Sunday, January 13, 2013

Winter hike in the Appalachians: Georgia Pinhoti Trail

Hiking in a T-shirt in January
Let me start this blog entry with the weather because it has been crazy! For two weeks I had been freezing my butt off in the mountains in ice and snow - but as soon as I left Dalton I was in spring! It got warm, unusually warm. So  warm that even I could not believe it but I ended up hiking in a T-shirt during daytime at 22 Celsius. Well, that is if it did not rain... and it rained almost every day. Sometimes the whole day, sometimes only a couple of hours. But it was so warm that the rain hardly bothered me. It was so warm that I was seriously sweating under my 15F quilt. A couple of nights ago I had to wear 5 layers to stay warm at night and now I was sweating in a T-shirt. And of course all this happened after I had bought a bulky sleeping pad as a backup for the delicate Neoair and could sleep on several layers of ice. But rest assured: I read on weather channel that these have been the warmest days in January in 50 years, but the forecast predicts more normal temperatures for next week - I'll soon be hiking in winter again and lots and lots of more rain.

But I also had plenty of interesting encounters on this stretch. Day 1 started with an early wake up call. My CS hosts brought me back into Dalton before their work started and that brought me into the local Waffle House at 7.15 am for a 4 hour breakfast. I left at 11 am and only hiked a short day to a beautiful campsite next to a creek. I did not see anyone hiking the whole day. But to my big  surprise, just as I was cooking dinner I saw strong lights outside. This was single file trail, so how could an ATV get here? But this was no ATV, but a bunch of mountain bikers. I have never seen mountain bikers night biking but it must be very popular as 4 groups passed my tent that night.

Ridge walking
Next night was even scarier. Again I had not seen a single soul the whole day. As it was already dark I camped at an established campsite before a river ford and tucked myself a bit away from the forest road. But still at 8 pm I saw a light shining on my tent - and I was scared to death. I had not heard any car or even MTB - this must be someone on foot! Who was sneaking around in the middle of the night around my tent? First I could not believe it was a hiker. I had not seen another hiker for days and now one should camp right next to me? It sounded very improbable but it turned out to be exactly the case as I should find out the next day - after spending a very quiet night in order not to attract my camping neighbor's attention. I got up early in the morning and saw a typical lightweight tent pitched only 100 metres away from me. I eyed the tent and whatever was to be seen from the equipment brought me to the conclusion that this really must be another long distance hiker, although he or she must be fast asleep when I left. And for sure later that day Robert aka Alabama caught up to me and solved the mystery. He had thruhiked the AT this year and continued now on the Pinhoti to his home state of Alabama. He turned out to be a very enjoyable and intellectual hiking companion. We spent the while day talking philosophy and the like. But he was on a much tighter schedule than I. When I stopped to camp at dark he continued hiking on into the night. At least I did not have any more unexpected night time visitors for the rest of this stretch.

Forest road
But I ran into some more interesting people: Sunshine Matt, who thruhiked the AT the same year I did and who is friends with Franklin. Matt is on the board of the Georgia Pinhoti Trail and gave me some good information about the trail when I met him mountain biking one morning. And then I met 10K, another AT thruhiker I had seen on an outdoor forum. The long distance hiker world is a small one...

After another long roadwalk I finally made it into Cave Spring, a small little town with one hotel and a supermarket. No cell phone coverage, but at least the hotel has wifi. I have one more week to hike through Alabama. Although the forecast predicts rain and more rain for the next days I am not planning to stop in any town. I'll carry food for the rest of this trip and look forward to the trail shelters.

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