Well, I'll start by saying, that was by far the most difficult 13 miles of hiking I've ever done..
Warning, this is a VERY long read, but hopefully enjoyable.
My friends and I (5 of us + 1 Jack Russell Terrier) dropped off one of the vehicles at the Cheaha trail head (our ending point) and I carted the rest of us down to Adam's Gap trail head. We got started on the Pinhoti trail around 9:30am Saturday morning. It was quite comfortable outside; not a cloud in the sky! We were looking at sun all day, with highs around 85. Each of us packed in 3L of water.
The trail was pretty overgrown, pants were a necessity unless you wanted torn up legs. It was also quite rocky, that was just the beginning as we soon found out.
What we thought would be relatively easy hiking, with exception of one or two 500-800ft elevation changes ended up being multiple 200-800ft elevation changes with LOTS of boulder hopping across mountain sides. Luckily we had 3L of water and we were SURE there would be some flowing creeks thanks to the storms that moved through Alabama over Labor Day weekend.
Thomas, our travelling companion was a trooper moving across the boulders/rocks and rough terrain. He didn't let anything stand in his way..
About 11-11:30 we were on yet another steep incline, tired, sweaty and in general putting in a solid 2+ hours of hiking, feeling exhilirated when our trail lead came to a stop. We all heard the whimpering of a dog, not Thomas, our nimble JRT. Coming down a rather steep incline was this hobbling, sickly looking hunting dog, complete with GPS tracker strapped to her neck. She was, we thought, lost, hungry, tired and thirsty. We gave her beef jerky and some of our water and made another friend to have along on the trail. We named her Garmin. We saw that she had a collar with an owners name, so we called.
Let me first say that I'm not a hunter, or have any idea about what goes into that sport. I enjoy the outdoors, I enjoy hiking/backpacking/camping, but I also enjoy guns and knives, but only for protection.
We were greeted with a southern fellow's voice telling us to "whop her and send her on down the mountain"... Well, there was no way we were going to let her go, most of us are dog owners and have strong feelings for our canine companions. Besides, after the beef jerky and water hand outs, there was no getting rid of her anyway
We told the guy that we were backpacking on the Pinhoti and would be at the Cheaha trail head the next day and to come get her there.
On our way we went, with a new companion in tow, passing by a growing number of empty creeks. Our water situation was starting to be come "a situation".
We finally get to our largest elevation change on our way to Odom's Point just down the Odom scout trail. We know we have to do it, so we all, being manly men without any complaining (yeah right) get to huffin' it up the switchbacks for about 800ft incline. We get to the top and decide its time for a serious break.
After breaking we realize that the higher we go, the less chance of water being available (besides Cave Creek, which wasn't on our decided about trail). So at this point we realize 3L is it and we have to conserve. We finally reach about 200 yards from Odom's point, well off trail and decide that area was good enough to setup camp; it's now about 2pm. We did about 5.7mi.
Camp time! We're all tired, thirsty, but still in decent spirits. We start setting up our own little shelter areas. All of my buddies decided to try ground dwelling after having not enjoyed hanging (I feel sorry for them), oh well; their loss! I was giddy with excitement to setup my new blackbird and mamajamba. I got it all setup and decided I'd take a load off for a few.. boy was that a wonderful feeling. Knowing that I'd be done for if I didn't get up, I went ahead and got on up to start gathering wood and large rocks for the fire ring. I got to clearing an area for the rocks, happy that the ground was still pretty moist from the storms.. just no standing water anywhere to be found. Two of our crew decided to head down Odom's Point to check out a creek on the map called Little Caney Head. While one of our guys was pretty fatiqued and nauseas (dehydration setting in), we told him to go get cooled off and take a nap and to drink water, we'd back him up with our reserves. Myself and one of our other crew got to getting fire wood and rocks.
After gathering fallen wood and cutting up dead logs (Sven saw for the win!), we took our own little siestas. That WBBB was heavenly. I slid the 3/4 Crowsnest UQ to the side to let the breeze hit my backside (it was likely still in the mid 80's at that point). I snoozed off and on for a bit while we waited for the other compadres to come back with water from the creek down the mountain side.. They took my 8L sea to summit DIY gravity filter bag with them to haul 8L of cold spring water back with them.
About an hour later (time flies when you're catchin some zzzz), they returned.. with no water.
Ok, so we were definitely in conservation mode now (moral of the story, DO MORE TRAIL RESEARCH BEFORE CHOOSING A TRAIL). We tried to decide if it was worth using water to boil for our HawkVittles meals. After much debate we all did water checks and decided we'd do it to get some calories back in us and converse the rest of our reserves for the next day. We already had one of our guys in the beginning stages of dehydration. He was a trooper though.
I slept like a baby with my WBBB, Crowsnest UQ and JRB No Sniveller TQ.
The next day we started packing up pretty early to get on out of there. We still had a good 7'ish miles to go. No water sources in site, we just had to push through.
Needless to say, our dehydrated member got a bit worse, losing it. So we gave him as much water as we could jointly muster up. He stayed with us though, even with more inclines to get to McDill point. Luckily past that point it wasn't TOO bad, more inclines, but then it leveled off. We trudged on through to get to the Cheaha trail head where we called Garmin's dog owner again and told him we'd meet him at the Ranger station.
Getting to the ranger station they said that the owner had just dropped the dog off at the trail to have her start hunting or doing whatever they are trained to do when you just let them go like that. Though they were shocked at how emaciated this particular one was. I hated to turn her over to this owner, since it seemed like he had no idea what he was doing. Anyway, we did and headed up the street a bit to go to the Cheaha restaurant by the hotel. Thank goodness it was a buffet with endless water and ice cold coke.
We chowed down and drank our fill of carbonated sugary drink.
Man, we felt so much better after that water and sugary coke.
So, all in all, it was a huge challenge. I learned a lot about my own abilities to push through, without water. I did have some gear take-a-ways though. This was my first trip with my new ULA Ohm, and while I was happy with it when receiving it and packing it; once on the trail, the squeaking drove me and everyone else nuts! I packed it to about 23lb with the extra liter of water and food. I tried all manner of adjustments to no avail. At least it provided alerts to any predators in the area to stay out of our way! I was also very unhappy with the hip belt. I knew this would potentially be an issue as it had been told to me by many of you Ohm owners. It dug a pretty nasty raw spot into my side right on the hip bone, so I'm going to have to figure that one out. Lastly, my 4 year old Merrel's are done, where the fabric had worn away at the heels and left the frame of the shoe to tear at my heels. I put mole skin on those areas of the shoe, but it didn't matter, bloody heels on those boulder hops and rock terrain are what I ended up with.
Thanks for reading!
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