"Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. On and on you will hike. And I know you'll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are." - Dr. Seuss
Over Christmas, I went on a 69 mile section hike of the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama between High Point and Cheaha. I already wrote about my first three days of that trip in Part 1. On my fourth day, I met Fireflo and her dog Buddy at the Talledega Shoal Creek Ranger Station. Fireflo had previously completed the Alabama Pinhoti Trail, so I was excited to hear about her experiences. Our plan was to hike to Cheaha State Park and spend one night out. The forecast called for rain and thunderstorms, but we decided to go anyway for the adventure.
|Buddy sporting a pack and blaze orange too.|
Despite our mutual lightweight gear philosophies, it wasn’t long before both of us confessed we’d chosen to bring two sets of raingear- raincoat and rainpants AND ponchos!
|Wearing my poncho over my other raingear.|
|Fireflo wears a rainhat and packcover when the rain is very light.|
|This waterfall was one of the prettiest places on the trail.|
Fireflo’s tarp was large enough that we could hang out for a little while as the evening rain intensified.
|Warm glow of Fireflo's new light under her tarp. There's plenty of room for Buddy too.|
Water was streaming down my hammock from the head end, the down underquilt was wet inside and out, the down jacket I use as a hood was partially soaked. I sprung into action, stuffing my still-dry top quilt into my stuffsack, taking off my sleeping clothes so they wouldn’t get any wetter, and getting up to find the problem.
I saw that the rain was blowing in from the side through the doors of the tarp. I had oriented my hammock so the broad sides of the tarp faced the wind when I’d set up (this setup has kept me dry for many years in previous storms), but the wind shifted so it was blowing in from the ends. Normally, the tarp doors provide protection, but gusts of wind were stretching the shockcord I used to hold the doors closed and the doors opened to let the water in from high up. Rain was streaming down above the poncho that I was using as an underquilt protector.
My solution was to lower the tarp a few inches and tighten the doors so they wouldn’t flap in the wind. I also zipped my rainjacket around the top of the hammock and tucked the poncho underquilt protector under it so that any more rain that did get through the tarp would be shed off. I couldn’t think of anything else to do- it would be too difficult to totally take down the tarp and hammock to find a new set of trees oriented in another direction- so I dried off and got back in my hammock to assess my insulation.
|My white raincoat rigged over my green poncho underquilt protector at 1 AM.|
When I made mistakes as a beginning backpacker, I remember I’d lie awake at night running over what I should have done differently and worrying about what might happen. I realized how far I’ve come mentally in how I cope with problems in the backcountry. I can improvise even when I’m half-asleep. I don’t stay awake worrying needlessly. I accept that I will make mistakes sometimes and that it will make me a better backpacker because I'll learn from my experiences. I fell fast asleep until morning.
During the night, my bodyheat worked to dry off much of my clothes and gear. My middle of the night fiddling had worked! And I’d used all of my raingear not just for hiking but for my sleep setup as well. Sure it would have been better if I’d rigged my tarp better to begin with, but I felt pretty thrilled to know just how wet my setup could get, at least under those warmer night temperatures.
More challenges awaited. Significant rain had fallen during the night. Fireflo knew that a stream crossing lay ahead that was normally quite high, and it would likely be in full out flood stage. We made a plan to hike out a road to avoid the potentially very dangerous ford.
|Overflowing stream after the storm.|
|Fireflo fording the creek.|
We finished off the trip with a satisfying lunch at the AYCE buffet at the Cheaha Mountain Restaurant. The gorgeous stone building was decorated for the holidays- including a Christmas tree with beer can ornaments. That sure was something else!
I hope to be back to the Pinhoti to finish the other sections someday- it was a great trail. It felt good to experience the satisfaction of facing challenges and enjoying the camaraderie of hiking with a kindred spirit. Overall, this was a fun and memorable trip.