A sign points in the direction to follow the Pinhoti Trail

Make friends down in Alabama

Day 1, Southern Terminus to Meadow Branch

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

You might say I'm a slow learner. I had to hike all of the Appalachian Trail, all of the Pacific Crest Trail, and much of the Continental Divide Trail before I began to truly appreciate what thru-hiking meant to me.

At last, I took to heart what I should have known from the start and finally realized hiking long trails was an essential part of who I am. These hikes kept me physically and emotionally fit.

Once that was understood, I began making a mental list of other trails I wanted to hike. The criteria for these were a little different than the Triple Crown trails. None should take five or six months of my life, and preferably, they would be close to home. As much as I gained from hiking the AT, PCT, and CDT, they had kept me too far away from my wife. I didn’t want to do that anymore.

For 2022, I picked one trail for the spring and had another in mind for the fall. In between those hikes, my wife and I intended to travel together.

The Pinhoti Trail was first on my list. It met all of my criteria. The southern terminus in Alabama was just four hours from my home, and the northern one in Georgia was closer than that. With a length of 350 miles, I knew I could complete it in under a month.

The key to hiking this trail was to not start too late in the spring. Otherwise, the temperatures and humidity in Alabama and Georgia could make a long hike unbearable.

Weather Partly cloudy sky and warm, with a high temperature in the low-80s
Trail Conditions Well-maintained and mostly well-marked but with a couple of glaring omissions; long road walk near the end of the day
Today's Miles 11.3 miles
Trip Miles 11.3 miles

There was one more thing I learned as I completed the Triple Crown: I enjoy hiking with other people. When my friend Tengo Hambre agreed to hike the Pinhoti with me, I knew we would have an entertaining time. I'd already hiked with him on the last part of the AT, the first three weeks of my PCT thru-hike, and all of the Benton MacKaye Trail.

Over the first few months of 2022, Tengo and I worked out a plan that would fit our schedules. The start of the plan was yesterday when he flew to my local airport from his home in New Jersey. We left my house this morning at 6:15 to drive to the trailhead near Flagg Mountain. My wife came with us so we wouldn't have to leave a car at the trailhead.

We didn't go directly to there, however. Our first stop was the small town of Cave Spring, Georgia. The trail went through the town, and we expected Tengo and I would walk there in about two weeks. We dropped off a box of food at a small inn, which was where we planned to stay when we arrived in town during our hike.

Tengo and Gravity pose at the start of the Pinhoti

After stopping for lunch in Sylacauga, Tengo, Kim, and I continued our drive to the trailhead. If you read about the Pinhoti Trail, you may find some sources that imply it starts at the top of the mountain. It doesn't, but honestly, that’s where it should start.

Instead of the mountaintop, which is easily accessible by car, the trailhead is located down at the foot of the mountain at the southern edge of Weogufka State Forest. Getting there requires driving seven miles along a bumpy dirt road.

When we first turned onto that road, Kim was understandably apprehensive about driving it back to the highway after she dropped us off. Thankfully, we soon discovered the road never got any worse than it first appeared.

We arrived at the terminus at noon. That time seemed surprisingly early until we remembered we had crossed a time zone on the way.

Kim said goodbye after she took our photo, and we began hiking. As Tengo and I started up the trail, we met another hiker who also intended to hike the full distance. Seeing him was unexpected. The Pinhoti is not a trail that gets many thru-hikers.

The hiker told us his name was Rev, and as you would expect, he was a church pastor. He lived in California but had some family in Alabama. That’s why he decided to hike this trail. His wife and sister-in-law dropped him off, and he was about to begin hiking.

Leaving the trailhead to start hiking

Rev didn't leave with us, however. He hung back as we left, and I wondered why he didn't join us. It took me a little time to figure out why. Throughout the day, he sometimes hiked with us and sometimes fell behind and hiked alone.

Eventually, I realized he was stopping to shoot video for his YouTube channel.

White and light blue blazes painted on trees

Somewhere early on, I also lost track of Tengo. I knew he wasn't ahead of me, yet he was nowhere to be seen behind me. We hadn't walked more than a quarter mile, and I already suspected Tengo or I had gone the wrong way.

Tengo has a knack for missing turns on the trail, though admittedly, I have also added "bonus miles" from time to time. We’ve even done that together, like our first steps on the PCT at Campo, California.

I stopped to check my FarOut app (the new name for Guthook) and confirmed I was on the trail, so I backtracked to see if I could find Tengo. I didn’t have to go far before coming to a side trail that made a bypass around the summit of Flagg Mountain. I stopped there and shouted down in the direction I presumed he went.

Tengo Hambre and Rev return after going the wrong way

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Tengo and Rev were climbing the side trail back to where I was waiting. They both missed the turn, and I could see why. The bypass trail was marked with a white blaze, and the Pinhoti was marked with a pale blue blaze. There was little difference in these. The white blaze could be easily mistaken as a blue one.

A sign claims this is the start of the Appalachian Mountains

A short distance past the trail junction, a sign nailed to a tree declared this was the start of the Appalachian Mountains. It should be viewed with some skepticism.

For one reason, there is no consensus on where the mountain range ends. A sign posted 45 miles northwest of here at Tannehill Ironworks State Park makes the same claim as the sign here on the slope of Flagg Mountain.

For that matter, the locals may think of this as a mountain, but geologists don't usually call any landform a mountain unless it rises more than 1,000 feet above its surrounding terrain. Flagg Mountain stands just 1,152 feet above sea level, and the area around it is not 1,000 feet lower. At best, this spot should be thought of as a foothill of the Appalachians.

Tengo has to lean to get around a tree

Tengo, Rev, and I hiked more or less together for the rest of the way to the top of Flagg Mountain. Truth be known, I missed two turns on the way to the top. I was walking ahead of them, and they caught my mistakes, so I didn't wander too far off the trail.

This experience served as an early lesson about the Pinhoti. We were learning the trail wasn't consistently marked. Much like the CDT, we should check our location every time we pass a trail or road junction to make sure we remain on the right path.

We’ll see how that goes.

The tower at Flagg Mountain

The final distance of the eight-tenths of a mile from the trailhead to the top of the mountain was steep. We arrived at the summit shortly after 1 p.m. Stopping to sign the hiker registry and then becoming temporarily lost had doubled the time it would normally take to get here.

A 50-foot-tall stone tower stood in a clearing at the top. It was built in 1935 by a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crew. Back then, this area was planned to become a state park, but that never happened. The land continues to be managed today by the state's Forestry Commission.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the tower about two months too soon. It had been closed since the late 1980s but was being restored. We couldn't climb the stairs to the top today.

The tower was scheduled to be reopened in a ceremony in June with Alabama's governor.

We took a break under a covered picnic shelter next to the tower and ate a snack. While we chatted, Tengo and I learned Rev had hiked some of the PCT in 2019, the same year we did. Rev didn't complete the trail that year but returned to finish the following year.

We also learned that Rev had hiked some of the PCT with Marmalade, a hiker I also knew from the PCT. I told Rev about the day Marmalade nearly – though accidentally – pushed me down a mountainside slope in Washington. We had a good chuckle when I showed Rev the picture I reflexively snapped of my feet slipping out from under me. You can see that photo here.

Tengo Habre and Rev leave Flagg Mountain

After finishing our break, we wandered about the mountaintop looking for a man named Nimblewill Nomad. He lived in one of the cabins here and served as a caretaker. More importantly to us, he was a hiking legend.

Nimblewill, whose real name is M.J. “Sunny” Eberhart, has hiked every National Scenic Trail in the U.S. He completed a thru-hike of the AT last year, which was the third time he did that. More remarkably, however, he completed that hike at age 83, making him the oldest person to hike the full length of the AT.

Regretfully, we were unable to find Nimblewill, so we continued down the trail.

Dogwood tree blossoms

Farther north, spring would just be getting started on April 12. Here in Alabama, we were already well into spring. A sign of that could be seen in dogwood tree blossoms. They were still present but were beginning to brown and fall off. They won't last much longer.

Rhododendron blossoms

Rhododendron blossoms won't be blooming for at least another month in Tennessee and North Carolina. That's especially true at higher elevations. Here, they were already starting to appear.

A shelter near Weogufka Creek

The trail descended 600 feet in the next two miles, dropping to follow Weogufka Creek for a short distance. A shelter stood near the creek. It was smaller than Appalachian Trail shelters, with room for four people or five people. Unlike AT shelters, this one only had a narrow doorway for an opening. Without much ventilation, I imagined it would be a sweltering place to sleep in the summer.

Tengo Habre walks around a fallen tree

We stopped briefly to check out the shelter, then continued along the creek until the trail crossed a feeder stream. It turned from there and began a climb. Somewhere along here we lost track of Rev again.

The next eight-tenths of a mile went up about 400 feet to the top of a ridge.

A marker mounted to a stone advertises Protective Life Corporation

We followed the ridge top as it made several ups and downs for the next 1.5 miles. In this section, we passed a stone with a tablet mountain to it. The marker called this the Dai-ichi Life Trail. I wondered what that was referring to until I saw these words: "Celebrating the natural beauty of Alabama and the people of Protective Life Corporation."

Remember the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie curses after discovering his Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring spelled out an advertisement for Ovaltine? That was much like my reaction when I saw the tablet.

An insurance company put the marker here, most likely after making a cash donation for the trail. It seemed some advertising was necessary here to remind us Protective Life Corporation was a generous and noble business.

So much for Leave No Trace.

The trail crosses a road where small trees stand

When the trail began to flatten out, we entered an area that had been clear-cut a few years ago. This was an obvious observation from the appearance of the long-leaf pine trees growing here. They were all short and thin.

The trees a little farther down the trail were more mature but not by much.

Red buckeye

Sprinkled among the trees were a few wildflowers, though there were not as many as I expected to see this time of year. I saw some red buckeye. They are also called firecracker plants and are native to this part of the southeast. They grow like a tree, sometimes 15-25 feet tall.

There were mucky patches through here. Though rain had not fallen here in a week, some sections of the trail were saturated and muddy because the clay soil retained the water.

Tengo Hambre follows a detour

We came upon a handmade sign at 4 p.m. It said the trail was closed for logging. We considered at first ignoring the sign because we couldn't hear any sounds of trees being cut down. Besides, it told us to follow the road but offered no directions about how far to go or where to find the trail again.

After a short discussion about our options, Tengo and I agreed to obey the sign and walk on the road. We were concerned, however, about bypassing a small stream that we knew crossed the trail ahead. We needed water by this time and were unsure if we’d find any near the road.

What clinched our decision to follow the road was a recent comment I found in FarOut. It said the trail was covered in downed tree branches left behind during the logging. We now had to hope the road would also cross some water.

Tengo Hambre collects water

We eventually found some water, but it was more like a mud hole. Still, it didn't appear we would find any other flowing water for the next hour. I collected two liters, which was probably more than necessary. It seemed like a wise thing to do, though, because the day had turned warm and I knew we had much more road walking to do.

Tengo Hambre and Rev walk on a gravel road

Rev caught up to us while we were filtering our water, and he walked with us the rest of the day. We continued on the gravel road, which led us to County Road 56. We turned there to start a 2.6-mile stretch of the narrow, paved road.


At 5:30 p.m., we arrived at an intersection where a store stood. Signs advertised that it was a pawn shop, but cold drinks were also sold there. As much as I would have loved to have a cold drink at that moment, there was no way I was going inside.

Flying high on a tall pole in front of the store was a Confederate flag. I refuse to talk to anyone who does that, let alone give them money.

When I prepared to hike the Pinhoti, I learned I should expect to see a few businesses like this along the way. That didn’t make seeing this store any easier to accept.

A dog passively sits and watches

I also read that mean dogs caused trouble for hikers on several road sections. Owners around here often let their dogs run loose, and occasionally, a hiker gets bitten.

We passed a dog a short distance past the store. I expected a confrontation, at least some barking, but it just sat and passively watched us walk by. Comically, the dog could barely muster any interest in us.

No other dogs bothered us along this section. When the trail left the paved highway, we weren't done with road walking. We now had to follow a gravel road for two miles on a steady, gradual climb. This was an area of private land, so there was no place to camp along the road.

Tengo Hambre is feeling worn out

By 7 p.m., we were all feeling worn down. Sunset would happen in fifteen minutes, yet we were still walking on the road with private property on both sides. There was no place for us to stop.

Rev hikes down the trail

When we finally left the road, the trail started a descent. Surely, I thought, we will find a level spot somewhere along here where we can pitch our tents.

Still nothing.

The trail crosses a stream

The trail dropped to a stream, and I got my hopes up there. A campsite had to be nearby, I thought.

Nope, the ground was still too sloped. We had to keep walking, though by now the sun was dropping below the horizon.

At last, we found a fire ring and decided this was as good as we were going to find for a campsite. There was room for our tents, though we had to spread out. I needed to use my headlamp to finish setting up my tent and cook dinner.

Compared to a typical thru-hiking day, today wasn't long. Still, I hadn’t hiked much in several months and was feeling out of shape, so it was long enough. My feet made sure I understood that clearly.

All in all, today had been a satisfying start to what I hoped would be a fun hike. It came with the unexpected enjoyment of making a new friend, and we didn’t get accosted by mean dogs. Though I was tired, I wasn’t exhausted. I was optimistic tomorrow would bring more of the same.

The Pinhoti, it seemed, had other ideas.

Oh, Alabama
Can I see you and shake your hand?
Make friends down in Alabama
I'm from a new land
I come to you and see all this ruin
What are you doing Alabama?
You got the rest of the union to help you along
What's going wrong?

This trail report was published on