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Cahaba Group: The Pinhoti Challenge!

Are you up to Alabama's best hiking challenge? Over the next 2 years, the Cahaba Group will be leading a series of day hikes covering the entire Pinhoti Trail of east Alabama. With one hike per month, we'll take 26 months to complete the trail which currently runs from Flagg Mountain in Coosa County, near Weogufka, to the Alabama/Georgia border northeast of Piedmont – some 170+ miles! Make up days will be included for those who miss a day or two. For those who complete the challenge there will be parades, keys to the city of Anniston, memorials erected..... not really. How about a Pinhoti patch for your pack, certificate of completion, maybe a picture in the paper, and the personal satisfaction that you have done something not a lot of people have done. Don't think you can make the whole trail; come out and hike with us when you can. You might surprise yourself! The hiking will be great. You'll see Flagg Mountain, Rebecca Mountain, Horn Mountain, Scott Lake, Mt. Cheaha, Pine Glen, Sweetwater Lake, Coleman Lake, Choccolocco Lake, Duggar Mountain, Oakey Mountain, Augusta Mine Ridge, Indian Mountain, and Flagpole Mountain. You'll see wild- flowers and flowering shrubs in the spring. You will see the trees show their colors in the fall. You will hike in quiet woods in the middle of winter. You will huff, puff, fight bugs, and sweat in the summer. And, you will make some pretty good friends along the way.

We will have two hikes in December to get things rolling. One on Dec 7th and the other on Dec 13th. Heading up the Pinhoti challenge will be Jay Hudson who has been hiking the Pinhoti for years. Jay also is a Sierra trip leader and was the Cahaba chair several years ago. I will assist Jay and be his sec- ond on these hikes. We will make every effort to have the hikes on the 3rd Saturday of every month so you can post your Pinhoti hiking days on your calendar. On an as needed basis we will have make up hiking days. And finally we will have a rough hiking schedule for those interested in a few weeks so you can track your progress on a map. If you don't want to do the whole trail but a hike looks good to you..........come on! Are you ready for the Pinhoti challenge!

Pinhoti Challenge: Dugger Mountain
By trip leader Jay Hudson

53 people can't be wrong! The Pinhoti Challenge hikes are a growing force. The ancients used to believe that everything was composed of only 4 elements – air, earth, fire, and water. February's hike would show us all of these with ease. We knew we'd see the fire part because, as we settled our cars at the Pinky Burns trailhead, a Forest Service ranger approached and informed us of a large controlled burn going on in the area. How could we know that only 3 weeks later this fire element (without the involvement of the Forest Service) would inflict a monumental loss on this very trailhead we were standing in. This time, it would not be controlled.

The Burns trailhead, where we were parking cars, would be the point where we ended our hike. The Forest Service maps all told us we'd have an 8.8 mile hike. As we found out with our GPS unit, the hike was more like 10.2 miles. At any rate, this trailhead featured parking and a commemorative plaque dedicating the 10,000 acre Dugger Mountain Wilderness – along with the personal cabin and outbuildings of Pink E. Burns. Pink was a local outdoorsman, hunter, and trapper known for his colorful stories and lore. He would sit on the front porch of his cabin (the right half of which was log, originally built somewhere around 1800-1810) and wave to every car that passed down Rabbittown Road. Legend was that he could be coaxed into telling old stories with a banana moon pie and a cola of some sort. When Mr. Burns died in 1999 at the age of 81, he donated the land to the Forest Service. His cabin was originally a one-room schoolhouse, and plans were reportedly in the works to turn the cabin into a nature or visitor center.

Once the cars were settled, we began the procession around to the other end – Forest Service Road 500. Here, we met more hikers joining us. We began our ascent. This is the hardest part of our hike. We gain 1,300 feet in 2 miles. However, the reward is a grand view out over the town of Piedmont, AL. As we climbed, we began to smell the smoke from the promised controlled burn. The ranger had told us that his hopes were that the smoke would go "up and over" our heads. For the most part, it seemed to be doing that, but it was also very windy. We couldn't help but wonder what if the fire got out of control. And, as luck would have it, the wind was coming straight up the ridge at us. Once on top, we split off of the trail to the right to make sure we crossed the official "2nd highest point" in Alabama. We then set up lunch in and around the old fire tower spot.

After lunch, we climbed back down to the trail and began the short hop to the next highlight – the plane crash. About ½ mile or so down the trail, and just barely off and above the trail are the remnants of an old Cessna that went down on November 10, 1998. For details on this crash, you can go to this website (www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/brief2.asp?ev_id=20001211X11471&ntsbno=MIA99FA027&akey=1) and find out more. This is the National Transportation Safety Board website. 3 people were aboard the plane, and unfortunately the 2 in the front of the plane died. The passenger in the back had serious injuries, but survived – and walked out to the town of Piedmont the next morning.

Shortly after the plane wreckage, the trail begins a steep descent for about ½ mile before turning back to the left. It then begins to meander along several creeks and in and out of hollows and around fingers above Jones Branch. There are a couple of blowdowns in this area that someone has spent countless hours cleaning out. They are amazing to walk through! After a couple of miles of this meandering in and out small dips, the trail drops into a low spot with ground covered with Creeping Ground Cedar. Soon after, a sign appears directing you to the Burns trailhead. The trail exits the forest beside Pinky's barn and the Dugger Mountain Wilderness plaque.

On Tuesday, March 10th, 3 teen arsonists set the Pinky Burns cabin ablaze at approximately 11 p.m. By the time a sheriff's deputy arrived, the entire cabin was fully involved and not able to be saved. The 3 firebugs sped away from the scene only to be apprehended later. It is reported that the cabin was on the National Register of Historic Places, and that since the cabin was on Federal land – the offenses will be considered acts of terrorism. Mike Faulk, a writer for the Anniston Star writes that, "bottles, torn rags, and lighter fluid – the makings of Molotov cocktails – were found in the car. Jody Kyle Maples, 20, of Lineville, Grover Shannon Newell, 18, of Anniston, and Jennifer Megan Brooks, 18, of Anniston are charged with second-degree arson and are in jail on $250,000 bond each. Their court date is set for May 14. Chief Deputy Matt Wade said second-degree arson is a Class B felony, carrying with it a sentence of 2 to 20 years in prison."

Since I found out the news of the loss of the Burns cabin, I have had a knot in my stomach. I feel that we have all failed Mr. Burns in letting his beloved property go down in this way. As a society, we are all responsible for these young adults' actions. This was an irreplaceable icon of a time and person that will not return. We had just a little bit to hold on to, to remind us of those times. We could go back and imagine, and get lost in the dust and sunlight. And even though Mr. Burns has been gone for 10 years, I still imagined him somehow at home inside that cabin. I always look to my favorite author Rick Bass for a quote to sum up how I feel. In talking about the value of a place, he says, "We take in a manner that does not replenish. We search out the last corners to do injury to them as if we have become confused – as if forgetting that we cannot live, cannot survive without grace and magic."

Pinhoti Challenge: Oakey Mountain
By trip leader Jay Hudson

The yellow spider-like filaments of the witch hazel were glowing in the morning sun of the ice-cold December morning. It had to be a sign of the good things to come on this, the first of the planned 26 Pinhoti Challenge section day-hikes, as we stood around introducing ourselves. How could anything be blooming in the middle of winter, I pondered to myself, thinking that these blooms looked exactly like fireworks. Could the trail be sending a signal thanking us for celebrating it? Well, witch hazel normally blooms at this time of year – but I like to think it was a sign. And, we would see many other different natural wonders before the day was over!

With our shuttle set up on the other end at County Road 94, we headed up the trail towards the Duggar Mountain shelter. A quick side trail took us to the shelter, where we all spent a minute signing the shelter's register as the "Pinhoti Challenge Group." For those of us without official trail names, this was a moment to rack our brains thinking one up. You can't hike 170+ miles of trail and not have a trail name! Finally, we were on the trail. Our first views of Oakey Mountain soon came into view. It looked intimidating! We heard shotgun shots in the distance, but were not worried as some in our group had on bright colors. After smelling some crushed ginger leaves growing on the trail, we learned a quick story of the Christmas fern before topping out our first hill and beginning the long descent to the Terrapin Creek Watershed Lake. The Christmas fern, by the way, is the only fern still green at Christmas-time. It also has individual leaflets reminiscent of socks hanging by the chimney with care, and sleds with Santa's head poking up in the back. Those who saw it won't ever mistake it for another fern! It's unique in the fern world.

As we approached the lake, several saw the huge great blue heron flying on the far side of the lake. He'd heard us coming! This area is very reminiscent of a high lake country. As we crossed the very open grassy area of the watershed lake dam, we came across some scat. Lucky for us, we had a certified scat-ologist along from Camp Sumatanga who identified it as coyote. A hiker would have serenades at night while camping here! What a treat. We continued a few feet further to our lunch spot with a great view of Oakey Mountain on one side, and the lake on the other. The bright sun warmed us as we lunched and relaxed. Following lunch, we took a few pictures and got to the more serious business of climbing the steepest section of trail – going from 700 feet to 1700 feet in the next mile or so.

The trail begins the ascent of Oakey gradually in a creek bed, before heading upward on fingers of the mountain ridge. Finally, the switchbacks began when our calves began burning and feet began sliding. We offered to throw ropes down to the groups behind and pull them up the switchbacks for shortcuts – no, not really! But, it was steep. After a brief rest, we continued upwards. The trail begins to have wonderful views and clings to the mountainside as it climbs at an angle instead of straight up. Views of Duggar Mountain (the state's 2nd highest point) could now be seen plainly behind us. We topped out at 1700 near a rocky outcrop and took a break. From here, the trail descended the backside of Oakey and did some switchbacks before meandering through some old longleaf growth and rock outcroppings. The trail also crosses a couple of old forest roads. The trail markings are plain and easy to follow. Soon, we came across the Oakey Mountain Shelter and more scat. This time, our scat-ologist identified it most likely as from a bobcat! What a treat these shelter guests would have!

Once past the shelter, the trail descends very rapidly down the mountain beside a creek. This is where the knees get a workout! At the bottom, we came across a unique plant rare in Alabama – Creeping Ground Cedar. This plant reproduces by spores and dates all the way back to the dinosaurs. The trail finally leveled out and spit us out on the Chief Ladiga rail-trail. This rail-trail is paved and a mecca for leisurely bikers and runs from Anniston to just over the AL/GA state line. Another trail, the Silver Comet Trail, intersects the Chief Ladiga in GA and runs all the way to Atlanta! The Pinhoti and the rail-trail are one for about ¼ mile in order to cross Terrapin Creek on a transformed train trestle. This trestle is only big enough for bikes and hikers to pass. On the rail-trail, we found more scat. It was identified by our scat-ologist as from a fox! A few feet further on the rail trail, and the trail entered the woods to the left. Only 50 yards through the woods and we saw our long-ago parked shuttle van waiting.

What a day it had been! Witch hazel, Christmas fern, ginger, creeping ground cedar, great blue heron, coyote scat, bobcat scat, fox scat, trail names, wind, water, earth, and good fellowship were all part of the agenda. We made our way back to Oxford for a great dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse before officially closing the initial hike of the Pinhoti Challenge. Only 25 more hikes to go before we hand out badges. And, we've come up with a way that you can do make-up hikes on your own. It'll sort of be like a scavenger hunt – with one or two clues on each section that only we'll know the answer to. Of course, you'll have to hike the section to find the hidden clue. It might be to take a picture of a certain tree, or marker, or sign. Or, we may leave a note under a certain rock sealed in a ziplock bag. Anytime you want to join the challenge, you simply ask for the clue to that section. Of course, we'll be doing organized make-ups of sections too based on need. The Pinhoti Challenge is off and running. Are you up to the challenge?