Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pine Mountain Trail - Day 3

After my unexpected ground sleeping, I was happy to only have 5.5 miles back to my car. I left early in the morning to get it over with. The only noteworthy event was a unexpected, uncontrolled lunge landing on my left knee caused by my right foot slipping on the gravel. After a few angry words to myself, I was able to walk it off back to my car. On my way home, I stopped at the FedEx Store to get my new trail runners (irony not lost after slipping with inadequate traction earlier in the day). I am very glad I made it out early in the morning, as big storms rolled through later in the day. Overall it was 38.6 good miles over 3 days and I have completed all but 4 miles of the trail. I will certainly be headed out there again soon.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pine Mountain Trail - Day 2

Today started heading east to the Eastern Terminus of the trail, then heading back west to Brown Dog Campsite. Weather was perfect and the hiking was fairly easy. The last 3 miles to the end of the trail are along a cool stream and it was very pleasant hiking. My original plan was to do about 15-16 miles, but I had finished 7.5 by 10 AM so I figured I could push on further today and make the last day's hike short and sweet. I was glad I made this change. When I reached the Eastern Terminus I called to change my reservations for the night to Beech Bottom Campsite.

It was a great day for hiking. The sun was out but there were enough clouds to keep it from being miserable. I was astonished by the tornado damage and the efforts of the PMTA to clean up the trail just a few months after. Within just a half mile, the trail would go from being deep in the forest with a cool creek to out into tornado damage where the soil was dry as the desert and the sun baked everything. Mother Nature's destructive power left quite a mark on the trail. Ended up going 19.8 miles, my longest day backpacking. It was a Saturday and there were a lot of Boy Scouts out on the trail. Some of them were hiking in jeans and I could not even imagine how hot they must've been. There was a troop playing in one of the streams so I had to head upstream to pick up my water!

I took a short white-blazed trip of the main blue-blazed trail (backwards from what I'm used to!) to see the top of Dowdell's Knob where FDR used to come to picnic and not far from where he died in 1945. There was a beautiful view from the top.

The campsite was again next to a stream which made water collection very simple at the end of a long day. I had cranberry pecan ranch chicken salad wraps for dinner and once again didn't eat any other snacks besides my fig newtons. I am starting to realize I don't quite develop the appetite I think I will when I'm out hiking.

Once again set up my hammock and retired early. I slept very well until about 3:30 AM when I started hearing something that sounded like splintering. Turns out the plastic rope that tied around the tree for my hammock and breaking strand by strand and reverberating through the netting of the hammock. As the strands kept breaking and finally gave out, I went straight down on my butt! Luckily I had set the hammock up low so I didn't fall more than a foot. I debated in my head about just night-hiking out to my car, but figured I shouldn't take a risk like that. I also had my blue pad that I was so unhappy with yesterday so I put that down on the ground and slept like a baby the rest of the night. Good thing it didn't rain so I didn't have to mess with my tarp.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Pine Mountain Trail - Day 1

It's been about a month since I did this trip but I have my notes on my phone so it should be pretty accurate! (Writing on June 6)

The semester had just ended and I wanted to get out and do some backpacking to relieve the stress of nonstop studying. I found the Pine Mountain Trail was the closest option to Auburn so I did my research and decided to head out there. I left AU on Friday morning for the hour drive to FDR State Park to register and get my backcountry permit. Georgia State Parks charges $9 a night to camp but those fees are waived for Pine Mountain Trail Association members. Since membership is only $25 and includes a map, it was worth it to become a member.

The first day I hiked east from FDR State Park visitors center to Sparks Creek Campsite. I barely saw anyone out on the trail that day, just 1 couple and a dog in 13 miles. In general the walk was fairly flat with a few little uphills that got me sweating but nothing like the mountains I've hiked on the AT. It rained off and on throughout the afternoon, but the canopy kept me mostly dry. I used my pack cover as well just in case it started pouring. The water was flowing nicely and it was cold. A little aquamira and it tasted delicious. I saw a bajillion lizards throughout the entire day. I only got one picture as I tended to scare them away before I could get the camera out of my pocket. There were also a lot of woodpeckers and the bugs were worse than I expected. I had a few bites on my hand and found a tick on my leg. When I got to the campsite I was only one there, but someone came in later when I was in my hammock.

When I got to camp, I found plenty of trees to hang the hammock on but settled on a spot as far away from the trail as possible. I had taken some ranch dressing cups from ChickFila to make chicken salad wraps which were good. I overestimated my hunger for this trip and ended up not eating most of the snack stuff I brought, but I did take down most of my trail mix and all the fig newtons. I settled into the hammock early and wrote my notes for the trip. It was warm but got a little chilly in the night. I had written down in my notes, "Blue pad was a waste of money and weight" because I couldn't get it to stay in the hammock for under-insulation. By the end of the trip, my feelings about the blue pad would change...(foreshadowing)...

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Appalachian Trail Approach Trail

When I found out I didn't have much schoolwork going on this week and Cortney was coming in on Friday night and suggested we go hiking, I figured it would be the perfect chance to go to Amicalola Falls and hike the AT Approach Trail up to Springer Mountain. It was nasty and rainy on Friday night when I picked her up from ATL. We stayed in Alpharetta and got an early start on Saturday morning to drive up to Amicalola. After registering at the Visitor's Center we headed up the trail a little after 9:00 AM. It was a perfect spring day for hiking. The temperature ranged from 60-70 and it was mostly cloudy unless the last few miles. The first part of the trail is up Amicalola Falls via 604 steps. In the first mile we did about 1000' of vertical climbing.

Cortney and I before we started out!

Beautiful girl and beautiful falls!

Once we hit the top of the falls we headed out of the park and towards Springer. I was hoping to see lots of discarded gear from prospective thru-hikers who brought too much stuff. In one bag I found, there was a box of granola bars, lots of clothes and an entire package of aluminum foil. Another had 4 big cans of dog food and a cast iron frying pan. Sadly, there was no abandoned gear worth taking with me.

We started out at a pretty good pace; only having about 10 lbs of stuff makes it a lot easier going up those mountains. I had imagined that the Approach Trail would be almost all up going out and all down coming back, but we identified some downhills on the out-leg that we were pretty sure were gonna suck coming back. It only took us about 3 1/2 hours to make it to the top of Springer.

The top of the mountain was different than I expected. I expected there to be more information about the trail and more to the southern terminus. However, the views were amazing and it was very nice to see somewhere so beautiful that had not been commercialized at all.

Marker showing the southern terminus of the AT and the first blaze!

We made it to the top!

We signed the register and I looked for my friend Jesse's signature as he had set out just a few weeks earlier. I was bummed to see that the book started with entries the day after he started north from Springer.

We didn't stick around at the top for too long as we didn't want to tighten up or get cold. We huffed it down the mountain but sure enough, those sections that we expected to suck, sucked! For the last few miles both of our knees were starting to bother us. All the steep, rocky downhills were taking a toll on my bum right knee and tested the strength of my ankles.

When we got back to the top of the falls, we ran down the 604 steps and the final mile back to the Visitor's Center. We figured that the last mile was gonna suck no matter what, so running at least made it suck for a shorter period of time!

Out and back it was 17.6 tough miles and we were really hurting at the end of it. But it was worth it (for both of us!) to see the view from Springer Mountain and has inspired me even more to spend as much time as I can out on the trail. I'm also very glad that I will be marrying my hiking partner in just over a year!!

Awesome view from the top

The next time I make it up Springer Mountain I hope to be carrying more gear and have a longer itinerary!!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

South Cheaha Wilderness Loop

After a rough week of school here at Auburn, I decided on Friday afternoon that I wanted to go out on a solo day hike somewhere in Alabama or Georgia. I did some research and asked for some help on Whiteblaze and got a tip from a fellow hiker (thanks atmilkman!) to check out the South Cheaha Loop near Lineville, Alabama. The loop is 16.7 miles using the Pinhoti Trail, the Chinnabee Silent Trail and the Skyway Loop trail. The hike started at about 1400' with a high of about 2100' and a low of about 800'.

I left Auburn around 6 AM and drove the 90+ minutes to Adams Gap Trailhead on SR281. I grabbed the last spot at the trailhead and started my hike. It was about 32 degrees with some wind when I started so I was in 3 layers with hat and gloves to start. After about 1 mile and some climbing, I quickly warmed up so I took off the outer layer plus the hat and gloves. The first six miles were north on the Pinhoti Trail with about 700' of elevation gain. About an hour and half into the hike I started up the "Stairway to Heaven" climb which is about 500' feet up in just a half mile but the views at the top were worth it.

From there it was a little over 1.5 miles of easy ridge top hiking with plenty of good views.

At 6.0 miles, the Pinhoti intersects with the Chinnabee Silent Trail at Little Caney Head Campsite. The Pinhoti is well marked with blue blazes but the Chinnabee was not as clearly marked. I started down the ridge, wasn't sure about it, went back up, and decided to go down again and hope I guessed right. I was reassured soon after by some faint blazes and 20 Boy Scouts headed up. The descent off the ridge was rocky and took a toll on my ankles. There were also a few rock gardens where the trail was indistinguishable and I got pretty lucky that I made it out in the right spot.

At the bottom of the descent, I came across a 15' creek that I just didn't think I could rock-hop over. Being Prepared, I thought this might happen so I brought a pair of flip-flops for this purpose. The water was quite cold but I dried off, changed socks and was good to go. From there I made it back to Turnipseed Hunter's Camp (7.8 miles) and SR 281. After crossing the road, the trail continued to descend down to Cheaha Falls. Here I was asked if I was part of the race by some people at the falls. I said no and asked them what race they were talking about. It turns out there was a 50k trail running race using the trails that day.

I crossed the falls and had lunch at the Cheaha Falls Shelter (9.2 miles). That was when I saw the first few runners in the race. For the next 7 miles, I dodged a couple hundred runners coming towards me. It was a pain but I knew it was a lot easier for me to move out of their way than vice versa.

At 11.2 miles I came to Devil's Den and got my favorite picture from this hike. Overlooking Devil's Den from a footbridge, I got this awesome picture.

Right after Devil's Den I came to the intersection with the Skyway Loop Trail at an elevation 800', which would take me back to Adams Gap. These miles were unspectacular compared to the rest. The only cool section was some forest that had burned a few years ago but you could see the young pines regrowing.

This picture was at about 12-13 miles. The last few miles had a lot of ups and downs. Actually it was mostly ups. That, combined with it being my first long hike since August took a toll on my legs. My thighs were a bit sore and my ankles were killing me from jumping up on the side of the trail to allow runners to pass. I was in rough shape for the last two miles but I made it through.

It was a good hike to get my mind off school and explore the Alabama Appalachians I had never seen before. There were a few other trails in the region that I am going to have to hit up before I finish my degree here. This hike got me back in the hiking mood so the next time I am up in Maryland I am going to bring my pack and other gear with me so I can do some weekend trips.

This is a link to the hike I used in planning and to keep me on track.

South Cheaha Wilderness Loop

This link gives a little description of the Chinnabee Silent and Skyway Loop trails and an elevation profile.

Pinhoti Side Trails

Until next time!