The Pinhoti Trail: A Journey Begins
Northern Alabama had whispers of spring unfurling pinwheel style from bundles of chartreuse-colored buds along the roadside. Sprinkled amongst them, shrub-like trees celebrated their arrival with pom-pom bursts of luminous white petals against the bleak backdrop of dormant forests.
At sunrise I had Old Gregg drive me to the southern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail. I could have started at Flagg Mountain under the stone and timber tower tended by one Nimblewill Nomad, but I wanted the “real hikers” start. The one about a mile straight downhill from said tower because I was just starting out and still had a beginner’s glowing enthusiasm for detail.
My nerves are in overdrive. I then question my sanity; it’s been a rushed decision to hike the Pinhoti, and I’ve limited days in which to do it.
Those nerves are invariably at the trailheads to wish me bon voyage, though this time the tight timeline could be the tinder upon which this extra anxiety smolders.
After signing a registry it’s official; I have begun my trek towards Georgia.
Soon I meet an older couple, and it sidelines my progress for a bit as we talk trail. By now the nerves are only memory, and excitement has claimed their place alongside a sense of urgency.
The trail takes me up and down hills under the sun.. mostly up. I arrive at Flagg Mountain and find the tower itself closed, the crumbling timber stairs that spiral upwards too far decayed to ascend safely.
The Pinhoti doesn’t see the funds other trails do, which is a shame.
Nimblewill Nomad lives near the tower, though I’ve missed the opportunity to meet him this time. He’s off on an adventure; one last trek of the Pinhoti and Appalachian Trail before he retires his thru-hiker badge…officially…again. He departed a week earlier, and I am secretly hoping to catch him before he hits Georgia.
It was time to get back to the trail and the sun followed my progress, beating down on my shoulders with ruthless intensity.
I proceed through a deciduous forest liberally accented with pine, the ground thickly carpeted in last year’s long, coffee-colored needles.
The needles made the footing precarious whenever the trail curved upwards or dropped towards a valley, and my knees and ankles took notice. I ignored them, mentally making a note of how little trail I had covered, which was not much. Exactly the amount of time I had left to hike. I had to hurry.
In short order, I found myself by the CCC cabins, and ultimately up a small rise to the flag, which sits on the hilltop overlooking a descending row of tidy cottages. I am unsure which direction to go so I take a breather and pull out my phone.
Thank God for Guthook & friendly people.
While checking Guthook (again) I was greeted by a large barefoot gentleman and his small black dog, who were vacationing in one cabin. He pointed me downhill alongside the other cabins, where I finally found more robin-egg blue colored blazes that would take me towards the Weogufka Creek Shelter.
Along the way, the trail popped up and around a ridge-line that overlooked the creek. I’ve read vistas are rare treats on the Pinhoti, and this one is beautiful, so I took a few moments to savor it.
Beware the blowdowns & widowmakers.
The trail then drops along the creek just before you reach the shelter, which aside from a lone camping chair and a set of mounted deer antlers above the door, was bare and clean. This close to the start of the trailhead I don’t expect it gets many overnight travelers. A pity.
All around the shelter blowdowns stitch a haphazard landscape, and I’m amazed it’s survived unscathed. It truly is a scene of carnage, the skeletal souvenirs of hurricane Zeta back in October.
As I was to discover, Zeta left its mark well up to Porters Gap.
Ye be warned oh mighty hikers!
The rest of the day is a sequence of sliding across pine needles and scrambling over blowdowns that created an obstacle course on an otherwise well-marked path. I rolled my left ankle twice before I made camp, though not seriously.
Finally, I get to sleep… sans pillows.
The camp was just past mile 10 NOBO. To get there involves some road walk, the last half being dirt, and not very well marked. I had to check with Guthook again, otherwise, I would probably still be looking for the correct dirt road to go down.
Even after checking Guthook, I stopped short of the trailhead, mistaking someone’s gated property as the continuation of the trail, what with all the random blue blazes decorating many of the trees along the road leading up to it.
It was only after rummaging through my pack for a paper map, and another quick look at Guthook that I finally figured it out. I needed to be a few yards further up the road.
When I made it to camp I realized I had lost my pillows during the mad map shuffle of my backpack earlier. Originally I had stuffed them in a Dyneema sack while packing, intending to move them into my sleeping bag when I got to camp that first night…
Whoever finds them, enjoy. Give them a wee bit of a wash and they’ll be the best inflatable pillows you’ll ever have the good fortune to use.
The First Night
As night fell I finished setting my tent alongside a rushing creek, an older gentleman arriving shortly thereafter. By now it was dark, and we each had “campy stuff” to finish up. After a hasty “Huhloo” in acknowledgment, we then retired into our respective tents for the night.
Come sunrise, I’m in my tent writing about the previous day’s journey when the gentleman passed by on his way out of camp. He offered a “Good morning – everything alright?” Before continuing on his way.
Sometimes you end up an unintentional jerk.
Being anti-social was an accident. It was very early and cold; I put off breakfast to stay in my sleeping bag a wee bit longer, writing until I felt fully awake. I feel he mistook my affection for warmth and writing as avoidance and squirreliness. ..Which is a word, just ask your mother.
Now I feel like a jerk.
I never got his name, but if the next trail register is anything to go by, his trail name is Silver Bullet.
So if you ever read this Mr. Silver Bullet, thank you for being friendly and not snoring. My apologies for being both lazy and rude.
The next leg of my journey will be long, but I’ve bribed a ride through the next road walk, which any thru-hike can appreciate. (amIright?).
It’s official. B.O. and the visceral NEED for an icy soda and sizzling hamburger are a priority over a beginner’s glow and attention to detail.
See y’all on the next sunrise!
Does anyone else ever get nervous before starting a long hike?
Have you ever hiked the Pinhoti and have some advice for the rest of us?
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