PT 113 to PT 190, Cave Spring

Day 12, Mar 13, PT 132.2

Tammy, the Heflin City Director of Economic Development (and also the main hiker person in Heflin) was a little late picking me up, but that was okay since I had forgotten about daylight savings time. It was still dark at 6:30. She picked me up about 6:50 and I was at the trail head and hiking at 7 AM.

Back on the trail

This was definitely my best day of hiking so far. The trail was a nice, packed earth path and it was a beautiful day, perfect for hiking. The day started about 39°F and slowly warmed into the low 50s.

My lunch companion, Aaron.

I met my third hiker of the trail today, Aaron. I ran into him right before the campground where I had intended to have lunch and ended up joining him for lunch. He has done the PCT, the CDT, and while I am stopping at the end of the Pinhoti trail, he is continuing on the AT to Maine. And he is doing about 30 miles today. Out of my league.

Typical PT stream crossing.,

I had some nice views today, passing a High Rock Lake at one point.

Nice view.

I felt so good today I decided to push on past my intended camp spot which was dry, one and a half miles to the Laurel Shelter, which has water. This is my longest day of the hike, 19 miles.

Day 13, Mar 14, PT 147.9

Around 5 o’clock yesterday evening Jared, a local hiker, showed up at the shelter so I had company for the night. He started before me this morning but I caught him around 11: 30 right before lunch at the Chocoloco Shelter.

It was a cold morning, and of course they were lots of river crossings. Passed Shoal Creek Church early in the day, just off the trail, one of the oldest churches in Alabama.

A bridge! A rare sight on the PT.

I passed three day hikers who were section hiking together and met a lady coming south with two dogs. So a little more activity on the trail today.

A cold night ahead!

I camped at Dugger Gap, which as the name implies is a wind tunnel and it was a cold, windy night. Someone (I later found out it was Jared) walked through my camp about 6:30 but had passed before I could pop out.

Day 14, Mar 15, PT 165.2

Cold, windy night but I was cozy in my tent and 10 degree quilt! And it turned into a beautiful hiking day; clear, sunny and temps in the mid-50’s

What looks like a lake is actually the South Fork of Terrapin Creek.
Another pretty waterfall (and creek crossing!)

And more signs…

The day was so nice and I felt so good I pushed passed my intended (dry) campsite to another (dry) campsite.

Another day, another camp water here.
Day 15, Mar 16, PT 180.2

Very exciting day. Today is a three picnic bench day! I stopped at shelters (which always have a picnic bench) for my first break, lunch and my camp. Sweet!

Trail sign.

And I caught up with Jared! Seems we’ve been passing each other without knowing it. He passed up my campsite last night when he saw my tent shivering in the wind. Jared is a hammock camper so was looking for something a bit less exposed.

Jared and some other guy.

We hiked near each other all day but this will be it for Jared – he is stopping at the Georgia state line – he has a job he as to get back to.

Another ridge view.

Another Pinhoti Trail first…. A ladder!

Hmmm… so that’s the trail?
No idea….a hiker who had a bad day?

And a big milestone, I left Alabama and entered Georgia.

Alabama/Georgia state line.

This was a relatively short day (15 miles) because the shelter where I stopped is the last good place to camp before town and it is supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow. Shelters are always preferred on rain days!

Day 16, Mar 17, PT 190.2, Cave Spring

It did indeed rain last night, starting about 3:00 AM. The shelters keep you dry but the tin roof tends to amplify the rain noise, making it sound worse that it is.


I saw more wildlife today, two deer, moving way too fast to get a picture and this guy, who posed for me. Over the past two week I have seen surprisingly little, a couple of wild turkeys and some squirrels. And dogs, of course.

The trail is a little water-logged this morning.

The trail was mostly good but there were some very wet stretches. Fortunately, while it was very wet, it was not cold – temps were in the 50’s.

Maybe, but not in this weather!

And, in case I was wondering where i was…

Helpful trail directions.

After about 3 hours, I hit the road around 10:30. Oh, yeah, I’m in a different time zone, so the sun is coming up at 7:45 instead of 6:45.

Three mile road walk into Cave Spring. Detection devices?
Day 16, Mar 17, PT 190.2, Cave Spring Zero
My home for the next two night.

There was no answer when I knocked at the Hearn Inn so I called the number on the sign and a nice lady showed up in 10 minutes to let me in and show me around. I am the only guest and this is a great hiker stop. The inn has a washer/dryer, a full kitchen and is close to the town center.

Cave Spring is o the Trail of Tears. A horrific chapter in American history.

Looking forward to a day of rest and planning the next section. Things are getting cold again!

But that can wait til tomorrow…

PT 60.0 to PT 113.1 and Heflin

Day 6, Mar 7, PT 75.8

Nancy got me back to the trail about 615 and I started hiking. The first 7 miles were a lot of climbing but the trail is in great shape.

Back on the trail!

That all stopped when I I hit the “rock garden” at about mile 7 1/2. At that point, pretty much for the rest of the day, the trail became very rocky, turning into a rock scramble in places.

The Rock Gardern

I ran into another hiker headed south (I am going north). “Butter” and I talked for 15 minutes or so and he warned me the trail is rough in the Cheaha Wilderness (where I am heading). He is doing a section of the Pinhoti Trail and planned plans to stay at the Next Step Hostel tonight. told him to tell Nancy and Jeff hello for me.

Unfortunately, the 8 miles after I met Butter were pretty bad trail, very rocky and tough hiking. Especially in crocs. I blew out my left crack heel strap, which is not a big deal since I’ve done that before know how to do it temporary repair, but it wouldn’t of happened if the trail had been in better shape.

I camped at a small campsite near the Skyway trail head with a little stream about a 10th of a mile down a side trail. I am averaging about 15 miles a day which, considering the trail, is pretty good.

Anther lovely camp site on the PT

The overnight stop in Talladega was a good idea. The rest did me good, I didn’t have any stomach problems today and my leg legs felt great I think as long as I keep it at 15 miles or so I can do this thing.

Day 7, Mar 8, PT 92.0

Just when I thought I knew what the PT could throw out me I have a day like this. A very hard day. I didn’t think it was possible for the trail to get any rougher but it was definitely harder today. I entered the Cheaha Wilderness and the nice blazes and packed each trail disappeared.

Entering the wilderiness

There were long stretches of rock scrambled where my pace dropped to a crawl and I lost the trail several times.

More rocky trail…. Thanks PT!
Tough trail but lots of great views in the Cheaha Wilderness

I decided to stop at the Cheaha State Park store for lunch. I arrived at 12:30 which means it took me 6 1/2 hours to do the 11 miles from my camp last night. Stopping there for lunch was a good idea. The store was limited, but they had sandwiches, which was a nice change from my tortilla salmon rolls.

Cheaha State Park

But now that I am out of the Wilderness the trail improves substantially. Still very rocky but the rock scrambles seem to be done.

Day 8, Mar 9, PT 106.4

Much easier day as the trail was actually very nice, packed earth and not a lot of rocks. Course they were the usual steep climbs but they’re short. I had a short phone call with Roberta at my first break at about 5 miles. She said martini night went well, and she sounded upbeat.

Nicer trail today!

And today was a big milestone, mile 100!

100 Miles!!!!

I stopped for lunch early at 10:30, 9.3 miles, because it was a really pretty waterfall and it seem like a nice place to have lunch.

A pretty lunch spot.

Turns out I was right because after about 15 minutes, the rain started and it has rained all afternoon slowly building to thunderstorms. I hit a campsite near a stream about 2:00 and put up my tent in a small lull in the rain.

Day 9, Mar 10, PT 113.1 and Heflin

It rained most of the night and was still raining this morning. I got as ready as I could and then during a slight lull in the rain, I made my move. My tent is completely soaked. I made good time even in the rain which never let up and was at the highway overpass around 9 o’clock.

Hiking in the rain.

The trail was in pretty good shape.

Trail in the mist

I tried calling Heflin City Hall but cell coverage was very iffy, and I was unable to talk to anyone. so as the rain was finally stopping and no luck hitching (I tried for about 30 minutes) I started walking the three miles into town.


I got to the hotel about 1030 and they had a room ready so I was able to check in immediately. I spent the next two hours cleaning up my tent and drying out my sleeping bag. Doing the usual town stuff.

Days 10/11, Mar 11/12, A Double Zero

I called City Hall and left a message for Tammy, the hiker contact. They also gave me her direct line, which I finally called around 4 PM. We had a short conversation, but basically I said, I only needed a ride back to the trail Monday morning. It’s supposed to rain all day Sunday

Saturday was beautiful, sunny and cool. Hard to believe it’s going to rain all day tomorrow. I spent the day walking to town (it’s about 2 miles from the hotel o the freeway to downtown Heflin).

I also spent the day shopping for supplies for my next section. Heflin has multiple grocery stores so I was able to get everything I needed.

And I was even able to find a place that served cocktails! Though, I did have to explain how to make a martini to the bartender.

Celebrating the first 100 miles on the PT.

PT 0 to PT 60, So Much for Plans!

Day 1, Mar 2, PT 2.8

The first sign that there might be problems with my plans appeared as the plane from Houston descended towards the Birmingham airport. As we came out of the clouds the plane suddenly pulled up and we re-gained altitude. The Captain announced that we were gong around because “we could not see the airport when we came ouf of the clouds.”.

After retrieving my pack I texted Pinhoti Outdoor Center (POC) about my shuttle to the trail. Chuck showed up about 11:30 and we headed south. He explained on the way that he had planned it pick up another hiker from the Amtrak station but he was running several hours late. We stopped at the POC hostel where I picked up a fuel canister before heading to the Flagg Mt trailhead. And, for the entire 90 minute ride, it was raining, sometimes hard.

Chuck, my POC shuttle driver.

Chuck dropped me off about a mile from the start of the trail about 2:00PM, recommending I give up my plan to hike 10-12 miles and stay dry a the Weogufka Shelter at about 3 miles. When I got to the shelter, it was still raining hard, and the shelter looked so dry….. so…. So much for plans.

My first home o the PT!

About 2 hours later, just as it was starting to get dark my companion for the night showed up. The other hiker that Chuck was scheduled to pick up had finally arrived, “Cruise Control” was from Philadelphia and was nice enough to tell me that I only “snored a little” the next morning. Cruise, young, fit and fast, left just before me and I never saw him again.

Day 2, Mar 3, PT 17.3

I got my first real taste of the PT and it was a wake up call. After a five miles or so I started a 7 mile road walk.

We ain’t in Kansas any more Toto.

Even though the trail is never much over 2,000’ there are lots of steep climbs and they do not seem to have heard about switchbacks here in Alabama. On the plus side, the rain has finally stopped.

The trail is quite well maintained at the start.

By 11:00 I was completely done in – stopping on the climbs which I never do. I decide to stop early at “Kim’s Camp” around 2:30. A nice spot, next to a small stream with a fire ring,

My home for the second night
Day 3, Mar 4, PT 32.5

The sun rises about 6:00 AM and I am hiking by 6:30. My legs are really stiff so I have decided to go short today to give myself a day of recovery. I am on roads for most of the first 10 miles today and I used my pepper spray for the first time. Two big dogs came out into the middle of the road and were very aggressive. All the other dogs just barked and stopped when I yelled but not these two. I finally gave the lead dog a quick blast and that stopped him. Glad I brought it.

Walking roads….

I am now about 10 miles behind my plan so I have decided to just chunk the plan and keep my days under 18 miles this first section to get my trail legs. And I had my first taste of bad trail today. Leaving the road and entering what my guide calls “new trail”, I hit a bulldozed mess. The blue trail blazes were separated by large tracts of muddy dozer tracks. I lost the trail several times and ended up crashing through brambles that tore up my arm.

But I had another lovely campsite, a bit off the trail but flat and right next to a small stream so lots of water and I could even clean up a little. Unfortunately, tomorrow looks a little problematic. The last water of the day is at about 10 1/2 miles And the first campsite after that is another 5 miles up so I’m going to have to hump 4 L of water to camp.

Day 4, Mar 5, PT 48.3

Beautiful day for hiking. Got an early start at 6:15. And I saw my first other person on the trail this morning. Passing a dry campsite after few miles from my camp I passed someone asleep. He didn’t look like a hiker. He didn’t have a tent, pack or a sleeping bag, just a blanket, and what appeared to be a bag of charcoal. Tough place to be homeless.

Once I did the morning climb, I basically was up on the ridge most of the morning until I hit Bulls Gap.

Nice views from the ridge

The POC had a public water cash at Bull’s Gap which was very nice since this is pretty much the last water for the next 14 or 15 miles. I took 3 1/2 L and started climbing toward today’s camp,

Public water cache, thank POC!

There were no fixed campsites after the climb so I just a found a relatively flat spot and pitched my tent.

After some thought I have decided to change my plans even more. I have five more days to get to Heflin and I don’t think my battery and phone will last. I have cell coverage up at camp so I called Next Step Hostel in Talladega. They do shuttles to and from the trail, have a bunkhouse, showers and laundry. I arranged a pickup for tomorrow.

Day 5, Mar 6, PT 60.0

Earliest start yet – on the trail right at 6:00 AM – I am excited about a town day! I texted Jeff (Next Step Hostel) at about 5 miles in, right before I started coming off the ridge – good thing too – that was the last place I had cell coverage today.

Heading to Porter’s Gap and Talladega

More nice views for the first five miles or so before I started the long drop to Porter’s Gap.

Passed a pretty waterfall on Dry Creek, which, is, well, not dry.

Pretty waterfall

I got to Porter’s Gap and hung out for a while waiting for Nancy and my ride to Talladega. Looking forward to a cold drink on a hot day (it hit 80 today).

Waiting for Godot… or Nancy.
Talladega and Next Step Hostel

The NS Hostel is sweet setup for hikers – bunkhouse with nine beds, lawn to pitch a tent, fridge, microwave, showers (outside), and washer/drier. They they supply everything and do not charge anything. I asked Nancy about this and she said it was their way of “giving back to the hiking community.”

I had a lovely stay and I was the only hiker so I had the place to myself. Definitely a good call making this stop and recharging all my electronics.

Trail Plan

Getting to the Trail

The southern terminus of the PT is about 60 miles southeast of Birmingham in the Weogufka State Forest. I plan to fly into Birmingham the morning of March 2 and get a shuttle from the fine folks at the Pinhoti Outdoor Center directly to the trail. I want to get the first 10 miles or so of trail done that afternoon.

Section 1 (Flagg Mt to Heflin, 6.5 Days, 113 Miles, 16,200 Feet)

The trail starts in a state forest near Flagg Mountain and wanders northeast passing over Hernandez Peak in the Talladega Mountains, the high point of the Alabama portion of the PT at 2,334′. There is a four mile stretch of paved road on the first afternoon and another seven miles on the second day but it is all trail or dirt roads after that to Heflin.

Section 1: Flagg Mountain (Start) to Heflin (PT 113). Gaps are road walks.

After the road walk the trail enters the Talladega National Forest (about PT 30) where it will stay for the next 120 miles or so.

In this section all of the days are under 3,000 feet and my longest planned day is a 19 miler to get into Heflin on Day 7. Water is mostly good but there is a potentially 20 mile dry stretch after Shelton Creek (PT 27.1). I plan to take a zero day in Heflin and take stock after my first 100 miles on the trail.

Section 2 (Heflin to Cave Spring, 5 Days, 81 Miles, 11,700 feet):

This will be a shorter section (and my first 20 miler) to get to Cave Spring. There are no paved road walks on this section except for the last couple of miles into Cave Spring (the trail goes through town). My plan is to stay one night here (no zero) and resupply for the next section.

Section 2: Heflin (PT 113) to Cave Spring (PT 190).
Section 3 (Cave Spring to Dalton, 6.5 Days, 105 Miles, 11,200 Ft):

Heading north out of Cave Spring there is a long (~15 mile) stretch of paved roads before the trail returns to the woods.

Section 3: Cave Spring (PT 190) to Dalton (PT 285)

Leaving the paved road s the trail enters a narrow wooded strip (Taylor Ridge) neading northeast. The trail enters Dalton from the west and continues east through town. Dalton is the biggest trail town on my hike and I hope to be able to get a new fuel canister here.

Section 4 (Dalton to Ducktown, 5 Days, 87 Miles, 13,500 Feet):

Leaving Dalton is the longest paved road stretch of the trail, around 25 miles working mostly east to get back to woodlands. I will probably hitch/uber at least part of this. This section ends the Pinhoti Trail where it intersects with the Benton Mackaye Trail at about BMT 72 just south of the Cohutta Wilderness.

Section 4: Dalton (PT 285) to Thunder Rock CG /Ductown (BMT 94)

I will have to get a ride from Thunder Rock Campground to Ducktown (about 8 miles east) where there are a few places to stay and resupply.

Section 5 (Ducktown to Fontana, 7 Days, 103 Miles, 25,500 feet):

The trail gets harder in this section. The Benton Mackaye Trail is, in general, a tougher trail. All the days in this section are over 3500 feet and there is one 5,000 foot day. Hopefully by this point I will have the legs for it.

Section 5: Ducktown (BMT 94) to Fontana Dam (BMT 197).

At the Fontana Dam I will get a ride to the The Hike Inn (about 8 miles east).  The Hike Inn has a $75 thru-hiker package which includes shuttles to/from the trail, shuttle to town and a private room. This is a potential early stop spot if things are not going well or if I have taken much longer to get here.

Section 6 (Fontana to the End, 6 Days, 98 Miles, 19,800 Feet):

This last section is entirely in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park so the days of camping wherever I please are over. You have to camp at designated campsites and they have to be reserved in advance. I plan to reserve my sites during my zero in Ducktown.

Final Section: Fontana (BMT 197) to Trail End (BMT 290). Note the AT just north of the BMT.

This route runs parallel to and just south of the the Appalachian Trail (AT) through the GSMNP.