Thursday, 24 January 2013

Pinhoti Trail: Conclusion and tips

The Pinhoti Trail is a little gem and I was surprised that it is not more popular.  Don't expect spectacular scenery though. Like the AT the Pinhoti is routed through forest almost all the time and in summer there aren't too many views. In winter that was a bit different though, but still all you see is more forest. You will mostly walk on ridge lines or contouring around slopes. Almost all of the Pinhoti is on single file trail. The combination of forest and unobtrusive single file trail gives the Pinhoti a strong wilderness feeling. You'll feel like Leather Stockings or Pocahontas.

The Pinhoti can indeed be walked year round because of its low elevation and Southern location. It hardly rises above 600 metres. I did encounter snow but it is minimal and will not impede your progress. There aren't many steep ascends or descents either making the trail not particularly hard. But it is very rocky in places and the narrow trail can be quite slippery in wet weather on slopes, so don't underestimate it either. It is generally well marked but dead leaves can obscure the trail bed and you'll have to pay attention in order not to be led astray. I found it very difficult to night hike. I met few hikers on the Pinhoti but the ones I met were all very interesting. I guess this is what you get on lesser known trails.

The Georgia and Alabama Pinhoti differ greatly and for hikers the Alabama Pinhoti is the better one. In Georgia the trail is open to hikers, bikers and horses. Almost all the trail volunteers are mountain bikers and the Pinhoti there is mostly geared towards bikers. When talking to a trail crew I learned the reason for it: Hiking volunteers in Georgia tend to work on the popular AT  instead of the lesser known Pinhoti whereas the bikers don't have that alternative and gravitate towards the Pinhoti. There are even several popular mountain bike races on the Georgia Pinhoti every year. The result is a trail free of obstacles like blow down trees, a higher percentage of old logging roads instead of single file trail and no trail shelters. I happened to hike it after a race and sadly encountered lots of trash left by cyclists but volunteers were already cleaning up. I want to emphasize that this MTB orientation does not diminish the hiking experience. The volunteers keep the trail in great shape for all users. The biggest problem in Georgia are two long roadwalks of 20 miles each at Dalton and Cave Springs. As far as road walks go they are not too bad. You are either routed over very quiet country roads or on road shoulders and side walks.

View from a shelter
The Alabama Pinhoti on the other hand is 100% geared towards hikers. No other users are allowed on the trail. In the Northern half of the trail there are beautiful shelters about every 10 miles. And the trail is almost exclusively on single file. Between the Georgia border and Rebecca Mountain trail head you have 150 miles of almost uninterrupted single file trail through beautiful forest. Currently there is still a 20 miles road walk after Rebecca mountain to the official terminus at Flagg Mountain, but many hikers just finish at Rebecca mountain for that reason. Although you don't walk through any towns in Alabama resupply is still easy as there are some county stores close to the trail and you can hitch into nearby Heflin or Piedmont. I just carried food for the whole stretch which just takes a week at thruhiker speed.

The Pinhoti Trail has a rather chaotic website. There is lots of information on it but it is difficult to find what you want to know. Unfortunately, there is no town guide available so you have to figure out yourself where to resupply or take a rest day. You can download maps for the entire Pinhoti from Mr Parkay for free. You'll find the link on the Pinhoti website. Keep in mind that these maps have not been updated for a while. The Pinhoti is also shown on US trails transparent map at gpsfiledepot.com but again it does not show recent changes.

Because there is no town guide here my resupply info:

Antique shop in Cave Springs
Dalton is a huge town with all services. Going South to North you first cross the Interstate where there are several chain motels. There is a Days Inn and a Rodeway Inn as well as several other more expensive chains. In the first big mall after the Interstate there is a big Kroger supermarket and a couple of shops away is RAK outfitter which is a small but full service outfitter open daily. As you walk out of town you'll pass plenty of fast food places and at the edge of town there even is an Aldi. If walking North you can also resupply at the end of the roadwalk at Ramhurst where there is a Dollar General.

Cave Springs is the perfect little trail town. The only motel charges 40$ for a nice single room. There is a Dollar General and a medium size food store in town, but no outfitter or any hiking gear.

View from Cheaha State Park
I did not go into Heflin or Piedmont, but stopped at Cheaha State Park. There is a rather expensive hotel, a little store and a restaurant. You can't do a full resupply at the store but you can get snacks and ramem soup, though no gas canisters. Your best bet is the reasonably priced restaurant. In summer they offer a daily AYCE breakfast buffet and a weekend lunch and dinner buffet on top of their regular daily lunch and dinner menu. In winter there is no breakfast at all except on weekends and no lunch and dinner buffet, only the menu. The restaurant of in a nice setting having a great view - there is even free wifi.

One last word on logistics: to get to the Northern terminus it is probably easiest to take advantage of the AT infrastructure. Take the hiker hostel shuttle from Atlanta or Gainesville to Springer Mountain and hike 60 miles on the BMT to the Pinhoti terminus. There are trail angels who can shuttle you from the Southern terminus to Birmingham, AL. Find their contact info on the Pinhoti website. Birmingham has an airport and there is a daily Amtrak train to Atlanta. You can also take Megabus from Birmingham to Atlanta. I booked the ticket 6 Weeks in advance and paid as little as 5$.

Overall: If you are looking for a relatively easy trail that can also be hiked in shoulder or off season, if you like hiking in forest and if you are not afraid of hiking a lesser known trail, the Pinhoti is great.

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