The PTA (Pinhoti Trail Alliance) has a wonderful trail guide that has proven invaluable, as the trail is poorly marked at times. The route laid out in the guide is the one that I have always taken, but be careful--water is extremely scarce throughout the first leg of the hike.
Meet Spindle, my regular companion on these outings. She is my brother's dog and, prior to his return to Alabama, she went hiking with me each and every weekend. These days, though, she is a bit out of shape. You see, her Achilles heel, so to speak, is her invariable loyalty. While my brother was in California, she was on the trail, always by my side each and every step. Since his return, she does what he does (a whole lot of nothing) and goes where he goes (from the couch to the refrigerator). As a result, she is no longer the spry explorer that she once was.
We got started hiking about noon, a bit later than I had anticipated. The sun was beating down heavily on us and the humidity was nearly unbearable. This made for a rough first leg, because, unfortunately, there are two down sides to beginning the loop in this direction. First, you have to climb nearly 1,000 feet up the Pinhoti over steep, switch-back rock gardens with tricky footing. This is the portion of the hike that many Pinhoti veterans refer to as the "Stairway to Heaven."
Have you ever heard the expression "You gotta go through Hell to get to Heaven?" Yeah? Well, it's true. It is a taxing climb. Secondly, and to make matters worse, water is extremely scarce here. Every stream that we crossed this time around was bone-dry. The effort, however, pays off... big time, as you make your way toward the distant white laurel, or as the guide puts it the "Pearly Gates."
What's more, once you make it to the top you will be rewarded with some of the most breath-taking views in the State, and a much deserved reprieve from the steep incline and grueling terrain. There are some great camp sites not too far from the peak with great views, fire rings, and peace and quiet. To the left is the entrance to my favorite camp along this ridge. Note: keep your eye out for turkey feathers, this area is littered with them. We set up camp, ate, and hit-the-sack before sundown. In the morning, our goal was to reach the Caney Head interchange, begin our descent from the ridge, refill our water at a reliable source on the Chinnabee, and set up camp just before the Skyway. This stretch accounts for a large portion of the mileage of the loop, but it is not nearly as demanding as the first leg. Along the way, there are some really great sights, so just keep a comfortable pace and take it all in.
We ate lunch at the Shelter and, after several road crossings, we camped beside this slow-moving creek. Be sure to watch out for ticks in this area: they are everywhere. The next morning we broke camp and began the last leg of the hike. The first time I hiked this loop was shortly after a controlled burn had taken place. I was surrounded by nothing but black much of the hike. It was just like being smack-dab in the middle of your favorite post-apocalyptic, sci-fi novel. Awesome. This time, however, there was plenty of green all-around, as we made our way to "Devil's Den." This, at least in my experience, is likely the only place that you will see others along the trail. You will cross a bridge above the rapids, with a good view of the "chaos below." Before you know it, you'll be right back where you started--Adam's Gap. All-in-all, this is one of the best weekend hikes for intermediate backpackers in Alabama. It is beautiful, challenging, and less than an hour from my house.