As promised ::coughcough.months.ago.cough:: the first day backpacking write up is here :)
Trailhead FS 603A of section 3 (first woods walk) to Bulls Gap 9-8-12
The trailhead as of Sept 2012 did not have a sign board or anything major from the road to indicate where to park. If you follow the directions listed on the PTA website you’ll get to it fine. There is enough room to park maybe two cars- do not block the gate. Also, the forest service looked like it was working on expanding the road or at least making it better the last time I was in there so it probably looks completely different now, 8 months later (the shame… I am so sorry I’m not more prompt). You walk down this road and will quickly see the blue blazes that signify the Pinhoti on your left. You will walk a gentle up and down as you approach Rebecca Mountain. This trail is the newest section and in the best shape of any I walked until Cheaha. It was well cut (we met the maintainers who were weed eating as we walked up!) and well marked. You should have no problem. If I had it to do over again I would have stopped at Rebecca Mountain and camped just because it was so danged pretty.
THERE IS NO WATER IN THIS SECTION! so make sure you have a water drop at Bulls Gap if you’re doing more than a one nighter and pack enough in. I carry 3 liters and ended up having a good method of having a gallon stashed as a water drop at the end of each section which is conveniently 3 liters. That way even if I ran dry before getting to the next trail head I knew I had a full supply waiting. I know a lot of people who might think 3 liters is excessive but I keep my pack at 30lbs (including food and water) and so I’m able to do this. I also have a system I like. I carry a tall Smart Water bottle in my side pocket then have a 2 liter camelbak bag in my bag. I use the bag while hiking and use the bottle once at camp. This helped me manage my water and not over drink or cook complicated stuff that needed more water when I was running low. Everybody has their own system. This just worked for me.
My filter was almost unnecessary what with the drops. My filter would have been better served at home. But I did filter water 3 times in the approximately 69 miles I backpacked on this trip; once at a forest road on my way up to Rebecca Mountain (it was shortly off trail and we were tipped off by the trail workers where to look, so my threat of no water isn’t true if you know where to look for that one stream), once at Scott’s Lake from a stream past the brownest lake I’ve ever seen, and once short of Blue Mountain shelter from a stream that barely had enough to filter out of. But I didn’t need to. I was almost full on water, I just decided, what the hey- might as well use the danged thing since I’m packing it around.
So on our first night, we camped on a ridge to our right after not being able to go a step further. It was about 4:30 which is my usual “time to look for a place to camp” time anyway. I have a thing too- about not camping right by roads. So I’m not sure how far past the intersection we passed we were, but this sort of thinking did hinder my mileage a lot. Often it’s not a long hike between trailheads on the Pinhoti, or when it is, there are TONS of forest service and national forest roads cut through that have dirt bikes, four wheelers, off road vehicles, hunters, partying kids (er..or in two cases, partying middle aged men…), etc, roaming about on them. So only once did I have to camp too close to a road for my comfort. As a single woman hiking alone I feel the general best practice for me is to camp no closer than a mile from a road (if I know it’s there). That can be a little tricky because there were sections where I was thinking “where the hell am I going to camp!?” because of the terrain. In fact on my first night I threw down my bag and hightailed it up the side of the mountain to find a wide enough flat spot to camp. We found it. It turned out to have markings on the trees that indicated it was actually part of the old Pinhoti. How old? No clue. Why was it relocated from this awesome sunrise?? I’ve no clue. Property rights?
We were close to a road but since we were off trail and in a way- stealth camping, since you couldn’t see us from the trail at all- I felt safe. I wonder how I would have felt the first day at the end of the day if I hadn’t had Brooke to babysit me. She camped nearby and just the knowledge that another person was there was comforting. It isn’t easy doing this as a girl alone. There aren’t a lot of us. Every time I talk in public to strangers about camping or hiking like this I get the same response from perfectly capable, strong, women. “You do this ALONE!?” They are flabbergasted. I’d like to point out- Whiskey wasn’t on this trip. When I attended October BOW IN 2011 (visit Alabama’s BOW event page for more) women kept circling around me asking about how I did it, wasn’t I scared? Did I carry a gun? Etc. I answered all the questions and encouraged them to PLEASE get out there in the woods and do for themselves. Don’t feel like you have to have someone with you to do what you love. Just go do it! I often have more offers of people to go with me than I can handle (At least on my day hikes. No one wants in on the 9-dayers lol! ) On the short hikes I usually don’t tell anyone because I’ve come to love going alone. I tell women, if you get out there and start telling your friends what you’re doing you’ll have a waiting list to go hiking with you a mile long. And there are so many varieties of hikes to do that you can find something for everyone.
But wait I am sooo distracted! Back to the current hike.
So where we stayed was perfect, an old road bed it looked like, just wide enough for our tents and with a great view of all the stars you could imagine as well as the most spectacular sunrise on the Pinhoti I witnessed for the entire trip. If you can find this spot, then I say, camp there!
Here’s a really frustrating thing, that is all my fault- I do not know the name of the junction right before we camped which would help people find where we camped… and camp there themselves. I think it was White….something… Maybe White Gap.. There was a sign carved in the wood style you see on the Pinhoti on this section. I thought I took a picture of it, but was mistaken. I also texted my husband with the name of it and asked him how far we were from Bull Gap. He couldn’t find it notated on any of the maps we had or websites. Of course I deleted my text to him with the name of it… doh! Bad hiker/blogger! No desert for you! Anyway, if you see a sign saying White something or another right at an intersection of a bunch of dirt roads, keep walking for about a half mile to under a mile and you’ll find a ridge to your upper right that has the “old” trail on it.
Cons to the first day: Guns! We heard TONS of guns down the hill, sounding very close to our campsite. Try not to let it bother you. I read over and over that all over the Pinhoti you will hear constant gunshot. This was definitely true (more true perhaps I should say) of the first two days of hiking. Much of the gunfire came at sunrise… really? Wow.. those people need to sleep in! I will say the rest of the Pinhoti hasn’t offered nearly as much gunfire as those first two days. But I have heard gunfire on almost every day on the Pinhoti, but come on… I live in Alabama. I hear gunfire almost every day of my life anyway lol!
2nd Con: Lack of water (we already covered this so I’ll spare you a rehash).
One great Pro of the first day of trail hiking: The incredibly devoted group of trail maintainers making sure that the path on the 3rd section (and the first section of actual woods trail) was well maintained. Rebecca Mountain is a very pretty place. I’d love to go back for an in and out overnighter. There were also TONS of feathers to pick up on the trail for this section and for about the next 3 days.. I was blown away by the size of the feathers!