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Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Week 13: End of the Appalachians

By Vaseline May26,2024

Three Magnolias > Flagg Mountain (southern terminus of Pinhoti)

Days 85-91

Week 13 miles: 107.7

Total EAT miles: 1458.4

The southern half of my extended Appalachian Trail hike is complete! I have about a week to rest before starting the Pacific Crest Trail.

Since the Pinhoti Trail is much less known than the AT, a number of people have asked me if I would recommend hiking it. Now that I’ve walked the whole thing, here’s my verdict:

The parts of the Pinhoti that actually exist as a hiking trail are beautiful and definitely worth walking. You will be amazed by the forests and landscapes of North Georgia and Alabama. However, the road walks usually vary between unpleasant and dangerous.

If you have a larger goal in mind, such as ‘Bama to Baxter or the Eastern Continental Trail, and you are committed to a continuous pedestrian path, you will probably find it worthwhile to do the road walks.

For everyone else, I would recommend walking the trail sections and skipping the road walks. There are many great shuttle drivers and trail angels who can give you a ride.

Sign attached to a tree with the text "Beginning of the Appalachians"

Or ‘End of the Appalachians’ if you’re heading to SOBO

Day 85: Three Magnolias > Blue Mountain Shelter Junction

March 26

17.5 Pinhoti miles (3094 ft up, 2169 ft down)

Today was perhaps my laziest morning on the road yet. Because of the rain, I didn’t start packing until around 9:30 AM, and with several snack breaks, I didn’t start hiking until 11:30 AM. Not long after, the rain stopped, making me wish I had packed up even later.

The day remained cloudy and foggy until late afternoon, but the weather only added to the beauty of the small, winding stream valleys that the trail followed through this section.

Late in the day the trail climbed back up to the ridges. I ended up camping in a small fire area. Fortunately, the dirt tent area was free of plant material, and therefore also free of soot. I sleep just north of Cheaha State Park (pronounced CHEE-huh) and might visit their bathrooms and store first thing tomorrow.

Small pine trees with very long needles

Cute young pine trees

Day 86: Blue Mountain Shelter Junction > Weathers Ridge

27 March

24 Pinhoti miles (3481 ft up, 4167 ft down)

The Cheaha State Park store did not disappoint. In addition to a nice indoor bathroom, they had giant cups of coffee, ice cream and all kinds of snacks. I hung out on the porch for about an hour, charging my electronics and eating something tasty.

Today it was clear and sunny. This was great timing for the weather, because instead of narrow creek valleys like yesterday, the trail followed a high ridge with expansive views.

I passed many backpackers today, many more than on any other day on the Pinhoti. Several popular running trails pass through the state park, and families and groups of teens took advantage of spring break to get out and about.

This part of the route was also very rocky. Towards the end of the day I decided to bypass a particularly bad section of rock by detouring onto a parallel dirt road on the other side of the ridge. From the descriptions, it sounded like if I hiked the official trail I would be moving extremely slowly or asking for a sprained ankle.

As was the pattern, the Pinhoti soon redeemed itself. The last mile to my campsite was on a soft bed of pine needles.

View from the ridge

North Alabama

Day 87: Weathers Ridge > Porter’s Gap

28th of March

5.3 Pinhoti miles (801 ft up, 1020 ft down)

I was happy to find that despite camping next to a stream, my tent was dry this morning. I took my time packing, but was still faster than normal because I was waiting to eat in Talladega. I had given myself plenty of time to hike the Nero to Porter’s Gap, just in case the trail was as rocky as yesterday.

Most of the trail continued as it ended yesterday, a soft carpet of pine needles – my favorite trail surface. Once I realized I would arrive at the hole ahead of schedule, I slowed down and used the time to text my parents about the package they were sending to San Diego with my PCT gear.

Grunt picked me up at the trailhead and took me back to Next Step Hostel, a beautiful volunteer hostel she and her husband run in the heart of Talladega. Three other Pinhoti hikers also stayed overnight, and I had a great time hanging out with them. The two who had hiked the PCT shared some helpful tips and made me even more excited for my next trail.

I also got some lovely cat cuddles from Hiker the cat, who lay on my lap while I made tea and slept curled up against my stomach all night.

Gray cat on a chair

Walker the cat, my Talladega buddy

Day 88: Porter’s Gap > Rebecca Mountain

29 March

25.2 Pinhoti miles (3842 ft up, 3333 ft down)

When the three other hikers at the hostel invited me to join them for breakfast at 5:30 a.m., I thought they were joking, but the walk to the restaurant through the dark, quiet center of Talladega was fun. We had a fun time chatting with the local crew in the early morning and filled our bellies with a big southern breakfast.

I was the only one going south, so I left from Porter’s Gap alone. I forded the stream under a waterfall and collected enough water for the long ridge hike ahead. Since the trail paralleled a dirt road on the other side of the ridge for most of the day, I alternated between the two for variety.

As I walked to my intended campsite at dusk, I was surprised to find it already occupied. Luckily we were on a fairly flat part of the ridge, so I backtracked just a few hundred yards and pitched my tent in the woods.

Trail through pine forest

A path of soft pines – the Pinhoti compensates for all those recent rocks

Day 89: Rebecca Mountain > Meadow Branch

30 March

22.4 Pinhoti miles (2156 ft up, 2897 ft down)

One strange aspect of thru-hiking is that it blends recreation and everyday life more closely than would normally be the case. This morning, as I waited for the freeze-dried meal stuffed into my fleece to rehydrate, I sat in my tent on the berm of Rebecca Mountain and called the automated line to pay next month’s health insurance premium.

Today was the last long road walk of the Pinhoti. There were a few concerning dogs, but no incidents. There were also two very sweet old dogs that were perfectly timed as my last dogs on the Pinhoti. They barked once when I got closer, but as soon as I asked if they were nice dogs, they started wagging their tails and wandered off looking for some pets. They then accompanied me along the road until we got back to their house.

It struck me this afternoon that I have been extremely lucky with the many level crossings on the road walks and that I have not once had to wait for a train to pass by. Today a train came just after I crossed the tracks; it would have been a very long wait considering the length and speed.

The last stretch of road was the worst I encountered in terms of traffic. US 231 is narrow with heavy traffic, no shoulder and a very steep shoulder. For those walking north on the other side, things looked even worse. I was very happy when I got back into the forest and found a quiet campsite at the top of a small pine-covered hill.

Train crossing road

Level crossing

Day 90: Meadow Branch > Flagg Mountain (southern terminus)

March 31st

13.3 Pinhoti miles (1932 ft up, 1890 ft down)

Last day on the Pinhoti!

I hadn’t carried much water up the hill last night, so I walked a few miles before stopping to cook myself Easter brunch next to a stream.

There was just a short, leisurely walk along the road today, which took me past a closed country shop with an old soft drink machine on the veranda. I normally don’t like soda, but I had a dollar in coins in my wallet and couldn’t pass up this opportunity. As I walked down the road, enjoying my cold drink, an older woman shouted from her porch and we had a nice conversation.

The last stretch of the Pinhoti followed the edge of a beautiful gorge with lots of spring colors and sunshine. I left my pack at the CCC hut where I would spend the night on Flagg Mountain and continued my hike to the newly restored tower at the summit. I was very happy that the tower was open so that I could finish my walk not only at the tower, but also on top of the tower.

Technically, Pinhoti’s southern terminus is 1.3 miles further south, at a small pavilion next to a dirt road. Since I had enough time before sunset, I walked to the official end point for thoroughness. It was a hilarious anticlimax – I will definitely continue to consider the Flagg Mountain summit as my southern terminus from Pinhoti and ‘Bama to Baxter.

Stone tower on top of a mountain

Flagg Mountain – southern terminus of the Pinhoti and my extended Appalachian Trail hike!

Day 91: Zero at the Pinhoti Outdoor Center

April 1st

The Pinhoti Outdoor Center picked me up at Flagg Mountain this morning for a zero day before heading to Birmingham tomorrow. When we stopped at the store to do some shopping, the woman who had talked to me from her porch yesterday happened to be there, so it was nice to tell her that I had indeed completed the trail. We also stopped in Sylacauga to pick up my late Pinhoti Trail hang tag and to pick up two hikers who were starting the trail today.

Back at the POC, I also received my ‘Bama to Baxter hang tag, bringing the total to three colorful tags hanging from my backpack (AT 2024 – yellow, Pinhoti – orange and ‘Bama to Baxter – green). Once I receive the PCT tag in Campo my collection will be complete.

I had a lovely lazy day showering, eating, doing laundry and chatting with fellow hikers. The highlight was that when I was the first to go to bed, another walking dog decided I had the right idea and very politely asked to come along.

Dog curled up in bed next to my leg

Rue (or Roux?) the dog, cuddling at the Pinhoti Outdoor Center

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