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[ft-l] Trip report - Pine Mountain Trail - long

This past weekend I, along with 4 FTA friends, hiked the
Pine Mountain Trail in west central GA .  What a nice trail!
It has enough ups and downs to provide a varied terrain and
change of ecosystems, but not enough to put too hard a hurt
on the leg muscles of Florida Flatlanders.  So if you are
looking for a trail within a day's drive that is not quite
as strenuous as the AT but allows you to stretch your
muscles and see some lovely views, check out the Pine
Mountain Trail.

We drove up Thursday night after work and grabbed a few
hours sleep at the Days Inn in Pine Mountain, GA.  At 8 am
Friday morning we were waiting for the ranger station in FDR
State Park to open so we could sign up for our campsites.
There we met Carl, a local trail maintainer and our shuttle
driver.  With the paperwork taken care of, I dropped the
packs and the other 4 hikers off at the Country Store where
the trail begins then Carl and I drove around to the east
end of the park and dropped my truck while the others had
breakfast.  Carl drove me back to the Country Store and we
were on the trail by 9:30.

The first 4 miles were basically spent climbing up the
ridgeline, but the trail is nicely graded and slabs the side
of the ridge until just below the ranger station.  From
there the trail has very little elevation change compared to
the AT. The rest of the trail is pretty gentle ups and downs
as the trail follows the contours of the land.  At times the
trail dips down to follow small creeks, at other times it
climbs to cross boulders giving you nice views of the
valleys below.  Sometimes the trail is on the southern side
of the ridge, sometimes it crosses the road that follows the
spine of the ridge through the park and you hike on the
western side.

Our first night was spent at Big Knot Camp about 8 miles in,
and we had it all to ourselves (the park registration system
assures that no more than 15 people are in each camp area at
a time). A pretty little stream served as the water supply
for the camp. After the long drive up and little sleep the
night before, we were in our sleeping bags not long after
the sun went down.

Saturday morning we hiked from Big Knot to Dowdell Knob
Picnic Area for lunch - about 6.5 miles.  Again the trail
was full of moderate ups and downs.  The recent heavy rains
in GA had knocked most of the blooms from the Dogwood trees
and wild azalea, but there were still glimpses of color amid
the spring-green of the budding trees.  A couple of
beautiful boulder overlooks and trailside patches of tiny
wildflowers completed the pleasure.

The Dowdell Knob Picnic Area was a favorite site for FDR
when he stayed at nearby Warm Springs (also a part of the
state park).  Our cheese and crackers eaten from zip-lock
baggies may not have equaled his repasts of grilled trout
served on bone china and champagne in crystal glasses, but
we enjoyed the rest and views every bit as much as he did,
I'm sure.

The only thing lacking in the several picnic areas offer by
the park is water.  Not a spigot or water fountain in site!
Since it had turned warm on Saturday we were all down to our
last 1/2 liter when we packed up lunch and hit the trail
again.  Fortunately, the map showed a creek within 2 miles
and it turned out to be lovely, cold, splashing brook.  We
filtered water enough to make it to our campsite and soaked
bandanas and feet.

Our destination for the night was Sassafras Hill Camp.
Again, a clear little creek served as the water source altho
the PMTA says the creek is not reliable in dry seasons.
Since it was Saturday night, we shared the camp with a small
Boy Scout troop and a father-son duo - all of whom had hiked
in the 1/3 mile from the road and trailhead.  They were all
already enscounced when we arrived, but we found nice tent
and hammock sites off to the side in amongst the trees.  It
had been a long day for us of 10.5 miles and the weather had
turned quite hot during the afternoon, but we managed to
stay up a bit longer that evening to chat over dinner and
watch the moon and stars come out. I drifted off to sleep
listening to the Boy Scout leaders quietly telling their
teenaged charges how important it was to stay in school and
go on to get a good education in college or technical school
(the real purpose of their outing, no doubt).

Sunday morning I was up earlier than the others.  Since I'm
a slow 2-mph hiker I hit the trail while the others were
just starting to pack up from breakfast.  So I had the trail
to myself for the first 2 miles or so and was treated to the
sight of 7 deer fleeing through the open woods.  More
wildflowers along the trail slowed my pace further and I ran
into two local men who hike the trail frequently and who
were able to tell me about the treats in store for us just

For we had saved the best for last - the final 2 miles of
trail follows Cascade Branch then Wolfden Branch.  Here the
hiking was much like that of the AT around Laurel Falls in
north GA.  Thick rhododendron forest with mountain laurel
bursting into bud (we were about a week early for their full
glory), the sound of water over rock and lovely waterfalls
to grace the eye.  The others caught up to me as I
approached Cascade Falls, the first and largest drop. The
temperature dropped 15 degrees as we slipped into the fall's
bowl and for a blessed 45 minutes we had the fall and
surrounding cliffs all to ourselves.   Three more smaller
falls provided photo ops over the remaining 2 miles that led
us to my truck at the eastern end of the 23-mile trail.  We
passed many day hikers headed west to view the falls as we
reached the trailhead at noon.

You can get more information on the Pine Mountain Trail at
their website  http://www.pinemountaintrail.org

Lodging is available at nearby Pine Mountain, GA and in
Columbus.  There is also a full-service campground in the
park.  No hunting is allowed so the trail is open
year-round.  The trail is for foot travel only and I didn't
see any evidence of other users/abusers.  Camping is by
permit only on a first-come, first-get basis and permits
must be obtained from the FDR park office (4 miles north of
the western end of the trail). Cost for trail camping is $3
per person per night plus $2 for a vehicle pass. Shuttles
can be arranged through the park office or through the PMTA.
All campsites except Sassafras Hill have year-round reliable
water sources and there are 13 campsites along the 23-mile
trail.  If you can manage to hike this trail during the
week, you will probably have it pretty much to yourself. Two
to 2-1/2 days makes for a nice thru-hike, but spend a little
more time if you can.  There is plenty to see.