Friday, a buddy of mine (slow-down) and I took off work and headed up to Cheaha for a weekend of H & H (hiking and hanging). We hit the road at 7am, and made our way up to Cheaha State Park, Alabama. After a brief stop at the camp store to pick up a current map, we were on the trail by 12:30.
It was a cloudless day and we made fairly good time, taking the opportunity to enjoy the views along the Pinhoti Trail and McDill Point.
The trail was mostly rocks covered with loose leaf fall, so we were taking our time as every most every step had to be taken carefully and skillfully to avoid taking a spill or turning an ankle. Eventually we came to the Chinnabee Silent Trail, and headed down the steep ridge. It was already getting late, and we were in a hurry to make camp before sunset. At a steep and muddy spot in the trail at the high spring, I lost my footing and landed upside down on the trail, but luckily did not roll off the edge. Luckily, I had no injuries or damage other than my pride.
We ended up down at the top of Cheaha Falls, just before sunset for a total of 8.4 miles the first day. Our true hurry to get into camp was that Slow-down’s hammock was not set up. He had bought it the week before, but had never had the time to rig it or to test it. He had made a set of whoopies but had in fact never laid in his hammock. Fortunately, it was the exact same kind as mine, so I knew how to set it up. It took a few minutes, and it was dark by the time the hammock, tarp and quilts were all set up.
Temps the first night were predicted to be in the low 30s and windy. Not wanting my buddy to be cold the first night in his hammock, I had loaned him my 3 Season Incubator. This left me with my summer Jarbridge River, which I knew was not up to the task of keeping me cozy at that range. Consequently, I had brought along a foam pad. I had never slept on a pad in the hammock, but I knew that with the KAQ to wrap around my shoulders, the pad would keep the CBS at bay. I am pleased to announce that I was not at all uncomfortable on the pad, but now appreciate the condensation issue with a pad, though it was not that bad, just a little damp on the back side. Overall we both had a great night.
The next day we were up at first light and leisurely broke camp and meandered down the Chinnabee Trail toward the lake. When we got to Devil’s Den Falls, there was a group at the campsite, including a WBBB. We stopped and chatted for a few minutes before heading on. The falls were as spectacular as I remember them.
From here we continued toward the lake, and off the Skyway Trail, which I had no previous experience. We found the Skyway trail to be different, mostly winding around the ridges, with the trail cut out of the side of the hills. Frequently it was on a 45° slope on a path hardly 12” wide. With all the leaves on the ground, it was sometimes unclear just where the edge of the trail was, and we had to watch our footing; fortunately, there were few rocks on this section, so it wasn’t too bad. There were plenty of nice campsites here and lots of small streams and water, in spite of the recent dry conditions.
As we approached Adams Gap at the end of the Skyway Trail, we turned our attention to water going on and at our campsite. I had spent the previous week discussing the water situation with Squidbilly and Firedog. As it turns out, Squidbilly was set to do trail maintenance in this area on the Pinhoti above Adams Gap on Friday. He felt confident that there would be water after last week’s rains, but we saw how dry the conditions and streams had been, and Slow-down and I had our doubts. This was a particular concern for us, as we wanted to get as far along as we could Saturday afternoon, so that we could be well positioned for an efficient exit on Sunday. Slow-down and I were talking about this (with little more plan than to stop at the best water source we could find), we were exiting the trail at Adam’s gap when, much to my shock, I saw a water jug labeled “Buffalo Skipper.” It was just the amount of water we needed to get us through dinner that night, breakfast tomorrow, and get us out the next morning. It was the perfect pick-me-up to get us to the campsite, 3 miles distant.
We crossed the gap and continued toward out destination for the evening, when we came upon a man with his son and dog walking toward us. It really got my attention, because the dog was a Boston Terrier, and was the only Boston I have ever seen which was bigger than mine (which our vet claims is huge). I started to comment on the Boston, when he asked if we were from Pensacola. It was Squidbilly, who had been good enough to leave us the water. We talked for a few minutes, we thanked him profusely (but not enough!) and went on our way. There were already some hikers at the campsite, but with 2 fire rings, 40 or so yards apart, there was plenty of room for both groups. Camp setup was a cinch, but there the site was on a wooded ridge and a bit exposed. Temps were only supposed to be in the mid 40s, but the wind was quite stiff and gusty. Well placed tarps mitigated the exposure. As luck would have it, the wind, which was aggressive throughout the evening, simply died by 10 pm and we both slept soundlessly until daybreak.
We woke up to a foggy sight. We were at about 1300’ elevation and below the ridge, but we were right below the cloud line. The tarps were dry but things were slightly damp. Being able to reach this campsite was important to us, as it placed us just half a mile from the base of the Stairway to Heaven, steep rocky climb to the top of the ridge. After breakfast and packing up, we made it to the base of the Stairway before 8 am. By the time we began our climb up, we were will in the clouds, and the rocks were completely soaked, and, as the first day, covered with now saturated leaves. It took us almost an hour to climb the stairway, not for any other reason than the prudent necessity of ensuring solid footing. Had it been spring, I am confident we could have done it in half the time, but with the wet, leaf covered rocks, it was actually a bit treacherous.
By the time we reached the top, we were fully engulfed in the cloud and we were thoroughly damp. We walked around the cloud shrouded ridge (complete with more leafy wet rocks) to the connecting trail down to the truck, which was mostly free of rocks. Following 13.2 miles on Saturday, Sunday was a leisurely 7.5, in spite of the tense climb up the Stairway. We made it back to the trailhead at 12:35, 48 hours after we departed. With 29 miles under our belt, two good hanging nights, excellent scenery, and some great camaraderie, it was a nearly perfect weekend.