Back in May Norman and I first started talking about a backpacking trip. We had both done various day hikes. Norman and his wife Jane had also done some overnights with their 2-man tent. My wife Jackie inspired us to take it up a notch by suggesting that Norman and I do a section of the Appalachian Trail. Norman suggested an alternative of doing a Pinhoti thru hike instead and we began to plan.
My equipment was pretty well limited to day hiking and car camping so I had to get geared up for backpacking. I got a Kelty Red Cloud pack, a North Face Cats Meow 20-degree sleeping bag and we both decided to get Hennessy Hammocks.
We learned that the north end of the trail went to the Alabama-Georgia border and had no trailhead so we decided to hike that section first. On Labor Day Norman, Jane and I went to the last road access to the trail, which is around 5 miles from the state line, and day hiked to the state line and back. This little adventure enlightened us that the trail was rocky and had some sections of poison ivy as thick as kudzu.
After that I went to the ranger station at Talladega and got a set of maps for the trail. The set consists of 5 maps that cover 8 defined trail sections. I used these maps along with trail information I found on the Internet to build a 4-page spreadsheet showing distances between key locations, water sources, recommended campsites and any other pertinent notes. Norman had found a comprehensive set of GPS waypoints for the Pinhoti on the web. I downloaded these into my GPS and listed them on the spreadsheet.
Our plan was to begin on Tuesday Nov. 11 and to take 10 days to 2 weeks or whatever. Jane arranged to take a 4-day weekend and would join us Friday- Monday. Jackie would transport us and Jane and our supplies. In order to implement this plan we would break our supplies into 3 groupings: 3 days for 2 people, 4 days for 3 people, 6 days for 2 people. We wanted to keep pack weight down so we made a plan to cut out unnecessary duplication. I would carry the stove, fuel, GPS and maps. He would carry cookware, water filter, cell phone and saw. We went through medical and emergency supplies to assure that we did not duplicate items. We split the food and water between us. We had a few "Backpacker" meals but our suppers primarily consisted of something like Liptons rice or Hungry Jack potatoes or Ramen noodles, etc that you add boiling water to and let set or cook a little more. We also had pouches of chicken or tuna or beef etc. that we would add to the mix. For breakfast we would have oatmeal or grits or cream of wheat and we would carry a bag of dried raisins and/or cranberries to add to our instant cereal everyday. Our trail snacks consisted of Beef Jerky, Tropical trail mix and a variety of energy bars. I had containers for up to a gallon of water and Norman had room for 1½ gallons.
We planned to begin our hike at the trailhead we had used on Labor Day and head south. Jackie wanted to get more familiar with the trailheads which she might have to find so on Nov. 3 we got in the car to tour the area. During our tour we stopped at both ranger stations and learned that a youth deer hunt was scheduled for the Choccolocco Game Management Area on Nov. 15. This bit of information brought us to a change of plans. We decided to start at the south trailhead on Nov. 11 and avoid being part of the youth deer hunt.
Finally Nov. 11 arrived. We all met at Cracker Barrel for breakfast, Jane went to work and Jackie took us to the south trailhead at Porters Gap.
We completed our hike in 11½ days and I have updated my Pinhoti spreadsheet and the GPS waypoint file to include any additional information we picked up.
As for Norman and me, we have pretty well recovered and gone into full denial of any pain or difficulties we encountered. Its not cast in stone, but we are thinking about doing the Georgia section of the Appalachian next May.
We started from Porters Gap trailhead at 9:10 AM. My pack weighed around 45 lbs. This included around 8 lbs. of water. I think Normans may have been a little heavier. After about an hour we took a short break and decided that we might take a breather hourly and/or on hilltops. Large rocks along ridges beside the trail appear to be an ideal place to stop and sit. We quickly learned that Yellow Jackets also preferred these areas, especially in the sun. They were bad the entire trip and seem to thrive in the rocky areas that are in bright sun light. Around 1 PM (4 hours into the hike) we were taking a break at a great overview when Norman got a Yellow Jacket sting on his hand. After this we got back on the trail in route to Clairmont Gap. The trail took us across the "Skyway" to a very rocky valley/hillside. This is a terrible section of trail. It is basically 2 miles of rock pile buried in leaves. The rocks move under your feet on virtually every step and my hiking poles were constantly getting hung up in crevices. Norman fell twice. I managed to stay upright but walking on this terrain wears out your legs and leaves your feet sore. We arrived at Clairmont Gap around 3 PM. We noted that the Skyway that we had crossed before hiking through the "rock pile" rejoined us at the gap. The Skyway could be a preferable alternative to this section of trail. It might even have some views? The trail climbed about 400 feet in the next half-mile. We reached a ridge around 3:30 and since sunset was only a little over an hour away decided to camp for the night. We were camped on a point with a 270-degree view. The area was not level enough for tent camping but was fine for hammocks. We got set up fairly quickly and fixed a meal. We were broadsided on the right by a beautiful sunset and suddenly it was dark. Sleeping on the point was like spending a night in a wind tunnel. I had to get up twice to tighten up my hammock fly.
Our wake-up call the next morning was a panoramic sunrise to our left. Breakfast was instant grits with dried cranberries added and coffee. We broke camp and got on the trail just before 7:30. We were low on water and according to my spreadsheet the next water was about 5 miles away. The briars were real bad as we walked the ridge headed away from camp. In fact, this was the worst briar-ridden area of the trail. About 9:20 we took a break, ate some trail mix and jerky and pretty well finished off our water. About 10 minutes after the break we met two ladies on the trail. They were part of a large group of hikers from Louisiana. One, who said she was a backpack instructor, had originally started at highway 278. The other had joined her at US 78. Their group had left vehicles and supplies in various places and was doing a lot of what they referred to as slackpacking. The ladies said they were headed for Clairmont Gap where they had stowed supplies and equipment for camping that night. We asked them if they had seen the stream that we figured was less than 2 miles away. They said they had not seen a reliable water source but both had a lot more water than they needed to get to Clairmont Gap. They gave us around 2 quarts and told us that we were welcome to another gallon that was hidden at Adams Gap. We thanked them and headed our opposite directions. I think it was somewhere in here I took a spill when I stepped on some leaves that completely hid a large flat rock sitting at a 45 degree slope. Around 10:30 we came upon the stream we had thought was there so we got out the water filter and proceeded to filter some water and eat more jerky and trail mix. We started out again around 11:35 and reached Adams Gap around 12:30. We found the gallon of water the ladies had offered us and topped off our water containers since the next water supply was about 6 miles away. About a mile from Adams Gap we met three guys that were part of the Louisiana group. They were packed real light and said they were headed for Adams Gap for the night. One had lost his hat and asked us to take it to Cheaha if we found it. We told him that if we ran across the cap we would leave it at the gate. After talking to them we hiked on a little farther and around 2:30 decided to stop early for the night. There was no panoramic view but the chicken and rice was real good for supper. There were a couple of light showers during the night.
After cooking up some instant oatmeal and coffee for breakfast we broke camp and hit the trail around 8:00. The trail was easy for a mile or so then it turned right and made around a 700-foot climb in less than ½ mile. About halfway up this climb the trail joins an old roadbed. As we approached the top we realized we could not tell which way the trail went and started looking for clues. This was not the first time (or the last) that the trail was hard to follow so we did not backtrack right a way. Finally we exhausted our effort to find the trail and I decided to go back down the roadbed until I found something that positively identified the trail. About ¼ mile down I spotted a sign well up on a bank to the right (to our left coming up). We should have made a sharp left turn here on our way up the roadbed but the sign is not that easy for northbound hikers to spot. Anyway a little lost time and free hiking and we were back on track. We hiked a little farther and decided to take a snack break before we reached the top. During this break I realized I had lost a mitten. The last time I was sure I had it was at camp this morning. We also had never seen the cap the man had lost the day before. Maybe this area is somehow tied to the Bermuda Triangle. After our break we hiked until around 10:30 and reached the intersection of the Chinnabee Trail. There are lots of nice campsites in this area and this is where we planned to refill our water. We talked to a man from Birmingham who had hiked in the night before. He had done a lot of short hikes on the Pinhoti and was training toward doing a solo thru hike. He gave us a lot of helpful information about the trail and where to expect poor cell phone reception. While Norman was filtering water it became apparent that the process had gotten entirely too slow. He brought the filter back up to where we had dropped our packs and found a fairly clear spot to disassemble it. Trash had managed to find its way into the check valves and caused the problem. He cleared the trash and we started to filter again. At first we thought it was doing better but it quickly became apparent that the check valve in the pump was still not working right. We took it back apart and realized that a part was missing. After nearly giving up I reached to pick up what looked like one of the many berries on the ground. It turned out to be a little rubber ball. We put it back in the filter and were back in business. While we were filling our containers a few people came up the Chinnabee Trail and went back down. We had originally hoped to get to Cheaha and clean up today but we had taken too much time with the filter. It was after 1:00 when we got moving again. On this section of trail the views were outstanding and we were overlooking McDill Point to our left. It was getting late when we reached the trail to McDill Point so we decided to keep going. A little later we met 2 ladies that were headed to McDill to camp for the night. They had come from the Cheaha Trailhead. We hiked on around another ¼ mile and it was around 3:15 so we decided to find a camp for the night. The trail we were on was just below the ridgeline on the windy side of the mountain. The wind had really picked up so we went off trail over the ridge to find a good spot for the night. Just over the ridge was an old roadbed that fit the bill. We both ended up stretching our hammocks across the roadbed and setting up our kitchen on a large flat rock. We could hear the wind howling right overhead but we were sheltered from the worst of it. That night ended up being the coldest night in about 9 months and we were camped in hammocks in a windstorm on the highest mountain in Alabama. What a plan! The temperature dropped to around 24 before morning. We had aluminum coated windshield shades to put between our hammocks and sleeping bags to help insulate us from the cold. This helps for a while but the cold keeps creeping in. I would sleep for a couple of hours and wake up shivering, put on more clothes, turn over, curl up, reposition the windshield shade, pull my head inside my sleeping bag and doze off again. This process was repeated all night until morning finally came. We had survived and were ready to eat something warm and get moving.
This was the day Jane was to join us. Our wives planned to meet us at the Cheaha trailhead between 9:00 and 10:00. We had breakfast and hit the trail a little before 8:00. We got to the trailhead at 9:20. Jackie and Jane had just arrived. They had brought sausage and egg biscuits, juice and hot chocolate. We ate heartily, restocked our trail food, topped off our water and exchanged dirty clothes for clean. Since Jane was joining us they left the hammock and brought their 2-man tent. We got everything together and were back on the trail around 10:30. We reached the turn off to Blue Mountain Shelter around noon and decided to just see what it looked like. It looked to be clean and well kept. It had a main floor and a loft. After taking a short break we got back on the trail. We had decided we wanted to camp near water rather than carry it so when we reached a nice looking spot beside a creek around 3:00 we stopped for the night. We were setting up when a trail maintenance crew came by. We had heard them working earlier. One of them named Tom came over to see if we had seen any trail problems. He also gave us an email address and asked us to send an email if we saw any problems up the trail. It was getting pretty dark when they headed out. We fixed a big batch of Lipton rice with chicken added for supper. The temperature dropped to 30 that night but there was no wind and I managed the cold much better in my hammock. Norman and Jane had no problem at all in their tent.
The hammock being colder than a tent encouraged me to get up first and start the coffee. We ate breakfast, broke camp and hit the trail around 8:20. According to our trail information we were around 8 miles from 2 waterfalls that were known as scenic areas as well as a good place to camp. Our plan for the day was to take an early stop there. We stopped for a snack on a hilltop around 9:45 and reached county road 24 at 11:00. Jackie had left a gallon of water for us at CR 24 so we topped off all our containers and drank the rest. After another short break on an old roadbed we reached the first waterfall a little past 1:00. It was in a beautiful setting but not that ideal for camping so we headed on down to the second falls. There were not really any level areas around the second falls so we moved on. A little farther down the trail we saw a likely looking campsite a couple hundred feet off to the left of the trail so we made our way to it. It was an ideal setting, beside the creek, flat and fairly clear. Even though it was only 1:30, we stopped for the day and set up camp. This gave us time to clean up and dry some things out. For supper we had Hungry Jack potatoes mixed with a pouch of beef with a Mexican flavor. It was a good change from chicken and rice. It was a little warmer that night. The temperature was 45 at 9:30 PM and had gone up to 55 by 2:30 AM.
We got on the trail a little after 8:00 and crossed FSR 515 around 8:30. There was a fallen tree across the trail between FRS 515 and US 431 but no way to get a message to the trail crew. We crossed US 431 around 9:20 and took a snack break after we got back in the woods. Our water was running low so when we got to a creek around 11:00 we took a break and got out the filter. After restocking some water we hiked about an hour before crossing I-20. It was around 1:30 when we reached another creek that according to our trail info was the last water for several miles so we either had to filter water to carry or start looking for a place to camp. When we saw a spot that was begging to be a campsite our choice was made. Normans legs had begun to itch a little and when he changed from his hiking pants to his shorts as was usual when we stopped for camp it was apparent that he had acquired a bit of poison ivy on the back of both legs. He had probably been exposed in a previous camp sitting beside a creek filtering water. I had one sample pack of anti-itch in my medical kit. Jackie was already scheduled to meet us the next day so we called and had her pick up some Benadryl, calamine lotion and hydrocortisone. For supper we added a pouch of chicken to ramen noodles. For dessert we cooked a blueberry muffin mix into a thick oatmeal texture in a boiling bag. This was the evening we came up with a better way to filter water. I had bought a plastic "shoe box" at a dollar store. It is really pretty light and my measuring cup, stove and 2 cans of fuel fit well in it. Its length and width is a good fit in my backpack. My plan was to use it as a wash basin and/or sink. Well, it also makes filtering water less tedious. Fill it and filter your water sitting in camp rather than hanging over a creek bank. This should also greatly improve filter life.
We had breakfast, packed up and were on the trail by 7:30. After about an hour I noticed a lump on the trunk of a tree about 30 feet up. My first notion was that it was another hornets nest. We saw several on the trip. Upon closer observation we realized it was a raccoon. After giving up on trying to rouse it, we started on and spotted a second raccoon in a tree about 50 ft from the first. This one was about 3 times as large and was starting to stir. I assume they sleep in trees. After seeing the raccoons we took a short break. We had planned to meet Jackie at the trailhead at FSR 500 near Heflin between 9:00 and 10:00. We arrived there around 9:35 and she had been there a few minutes. The first order of business was to consume the round of sausage and biscuits with all the trimmings that she had brought. She also had the poison ivy medicine. We were all amused when we noticed that the picnic table at the trailhead was pretty well splattered with calamine lotion from previous hikers. Jackie warned us that the weather was supposed to get real bad and have rain with possible tornadoes tomorrow. After eating and medicating we packed up supplies for 6 days, got a round of clean clothes, said goodbye to our wives and were on our way at 10:45. As you head north from the trailhead the trail takes a gradual climb and there are some great viewpoints. After about an hour we took a break to fully enjoy one of these. During the afternoon we crossed a couple of forest service roads that are accessible by car and reached Lower Shoal Shelter around 2:50. We had planned to stop here for the night. We set our hammocks up in trees near the shelter and used the shelter as a covered storage area. The creek and area around the shelter was nice. We washed up and cleaned some clothes that we hadnt swapped out. We cooked on the picnic table in front of the shelter. The menu that night was a Backpacker meal of Red Beans and Rice with a cornbread mix prepared in a boiling bag much like we prepared the muffin mix last night.
Today is a day that would turn out a lot different if we got one do-over. We got on the trail a little before 7:30 and spotted a large hawk as we hiked up past Highrock Lake. We went a little more than 5 miles before taking a break at Pine Glen around 9:40. We were there about 45 minutes filtering water and eating our first round of "lunch". From there we hiked up past Sweetwater Lake and reached Laurel Shelter around 12:40. This is where we probably should have stayed the night but the weather still seemed okay so we decided to push on to a "recommended" campsite I had a GPS waypoint on 6 miles up the trail. We stopped to take a snap shot of Shoal Creek Church at 1:30. During our brief stay here it started to drizzle so we put rainflies on our packs. As we headed past Coleman Lake to Coleman Trailhead the drizzle was intermittent but getting harder. By the time we got to the trailhead it was 2:10 and a light and sometimes not so light shower had replaced the drizzle. We jumped under the little sign shelter at the trailhead, ate some trail mix and proceeded to consider our options. We were only about 3 miles from our pre-picked campsite and, guided solely on the logic that we wouldnt melt, proceeded to hike on without bothering to put on our rainwear (another moment we would like to revisit). It wasnt long before the rain turned to a downpour. Even without the rain I would have hated the trail north of Coleman Trailhead. For over a mile we were walking through thick "grass" that was often so tall that I thought we had stumbled into the back yard scene of "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids". The only sign of the trail was a hint of beat down grass winding through this "hayfield". It may have actually been a blessing to hit this section in the rain. I cant imagine pushing through this on a hot sunny day. By the time we got past the hayfield the rain was coming down in torrents and we were well beyond worrying about getting wet. I was a little chilled and was hoping that maybe the rain would stop before we had to stop hiking. As we approached our destination for the night we got back in an area where the trail made several creek crossings. They were all swollen but it didnt matter as our boots had long since been full of water (and waterproof boots hold water extremely well). At 4:00 we reached the spot we had planned to camp and there was no sign of a let up in the rain. The campsite was beside a point where 2 creeks join. Norman noticed a blown over tree that had settled on other trees leaving its trunk horizontal to the ground and about 7 ft. up. His saw was strapped to his pack and I had a small tarp strapped on the outside of mine. We removed small limbs off the trunk and attached the tarp between it and another downed trunk lying on the ground. We got under this and got the tarp out of his pack. We used his tarp to make a back for our lean-to. This at least gave us a place to put our packs while proceeding to set up for the night. The next step was to put up the hammocks which, looking back; we probably should have done first, thus eliminating the need for a lean-to at all. All you have to do is stretch the hammock between two trees, slide the snakeskin back and tie off the hammock and fly on the sides. By design, the hammock fly is in place to keep the hammock dry during set up. With the hammocks up and flies spread we each moved our packs and tarps to the protected areas underneath. The clothes in my pack were in a ziplock and my sleeping bag was wrapped in a garbage bag so all were dry. Norman was not as lucky. Most of his extra clothes had got wet and the cell phone was "all washed up". The next step for both of us was to put anything that was still dry in our hammocks. The fact that the Hennessy Hammock is entered via a slit on the underside at one end of the hammock allows for access without getting back out in the rain. Our water containers had been empty for a while so we decided to forgo cooking supper. After munching on some more jerky and trail mix I got out of my wet clothes, wrapped them and my pack in the tarp under the hammock, climbed in through the slit and put on something dry to sleep in. It felt so good to finally be out of the rain. I slept off and on as it continued to pour rain until around 1:30 AM. When it seemed that the rain had finally stopped I got out of the hammock, put up a clothesline, wrung out my wet clothes and hung them to at least make them bearable. I hung my boots upside down and suspended my backpack on the tree trunk that had earlier served as a ridgeline for our lean-to. This being done I got back in the hammock and slept until around 6:00. We later learned that, as bad as our weather had been, some areas also had strong winds with threats of tornadoes.
The first impression this morning was that the rain had quit and we might even get sunshine. Our pants and shirts were still wet but fortunately the worst moment is over once you actually put the wet clothes on. Our boots were still soggy so we covered our dry liners and socks with plastic boiling bags to protect them. We filtered water, cooked breakfast and dried our equipment as best we could before packing up. We ended up hitting the trail at 8:30. We took a short break at Choccolocco around 10:15 and crossed Rabbit Town Road an hour later. By then the rain had set back in. About 2 miles after that we came to the last water on the southwest side of Dugger Mountain but we still had some drinking water and we didnt really want any more weight to carry over the mountain. There were a lot of downed trees on the west ascent of Dugger Mountain. One of these would get a 10 if you were ranking obstacles. When we finally crossed over the ridge to the north side of Dugger Mountain we were confronted with about a 30-mile per hour wind which never let up the full length of the ridge. The views to the north were outstanding but the wind and rain took some of the awe away. There is supposed to be a lookout tower on the eastern end of the ridge but we managed to miss seeing it. The rain finally quit and the sun came out as we started to descend the east side of the mountain. The descent was steady and the trail was good. It was 3:30 when we found a great camp spot hemmed up between a creek and a rather steep hillside. Our "wet stuff" population had grown and the first order of business was to put up a clothesline and hang wet clothes and equipment. A fire would have been nice and the site had a fire ring but was too cluttered with leaves to take a chance. The 2 days of wet socks and shoes had taken its toll. A blister larger than a silver dollar was under the ball of my right foot. I decided to cover it as best I could with a large Compeed and hope for the best. Since we had missed cooking the night before, we had 2 suppers. That night the temperature dropped to 35 degrees and with everything being damp it was a cold 35. I slept okay early but eventually got into the mode of waking up cold every hour or so.
Our clothes may have been a little drier this morning but everything was still damp and putting on damp clothes at 35 degrees is not my favorite way to start the day. We still hadnt seen a soul since the cell phone died and we had to find a way to contact one of our wives to keep them from worrying and to make a pickup plan. We had decided we wanted to do the complete trail so that meant we would have to go to the Georgia line and then backtrack the last 5 miles. We decided to arrange to be picked up between 3:00 and 4:00 on Saturday. We broke camp at 7:50. The sky was clear as a bell and so the day warmed up quickly. We climbed for about a mile when the trail came to an old roadbed. There was a pile of rocks where the trail came out on the road. We looked in every direction but saw no trail markings. A tree beside where the trail hit the road had a blue blaze on the downhill side so we decided the trail must go down the road. After going about ¼ mile without any more signs we decided to go back up and take another look. When we got back we looked for some other hint to no avail. The trail map made it appear that the trail went across the road so Norman decided to go directly across the road and head down though the woods in hopes of hitting the trail. I decided to spend a little more time on the roadbed. I got to thinking that maybe the rock pile was there because the tree was blazed on the wrong side and southbound hikers had missed the turn. With that in mind I proceeded to hike up the road. After a couple of blocks I finally saw a blaze and a while after that the trail headed off the other side of the road. I could pretty well tell that the trail wasnt likely to switch back in the direction that Norman had headed. I had lost sight of him and began to call out. I was about to get worried when I heard a response and saw his hunters orange. He angled his way toward me as I proceeded along the trail until we were back together. He had lost a couple of rounds with some briars and we had killed an hour or so but were back on track. It amazes me that there are some places that I couldnt have got off the trail on a bet and there were blazes every 30 feet. In a mile or so we reached Terrapin Creek watershed. Just past the watershed we took a snack break at 9:45. Once it passes the watershed the trail heads up Oakey Mountain. After climbing an hour and a half we reached the ridge where the trail levels off for a while and then descends down to the Chief Ladiga Trail. The Pinhoti crosses Terrapin Creek on the Ladiga Rail Trail. We needed water but didnt quickly find a good way to get down to the creek. From the bridge over Terrapin Creek we could see County Road 94 and some houses, so our plan was to find a way to call home after we had filled our water containers. After exhausting any possibility of access to the west bank of the creek we found a steep approach through a ravine just at the north east corner of the bridge. There is a small stream at the bottom of the ravine. We had already noted that Terrapin Creek was pretty muddy so we set up beside the small stream and proceeded to filter water. We had left our packs, with water containers, up on the rail trail so Norman was swapping out containers while I pumped/filtered. He had just brought down container number 3 when we heard something from the direction of the trail above. We looked up and there was a biker walking beside a bike. Norman said, "HELP". A shocked voice replied back "Are you hurt"? Norman scampered up the bank explaining our cell phone dilemma. It turns out the biker was a trail angel named Jamie and she had a cell phone. She had come up from Montgomery that day to ride the trail and it would take a page to list all the coincidences that put us and her there at the same time. There was no signal so she took our message and assured us she would call my wife as soon as she got back in a signal area. This lifted a big load off us and our wives. Thanks again! About ¼ mile past the bridge the Pinhoti leaves the Ladiga and crosses CR 94 about 100 yards later. It was 3:30 and we were tired so as soon as CR 94 was out of sight we stopped for the night and set up across the trail. I later wished we had pushed on a little farther. Hunting dogs were pretty close and they got very loud off and on throughout the evening. The sky was still clear so the temperature dropped like a rock. It was 65 at 4 PM, 45 by 6 PM and 27 by morning.
We got up around 6:30 and were on the trail at 7:50. The blister under my right foot is really starting to make the going tough. The first steps after a break are particularly painful. We started climbing as soon as we broke camp. We went up a mountain, down through Maxwell Gap and up to Augusta Mine Ridge before our first break at 9:50. The trail then wandered along Augusta Mine Ridge for a couple of miles before it descended to Lanie Hollow and the Trailhead at 278. We stopped at the Trailhead at 12:15 and ate lunch. There was a pickup in the parking lot and we wondered if we had missed seeing a hiker. It wasnt long before a man wearing a pistol emerged from the woods. He had been target shooting. We talked to him a little while and he agreed to take our trash for us. At this point that half-pound was big. After leaving a note at the trailhead just in case our wives came there we started out on the Davis Mountain section about 12:45. After a long walk up 278 the trail turns left and goes through an old strip mine area. Past the strip mine it wanders up and down across the mountain. Im not sure whats being done but there is a lot of excavation going on and the trail is all chopped up by what appears to be the groundwork for numerous roads all over the mountaintop or maybe its a training ground for bulldozers? The descent on the north end of Davis Mountain seems to take forever. The terrain looks like youre nearly there but its switchback after switchback. I had pretty well given up when we reached the bottom and Hurricane Creek. It is really great that a cable bridge crosses the creek. I dont think its been there long. It was 3:30 and we wanted to camp close to water so we started looking at the area around the creek. Our first thought was to hang our hammocks across an old roadbed on the Davis Mountain side of the creek. The old road didnt appear to see any use but we decided it wasnt worth the gamble. There is also a road on the other side of the creek but we could tell it might see some, but not much, use. We finally decided on a spot between the creek and this road. We had no sooner set up camp and fixed supper than a vehicle of some sort went up the road on our side of the creek. This was a shock but the bigger shock came just before sunrise the next morning when a vehicle came the other way down the old roadbed we almost camped on.
It was another cold night as the temperature got down around 27. We broke camp and got on the trail at 8:15. By the time we had gone 100 yards we realized we had stopped too quick the night before. The whole area just across the old roadbed was ideal for camping. It was pretty level and the ground was cushioned by pine needles. We had wanted to try setting our hammocks up like tents and this area would have been an ideal place to try it. The first 3 miles of this section is a 1000-foot climb to the top of Indian Mountain. It then drifts down and up for another ½ mile to the top of Flagpole Mountain before descending for 1½ miles to the state line. We took one 30-minute break and it was a little after 11:00 when we reached the sign that we thought was the end of the trail. The sign indicates that it is the start of the Pinhoti but it bothered me that my GPS indicated we had not quite reached the state line. Norman flopped down at the sign and I decided I would wander on until I reached Georgia. The worst part of this plan was that I was headed down which meant I would have to climb to get back. I noticed that now and again there was a ribbon tied to a tree trunk indicating that this may be a blazed trail. I was deducing that the trail was marked on into Georgia when I found the real trail end which is, in fact, on the Georgia-Alabama line. The actual trail beginning is about 200 yards from the sign where I left Norman. I was still wearing my pack but had left my hiking poles so I hollered back to Norman to come on down and bring the poles. We officially reached the trailhead at 11:36 so our thru hike took 11 days, 2 hours and 26 minutes. I didnt know it but Norman had purchased a couple of Pinhoti Trail patches just in case we actually did the whole thing. There is a sign on a post at the state line that says "GEORGIA" on one side and "ALABAMA" on the other so we performed the "awards ceremony" and got pictures of us, the patches and the sign saying "GEORGIA". Two rock piles that probably predate the official sign have been erected on the state line and there is an Alabama flag and a Georgia flag, each hung in their appropriate state. We stayed here for about an hour, got pictures of everything and ate some lunch. I then tried one "Beam me up, Scotty" to no avail so even though we had completed the thru hike we still had 5 miles to go. We were both grateful that it would be pretty well downhill after we got back to the top of Flagpole Mountain. We reached Salem Creek road at 3:10 to find Jackie and Jane already there. We never had a doubt, but this was our first confirmation that Jamie had made the call. Jackie raved about how nice she had been and we learned that both wives were about to panic when they got the call. It seems the weather had been even worse than we realized and the "No News Is Good News" theory was not soothing their anxiety. After regrouping for a little while and getting a few more pictures we changed clothes and headed out. We stopped at Shoneys in Gadsden, ate a huge meal, then headed home.