Continuing report in a series as I explore various section of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail...
Indian Mountain Tract across into Georgia, 15 Feb 2010
Woke 0500, made some breakfast, headed out 0530. Drive went a little slower due to icy roads and winter weather, heading across Sand Mtn was particularly icy and slow. But made it through Piedmont uneventfully and to the High Point Trailhead on US-278 about 0750. Got my gear prepped and leaded north on the Pinhoti Trail 0810. Sun was out, cold and breezy weather all day, starting about 30-35deg windchill.
I made the climb to Davis Mtn Shelter with no problems, stopped there to take a picture and strip off the light pullover jacket, starting to sweat into the layers, which is not good in this weather. Made steady progress over some great trail to Hurricane Creek and the bridge over it, and up into Hawkins Hollow and the swimming hole there. The trail actually has a 10ft ladder to let you down the bank of the hollow before picking up the path again and climbing up the creek bed.
From there the trail makes a steady climb up to the 1700ft overlook and finally up and over Flagpole Mtn. The upper reaches had a thin blanket of 3-4” of snow, but not too bad, nothing a pair of smartwool socks could not need off. What was worse was the 2mi long rock field across and down the ridge that made running difficult, hard to find a rhythm on it. Great views to the south and east into Georgia though. Never could located the Dr. Tom McGhee Memorial marked on the map, but crossed the state line going the ridge, made a phone call to Kirsten for an update, and kept moving since the wind was quite cold.
Ran another 2.4mi into Georgia before coming out onto Jackson Chapel Rd where the first of the road-walks begins. Bloody rolled my right ankle just before the turn-around, took me about 15-20min of walking for the blood to get flowing. Changed socks at the turns, down a pair of GU packets, grabbed another flask of Perpetuem, and began the trip back. Took me 3hr50min to go outbound, about 3hr30min to return.
The climb back up past the state line and onto Flagpole Mtn was a bit rough with the ankle not fully cooperating, but made it well enough. About half of the snow had melted off the summit, but still plenty crisp and breezy on top. Steadily made my way back past 1700ft Overlook and the shallow descents towards Hawkins Hollow. Was frankly starting to get a little tired and bored with it after about 6hrs on the move, and the grinding, power-walk climb out of Hurricane Creek didn’t help any. But got out of that fine and headed for Davis Mtn Shelter. I was very glad to see the shelter, for it meant a mere 2mi left to go to the trailhead. Last portions were fine, ran back through an area known as The Pitts, which is pretty cool, before popping out on the road and 300m down the pavement to the trailhead at 3:30pm.
I had planned to fully rinse off and change clothes, but I wasn’t that wet and too cold outside to be stripping down and scrubbing down with cold water poured into a towel. So just cleaned up my upper body and head, changed into a clean t-shirt, cleaned off my legs, but kept the shoes on for now. Headed out 3:45pm, driving back through Centre, AL for a change of scenery. More snow flurries started as I crossed Sand Mountain, and was a full-on storm as I passed through Guntersville and back up US-431 towards home. Driving was slow as I crossed over icy bridges on the Paint Rock and Flint Rivers. But got in safe and sound around 6:15pm to a warm, cozy house where Kirsten was making waffles for dinner and the request of the boys. Twist my arm! We got the call about 7:30pm that all schools closed tomorrow. So the boys got to play a little longer....
Talladega Mtns Ridgeline and Cheaha Wilderness, 26 Feb 2010
This was Day 1 in back-to-back training session, with the following day being the Mt Cheaha 50k. I woke 0615 with the boys and got everyone off to school. Then headed out myself, on 2.5hr drive to Mt Cheaha State Park. I parked the XTerra at Bald Rock Lodge and got to running about 1030.
Heading out of the park resort area, I stopped to chat with some other folks at the camp store about the race tomorrow, and then headed south on AL-281 (Talladega Skyway), down the road to Adams Gap Trailhead by 11:45 or so. Took a few minutes to jawbone with another fellow hiking from Adams Gap, then turned left and headed up into the Cheaha Wilderness and the Pinhoti Trail.
And this approximately 13.5mi of trail northward toward Blue Mtn is some rough, nasty, gorgeous, scenic and ultimately rewarding running (or hiking). The first mile is a nice climb to get you halfway up the Talladega Mtn ridge and follows the contours for a while before turning into the Stairway to Heaven and a right tough climb into what is called Heaven. This spot is a tree-shrouded boulder formation on top that marks where the trail get on top of the ridge line (well, at least mostly on the ridge, the trail eschews it for a cant 50m down the slope to the left most of the way!). It was pretty cool to keep checking my watch altimeter and see it constantly staying in a band between 2100-2200’ most of the way as I moved northward along the trail for the next two hours. And I was treated to some great views to the north on a sunny, cool day.
The trail on top is fairly rough and challenging, with plenty of rocks and loose footing, lots of leftward cant, tree roots. Ain’t nothing fast about running up there for us mid-packers! I swung past the small bog on Little Caney Head Mtn, took a photo at the intersection of the Cave Creek Trail, and headed for MacDill Point overlook. There I took the 1/4mi detour down to the overlook for a great view to the south along the ridgeline I had been running along. From there I climbed up to Hernandez Peak, saw the trail memorial marker, and then made the descent down towards Hwy 281. But not before I darn near screwed myself. Once you come off Hernandez Peak, the Pinhoti markers have you make a very sharp left-hand turn, which I completely missed and was sucked down another unmarked trail going downhill. About 200m and 100’ elevation down, I realized something wasn’t right. I should be heading mostly north right at Mt Cheaha, but that was on my left and I was going away from it. So turned on my digital watch compass, and sho’ nuf, this decoy trail I had entered was going downhill due east! So realizing my near-mistake, hiked my ass back out there to the top, saw where I had missed the Pinhoti markers, and proceeded to get back on track.
The descent to AL-281 was nice, crossing over the highway about 300m up from the trailhead parking lot. I had the option here of just turning left a and making a short back up to the state park. But I was still feeling decent, and wanted to continue exploring, so went across and was promptly rewarded with 2mi of some damn tough trail on the way to the Blue Mtn shelter. 3-4 slippery spring and streak crossings later, with several short but high-angle climbs/descents, finally made the left turn and began the climb back towards Bald Rock. This is where the Pinhoti 100 course splits off from the actual Pinhoti Trail, so all-too-familiar with this section. It’s a tough, steady climb up to Bald Rock, where I was again rewarded with a great view to the north down into the valley on a clear/sunny day. Ran the last 1/4mi up the boardwalk trail and back into the truck, about 5½ hours on the move and 25mi of running.
While at Bald Rock, hopped inside the lodge and picked up my race packet. Chatted with Todd and Jamie Henderson for a bit, then headed down into Oxford. Checked into my hotel, got some dinner (IHOP, big steak omelet and some nut/grain pancakes). Went back up at the lodge about 6:30pm for the race brief. Sitting with the Huntsville crowd, enjoyed the company very much after a day on the trails solo.
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