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!