Trip Report: Cheaha Wilderness Backpacking
We arrived at the Adams Gap Trailhead just after 8:00am Alabama time Saturday morning. The forecast was for beautiful weather and sunny skies. We unloaded the car, did one last pack weight check and headed over the the trailhead sign for a departure picture.
Greeting us at the sign was armadillo – belly side up and dead as a doornail. It was an odd place for that armadillo to be… with no signs of vehicular trauma. Just bizzare. We snapped a few group photos and headed out to tackle the Skyway Trail – a connection of several trails that make a complete 18 mile loop in the Talladega National Forest.
It was decided to hike the loop clockwise, as there were multiple creek crossings that we preferred to do while the weather was warm, as it was forecasted to be much cooler on Sunday. The trail started out beautiful and mellow, winding though long leaf pine forests, creeks and early spring wildflowers. The trail was poorly marked, with very few blazes there were a handful of times where we had to pull out our map and All Trails App to see exactly which direction to go. As the miles passed, the temperatures rose, getting into the 80’s as we hit the “Devils Den” and finally descending down to Cheaha Falls, where we would camp for the evening, completing a total of 9.6 miles for the day.
We quickly set up camp, then made our way over to the rocks on the edge of the stream to soak our hot feet, watching the dozens of day hikers that had also decided it was a beautiful day to be outside. Cheaha Falls can be accessed by a short hike from Turnipseed Campground and parking, just a short 2 mile hike. Besides the many day hikers and explores, we ended up sharing the falls with a rather large water moccasins (aka Cottonmouth) – a venomous snake that loves the water as well. The snake was comfortably situated within some rocks on the other side of the falls and although not the most ideal creature to share the space with, it was his home and we were merely visitors. We kept watch from the distance and bid him farewell when we headed back to camp.
Feeling refreshed, we gathered firewood, made our dinners and then spent the remainder of the evening enjoying conversation over a campfire while making “roasted chicken” (aka peeps on a stick over the fire). Campfire time is always such a wonderful way to wrap up and unwind after a long day of hiking.
Rain was forecasted for the overnight hours and about 1:00am the skies opened up and poured, and poured and poured – waking each of us up from our sleep, but we were tucked into our shelters making sure to stay dry. About 4:00am the lighting and thunder woke us up again and the temperatures plummeted – and we awoke the next morning to a freeze warning.
It was crazy – as just the day before it was in the 80’s and we were sweltering and now the morning it was in the 30’s and we were putting on our puffy jackets and hiking just to stay warm.
The trail on Sunday started out mellow, but the last mile before connecting with the Pinhoti Trail turned into a boulder filled hill climb, where the trail is hard to distinguish and hikers can easily get lost. Our pace slowed as we climbed and picked our way up the mountain. At the top we turned right and started hiking down the Pinhoti – which was blazed well with bright blue blazes. The trail followed the ridge – providing us with some beautiful (and very cold) sweeping views of the valley below. We then had to descend back down on yet another – and still very confusing boulder field, carefully picking our steps in order to not twist an ankle or break a trekking pole.
The last few miles of the hike were relatively mild, and we were making good time, but starting to get tired from the last two days of backpacking. The final challenge was a long hill climb back to the parking lot – but we all made it! From Adams Gap we made the quick drive up to Cheaha State Park office – where pints of ice cream and cold drinks filled our hands and refueled our bodies.
The weekend was a was filled with unexpected surprises – from our armadillo greeting, to water moccasins, hot sweating bodies to freezing cold temperatures. Sweeping views and bubbling mountain streams. Cheaha Wilderness never disappoints – but the best part is sharing the experience with our incredible WILD Women!