Saturday, December 18, 2010
So the time had finally come. In 2009, I section-hiked all of the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama. This weekend, I would finish the last 31-mile section of the Georgia Pinhoti Trail, completing the full corridor from Flagg Mountain in central Alabama to the Benton MacKaye Trail in north Georgia.
My wife dropped me off around 11:15 about 3 miles east of Chatsworth, Georgia. Wide, hard-packed forest service road gave way here to old, rough pock-marked trail that only a 4WD vehicle could hope to maneuver. Dewey Bear and I prepared to head into the woods.
A ¼-mile up the trail, I passed two deer hunters. They’d had no luck that morning and were heading out. As I crossed a soft, damp open field, I encountered my first white 2” x 6” blaze, the principle marking on this section of the PT.
I pushed along the open path, gradually gaining ground over the next mile or two. Then the trail took a notably steep upward climb. A massive switchback swung me around the side of a ridge, then back up to the gap on the south side of Tatum Mountain. Here I rejoined forest service road again, blazed with the silver diamond with turkey tracks, so common on much of the Alabama PT and along roads.
I continued to alternate between actual forest service road, double track trail on old roadbeds, and occasional new singletrack trail. 6 ½ miles into the day’s walk, I stepped onto GA 2 and took in the excellent view at Cohutta Overlook.
A ½-mile of paved roadwalk followed, then I turned north onto trail again. From here I had planned to walk a mere 1.5 miles, then camp near a spring on the south edge of Turkey Mountain. However, it became clear that despite much recent rain and snow, the spring was dry. Fortunately, the day was young, just 3 PM, and a map check showed a definite stream flowing next to Forest Service Road 18 at Mulberry Gap, just 2.7 miles ahead.
As I approached Mulberry Gap, I saw a cabin being built on the distant hillside and heard a dog barking. I was nervous about camping near people’s homes. As I hit FS 18, I noticed a couple of other houses along the way. However, 400 yards up the road I found a wide flat cove between ridges with the stream I sought. There was enough vegetation along the road that I could push 150 yards off the road and be mostly out of sight. The area where I hung my hammock was flat and free of underbrush. Once my green Warbonnet tarp was in place, I had an excellent stealth camp.
I cooked dinner, stowed my gear for the night, and pulled the doors of the tarp shut to hide the light of my headlamp. I read for a while, then Dewey and I settled in for the night.
Sunday, December 20, 2010
The night was a chilly one, with the damp low ground collecting tremendous cold. I awoke with a mildly damp underquilt and topquilt and frost on the inside of my tarp. My thermometer read 24 degrees. Because of the extra mileage on the previous day, I knew I could easily handle a late start, so I rolled over and went back to sleep until sometime after 7:30.
I heated water for coffee and packed up slowly. I finally stepped out onto FS 18 a few minutes before 9 AM. The hard frost in the valley was turning to mild fog as the morning sun shone down. The effect on the little mountain valley was very pleasant.
A mile up the road, I turned left and begin to climb up a series of switchbacks toward Double Top. The gentle grade, amidst a soft carpet of pine needles, was enchanting and time seemed to melt away. Five miles of trail disappeared in only a couple of hours. I crossed FS 90 and headed toward my planned lunch stop at Barnes Creek. A bridge spanned the tiny creek, courtesy of a local Boy Scout Troop.
I found a good log to lay my sit pad across and settled in for a fine lunch of a bacon-colby-jack sandwich on MRE bread.
As I was preparing to pack up and step off, I heard a great deal of shouting and hooting from up the valley ahead. I wondered if maybe a hunter was trying to call in a dog. The racket went on for several minutes. Finally I packed every thing away and prepared to step off as four mountain bikers rolled up. They proceeded to ask a number of ridiculously stupid questions designed to either question my sanity for staying out in the cold or simply show their complete ignorance. I was already frustrated from their constant noise and in little mood to talk. They finally headed on their way and I gladly walked the opposite.
I pushed uphill and quickly covered the 3 ½ miles to the Bear Creek area. This series of looping trails offered 2 more mountain bikers and 6 dayhikers. These folks were all courteous and I enjoyed chatting with them. The Bear Creek area also offered the view up to the Gennett Poplar, a huge old tree.
I’d planned on camping in this area, but most the streams were choked with rhododendron. The only good campsite was right below the Gennett Poplar. It was open to camping, and a fire ring showed many had stayed there, but the crowd of passersby at 2 PM on a Sunday afternoon put a definite damper on thoughts of staying there.
I pushed on, thinking I would camp at Heddy Creek, 2 ½ miles ahead. However, as I began the mile-long descent to the creek, I walked upon a gorgeous water source next to the trail.
This site was high enough that I figured much of the cold night air would settle below in the valley. A clear piece of gently sloping ground with no underbrush and two perfect trees called to me to hang my hammock here. I was home at 2:30.
I stitched up a tear in my wind pants, enjoyed some soup and crackers, and stared up at the sky above from my hammock.
The afternoon melted into evening, dinner, reading, and snuggling with my buddy Dewey. The full moon was so bright that I didn’t need a headlight, even under my tarp. I finally drifted off around 10 PM.
Monday, December 20, 2010
The morning greeted me with totally dry quilts and tarp. The high camp had insulated me from frost and the worst of the cold, with my thermometer holding steady at 30 degrees. I got up at 7 AM, heated water, and packed. The gas in my canister ran out just as my water began to boil.
I was packed and walking by 8:25. The mile downhill got colder and colder as I descended to Heddy Creek. The temperature couldn’t have been more than 20 as the bracing chill bit into my ears and nose.
The Pinhoti Trail Pocket Guide only lists two stream crossings in this area, when in fact there are nine. And all but two are “wet boot” crossings, requiring submersion up to near the ankle even when rock stepping. I silently thanked W. L. Gore for his creation that lined my boots and kept my socks and feet dry. Even so, my feet were still cold due to the freezing water in Mountaintown Creek.
The 1200-foot ascent offered a mix of gentle grades, punctuated by short stretches of very steep trail. But even the steep trail offered rewards. Along these areas, Morgantown Creek formed long cascades.
On the west-facing slopes, ice curtains from four days earlier persisted, despite temperatures in the 40s these last two days.
The climbed topped out on FS 64 at the parking area at Buddy Cove Gap. The lot offered me a comfortable place in the sun to enjoy lunch.
Half an hour later, I began the final 3-mile walk to the Pinhoti Trail’s northern terminus at the Benton MacKaye Trail. Since this region bordered the Cohutta Wilderness, I expected rugged single track trail to await. But the first two miles were the standard wide old roadbed so common to the Georgia PT.
With a mile left to go, the trail narrowed and entered a series of rhododendron tunnels. .3 miles from the trail’s end, I joined the South Fork Trail. I turned south and quickly reached the South Fork of the Jacks River, the final wet boot crossing on the trail.
300 yards later, I reached the junction with the BMT. Dewey and I posed for a celebration picture.
Then I hoisted my pack and trodded 2 miles north along the BMT to Watson Gap and Old GA 2. 45 minutes later, my wife arrived and we headed home, my 300-mile Pinhoti Trail section hike complete.