The Pin-Chin-Sky Loop is a beautiful, yet challenging experience that includes significant elevation gain and loss along with technical terrain. There are some breaks from the challenge, of course, and those include calm stretches of shady forest along creeks, and our nemesis, long stretches of overgrown grassy trail.
As with any seasoned hikers, our major concern within these areas are snakes. This is the Southeastern US, of course… it’s snake country, Y’all!
I’ve always viewed ticks as more of a subject of disdain than anything really life-threatening. I mean, logically I know the potential is there for Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, general infection, etc. Tick paralysis never really crossed our minds.
When it came to any actual perceived risk, though, my rose-colored glasses were always on. Our experience over the past weekend changed everything!
Our backpacking trip started with a night at Turnipseed Campground on Sunday 7/29 so we could get an early start leaving from Adams Gap on 7/30. Everything went off without a hitch (just kidding, but that’s for another post). 12 miles on the 30th and another 11 on the 31st, and we were exhausted and back at the car, heading home.
The real story begins.
Based on the number of ticks we had pulled off of ourselves during the trip, I knew I’d have my work cut out for me with these little long-haired dogs once we got back home. I checked both of them every night after work, and pulled off more ticks than I can count from each dog. It’s a bad season for them, from what I understand.
Just to provide a little background information: each dog has worn a Seresto collar since April, which places the collar well within its functional limits of 8 months. This collar, although aimed at flea control (for which it has been flawless on both dogs), is also indicated for tick control. I thought I’d give it a shot this year, since Frontline Plus no longer works for either of the dogs, and my vet has told me on more than one occasion that it is simply ineffective these days.
Porter cannot tolerate Nexgard at all, so I took that option off the table and went for the Seresto. Since both are senior dogs, I always hesitate to try something new on them, but both have tolerated the collar very well, so I decided to just be extra vigilant on tick picking after each trip.
After this particular trip, I noticed that roughly 40% of the ticks I found on Porter were already dead. That’s not great, but for a dog that has already had an adverse reaction to Nexgard, it’s acceptable. For Hagrid, it was a different story. Maybe 20% of the ticks I found on him were dead. At the rate I pulled ticks off of these dogs, that’s really not good. The rest of the week was normal as can be, until it wasn’t.
Timeline of our experience.
I got up as usual to get ready for work. The dogs went out and I noticed that Hagrid looked a little wobbly. This is unusual, despite him being nearly 16 years old. Then again, we did complete the toughest hike he’s been a part of just a few days prior- I chalked it up to delayed onset muscle soreness.
I got a call from Jack saying that the unsteadiness had rapidly progressed to stumbling and loss of balance. Panicked, I went home immediately to find an emergency vet, as my usual office is an hour away and is closed after 12:30 on Saturdays.
We found a highly rated emergency vet and Hagrid got an exam and bloodwork. All bloodwork came back completely normal. The vet briefly discussed tick paralysis (and found 3-4 ticks during the exam), but diagnosed Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. This is a disorder that is somewhat common in old dogs, and affects the inner ear to the extent that the dog has trouble maintaining balance. The condition normally resolves itself within 4-5 days. They sent us home with an anti-nausea medication and we were instructed to let him rest.
Hagrid has never really been one to lose appetite, and he ate and drank and took his pill without issue that night. He still looked pretty wobbly, but the symptoms didn’t seem to progress.
The next day
Hagrid was completely unable to stand. There was no muscle tone, and when I picked him up it was like picking up a 20-pound wet noodle. He wouldn’t accept water and would barely eat a treat- this, of course, was VERY unusual.
I called the emergency vet, who recommended bringing Hagrid back to keep him overnight until the neurologist returned Monday and could give a neurological exam/tests. We hemmed and hawed on this for a bit, because honestly, what are they going to be able to tell us without the neurologist there?
I was an absolute mess. Jack reminded me of the possibility of tick paralysis and encouraged me to keep looking. I said “But the vets already looked for them! They found a few, I’m sure that’s all that were left. I think he’s dying.” I had a good cry and tried to prepare myself for the worst.
I figured what the hell, I’ll try to find some ticks… really go over this dog head to toe, and then do it again, and again. I got the comb and tweezers out and started checking.
The real-deal, Hail Mary tick checking is done. 11 more ticks in a Ziploc bag to take to my regular vet on Monday, just in case he can test them or do something. I found 4 of them just between his toes! How could I have missed so many when I had been looking every day?
Time for another serious check, just in case…. this one turned up nothing. I removed his Seresto collar, on the off chance that it could have caused neurological side effects after 4 months- another Hail Mary.
Hagrid started drinking water for the first time since Saturday, and even ate a half portion of his dinner. I pulled him up to a sitting position, and his front legs were strong enough to support his weight for a few seconds. This doesn’t sound like much, but it was a huge improvement!
The third tick check of the day revealed a big nasty one on the back of his left leg, close to the base of his tail. Once again, I was shocked that I missed it after multiple head to toe checks. Into the bag it went.
Hagrid crawled about 2 feet across the bed to get a french fry. I was ecstatic!
Hagrid stood up on his own! I carried him down the deck stairs to pee outside, and he even took a few steps. Great sign! He went to bed in his favorite closet shortly after.
As Hagrid is profoundly deaf, I tapped him to wake him up for morning pee time. To my surprise, he got right up, walked down the stairs, and did all his business, with no help!
Finally, my regular vet was able to see Hagrid! By this time, I had no doubt that his actual diagnosis would be tick paralysis, but I wanted him to get a checkup anyway because research told me that tick paralysis can cause heart arrhythmia.
I had a Ziploc bag of 12 nasty ticks, just in case, but as I suspected it would have been prohibitively expensive to send them for analysis so they weren’t needed. My vet listened to Hagrid’s heart and confirmed that there was no arrhythmia.
I described the backpacking trip, and my vet was shocked that such an old guy could tough it out for 23 miles! He actually said that Hagrid is one of the healthiest 15-year-old dogs he has ever seen.
I left with a 7 month supply of Nexgard (Hagrid has had it before and tolerated it well, Porter will stick to Seresto for now), and an off-label use of Capstar. This is officially indicated only for fleas, but may help with any remaining ticks. I’d say that I got them all, but if this awful experience has taught me anything, it’s that you never really know.
As I’m writing this post, we’ve been home from the vet for about 5 hours now. Hagrid has begged for Popeye’s chicken, snuck out of the garage to meet the new neighbor children, and just generally been his wonderful pain-in-the-ass self.
I will never again underestimate the potential nastiness of a tick bite, in dogs OR humans. Please remember to ALWAYS check your dog, and yourself for ticks. This includes between the toes and around the pads!
If you have a dog that is able to tolerate Nexgard (dogs generally do very well on this, I just have a rare exception with Porter), it is definitely worth the cost for the peace of mind.
If your dog does NOT tolerate Nexgard or other preventatives, consider buying a dose of Capstar after your tick-infested hike just in case- it is indicated for fleas only, so tick control is technically off-label use, but my vet says that it can help with ticks as well. At any rate, it’s 12 bucks.
And humans- tick paralysis is very rare, but can happen to us too! Be vigilant and be safe! Tick paralysis in humans is most common in children and for some reason, young girls are the most susceptible.
Carters Lake is the deepest lake in Georgia, with a depth of over 450 feet and an average depth of 200 feet. The lake is approximately 3,200 acres and has 62 miles of shoreline. The Army Corp of Engineers owns Carters Lake, so this lake has no private residences on the shoreline. The lake’s dam is the highest earthen dam east of the Mississippi River and was completed in 1977.
The Coosawattee River which forms Carters Lake was at one time revered as having the best whitewater in the southeast. In fact, it is the river that inspired, Tom Dickey’s novel Deliverance, which was later adapted into a screenplay and made into a movie.
This is a young, beautiful lake and fortunately not very popular. Though there are no private residences on the lake, there is a marina and a few campgrounds. From what we saw, the private campgrounds are more geared toward R/V use. We stayed in the boat in/Hike in primitive camping area on the north side of the lake, east of the dam.
The boat in primitive campground was our destination for this trip (you can also hike in). We chose to launch our kayaks from the public boat ramp near Woodring Branch Campground. There is a fee of five dollars per day for day use and camping. We stopped and paid our fee and off to the boat ramp we went. We saw some Mexican guys fishing there and gave them some advice about buying kayaks. The guy I was talking to said that he “needs to make a white friend because we are crazy.” Apparently, his buddy couldn’t swim and was afraid of the water. After a little more banter we got our kayaks packed with our gear, loaded up the dogs and launched the boats.
It was a nice and peaceful 1.5-mile paddle across the lake to the peninsula where the campground was. There were some power boats out on the lake and some other kayakers as well, but not an overwhelming amount of traffic.
We landed the kayaks at the first spot that we saw and explored the campground for possible sites. As it turns out, the one we landed at was the one most suited for us. There was one other person camping at the campground, and they were on the opposite side of the peninsula.
The campground here is very well kept and has twelve sites with great amenities. Each site is lakeside and has a lantern post, grill, picnic table, fire ring, tent pad and a trash can. There are also two outhouses stocked with toilet paper. Marcie and I refer to this as luxury camping. (we do a lot of backpacking) However, it was a challenge finding a spot to hang our hammocks side by side, but we made it work. If you don’t need to be side by side, disregard the last sentence.
This is a great place to get away if you have a kayak or canoe. You can also hike two miles into the campground on the Amadahy LoopTrail. I don’t know how much traffic this campground gets on the weekends because we got there on a Sunday afternoon. When we were checking out the other campsites, only a few looked like they had been used recently. Being that the only way in other than boat is a two-mile hike, I imagine that limits the number of visitors this place sees. It probably also helped that the kids were already back in school when we took this trip in late September.
Just A Nice Relaxing Place
If I had three thumbs, they would all be pointing up for Carters Lake Boat-In Campground. As I mentioned earlier, there was some traffic on the lake, but nothing obnoxious. Just people out fishing on pontoon boats and pulling the kids around on those things you pull kids on behind boats. We talked to some other kayakers who passed by about the campsites. They were in awe of the setup as well and said that they were definitely coming back to do their own little camping trip there.
Like most campgrounds, the availability of firewood was pretty lacking close to the campsites. I had to get in the kayak and paddle across the cove outside of the camping area to find some. The trip wasn’t long, just far enough away from where most people are willing to walk to gather firewood. Once I landed the kayak and got on the trail, (which is actually a service road) I didn’t even need to leave the path to find some suitable wood to cook our dinner. It did require a little sawing and chopping with my tomahawk and manual chainsaw to be able to load it into the kayak, but it wasn’t too much work. If you have the right tools, it really doesn’t take much wood to make a nice cooking fire.
After splitting the wood I had gathered, it was time to light the fire and make some dinner. Our camp dinner that night was Johnsonville cheddar and jalapeno sausages cooked over open flames. We brought some Bush’s honey beans as well, but after three sausages a piece, we had no room left for the beans.
Rest and Relaxation
By the time dinner was done and cleaning up, it was time for some serious relaxation. The time had come to lay in our hammocks and take in the sounds of Carters Lake along with some audio files from our phones.
The lake was pretty peaceful, although, there were a few boats out and I heard some music coming from the marina. The music wasn’t really loud and if I recall correctly, it was classic rock, and it stopped when I turned our lantern off. I’m guessing that whoever was playing the music was aware that we were out there camping and respected that we were trying to enjoy some quiet time.
While I was laying there in my hammock I could hear the occasional fish breaking the surface of the water. The splashes were pretty loud, so I imagine they were some pretty big fish. I just laid there and listened to the ripple of the water and occasional bird singing and eventually drifted off to sleep to the peace and quiet of the night.
A New Day
We slept in until about eight and rolled out of our hammocks to get the coffee going. I brought the percolator with me, so we actually got to have real coffee on this trip. We usually have to settle for instant on our backpacking trip. It gets the job done, but it tastes like, well, you know what it tastes like. After getting thoroughly caffeinated, I worked up an appetite by splitting a little more wood, so we could cook our breakfast.
For breakfast, I started a fire on the grill with the little bit of wood that I gathered the day before and split that morning. I got some good coals going and it was time to cook. The menu consisted of some chorizo, black beans, eggs, Mexican melting cheese, and tortillas. We love breakfast burritos!
While cooking breakfast I heard a motorized vehicle and saw that it was the maintenance crew on their Gator. They came by and emptied the trash and we spoke with them for a few minutes. They told us that they come out twice a week on Monday and Thursday to empty the trash, clean up and restock the outhouses.
After breakfast, we cleaned the dishes and, Marcie decided to do a little lounging in her hammock. While she was enjoying her relaxation time, I decided to practice a little tree identification with my Peterson Field Guide on eastern trees.
Unfortunately, the time came to pack up and leave our little paradise. We got everything packed up onto our boats and said goodbye to the campground. The paddle back to the boat ramp was super peaceful and there was almost nobody on Carters Lake that day. Hagrid even decided that he was going to walk the plank and take a dip.
Carters Lake is a great place to kick back and relax for a short overnight, weekend, or even a week. The primitive campground is open year round and with a fee of only $5 per day to park, you just can’t beat this place.
You can pack plenty of supplies into a kayak or canoe to make your stay as comfortable as you want. If you don’t have a boat, the two-mile hike makes it pretty easy to access for backpacking as well. Since the trail in is really a service road, I imagine that if you had one of those wagons with the big off-road tires, you could bring a lot more gear. (just a thought)
Carters Lake is pristine and is known for its clear blue water. If you are looking for a place to have a nice relaxing, low maintenance camping trip, this is the place to do it. Just don’t forget to bring your water filter because just about the only amenity this campground doesn’t have is running water.
So get out there and enjoy one of Georgia’s best-kept secrets and remember to leave this place cleaner than you found it, your kids will thank you one day. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to use the comment box below, or shoot us an email.
Thanks for reading.
Click the pins for directions.
The top pin is directions to hike in.
The bottom pin will take you to boat in.
The directions will get you to Woodring Campground. Pass Woodring and follow the signs to the boat ramp.
Nubbin Creek Trailhead is just outside of the Cheaha Wilderness Area in the Talladega National Forest near Anniston, Alabama. The trailhead is located on a small gravel culdesac off Nubbin Creek Rd. The turn is well marked with the typical yellow and brown FS trailhead sign.
After pulling into the culdesac there are two trails: one to the left and one to the right. The trail to the right is Nubbin Creek Trail. The one on the left has an oddly placed fire ring directly in the middle of the trail and I’ve read there is a secluded campsite at the end, but I can’t confirm that first hand.
Taking the trail to the right, you will see a trail sign telling you that you are on the right path. You can also access Cave Creek Trail and the Odum Scout Trail from here as well. Just ahead you will see an FS kiosk to the left.
Planning The Trip
I planned this trip as an easy overnight to just get away for the weekend. We wanted to do some easy camping and just relax for this one. It being Labor Day weekend, we knew car camping would be a no go. Primitive campgrounds would be full of loud drunks and amateur campers. I’m not even going to go into the State Parks. I knew that Nubbin Creek Trail doesn’t normally have very much traffic and decided that was our best option to get away for the night.
I found a spot on the map that appeared to be suitable for camping and figured that there should be an established campsite with water not too far. The spot I chose was on a ridgeline about 2 1/4 miles in, where the trail begins to head west toward Parker High Point and the Odum Trail.
Time to Hike
We began our hike heading north on the trail and the persimmons were in full fruit. Eventually, we made our way to Mill Shoal Creek and there was a trail to the right, but we continued left with the creek on our right. We could hear the cascades in the background, but this time of year it is still too overgrown to really get a good view from Nubbin Trail. There are spur trails that head down to get a view, but this wasn’t our plan for this trip. We decided that we would come back once the leaves had fallen and given way for a better view in the late fall or early winter.
A close call with a resident
As we were making our way up the trail we came across a timber rattler sunning itself right in the middle of the trail. He was was just a little guy, about three and a half feet long. I immediately had, Marcie keep the dogs behind her and I tried to push him off the trail with my walking stick. He was not having any part of it. It seemed that he liked his little sunbathing spot and was yielding for no one.
My attempt to get him off the trail with my stick only convinced him that he should take his defensive posture and coil while shaking his rattle. I took some pictures of him and tried to wait him out, but to no avail, he was parked and not going anywhere without a little more force. I pushed him with my stick and I was completely expecting him to strike but he didn’t. Then I pushed him back a good foot or so and he just kept rattling at me. Finally, after I had poked at him a few more times with my walking stick, he moved off of the trail and rested under a rock beside the trail.
Back on Track
The trail continued along the Mill Shoals Creek for a short distance. The trail dipped south and separated from the creek and then U-Turned back north. There are a lot of dried up old creek beds and at least one small brook crossing on this part of the trail. I doubt this brook is a reliable water source year round, but I can’t say for sure. Nubbin continued north for about half a mile until we met up with Mill Shoal Creek again, this time crossing it and witnessing a beautiful little waterfall to the left. The trail jogged east for about a 1/8 of a mile and then to the west for about another 1/8 of a mile, before coming to another creek crossing. This area of the trail also had quite a few dried up creek beds and another brook.
After the creek crossing Nubbin veers to the east for a small jaunt and then back to the north. This part of the trail opens up and there is clear view of the valley to the east. After about 1/4 mile the trail comes to a series of small knobs on a ridgeline and then heads west. This is where we found our campsite (just as I had predicted from looking at the map). The campsite we found was about 250 feet after the trail headed west on the right. There was an old fire ring and plenty of trees to hang our tarp and hammocks from.
Exploration Was In Order
After camp was set and I had a snack, I looked at my map and plotted a little trip to take to check out Cave Creek. I found the spot I wanted to check out, set the bearing on my compass and off I went. After walking for about ten minutes I found an old jeep track and decided to follow it instead of my original route. The jeep track headed down a steep hill and it was evident that no one had traveled this road in a while. Along the way, I saw some old beer cans with the old peel off lids. The only tracks I saw were animal tracks and there were a few blowdowns blocking the path.
I love walking old roads in the backcountry because you never know what you’re going to come across along the way. That was definitely the case on this old road. I came upon some bearing trees and a property marker at a corner of the Cheaha Wilderness boundary. I find these things pretty cool myself, but hey, I admit that I’m a dork.
Continuing to Cave Creek
After taking the pictures of the markers I followed the road for a little longer until I found an area that was clear enough for me to make my way to the creek. I built a small cairn and found a unique looking tree to mark my spot and headed for Cave Creek. After walking for about a thousand feet, climbing over a few downed trees and scraping my legs up on some thorns along the way. I got to the creek bank and I had to climb down about six feet to actually be able to stand at the edge of the creek. The bank on the other side of the creek was nice and level and no climbing was involved at all.
Cave Creek is crystal clear and the water was just above frigid. I decided to take the opportunity to dip my visor in the water to cool my head off. It was nice and quiet back there. All I could hear was the occasional bird chirping, squirrels rustling about and the water flowing. There were a few of what I like to call smurf waterfalls that were beautiful, so I snapped a couple of pictures.
Back to Camp
I took it all in for a little while, listening to nature speak her language. I am always more at peace when I am out in the wilderness. In a comforting way, it makes me feel more human. Marcie was probably wondering where I was, so I had to leave this little spot and head back to camp. I headed back toward the old road, found my tree, made a right and saw my cairn. I headed back the way I had come and on the way back I found a turkey feather. I’m not sure why, but I stuck it into the ground as if I was marking my path.
As I mentioned before on the way in the road went down a steep hill. So obviously, my trek back was all uphill. Did I mention that it was a steep hill?
Our camp was in sight when I noticed that there was a small brook about five-hundred feet. This was a total score because I thought the closest water source was the last creek we had crossed on the way in. This offered me a little relief because it’s always nice to have a water source close by.
Getting Ready For The Night
It always makes us happy when firewood is in abundance. This one of the many reasons that we love the backcountry. We have never had any problem finding firewood in the Cheaha Wilderness, or any wilderness for that matter. As much as we love to car camp. It can be a challenge to find wood, even in the most primitive campgrounds.
I got a chance to try out the new manual chainsaw that I had just bought from Wal-Mart, of all places. Never underestimate the camping section at Wal-Mart. I have found some pretty cool stuff on their shelves. The saw worked pretty good for what it was, and even though I got some blisters from it. I give it a thumbs up. The best part is, it’s pretty lightweight and very packable.
We used our backpacking stoves to make our Knorr’s pasta sides and cooked the sausages on the fire. The Johnsonville precooked sausages are great for the first night on the trail. I would even go as far as packing them for two nights. The Knorr’s sides are a buck and come in a huge variety of flavors. It only takes 1-2/3 cup of water and you can put some powdered milk with them and then cook for about 7-8 minutes. They make a great backcountry meal.
Yipping and Howling Through the Night
After dinner, we hung the remainder of our food and then settled into our hammocks. We listened to some audiobooks on my phone and just chatted about the day, and how we wished that we could stay longer than just a night.
Every time we are in Alabama we hear the same strange bird call at night. Neither of us has any idea what it is, but it sounds weird, not creepy or freaky, just weird. After about an hour or so, we started to hear the coyotes in the distance. They were really far at first, but they were definitely getting closer.
They make those yips back and forth to each other and have a trick where they can make two or three sound like a pack. Marcie had been asleep for about two hours when they got so close that they woke her. At this point, we were well aware of each others presence. We heard them start howling and I’ve read that they usually only howl when threatened, or use it as a warning. They were probably only about fifty to seventy-five yard away from us. They got close enough that I had to yell at them and scare them away. I don’t really worry about them hurting me or, Marcie, but our dogs are small and that’s what worries me. Our little old guys would make a nice meal for a couple of hungry coyotes.
It seemed that my yelling scared them away, but it was hard for me to sleep after that. I made sure to keep the fire going all night, and from time to time, I could still hear them in the distance. I guess I scared them pretty good because they were pretty far off, and in a completely different direction. Maybe it was another group. Who knows?
Time To Say Good-Bye
The morning came around and I got up and pulled the food bag from the tree. The first business of the day was to put on the coffee. Shortly after, Marcie woke up and we had morning coffee together. We decided to skip cooking breakfast and just have some snacks before packing up and hiking out. Our dogs are old and they get tired if we get started too late in the day. So the decision was made to get back to the trailhead and drive down and check out High Falls. It’s a good thing too because Hagrid (14-year-old dog) was dragging that day and making little to no effort at hiking. We got back to the car, put our gear in and made our way to the falls.
If you are looking for a secluded place to do some overnights, Nubbin Creek Trail is a must do. The cascades on Mill Shoal Creek are supposed to be really nice to view in the fall and winter and we are looking forward to going back near the end of the year. The Nubbin Creek Trail ends at the intersections of Cave Creek Trail and the Odum Scout Trail. It’s a nice little gateway into the Cheaha Wilderness from the back door.
I think this trail is overlooked, which is probably a good thing for those of us who like to be alone in the wilderness. I saw no one out there on Labor Day weekend, and, Marcie told me that when I was out on my excursion that two backpackers had walked through. That’s it, another couple, that’s all there was out there. That being said, you would think a trail that lightly trafficked would not be maintained very well. To the contrary, the Nubbin Creek Trail is well maintained and easy to navigate. I highly recommend that you get out to the Cheaha Wilderness and give the Nubbin a whirl.
I’ve read a lot about the Coosa Backcountry Trail and have seen many different accounts of the trail. Some say 12 miles, some say 13.4, some say 12.9 and so on. One point everyone usually agrees on is that this hike is very strenuous and not to try it in one day.
We had been planning on doing the Coosa Backcountry Trail for some time, but something always came up and we had to postpone. In the beginning, it was not having all the gear we wanted, sometimes it was work and other times the weather would monkey wrench us. This time was different. We had our gear, work stayed out of the way and the weather was perfect. We had a green light and our foot was on the accelerator.
Coosa Backcountry Trail: Arrival at Vogel State Park
We arrived at Vogel State Park and acquired our permit from the visitor center. The permit is free and all we had to do was fill it out with our departure and return dates, then put it on the dash of the car. The park volunteer jokingly told us that if we weren’t back in a couple of weeks that they would come looking.
We went out to the car to get the rest of gear situated and put on our packs. We left the visitor center parking lot and turned left on the paved road and headed toward the campground. After passing a few cottages there was a trailhead sign and set of stairs to the right. There was a ranger standing there talking to a park volunteer and we asked them to take our picture. After getting our picture taken we headed up the trail following the green blazes to the approach to the Coosa Backcountry Trail.
Coosa Backcountry Trail: The Hike
Shortly after leaving the park we came to the trailhead. Here, the Bear Hair Trail leaves left and the Coosa BackcountryTrail to the right. We crossed Burnett Branch on a small footbridge and headed into Burnett Gap following a small feeder stream. As the trail ascended into Burnett Gap with Sheriff’s Knob on the right and Sosebee Cove to the left. At about a mile and a half we came upon a small waterfall on the right and the stream flowed across the trail. After a short stint, we crossed Forest Road 180, the trail leveled out a bit, and there was a small campsite on the left. The trail started its descent deeper into Sosebee Cove and we came upon a log footbridge crossing a streamlet.
The trail continued its descent and we came across a couple of campers taking advantage of a sweet little campsite on the left. As we continued northeast there was a small catwalk at about 3.25 miles where we stopped to fill up with some fresh water. After filtering some water and filling up a couple pouches to be filtered later, we continued on. Shortly after filling up we came to a defunct catwalk right before the footbridge crossing West Fork Creek. Right after the footbridge, there was a campsite to right and we crossed Forest Road 107.
The climb to Locust Stake Gap
Here, the trail immediately ascended back into the forest and headed northwest toward Locust Stake Gap. Hiking a bit further there was a campsite to the left marked with a small cairn and one to the right as well. We crossed a small stream and noticed a double green blaze. Then the trail made a turn to the right. I believe that this is a reroute because there was an old trail off to the left where the double blaze was.
The trail continued to climb along the creek and we reached a switchback where there was a fresh blowdown obstructing the trail at 3.74 miles. There was a reroute, but we still had to crawl on our hands and knees through a small hole between the ground and the tree branch. The hole led straight back to the trail where we saw a reassuring green blaze. I also saw an old blue blaze under the green one, which made me curious. I know the Coosa Backcountry Trail was blazed yellow in the past, but I’ve never heard anything about blue.
We continued our climb and I noticed an old jeep trail that headed to the left. We reached another switch back where the Forest Service Boundary is. Here the trees and a rock are painted red and there are yellow signs that read “Land Survey Monument and Forest Service Boundary.” The map shows that this is the separation between districts ten and sixteen.
Locust Stake Gap to Calf Stomp Gap
After a very short but welcomed descent, we made it to the ridgeline at Locust Stake Gap. There is a nice little campsite here on the right at 4.6 miles. To the left is Sosebee Cove.
The Coosa Backcountry Trail now heads southwest and again makes a climb toward Calf Stomp Gap. We continued to ascend the ridgeline and the trail just kept climbing. As soon as you think you are making some serious headway and have reached the top, nope, another turn with yet another ascent. Although, once we reached the halfway point between Locust Stake and Calf Stomp Gaps there was a crest, and for about five hundred feet, it was somewhat flat. Those five hundred feet were like a vacation that ended too soon, and the climbing started again.
Just before Calf Stomp Gap, the trail veers left and heads east for about four hundred feet and then switches back south for another climb to Calf Stomp. The next stop is Forest Service Road 108 where there is a campsite to the right. We stopped here to have a snack, take a short break and decide what our plan for the rest of day was. We knew that there was another campsite with a water source not too far after we returned to the trail.
When our break was over, we crossed the road and began the next chapter of climbing. After walking for a bit, I could start to hear the stream in the distance and we hoped we were getting close to where we would retire for the night. We found the stream and the campsite to the right, but after investigation, the campsite turned out to be dismal at best. If we would have had our tent instead of our hammocks and tarp it could have worked but it still wouldn’t have been great.
I noticed that there was an old jeep track that headed parallel between the stream and the Coosa BackcountryTrail in the same direction we had just come, so I decided that we should follow it back to the road. I knew from my map that the stream crossed FS Road 108 and thought that there might be another campsite near there. The jeep track met the road and we headed left to find where the stream crossed it. There was an overgrown campsite there but it was close to the road and we deemed it unsuitable for our purposes.
We doubled back to the Coosa Backcountry Trail and made our way back up the hill past the dismal campsite (basically making a loop) and followed the stream to its source. Once there, we regrouped and discussed our options. Since this was the last water source on the trail until Wolf Creek, we decided to filter as much water as we could and fill up our extra pouches and press on.
Coosa Bald or Bust
We decided to go for broke and head for Coosa Bald. Surely there had to be a sweet spot to camp on the summit of that mountain that gives this trail its name. So we pressed on switch backing from one side of the ridgeline to the other gaining elevation. The water added 8.5 pounds to my pack and I was really feeling the extra weight on my legs as we made the slow ascent to Coosa Bald.
The trail headed southwest up the knob just below the top of Coosa Bald and we found a really sweet campsite on the left that over looked the valley below. We considered staying there, but we really wanted to make it to the top of Coosa Bald, so we moved on.
We made it to the intersection of the Coosa Backcountry Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail, and caught a ride on the Duncan Ridge Trail heading northwest to the summit of Coosa Bald. This was the last climb of the day and we were ready to make camp for the night. After a long day of practically all uphill hiking, this last climb was welcomed yet tiring.
The hard earned reward of Coosa Bald
After a very long day, we made it to the summit of Coosa Bald. When you reach the top there is a spectacular rock outcrop to the left and two campsites just off the trail to the right. Both campsites are definitely prime spots and we ended up choosing the second. Reaching the top of Coosa Bald was amazingly rewarding and although we were tired, the adrenaline of our accomplishment kept us going.
Our next steps were to set up our tarp and hammocks, find a hanging tree for our food and gather firewood. We had our backpacking stoves to cook with, but we really wanted the novelty of a campfire. Marcie helped me with the tarp and then she collected some kindling to get us started with the firewood gathering. After the initial set up, I made some evening coffee to give us a little boost for the final chores of the evening.
We made some ramen and tuna for our dinner and ate while as the sun dipped from the horizon. Then we consolidated all of our food, food related trash and packed it into Marcie’s sleeping bag stuff sack and hung it from the tree we found.
At this point, the hammocks were calling our names and we decided to lay down. After our long day of hiking, it felt really good to be suspended in the horizontal position. We talked for a bit about the day and soon drifted off to sleep.
Good morning Coosa Bald
I woke up at around 7:30 in the morning after a restless night’s sleep. It dipped down into the mid 50’s and the wind picked something fierce that night. I would never have thought at the end of July it would have gotten that cold. However, we were above four thousand feet and funny things happen in the mountains.
I got up and lowered the food from the tree and put on some coffee for myself and ate a mini pecan pie that I brought for my breakfast. These suckers have 480 calories each and only cost fifty cents at Wal-Mart. As I was finishing my first pie and my pot of coffee, Marcie woke and I made a pot for her. Marcie had some breakfast and then we packed up our gear and said farewell to Coosa Bald.
Coosa Backcountry Trail: Day Two
We followed the Duncan Ridge trail southeast off of Coosa Bald to the trail intersection and headed south toward Wildcat Gap. The Coosa Backcountry Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail share the same track at this point and the trail is blazed green and blue. The trail heads down the spur on a wide, very steep and rocky track into Wildcat Gap. The trail is obviously an old wagon/jeep trail from years past.
After reaching Wildcat Gap, we came to Duncan Ridge Rd and veered left. The trail picked up in about two hundred feet on the left side of the road and was marked and blazed with both colors. The trail now becomes a single track path and starts a gentle climb across the eastern slope of Wildcat Knob. After we crossed the eastern slope, the trail made a right and headed west across the southern slope of the knob, switched back east and then south again. Heading south the trail switchbacks multiple times downhill into Wolfpen Gap. Just after the last switchback, there is an old jeep trail that heads downhill and from the map, it appears to be an old portion of the Coosa Backcountry Trail.
We crossed Wolfpen Gap and came to the road crossing at GA 180. This was second time crossing GA 180 since we started our hike and we hadn’t seen a paved road since we crossed it the first time just after leaving Vogel State Park. There was a dirt road on the left heading north and a gravel road to the right heading north into the Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area. Straight across GA 180 was the trail connection. After we crossed GA 180, the trail immediately makes a sharp left and there is a trail marker hidden in the brush. We were now entering the Blood Mountain Wilderness.
On to Slaughter Mountain
The trail immediately started to climb at this point and was very tough going for over a mile. We were heading up the ridgeline toward Slaughter Mountain gaining elevation every step of the way. The area is so beautiful, but it was difficult to really enjoy a lot of the scenery due to having to put one foot in front of the other and keep on trucking. It was really just our exhaustion lingering from the day before that made this so tough. This would be just like another moderate day hike if done on its own, but adding in the lack of sleep and sore muscles really made it a full blown workout.
We finally made it up the ridgeline to the top of the knob just north of the summit of Slaughter Mountain and we were worked over. We were now over the four thousand foot mark again and it felt like we had gotten into a fist fight with a bear. It was really nice to start the descent into the saddle between the knob and the summit of Slaughter Mountain. The trail leveled out for a bit while on the saddle and then relatively speaking started a gentle ascent to the eastern slope of Slaughter Mountain. The trail pretty much leveled out across the slope and there were some sweet rock outcrops to the right and some nice views into the valley below on the left.
The descent into Slaughter Gap was definitely welcomed at this point and I knew that our climbing for this trip was over. I knew we were coming up on the intersection where the Duncan Ridge Trail leaves the Coosa Backcountry Trail, but I got a little confused for a moment because we hit a switchback that wasn’t on the map. I looked at my compass and we were heading northwest, which made me wonder if we had missed the intersection somehow. I was aware the Coosa Backcountry Trail heads north after parting with the Duncan Ridge and figured it was a reroute. As soon as I had made that conclusion we came to the intersection. After looking at the track on my phone when I got home, I realized that it was definitely a reroute. This entire portion of the Coosa Backcountry Trail was rerouted years ago to reduce the impact on the Blood Mountain Wilderness after years of the area being over utilized.
There is a nice campsite on the left at the intersection of Coosa Backcountry Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail.
The Duncan Ridge Trail leaves south and heads deeper into the Blood Mountain Wilderness and meets up with Appalachian Trail. The Coosa Backcountry Trail heads northeast at this point switch backing its way to the Bear Hair Trail and meeting Wolf Creek.
The Last Stretch
After leaving the Duncan Ridge Trail, the Coosa Backcountry Trail continues its descent switch backing further into the valley and the scenery was beautiful as we made our way down. We came across a mountain laurel that looked manicured like it should be a shade tree in our yard. It looked like it would make a nice little spot to sit and relax for a bit on a hot day and enjoy a snack, but we continued on.
As the trail continues to switchback into the valley, it’s kind of all over the place, dipping south, veering left, and then veering right for one last dip south and then twisting back north to reach a feeder stream of Wolf Creek. The trail follows the stream on the right and then veers to the south switchbacking a couple more times and comes to another feeder stream where it meets the Bear Hair Trail. The Bear Hair Trail heads left to the north and the Coosa Backcountry Trail heads northeast cutting through some boulders and then crosses the original feeder stream and Wolf Creek forms on the right.
The trail follows the stream on the right and then veers to the south switchbacking a couple more time and comes to another feeder stream where it meets the Bear Hair Trail. The Bear Hair Trail heads left to the north and the Coosa Backcountry Trail heads northeast cutting through some boulders and then crosses the original feeder stream where Wolf Creek is formed in conjunction with two other streams.
Wolf Creek runs parallel to the Coosa Backcountry trail on the right for a while and the trail is now double blazed with green rectangles and diamonds. We passed an old hollowed out tree trunk filled with river rocks and had little cairns stacked on it. Soon we came to another stream crossing and reached the wilderness boundary where we crossed back into district sixteen and left the Blood Mountain Wilderness. The trail curves left to head north to re-enter Vogel State park.
The Coosa Backcountry Trail was a very challenging and rewarding hike that definitely tested our endurance. The feeling of accomplishment we received was matched only by our level of exhaustion.
I read a lot about this trail and we had it in our sights for a long time. The reports and recommendation that this trail should be done as a backpacking trip are definitely right, in the sense that to truly enjoy the scenery you should take your time. I would actually have liked to take three days to hike this trail. The Coosa Backcountry trail is the kind of hike that you need to keep your momentum going as you climb, especially if breaking it into two parts. If it was broken into three days at four to five-mile sections, there would be a lot more time to stop and smell the roses and see the sights. We did it overnight to test ourselves and for the workout.
We want to do this trail several more times with different approaches in the future. The next time we want to try for a one-day attempt maybe doing the trail clockwise. With over twenty pounds on our backs, this trail was difficult, but with day packs, this trail could definitely be done as an endurance testing day hike. I would also like to take my time and enjoy it in the fall when the leaves have dropped to see the many vistas this trail has to offer.
If you haven’t experienced the Coosa Backcountry trail, it is definitely a must hike. However, for the beginner, I recommend you do this trail with an experienced hiker and take your time. The Coosa Backcountry trail could be just what you need to thrust you from beginner to intermediate over the course of a weekend.
So get out there, have fun, be safe and ALWAYS, LEAVE NO TRACE!!
A tough start to the Cohutta Wilderness and the Tearbritches Trail
On Forest Road 68 in the Chattahoochee National Forest’s Cohutta Wilderness is a loop consisting of three trails: Tearbritches, Conasauga River, and the Chestnut Lead. Each of these trails has its own character to speak of.
Our hike began with a road walk from the Chestnut Lead Trailhead parking area. We walked west uphill for about a mile and a half on Forest Road 68 until we came to Tearbritches Trailhead. The Emery Creek Trailhead is on the left and Tearbritches is on the right.
We headed northeast on the trail beginning our ascent onto Bald Mountain. The start of this hike is pretty slow going due to the climb and overgrowth of the trail. You can definitely tell right off the bat that the Tearbritches Trail is not traveled frequently. As we climbed we noticed balsam trees that seem out of place here and it is somewhat of a mystery to who actually planted them. There was a wildfire that spread here from a lightning strike on Rough Ridge in the fall of 2016. There are burnt trees and charred earth everywhere as you hike through this portion of the Cohutta Wilderness. The trail is thick with brambles and our legs definitely took a beating as we climbed.
We reached four thousand feet at the top of Bald Mountain and began our descent, now heading pretty much due north. The brush lightened as we headed down the north face of the mountain. Once we were out of the dense thorns, we started to notice all the wildflowers surrounding us. Already we were falling in love with the beauty of the Cohutta Wilderness. Following the ridgeline down a steep grade, we started to see the forest change as we lost elevation. The ground became softer due to pine needles that fell from the white pines that tower overhead.
Into the valley
As we continued our descent down the ridgeline there were great views of Cowpen Mountain to our right. Tearbritches Trail advanced into the valley,leveling off at points just long enough for a brief reprieve, then back to a steep grade as it dipped to below three-thousand feet. As we got to about twenty-five hundred, I could start to hear Tearbritches Creek to my left. Then at around twenty-three hundred, we started to hear the Conasauga River off to the right.
At around two thousand feet we met up with Tearbritches Creek and started to follow it downstream through a tunnel of laurel and rhododendron. We noticed the first campsite of the trek nestled off to the right.
We crossed Tearbritches Creek and came to Bray Field, where there are campsites strewn about and the Conasauga River is dead ahead. This was the end of our stint on the Tearbritches Trail and is the intersection of the Conasauga River Trail and the Hickory Creek Trail. It got a little confusing here, but we soon figured out that we had to cross Tearbritches Creek again and head up a hill to find the Conasauga River Trail.
Conasauga River Trail
At this point, we basically made a U-Turn and started to head up river. To our right, we could see the ridgeline what we were just descending a few minutes earlier. Not long after we started on the trail the river fords began. The cool water of the Conasauga River felt amazing on our thorn scraped legs. On the third ford, I saw the one and only green blaze on the entire trail. Some of the connections aren’t really apparent while crossing, but staying up stream was the key to finding them.
After quite a few fords, we came to where Panther Creek empties into the Conasauga River. The Panther Creek Trail intersects here and heads left. To stay on the Conasauga River Trail, we headed right. I stopped counting the fords eventually and I think I lost track at around eight or nine, I’m not really sure. Our feet were wet, it felt great and the sometimes knee deep water was super refreshing and fun to play around in.
As we continued up river through the Cohutta Wilderness, we were still aware of the fires that have happened there. Either the trail has several subtle reroutes, or people just have taken different routes through out the years. However, the Conasauga River Trail is fairly easy to keep track of and there was even a cairn in the river at one point where it wasn’t completely apparent where the connection was.
After about two miles on the Conasauga River Trail, we started to notice the abundance of waterfalls, so we aptly named this part of the trail Waterfall City. From this point onward, if you are a waterfall junkie, this is your section. This area of the Cohutta Wilderness is stunning. The sights just keep coming at you and there is not enough time on a day hike to take them all in. The waterfalls, rock outcrops and wildflowers just don’t stop along this trail.
There are plenty of established campsites as you make your way up the Conasauga River. This would make an awesome overnight backpacking trip and we definitely plan on taking advantage of some of these campsites in the future.
Even with the multitude of fords, I consider this section of the Conasauga River Trail fairly easy. Despite it being the latter part of July, it was pretty cool in the valley and wading through the Conasauga River every few minutes didn’t hurt either. The trail is definitely used more than the Tearbritches Trail. However, we were delighted to see that aside from trail use, human impact in the way of litter was at a minimum.
As our trek continued through Waterfall City, our water supply started to dwindle, so it was time to stop and filter some. We sat on some rocks and gathered water from the Conasauga River. I love drinking water from the places that I am hiking. It makes me feel more connected to the nature that surrounds me. After procuring fresh water we continued into the Cohutta Wilderness and were nearing the end of our trek on the Conasauga River Trail.
On to the Chestnut Lead Trail
We reached the end of our ride on the Conasauga River Trail and made our final ford. Marcie kicked around in the water for a few minutes and then we said goodbye to the river. From here we picked up the Chestnut Lead Trail and followed Chestnut Creek southwest. We came across a couple camping on the bank of Chestnut Creek, and I have to say that I was a bit envious. Our journey was coming to an end, with only a little less than two miles to go.
We may have had to say goodbye to the Conasauga River, but as we followed Chestnut Creek, we realized that we were still in Waterfall City. Unfortunately, the brush was too dense to get any good photos, so you’ll just have to go discover them for yourself.
As we walked the trail the wildfire damage was still apparent and we came across a tulip tree that had a hole burnt straight through the base of its trunk. The tree was a little over thirty feet tall and still very much alive at the top. It was definitely a sight to see and a testament to the perseverance of nature. As we continued on the Chestnut Lead Trail there were a few more creek crossings and we knew that eventually, we would have to part with Chestnut Creek.
The Chestnut Lead Trail parts from Chestnut Creek about halfway and veered left to begin the climb to Chestnut Lead. We gained about five hundred feet in elevation in under a quarter of a mile. We reached the lead (lead is a synonym for ridge), veered to the right, and the climb continued. It would somewhat level out for a few hundred feet or so and then pick back up again.
At this point, the day was starting to wear on us and I remember saying to Marcie, that nothing in this world is free. We had to work hard to start this journey and we were having to work hard to end it. The end of this hike was really a tease. As soon as you think you’re done with the climb it starts again. We finally made back to the Chestnut Lead Trailhead parking area pretty wiped out from the eleven and a half mile journey.
There really is no official name for this loop trail. I named it the Cohutta Wilderness Loop because that name just makes sense to me. We clocked this loop at around 11.5 miles and it took us just over five hours to complete. If we had not stopped to play in the river, take pictures and to smell the flowers, it would have taken less. In actuality, it only took us four hours of active hiking.
This hike was highly satisfying and we would recommend it to any seasoned hiker for a day hike. That being said, this loop is rated difficult and we would not recommend it for the novice hiker. From beginning to end this trip is strenuous and challenging. However, if you are a novice and want to do a beautiful yet challenging overnighter, this is definitely the trip for you. This would also make a great week long trip because of all the other connector trails along the route.
The Cohutta Wilderness is a breathtaking experience and is truly an outdoors person’s playground. So get out there, have some fun, be safe and for the love of Jebus Leave No Trace!