|Saturday—March 21, 1998
Location—Planted Pine by SR100 north of Holland
Cave Spring is a great little trail town, Todd’s Restaurant, Gray Horse Restaurant, pizza and ice cream parlors, post office and motel. Mule and I have breakfast at Gray Horse, then I head for Holland. I hate to part company with Mule but he isn’t prepared equipment-wise and his physical limitations present serious problems when trying to bushwhack cross-country. He had a bout with encephalitis at age 13 that left him with severe visual limitations. He has also sustained head injuries which have left him with less than normal motor function, and he must take Dilantin to control grand mal seizures. I feel he will be able to handle the AT, but bushwhacking over rough terrain is not for him. I hope to hike with him much more this summer.
Today has been a most pleasant roadwalk, a grand 25-mile day. I reach Holland around 5:00 p.m. Here is a typical little crossroads community with the usual gas station/limited food store. I pick up a few odds and ends for my pack then head on north to pitch in the planted pine north of Holland.
“The right to be left alone is indeed the
beginning of all freedom.”
[Justice William O. Douglas]
Sunday—March 22, 1998
Location—Gated FSR just below CR224 near Hammond Gap
I finish the short roadwalk from Holland to Taylor Ridge to arrive a little before 10:00 a.m. There is a fine new trailhead here complete with parking. The newly constructed treadway leaves the parking area to claim the ridgeline for a very pleasant hike which provides wide open views from both sides. The trail passes through the eastern extent of Sloppy Floyd State Park and I can see the large, serene lake just below to the west. At Mack White Gap where my old friend US27 passes, the treadway ends and the bushwhacking begins anew. The cross-country going is no problem here as the proposed trail follows the ridgeline for some distance along game trails, old treadway with faded flagging and woods and service roads. I pass a new microwave tower, complete with service road leading down to Chapel Hill Church Road. Here I become confused for a moment as none of this is shown on my map…so I mark the approximate location and continue on.
I am making remarkably good time today, considering that about half the day has involved bushwhacking. I get on the wrong ridge spur a couple of times but with my compass and topo map I can quickly tell I am going the wrong direction and manage to turn and make corrections. I pitch by a small branch next to a gated FSR just below CR224 near Hammond Gap. It has been a windy but pleasant day. There seems to be a gradual but noticeable change in the weather, but I must not get my hopes up too high.
|“Come, heart where hill is heaped upon hill:
For there the mystical brotherhood
Of sun and moon and hollow and wood
And river and stream work out their will.”
[William Butler Yeats]
Monday—March 23, 1998
Location—Keown Falls Picnic Area
I stay on Narrows Picnic Road to FR325, from here to bushwhack straight up Strawberry Mountain. At the ridge I find a delightful new service road all in fresh-sewn grass. This I take up the ridge past a large clearcut area to the north. From here a recently constructed horse trail leads on northeast for a short distance. Then it’s bushwhacking time again. The bushwhacks are getting more difficult and I haven’t beat my way through the blowdowns and brush far until I realize I’m going the wrong direction. Two clues, the compass is pointing the wrong way and there’s a “No Hunting” signs on the tree just ahead. So I turn around and beat my way back. Hunters are in the woods in full camo and I have seen and talked with some of them today. Spring turkey season seems to be very popular here. For it seems that for each hunter I chance to meet I count additionally, probably five or six vehicles parked along the service roads.
I soon come to West Armuchee Creek crossing, a picturesque spot. There is no bridge, just a concrete slab where vehicles ford. I remove my boots and begin wading across. I quickly realize this is a big mistake, one I’m sure many others will make, what with concrete being kind to one’s feet. To my dismay, and as I am committed to this, I find the concrete dangerously slippery from moss slime. The creek is of good size, with a fair volume of moving water, the velocity of which is creating a force to be reckoned with. I slip and am almost swept down. This is becoming treacherous. I can hardly maintain my footing on the ice-slick surface. By inching my way I manage to gain the far bank. The depth gauge shows a mere foot of water which seems insignificant, but when footing is reduced to near zero, it doesn’t take much to get pushed around. The water drops from the ford to a rocky pool and I certainly did not want to go in there head first. Putting my off-road running shoes on, which is certainly what I should have done might have helped to some extent, but I have my doubts.
Crossing Subligna/Villanow Road and bushwhacking along a blowdown-filled old road grade, then to follow some old, old flagging, I reach East Armuchee Creek. Here is a formidable stream, more near the size of a small river. The only crossing I am able to find is near a large tree with blue paint rings. Here I change to my off-road running shoes and hunt for a sturdy pole. As I enter the turbulence I am immediately confronted with rapids having high water volume and moving at a rate to create substantial hydraulic force. My footing is hindered by large rocks, many of which are over a foot in diameter and very slippery. Taking my time and groping along I am able to ford without incident, but the experience has definitely been an adrenaline pump!
Once across the East Armuchee, now confronting me is the rim swamp for the better part of 100 yards. This is muck, briars, brambles and brush, an almost impenetrable bushwhack. The Florida titi swamps have nothing on these Georgia river rim swamps. Maintaining a passable treadway through here is going to present a fine challenge! Finally through this maze, it’s a bushwhack straight up John’s Mountain, over 500 feet in vertical elevation gain in less than a quarter mile! On claiming the ridge I now have a short bushwhack along the ridge. Proceeding I soon find the white blazes of the well-maintained Keown Falls loop trail. Glory be, arriving here just as planned is a joy! Steps are constructed, leading down beside the falls, providing a most enjoyable experience. I pitch for the evening in the picnic area near the park entrance. I no sooner get my camp secure than the rain begins again.
|“The bubbling brook doth leap when I come by,
because my feet find measure with its call…”
[Jones Very, Nature]
Tuesday—March 24, 1998
Trail Day 83/4
Location—FSR207A, Middle Mountain
The rain has stopped but the sky remains overcast and threatening. I’d just as soon stay in on this cold, wet and dreary morning, but indeed “I have miles to go before I sleep…” so I roll out and shoulder my heavy, wet gear and head out to greet another lonely day on the trail. When it is mild and the birds are singing, I am not nearly as alone. But the birds are not singing this morning and mild is not the word for this day. It has been a wonderful diversion seeing and talking with the hunters but most have had to muster effort to remain kind and tolerant. After all, they’re in the woods for peace and quiet, too—and maybe a turkey—but certainly not a disheveled, yapping backpacker. I journey on alone toward Horn Mountain.
Upon reaching S1264, I discover recent forest service control burnover along the entire east side. The cross-county bushwhack, which starts here heads east right through this nightmarish, doomsday setting. I want no part of it and head north on S1264! Turning at FR233 I proceed southeast on this way-out roundabout, crossing Furnace Creek. Here I pick up an old woodsroad and head north. In a short distance the two-track peters out, deteriorating into heavy briars, blow downs and brush. After struggling through it awhile, I turn away to face the near-vertical wall that is the west face of Horn Mountain. Here the terrain is open, but near straight up. There’s no need hurrying this sort of ladderless ascent. There is no pace, save slow and steady, every sapling, root and tree being nature’s handrail. Approximately 150-200 feet from the ridgeline I hit beautiful, newly cut treadway! I guess if I had gone a little further up FR233, past Furnace Creek, I would have happened upon it there, avoiding all this crazy bushwhacking I’ve just been through. I bet it comes up through the burnover from Pilcher Pond.
Heavy horse traffic is already shredding the side-slab berms on up Horn. The treadway has been completed to the parking lot at Snake Creek Gap. Heading for Mill Creek Mountain out of Snake Creek I see the first new plastic diamond Pinhoti Trail blaze tacked to a tree. What a delight to find the trail completed all the way to the ridgeline on Mill Creek Mountain. From here, however it is cross-country again until I connect to the FSR below Middle Mountain. In the brush now and stumbling and fighting through, thinking I must certainly be the first and only human to ever pass this way, I come upon this huge rock cairn! I look at it and walk around it in total disbelief! Surely there must have been a time when this had some significance, but as I stand here today gawking at it in awe, I have not a clue! I pitch on Middle Mountain FSR in the warmth of a most comforting evening sun.
|“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes
a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something,
that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that
so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
[Robert Lewis Stevenson]
Wednesday—March 25, 1998
Location—Key West Inn, Chatsworth
I am up and out to a grand morning. Unquestionably, the weather is changing, slowly, but it’s changing. The storms are still coming through, but not with the regularity or the intensity with which I have been getting slammed. Today, I’ll be hiking over familiar terrain on Middle and Hurricane Mountains, for I have not only hiked here in the past I have also help construct some of this trail. The Georgia Pinhoti Trail Association of which I am a member is a small organization, but the goal that has been set is a grand one indeed. For on the shoulders of this group rests the responsibility of closing the gap in connecting the southern Appalachians to Springer Mountain by trail. This will be the final link in the chain of links needed to fulfill Mike Leonard’s dream of a trail to the end of the Appalachian Range.
The trail from here to Dug Gap near Dalton is almost complete save a short section along Rocky Fact Mountain. The hike along these long, level ridges provides views in all directions, for indeed, the trail leads in all directions, following this interesting geologic arrangement. On Rocky Face now I pass another very strange rockwork. Here is a fire ring the likes of which I have never seen before. It’s really more a monument than a fire ring if that is possible. It is not only a remarkable structure in size but it is complete with promenade-like walkways all around, each lined with rocks collected from all over the mountain and brought here to this place. Someone or some group has spent an incredible amount of time hauling and stacking these rocks! I take the full tour before heading on.
I get into Dalton by 3:00 p.m., first stop Wendys for a coke and a frosty. Dalton is a large city with much traffic and confusion. I dearly love trail towns, but not ten all at once! My nerves are pretty much in a jangle before I get through. Surely there must be a motel out here someplace, for I am not only on a busy state highway, but this is also US76. Pulling into the pumps at the next station and talking with the attendant I find that I am out of luck. Soon stops a fellow in a pickup and offers a ride. I decline, but as he insists on hauling me along I find that he’s going to Chatsworth where there is a fine motel. And he not only offers to drop me off there this evening, but to pick me up first thing in the morning and deposit me right back here to this very spot. Okay, now that’s a deal! So it is that I meet Steve Griggs, a fellow member of the Hiker Trash clan. As we motor along towards Chatsworth, I’m thinking how strange it seems, covering the ground so quickly. In minutes we have gone further than I can hike in a whole day. Hikers certainly live in another time zone.
I’ll head for Ramhurst to begin bushwhacking the rugged Cohuttas tomorrow. And I’ll be carrying a very heavy pack, for I have taken on seven days provisions to get me on through, hopefully to Springer Mountain…and home!
|“Oft when the white still dawn
lifted the skies and pushed the hills apart
I’ve felt it like a glory in my heart.”
[Edwin Markham, Joy of the Morning]
Thursday—March 26, 1998
Location—By Rock Creek near Dennis, the Cohuttas, Chattahoochee National Forest
What a fine time here in Chatsworth. The Innkeeper provided a room being worked on…at no charge! I’ve found a very successful Yogi-ing technique as far as motels are concerned. I explain to the innkeeper that I need no linen, bedding or towels, that I have all of these things with me, but rather that I desire only a warm shower and a place to write. I also explain that the room will be left exactly as found with no need to bother maid service. And finally…that surely this could be provided at a special rate! I was able to call my family and many friends and to get caught up on my journal entries, have a grand shower, wash some clothes and get a very good night’s sleep. Steve is right here at 6:30 a.m. and we’re on our way back to Dalton. Thanks Steve for stopping last evening and for all your kindness and help!
This is an event-filled day as I hike across the lush Great Valley from the Armuchee Mountains to the rugged Cohuttas. This is a roadwalk past many lovely farms, and though on backroads with very little traffic I am offered many rides by the kind Georgia folks. The road rolls up and around through the countryside past old houses with porches all around, horse farm and sod farms, with beautiful Fort Mountain as a backdrop, setting a scene most grand, serene and peaceful. I have been very concerned about my ability to make it through the Cohutta bushwhack. I talked with Marty Dominy at great length about this last night. He suggested I stay on the roads, but that is just not an option. But today I fret and worry myself about it again as I hike toward the tall and grand Cohuttas just ahead. The Armuchee bushwhack wasn’t a piece of cake by any stretch, but it was easy enough to stay on trail, for once up on the ridgeline, getting lost pretty much meant falling off. Looking at the topo for the Cohuttas however, is a scary deal. Here the mountains go every direction. Ridges drop into ravines, and these wind to be diverted by ridges and spurs from other mountains. Gaps and saddles interconnect in a maze and pure jumble. The topo is black with lines, indicating very steep and rugged terrain. And through this all goes the bushwhack o’er what one day will become the Georgia Pinhoti Trail.
This has been a warm and sunny day, what a joy! East of Ramhurst, near Dennis I break from the roadwalk to enter the forest and start the bushwhack near Rock Creek. I promptly get lost, beating around in a side-hill pine thicket full of brush and greenbriars. I end up with brown, prickly pine needles down my neck and in everything, including my boots. I finally manage to beat my way off the ridge to follow the creek along and to climb where it tumbles from the mountain. I pitch for the evening by a most picturesque, pristine spot just above Rock Creek. The creek is full of gladness as it sings its happy song. In the soothing sound of its restful lullaby I soon fall asleep.
|“Sweet are the little brooks that run
O’er pebbles glancing in the sun,
Singing in soothing tones.”
[Thomas Hood, Town and Country]
Friday—March 27, 1998
Location—By FSR631 near Murray/Gilmer Co. line, the Cohuttas, Chattahoochee National Forest
Trail angels, what a wonderful subject. I must tell you about two yesterday. Steve, who lives in Ellijay, the fellow who stopped to give me a ride and listened to my story about this odyssey was the first. Even he, a long distance backpacker, got a little glassy-eyed when I answered his questions about where I’m going and where I’ve been. He just kept saying, “That’s awesome! That’s awesome!” And then the fine folks at the gas station/mom-n-pop deli, a mile or so past the Conasauga Bridge that gave me some biscuits. Would you believe five biscuits? Three ham and two sausage, and these weren’t leftovers. It was just past 8:00 a.m. and people were buying breakfast biscuits! The sweet old lady said, “This’ll help you get over those mountains.” Doggone I didn’t get their names, but I’ve sure marked that place on my map! Five biscuits! Ate three yesterday and the other two, a ham and a sausage I downed this morning.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been most apprehensive about the cross-country coming up on this north end of the Georgia Pinhoti. Looking at the topo lines on the map this morning makes my head spin! These mountains are massive. Spurs creating deep ravines go everywhere. The mountains lie at every compass position and the ridgelines are indistinct and hard to follow, often being no more than a spur from one knob hitting a spur from another. Not like the cross-country in the Armuchees to the west before crossing the Great Valley. Taylor Ridge was straight and almost level. Ditto for Strawberry, John’s, Horn, Mill Creek, Middle, Hurricane, and Rocky Face Mountains. All I basically had to do was get up on these ridges and truck! My nervousness and fear were reflected in my voice when I talked with Marty. “Marty,” I said, “I don’t think my map and compass skills nor my climbing ability are up to what’s ahead in the Cohuttas. It’s not like the Armuchee Ridges.” In his slow, matter-of-fact South Georgia drawl he said, “Some of the going will be painfully slooow, especially with a backpack.” I invited him to come up and go with me, which certainly wasn’t fair to him. He’s gone way out of his way to help me already. Preparing all of these maps had to take hours. They are incredibly detailed and very accurate.
The first section really threw me for a loop. I expected the cross-country to be tough, but not up and down bluffs and through impenetrable thickets. But pushing on this morning, two things are becoming clear above all in my mind. First, even though this cross-country is scary and incredibly difficult (my back is sore from the pack being pushed and shoved, even with the sternum strap as tight as I can get it), I really haven’t gotten lost! I know where I am every minute! I’m reading the topos and following my compass just fine! And, second, I am seeing some unbelievably beautiful country, the very first Georgia Pinhoti thru-hiker to see these places. So these last few days before I reach Springer and the AT are going to be magic and exciting days. I’ll follow the maps Marty has prepared for me. I’ll probably blunder and get lost, but these will be the kind of days memories are made of! Eighty-six days on the trial today. I’ve prepared myself. I believe I can handle this!
I get on through Rock Creek just fine. It’s slow, hard hiking, just like Marty said it would be, but I’m enjoying the mountains in a way that is totally different than that enjoyment when following a beaten path. Here there is a different attitude, a different state of mind. The adrenaline is pumping; it is the mystery, the unknown, the doubt and the challenge of it all. The air is charged and I am vibrant and totally alive! A short FSR roadwalk and it’s cross-country time again. Up one of the tributaries to Rock Creek (a misnomer, it should be called Boulder Creek). This terrain is indescribably rugged, making for tough climbing. There are many blowdowns, much brush. I am able to get my sleeping pad (Thermarest) off the outside bottom of my pack and inside this morning, so this allows me to move my sleeping bag from the top of my pack to the bottom. This helps immensely; not getting it hung up in everything I’m trying to get over, under and through! One of my comments while lamenting to Marty was “It looks like you’re running me straight up a waterfall.” Well, would you believe four? Four dandies! In less than a half mile! Folks, this place is rugged! What incredible sights, the falls, the lush vegetation all around. There is not the least hint of a path, no game trails, nothing! The map is black from the topo lines running together. I am able to climb through, around, and over them okay. This Georgia Pinhoti is going to be a remarkable trail!
Oh yes, here they are! Today I see them for the first time. I’ve been looking and waiting so long, each day with more and more anticipation. And here they are at last, beautiful and majestic, the unmistakable, stately white pine! I am in the mountains now for sure, no doubt about it! The white pine confirms that fact. Eighty-six days of hiking and I am here at last in these most-grand mountains. I’m home! I reach half mile high elevations today for the first time. As I hike on, my map and compass tell me that I should be nearing a service road again and here it is without a hitch, just as Marty has marked. I pitch just inside the forest service line in a lovely sheltered cove with a clear brook, about two miles south of SR52. Gathering rocks, I built a great fireplace, then level a spot to tent for the night. I’ll leave this fireplace standing here. For others will want to stay here also when the finished trail passes by. This evening I am a member of the Georgia Pinhoti Trail crew, building a campsite!
|“…going to the mountains is going home…”
Saturday—March 28, 1998
Location—Old blowdown hole, Bear Creek Trail by Parks Ridge, Chattahoochee National Forest
I didn’t realize just how lovely a campsite I had picked last night, for I enjoyed a beautiful sunset over Fort Mountain to the west and could clearly see the lights of Dalton, across the Great Valley, a two-day hike away. Just before falling asleep I could see the lights from vehicles coming over Fort Mountain on SR52 and I could also hear the faint whistle of train horns clear across the Great Valley from Dalton.
I arise to another beautiful day, sunny and warm. Oh, if this weather will just hold one more day, as I must constantly refer to my maps. A rainy day would be a real problem. Cross-country bushwhacking is difficult under ideal conditions. Today is another day of slow, hard going, the most difficult cross-country hiking. Trail construction over Turkey Mountain to Holly Creek Gap is going to be a very tough proposition! The FS corridor is narrow through here, driving the trail down from the ridgeline into the ravines, which run near back on themselves and are extremely steep.
Well, today is the day to get lost! I know I’m not where I should be right away when I see a spring box and black plastic pipe going down the creek, providing gravity feed water to a home below. I stay on course, not wanting to climb back up the ravine, rehearsing my lines as I descend, in case I am met by the landowner. I come out right in his back yard. Luckily, no one’s home and there’s no dog! I get across his field and almost to the road at Mulberry Gap before the neighbor’s dog starts yipping. This area is another of the very narrow FS corridors. I was one small ravine south of where I should have been, probably off compass and map course no more than 100 yards or so!
I really have trouble getting down to Holly Creek Gap. The Forest Service has constructed a full two-lane wide grassy road leading north just past Double Top, so I jump on it figuring it has to go out to the gap. Wrong! It slabs around Double Top and goes back south. I find this out by hiking all the way down and around as my compass needle keeps swinging the wrong direction. But here I see the first large and most stately hemlock. The ridge and saddle leading northeast off this grassy road is obscured by the recent construction and I hunt and backtrack up and down for over an hour before I get back on track. Ha! Then the old narrow trail off Double Top forks. Yup, I take the wrong one. I finally make it to Holly Creek Gap, but the day is pretty much shot.
I have managed only ten miles today, pretty much in line with what I’ve allowed, but still somewhat disappointing. I’m anxious to see those white diamond blazes on the Benton MacKaye Trail, but I know at the same time I’ll most likely feel a bit of sadness as the truly adventuresome part of this odyssey will be over.
“…it is because they have so much to give and give it so
lavishly to those who enter them that we learn to love the
mountains and go back to them again and again.”
[Sir Francis Youngblood]
Sunday—March 29, 1998
Location—Cove by Halloway Gap, south of Dyer Gap, Benton MacKaye Trail
I am up early and out at 7:30 a.m. I’m very excited about today. For, if I go the right direction I will reach the Benton MacKaye Trail. Here, I’ll be only 64 miles from Springer Mountain. As I get rolling—more tripping, stumbling, falling and then rolling—I am able to follow my compass and topo maps fairly well. But, as it seems this is going to be bumble, bump and bruise day! I’ve already managed to do two headers; one pitched me clean off the mountain into the puckers and the other, a faceplant right in the dirt. Though shaken up, damage control reports I’m none the worse for wear! Oh yes! And now I am managing to get lost; nothing drastic, just time consuming, frustrating little ordeals as I turn…to burn and finally return.
Marty’s detailing for the proposed trail location is superb. Indeed the Georgia Pinhoti Trail, when completed, will thread its way through these precipitous slopes just as it should. However, the problem is this. The maps are not always correct, especially as to the actual woodsroad locations, and the cross-country today is some of the most challenging and technically demanding with which I’ve had to deal. It’s interesting, for it seems the degree of bushwhacking difficulty has gradually and systematically increased from novice to near-expert right along with my ability to cope, calculate and navigate with it, much as if a tactical training course had been designed and prepared to teach me all levels of cross-country travel!
The Cohutta Wildlife Management Area comprises some incredibly rugged terrain. It’s Sunday, but never do I see a soul in the Mountaintown area. There is finely constructed treadway here for hikers and mountain-bikers, laid down in classic fashion. But it is a very tough and rugged trail. Mountaintown and Crenshaw Creeks are formidable streams and the trail crosses them repeatedly. The area is pleasant to the eye but unpleasant to my (water-soaked) feet. There is bear sign all through here; trails, scat and hair, but alas, no bruins are about. They’re here though…I can smell ‘em!
The Georgia Pinhoti Trail is going to be a diverse and most delightful five star trail when completed. It will have a little of all the grand things an outstanding trail should have: Easy sections, challenging sections, roadwalks, peaceful stretches providing quiet solitude, breathtaking scenery including waterfalls, an unparalleled composite of flora and fauna, vistas and majestic trees (the southernmost groves of hemlock and white pine on the continent), splendid campsites, babbling brooks—and Cave Spring—a really neat trail town! Oh yes, and mountains; above all, incredibly rugged, picturesque mountains! I finally reach the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) at 3:00 p.m.
Please humor this old man’s chest-puffing now for just a moment, for it has been said, “If ya done it, it ain’t abraggin’.” I feel proud and humbled to be the first to experience all that these combined Pinhoti Trails have to offer. I may not be the first to hike the entire Alabama Pinhoti from where the grand Appalachians begin near Porter Gap, to the Alabama/Georgia state line, but I suspect I am. I know I’m the first to hike the entire Georgia Pinhoti from the state line through the Armuchees to the BMT here in the Cohuttas. Both of these hikes have been “thru” hikes, done and combined as one thru-hike. So I know I also have the distinction of being the first to hike the entire Pinhoti Trail, a distance according to my calculations of some 260 miles, the Alabama segment being a little over 125 miles and the Georgia segment nearly 140 miles.
I would like to thank all the great folks with the Alabama Trails Association, the Georgia Pinhoti Trail Association, the Forest Service people and all other personnel involved and associated at the federal, state and local levels who, through love and dedication for their chosen work, so diligently and professionally caretake these treasures of ours. And to Marty, especially to you Marty Dominy, my dear friend for your help in making the Pinhoti Trail such a pleasant and rewarding experience. It is destined to become one of the most memorable parts of this odyssey. And finally, above all, I thank the Good Lord for the determination, stamina, good health, and safe passage, so lavished upon me.
I pitch near a lovely mountain brook by the BMT. This has been another beautiful, rewarding and memorable day. Now on to Springer Mountain and the bushwhack home, for a much needed rest before adventuring on north!
“If you would measure the quiet majesty, the beauty,
the sanctity of the woods, do it with a two-foot rule…
to be part of the great sanctuary—walk.”