Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winter Hiking: Cheaha Wilderness

View at McDill Point in the Cheaha Wilderness.  Wearing a skirt I sewed myself.
This weekend, Still Waters and I went out to scout the Pinhoti- Cave Creek Loop which winds 7.2 miles through the Cheaha Wilderness of Alabama, two hours west of Atlanta.  The overall elevation change was gentle, but the trail featured delightful boulder fields perfect for rock hopping and romping.  This was a great hike for winter because there were lots of views that would have been covered up had there been leaves on the trees.  We followed these very good (and entertaining) directions paying particular attention not to miss any of the side trails.

Part of this loop hike took us along the Pinhoti Trail, which is another long distance trail that extends through Alabama and Georgia and connects to the Appalachian Trail.  I've hiked other sections of this trail including through the Dugger Wilderness as well as parts in Georgia, and every time it inspires me to spend more time exploring this trail.

Only 2,504 miles to Kathadin.
The viewpoint out at McDill Point was especially worth the 1/4 mile trip down the side path.  There, we had lunch out of the icy wind, and gazed in wonder at one particular tree in the valley below that still clung to its red leaves.  It was surrounded by a forest of green pine and the bare brown branches of other deciduous tree that had all already lost their leaves.  It stood out so brightly, all by itself.

Single bright red lone tree in a forest of pine and bare trees.
In the absence of plants and fungi, my usual favorite things to investigate on the trail, the moss/ lichen provided endless sources of fascination.  Seeing such incredible diversity almost makes me want to learn more about them and figure out how to identify them.  Until I looked at the guide to lichen that  my co-worker showed me.  I was drooling over the photos, but am completely intimidated by the keys, and the book is way too massive to take into the field.  I think I'll stick with admiring the lichen from afar for now, even though I know I'm missing out on that joyful wonder that only comes for me from a more in-depth understanding of organisms when I learn more about their ecology and natural history.

Beautiful lichen

The rocks were another highlight of the hike.  They were lovely shades of gray and white, and were unmistakably not-Georgia rocks like I'm used to seeing.  They made neat stacked formations, and in other places were piled up in boulder fields. 

Rock formations