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hiking the pinhoti.

The Talladega Daily Home
by David Atchison
Aug 28, 2010

pinhoti trail.

The three hikers live to the north, south and west of where they all 
gathered early on a Saturday morning, all attracted by the mountain’s beauty, solitude 
and natural wonders.

They say it’s the love of the outdoors that continues to draw them to the 130-mile Pinhoti 
Trail, nestled in east Alabama.

The Pinhoti is a hiking trail that ambles north to south through the Talladega National 
Forest between Piedmont in Cleburne County and Sylacauga in southern Talladega County.

“People come from all over the country to hike this trail,” said Tom Coffield with the 
Appalachian Trail Club of Alabama.

Coffield, who has hiked the entire trail about five times and certain sections more times 
than he can remember, says the Pinhoti attracts hikers because it is off the main hiking 
thoroughfare.

Unlike the well-known Appalachian Trial that stretches from Georgia to Maine, the Pinhoti 
is something of a secret treasure, and hikers from across the country who travel to east 
Alabama to walk it want to keep it that way.

Coffield, 62, of Birmingham said the Pinhoti is less traveled than the Appalachian Trail.

“If you blindfolded someone and put them in the middle of the Pinhoti Trail, they could not 
tell you if they were on the Pinhoti or the Appalachian Trail,” Coffield said. “It’s every bit 
as beautiful as the Appalachian Trail.”

He said hikers actually feel more like they’re in a remote wilderness when hiking the 
Pinhoti.

“I’ve never been on the Appalachian Trail where I didn’t see someone every day that I 
hiked,” Coffield said. “On the Pinhoti, you can hike for days without seeing someone.”

trail maintenance.
The Appalachian Trail Club of Alabama, of which Coffield is a member, is one of a handful 
of organizations that helps maintain the Pinhoti Trail.

Howard Gilham, 56, of Winston County, president of the Appalachian Trail Club, said 
members try to work on the trail once a month during the spring and fall months. The 
group also works on the trail during some of the warmer winter days.

“Nobody from our group is forced to work on the trail,” Gilham said. “It’s an all-volunteer 
thing. We have some members who never work on the trail and others who work on the 
trail all the time. In our club, nobody judges. You have to want to do it.”

Coffield and Gilham say they donate their time and labor to the Pinhoti Trail because they 
want to give back to the trail that has provided them with many wonderful memories.

Gilham said the Pinhoti is a natural resource that is worth any effort to keep.

The Pinhoti, he noted, joins the Benton MacKaye Trail in Georgia, which connects to the 
Appalachian Trail.

During Gilham’s recent hike along the Pinhoti, he made mental notes as to where the club 
needed to cut away trees that had fallen across the trail since spring, the last time the 
club worked on the hiking path.

“We don’t work on the trail during the summer,” Gilham said. “It’s just too hot.”

The summer growth covered a portion of the trail, but that growth will become more 
manageable as fall approaches.

Gilham said the Appalachian Trail Club of Alabama maintains about 55 miles of the Pinhoti 
Trail in the Shoal Creek District of the Talladega National Forest.

The Talladega and Shoal Creek districts have 230 miles of hiking trails, said Lesley 
Hodge, natural resource specialist for the U.S. Forest Service, Shoal Creek District. She 
said it would be impossible for her agency to maintain the Pinhoti Trail without the help of 
devoted volunteers.

Not only do local hiking clubs and groups help maintain the trails within the Talladega and 
Shoal Creek districts, but other civic groups, including local troops of Boy Scouts and Girl 
Scouts, maintain certain sections of the national forest trail system.

Hodge said the trail system may get even bigger before long. The Pinhoti Trail currently 
extends from Piedmont to Bulls Gap, just south of Talladega, but there are plans to 
extend it another 10 miles, along Rebecca Mountain and through Hollins Wildlife 
Management Area.

the hike.
Gilham and the two other hikers unloaded their packs from the bed of a pickup truck.

The trio planned an overnight eight-mile trek from the Coleman Lake Trailhead to the 
Pine Glen Recreation Area, which is in the Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area, part of 
the Talladega National Forest.

The management area is known for its abundance of wildlife, including deer and turkey.

“Pinhoti” is derived from the Creek Indian language and translates as “turkey home.”

The three hikers were surrounded by tall longleaf pines as they began their hike. The 
Coleman Lake Trailhead is in a designated area for the endangered red-cockaded 
woodpecker, which needs old-growth timber.

The Pinhoti is a “blue-blazed trail,” meaning trees along the way are marked with blue 
paint to help hikers stay on the trail. Certain areas of the trail also have turkey-track 
markers.

Some trees are marked with white paint; Hodge said these are not trail markers but 
trees with cavities where the red-cockaded woodpecker has or is setting up house.

“A lot of bird watchers travel this trail because of the variety of birds,” Hodge said.

She said the trail rambles through a variety of habitats.

“The trail goes through two wilderness areas and two wildlife-management areas,” Hodge 
said.

The three hikers sprayed themselves with insect repellent to shield against the likes of 
chiggers, mosquitoes and ticks, which can sometimes be a problem in the woods. They gave 
particular attention to legs and ankles, likely areas where red bugs could latch onto a 
hiker.

Lynn Odom, 51, of Gardendale and Patty Hackett, 47, of Prattville joked about who would 
lead the group through the woods, unwittingly clearing the path of spider webs.

It was overcast when the group left the trailhead, but the sun peeked through the clouds 
sporadically during their morning jaunt.

The hikers planned a four-mile hike to Laurel Shelter, one of seven shelters along the 
Pinhoti Trail.

Coffield said he was uncertain how Laurel Shelter got its name, but he guessed it was 
named after the abundance of mountain laurel alongside the creek that is only a stone’s 
throw away from the wooden shelter, a place where hikers can get out of a storm, sleep 
or eat.

Gilham said their plan was to set up camp there and cover the last four miles of their hike 
early Sunday.

the hikers.
Hackett, who has a master’s degree in fine arts, is a unit director for the Boys and Girls 
Club in Montgomery.

When she’s not taking her kids camping, she’s camping and hiking with her adult friends.

“I’m the only one who will take them camping,” Hackett said. “A lot of those kids never 
camped before.”

She also enjoys fishing and introduces many of her children to that outdoor activity as 
well.

“Anything to get them into the environment,” she said.

Hackett, who has hiked for the past 14-15 years, led most of the way Saturday and 
Sunday, but it’s obvious she is not on any timetable.

She wears no watch, at least not when she’s hiking.

“I don’t want to think about time when I’m out here,” she said. “I just want to enjoy 
myself.”

She has hiked the entire Pinhoti Trail. She has also hiked other well-known trails, 
including the Appalachian Trial and trails in Yellow Stone National Park and the Grand 
Teton National Park.

Hackett said the Pinhoti Trial is a good training ground for those who are considering 
hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Her favorite part of the Pinhoti is along Dugger Mountain, near Piedmont. That part of the 
Pinhoti and the Cheaha Mountain region of the trail are considered some of the most 
challenging parts of the Pinhoti.

Odom, who works in the Radiology Department at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, is a 
relative newcomer to the hiking world.

“I found this group searching the Internet,” she said.

Odom went on a hike in early spring and has been hiking with members of the Appalachian 
Trail Club of Alabama since.

“I’ve hiked with different groups,” she said. “I’ve been on three overnights, and I don’t 
know how many day hikes I’ve been on.”

Odom said she hiked part of the Pinhoti Trail for the first time this past spring.

“I’m in it to enjoy the outdoors,” she said. “I would like to say that I have hiked the 
entire (Pinhoti) trail, and I guess there is a desire to hike the Appalachian Trail. I’m 51, so 
I don’t know if I will do the whole thing, but this is a good starting point for me.”

Gilham said he started hiking while stationed in Europe with the U.S. Army. He began his 
hiking ventures in the Swiss Alps.

“I’ve been with the club for the past 15 years, but I’ve only been active in it for the last 
10 years,” he said.

Gilham said his love of the outdoors, camping and hiking came from his stay at a children’s 
home. A social worker, Frank Bailey, introduced him to the outdoors when he was 12 or 13 
years old.

He drives by Bankhead National Forest in North Alabama to hike the Pinhoti Trail.

“Up there, you have to hike loop trails,” Gilham said. “(The Pinhoti) is a continuous walk-
through trail.”

shoal creek church.
After they had traveled about two miles, the group saw a large brown sign along the trail.

Behind the sign was a cemetery, and on the other side of the cemetery was a log cabin.

Actually, the log cabin was Shoal Creek Church, one of six hewn-log churches remaining in 
Alabama.

Gilham, Odom and Hackett removed their backpacks, sipped water and walked down to 
the century-old church, which gained a listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 
1974.

“My granddaddy was one of the builders,” Joe Jones, 79, said later from his Huntsville 
residence. “My daddy was his oldest son, but he was too young to help build the church. He 
would carry water to the builders.”

Jones said the church was built in 1885-1890.

He said Shoal Creek Church is used for weddings and family reunions of descendants of 
the people who built the church.

“There are eight to 10 weddings held there every year,” Jones said. “It’s open to the 
public.”

Once a year, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, people gather at the historic log church 
for Sacred Harp singing.

“We have a houseful,” said Jones, who is the secretary and treasurer of the Shoal Creek 
Church Preservation Society Board.

He said the area around the church, now surrounded by the Talladega National Forest, 
was once a thriving community but by the 1920s, “the population had pretty much moved 
out.”

He said the church congregation quit having regular Sunday services in 1914.

“It’s been without a congregation ever since,” Jones said.

Most of the graves in the church cemetery only have rock markers — no dates or names. 
But a couple of stone markers have names and dates from the 1800s and early 1900s.

The group of hikers headed back down the trail after their short visit to Shoal Creek 
Church. A boom of thunder in the distance told them a rain storm was moving closer.

When the hikers were still about a mile from Laurel Shelter, the clouds turned dark and 
rain began to pour from the sky.

Hackett stopped on the water-filled trail, turned and waited for her companions to catch 
up. Rainwater rolled from her cheeks.

“This is God’s air conditioner,” she said.

laurel shelter.
By the time the group reached Laurel Shelter, the rain had subsided.

The outdoor shelter provided a place to rest, eat and relax. It is next to a creek that 
provided fresh drinking water — after it was filtered and purified.

Although the shelter provides a place to sleep, the three hikers chose to set up their own 
tents to rest for the evening.

Clouds remained overhead throughout the night. Thunder rumbled in the far distance, but 
there was no overnight rain. It was pitch black in the deep hollow where the three hikers 
slept.

Gilham, Hackett and Odom were up and cooking breakfast shortly after daybreak Sunday. 
By midmorning, the three had packed up their belongings and begun the final leg of their 
journey, crossing creeks, streams and walking along the sides of mountains.

The hike took them around Sweetwater Lake, where they took a short break before the 
final two to three miles of their journey.

Only a few hundred yards away from the Pine Glen Recreation Area, the sun finally 
showed itself, ending what the three hikers considered a perfect overnight hiking 
venture.

Gilham admits hiking is not for everyone, but for him and others who travel the Pinhoti 
Trail, it’s an adventure they enjoy sharing. But the overnight hikes also provide enough 
quality time for themselves.

Gilham lagged far enough behind the two women that he walked alone. There were no 
phones, no cars, no people and no hurry. He only heard, saw and experienced what nature 
had to offer along the Pinhoti Trail that Sunday. He was at peace with himself and with 
the world.

“I like the solitude on top of the mountain,” Gilham said. “I call it my therapy.”

think light when hiking.
A good read by David Atchison
Aug 28, 2010

The three backpackers removed food from their packs, sat down on the 
Laurel Shelter’s wooden floor and began talking while eating lunch.

Inevitably, their conversation turned to hiking, camping and backpacking equipment — 
“thinking light,” they called it.

When backpackers plan a hike, their thoughts always turn to the pounds and ounces they 
carry on their backs.

“You learn to keep your weight down,” said Lynn Odom, 51, of Birmingham, who only 
started backpacking last spring.

The heaviest item found in a backpacker’s pack usually is water.

“Water is a lot of weight to carry,” Odom said.

A small container of water could weigh up to three pounds, while a three-liter container of 
water weighs about seven pounds.

That’s why backpackers only carry enough water to drink along the trail they travel. When 
they reach their camping destination, water to cook and drink usually comes from nearby 
creeks or rivers. And, of course, the water is filtered or purified before use.

Hikers think “light” with every piece of gear they place inside their light-weight packs. 
From sleeping bags to tents to stoves to food, weight is a contributing factor as to what 
stays home and what is carried along the trail.

Gear — or the weight of that gear — is crucial to a hiker’s enjoyment.

Generally, hikers limit their pack weight to 30-45 pounds. Some hikers carry less, others 
carry more, depending on the length of the trip and where they are hiking.

“During the summer months, I carry between 30 and 35 pounds,” said Howard Gilham, 56, 
of Winston County. “In the winter, you’re carrying more clothes and the weight could go up 
to 40 pounds, but I’m comfortable with 35 pounds.”

Gilham is president of the Appalachian Trail Club of Alabama, which helps maintain about 
55 miles of the Pinhoti Trail, stretching from Piedmont in Cleburne County to Sylacauga in 
southern Talladega County.

Gilham said he won’t skimp on equipment to the point where there are safety concerns, 
adding that he always carries extra food and a first-aid kit on his hikes.

But before rushing to the local outdoors store to purchase ultra-light backpacking 
equipment for an overnight hike along the Pinhoti Trail, there are a few things to know.

“Don’t spend the money until you are sure this is what you want to do,” Gilham said.

He said people can rent some backbacking equipment from outfitters, but hiking groups 
are a valuable resource to those new to the sport.

The Appalachian Trail Club introduces people to the world of hiking and backpacking. The 
group meets the first Monday of each month at the Alabama Outdoors store, 3054 
Independence Drive, Homewood, just off U.S. 31, and the second Sunday if the first 
Sunday falls on a holiday.

“Not everybody is cut out for hiking,” Gilham said. “They sometimes underestimate the 
trail and overestimate their ability.”

He said there is a wide variety of backpacking gear to choose from, so a piece of 
equipment that might be ideal for one person is not necessarily right for another.

Gilham said everyone is different, so it’s best to actually see the various types of 
equipment for yourself and to learn what other experienced hikers have to say about 
their own equipment.

For example, some hikers swear by the goose-down sleeping bag. It’s extremely 
lightweight, and some down sleeping bags can compact smaller than the size of a football, 
which means the sleeping bag doesn’t take up much space inside a backpack.

However, “if it gets wet, it loses every bit of its heating capabilities,” Gilham said.

Other hikers prefer synthetic sleeping bags, which can withstand wet weather better 
than down sleeping bags. Synthetic sleeping bags can keep a person warm even when the 
bag is damp, but synthetic bags pack larger and generally weigh more than down sleeping 
bags with similar temperature ratings.

Gilham said members of the Appalachian Trail Club of Alabama can help backpacking 
novices decide what equipment is best by providing information on the pros and cons of 
specific equipment.

He suggests that novices wait until after actually going on at least one overnight 
backpacking trip with experienced backpackers before purchasing their own equipment.

“We can loan them equipment to get them through their first hike,” Gilham said. “You’re 
either going to love it or hate it.”

Patty Hackett, 47, of Prattville, also a member of the Appalachian Trial Club of Alabama, 
said it’s best to hike the Pinhoti Trail with more experienced backpackers.

She said it’s easy to wander off certain areas of the Pinhoti. Some areas of the trail are 
not as clearly marked as the portion of the trail they were hiking on this trip.

Hackett said if someone does attempt to hike a trail alone, hike the most popular, well-
marked portion of the trail. That way if an accident happens, it’s more likely someone 
would come along who could offer assistance.

A good map and compass are important, as well as knowing how to use the two together.

Lesley Hodge, natural resource specialist for the U.S. Forest Service, said maps of the 
Pinhoti Trail are available at district offices. Five maps are available, each showing a 
different section of the trail.

Hodge also offered some safety tips for anyone hiking the Pinhoti or any other trail:

“Make sure you take water anytime you’re out in the woods,” she said.

It’s also important to inform someone where you are hiking and camping before you leave 
home and when to expect your return, Hodge said.

“Take a buddy hiking with you,” she said, adding that hikers must have a permit to camp 
overnight along the Pinhoti Trail during the hunting season.

Hikers are asked to camp at designated shelters or at least 200 feet away from the 
actual trail or any water source.

“We encourage, ‘Leave no trace,’” Hodge said.

For more information about the Pinhoti Trail, contact the local district office of the U.S. 
Forest Service.

For more information about hiking and backpacking or joining the Appalachian Trail Club of 
Alabama, contact Tom Coffield at tcoffield@pinhoti.org.

The Appalachian Trail Club of Alabama also has a website at www.pinhoti.org.


^ climb up.