Feb 17, 2013 at 4:50 am #1299364
This last December and January I did a 5 week and 530 mile winter hiking trip in the Southern Appalachians. I combined a 130 mile section of the AT from Neel's Gap to Fontana Dam, an equally long section of the Benton MacKaye Trail from Fontana Dam to the Northern Pinhoti Trail terminus and the whole Georgia and Alabama Pinhoti Trail.
You can find the whole trip report including photos and lots of tips for future hikers here on my blog .
Although for me this hike has mostly been about testing my abilities and comfort zone on a winter hike I have discovered two gems: The Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) and the Alabama Pinhoti Trail.
I have thruhiked the AT and re-hiked 130 miles of it this year, but I must say that I much preferred the Benton MacKaye Trail that parallels the AT in this area. The AT is pretty much a long forested tunnel with very little views whereas the BMT is much more varied. On the BMT you have the ridgeline walking like on the AT, but also some fantastic and spectacular river walks. There are only 2 shelters and hardly any bridges on the BMT making it a more "adventureous" trail than the AT. You'll encounter plenty of (mostly easy) stream crossings and you'll need a tent. But you will hardly see anyone else on the BMT which is surprising – the BMT is still an insiders' tip.
The Alabama Pinhoti Trail was another postive surprise. It offers some very nice shelters, single file trail almost the entire way and an almost remote wilderness feeling – but there is hardly anyone out there. The Georgia Pinhoti is nice as well, but includes two twenty-mile road walks.
Bottom line: If you like the Southern Appalachians, there is more than the AT. The BMT and Pinhoti Trail offer great hiking opportunities. As the BMT parallels and crosses the AT there are plenty of loop hike possibilities .Feb 18, 2013 at 10:18 pm #1955880
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
I was reading through your blog. I know the South can stay water-logged in winter and saw where you were using a synthetic quilt. Was it pretty much dreary all trip or did you get at least a few sun days?Feb 19, 2013 at 12:38 am #1955913
I had a good mix of everything concerning the weather – plenty of snow, rain, but also several days of sunshine with glorious winter hiking! But the synthetic quilt was a life saver. Without it I would not have been able to endure the endless rain and condensation.Feb 19, 2013 at 9:57 am #1956013
Hey now- Let's keep the BMT praise to a minimum. I like that feeling of solitude. :)
RyanFeb 28, 2013 at 8:15 am #1959668
Tipi WalterBPL Member
I thought of you as I just got back from another long trip in the Cohutta wilderness and did 3 miles on the Pinhoti trail which took me to Buddy Cove Gap and a back way roadwalk to 3 Forks Mt and into the Cohutta. The Georgia portion of the Pinhoti is ruined in my opinion by bicycle riders.
Here's where the BMT joins the end of the Pinhoti trail and right past is a nice South Fork creek crossing of the Jacks River.Feb 28, 2013 at 12:07 pm #1959749
I hiked the Georgia Pinhoti shortly after Snake Trail Race, a big MTB race held in January, February and March on the Pinhoti. Sadly, as a result the trail was full of litter. The racers had just tossed the packaging of their energy gels and other garbage. But I also met one of the race organizers who was already cleaning up after them. I met a lot of bikers on the Georgia Pinhoti and strangely enough most of them at night when they were training for the next race after work. Most of the Pinhoti is on single file trail and I felt really threatened by some bikers who came racing down the trail. I had just seconds to jump off the trail and let them pass. Still, trail erosion due to MTB use is minimal on the Pinhoti.
But I must say that the Georgia Pinhoti is really geared towards cyclists and not towards hikers. Trail crew remove any obstacle from the trail like blow down trees so that the cyclists can pass. There are no shelters on the Georgia Pinhoti because the cyclists don't need them. I wondered about that bike orientation and asked the president of the Georgia Pinhoti about it whom I met on the trail doing maintenance. His answer was very surprising: Almost all Georgia Pinhoti Trail volunteers are bikers. Hikers in Georgia tend to volunteer on the much more popular – leaving only MTB people to work on the Pinhoti. And these of course form the trail according to their needs.
Overall the MTB's did not spoil the hiking experience for me, but I still prefer the Alabama Pinhoti that is 100% geared towards hikers.
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