade.
Then I passed High Point Trailhead. From here, the trail walks this major road for .3 miles. It was a fairly long short stretch as well, as logging trucks barreled along. I was immensely pleased when I turned left and continued up the foot trail. A sign proclaimed this section was built and maintained by the Alabama Trails Association. One change I immediately noticed was the powder blue blazes of the previous 100+ miles now gave way to the dark blue blazes common along the AT corridor’s side trails.
As I crested the first ridge, I could see the next one, relatively barren from either logging or fire or both. I could see Davis Mountain Shelter atop the far side. It seemed a VERY steep climb up. The guide showed it to only be .4 miles from the bottom to the shelter however, so I gathered water from the stream at the bottom and began the climb. It turned out to be easier than I expected and at 2 PM, I ended my 12-mile day to Davis Mountain Shelter.
The site offered an excellent view.
I rested, read my book, enjoyed dinner, and watched the sun set much like I had watched the sunrise that morning.
I then turned in for another night. When I finished my book, I drifted to sleep around 7:30.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
This day started off much less pleasant than my others on trail. At 3:45, I awoke, very cold. I realized the wind had blown my underquilt out from under my hammock. I pulled the quilt back into place and tried to return to sleep. As I was drifting off, the wind caught my quilt again and left me shivering.
By this time, I had a couple of choices. I had planned to get up at 5:30 for an early start. It was now 4:15. I had not put up my tarp because I loved watching the stars as I fell asleep. I could now spend 15 minutes putting up my winter tarp and try to go back to sleep. Or I get up now, having gotten a solid eight hours sleep, and get an even earlier start by headlamp. I chose the second option.
I stepped off just as my alarm rang 5:30 AM. It was that always thrilling experience known as night hiking.
I made surprisingly good time in the chilly air. It became bitterly cold as I dropped to Hurricane Creek. I had read in Bass Clarinet Man’s March trailjournal that he had needed to ford the knee-deep creek because the bridge was out. The thought of fording in these sub-freezing conditions did NOT appeal to me. I was quite happy to see the ATA had rebuilt the Hurricane Creek Bridge since March.
I continued on and up and finally settled at Hawkins Hollow Tent Pad for a second breakfast of a spamwich.
I figured I would need the extra energy as I climbed the 1100 feet up Indian Mountain Ridge to the high point at Flagpole Mountain. I was more right than I knew. This section was the rockiest and generally roughest section of trail I had encountered along the entire Alabama Pinhoti. The climbs were not so tough, as they were broken up into three sections, but the tread torqued my already sore ankle several times.
I settled in for a break at the campsite just past 1700-foot Overlook.
Afterward, I pushed the final 300 foot climb to the summit of Flagpole Mountain. Somebody had built a small improved camp there, with tables attached to trees, clotheslines, a couple of benches, and a folding chair. A hundred yards further, I passed the old flagpole for which the mountain is named.
From here, I headed downhill, carefully picking my route on the rocky slope. In less than a mile, I reached a major milestone, the Georgia border.
I continued on, content that I had completed the Alabama portion of the Pinhoti Trail this year. As I headed further downhill, I arrived at the newly built ATA Shelter, a very nice addition to a valley that offers excellent camping
From there, I pushed hard, hoping to make it to my truck by noon. The first small ridge was again a rocky mess, but as I crested it, the forest turned to a mellow walk over pine needles. I made the best time of the entire day. Just a few minutes before noon, I reached my truck, and Dewey and I prepared to head for home.