Even without the previous day’s seventeen mile hike my original plan for this day was too optimistic. The plan was to hike from the Porter’s Gap trailhead at the 52.3 mile mark of the Pinhoti Trail to the Horn Mountain Fire Tower a bit beyond the 44.1 mile marker. Eight miles one way, like the previous day’s hike, but then I’d have to get to New Orleans, six hours away, early enough to get a good night’s sleep. IMSH 2011 started the next day for me and I wanted to be sharp. It would’ve been a tough day to pull off, but luckily my previous day’s hike at Cove Mountain meant today wouldn’t go as planned.
I’m still torn about this hike on the Pinhoti Trail. On one hand, I’m glad I was forced into a shortened hike by my previous day’s impromptu climb of Cove Mountain in the Smokey Mountains. The shortened hike meant I could get to New Orleans early. On the other hand, the Pinhoti is an excellent trail. The views aren’t anything spectacular, at least not at this elevation, but the forest has a certain feel to it. Maybe it was just being somewhere relatively warm and sunny that did it. More than that, it felt like the trail existed in a perpetual springtime.
The temperature was in the low 50s, humidity was low and the wind was calm in the forest. It was green everywhere. Early spring green, not the overwhelming green of midsummer. The green of new shoots and buds. There was still snow in the shadows, but there weren’t many of those. The leaves were still small and sparse so that the sun shone all through the forest.
The trails wound through the forest in the typical way, but instead of being a chore to follow, it drew me on. So when I had to cut this hike short, I was disappointed and torn. I didn’t want to stop, but I couldn’t continue. I’d started late and my right leg was bothering me after the previous day’s hike. I was going slow and I had to get to New Orleans at a reasonable time. I knew I couldn’t make it to any really significant landmark, let alone my original goal of climbing the Horn Mountain Fire Tower, so I decided to go as far as Scott Lake and then turn around.
Scott Lake is not much more than a pond about three and a half miles from the trailhead where I started. It fits in well with the rest of the trail with its lazy, swampy appearance. A funny thing happened when I got to the lake. I thought I heard an animal stomping through reeds near the water. It sounded like a large animal and I knew I was in bear country. Shouldn’t they all be hibernating in January? The sound continued, a rhythmic crunching noise like an animal looking for something at the water’s edge. I waited and listened. After a while it occurred to me that the sound was too rhythmic and I stepped closer. Nothing. Just reeds. In the clearing made by the lake the wind could penetrate the forest and move the reeds just enough to get them scraping against one another. They’re so light and rigid, not to mention hollow, that it’s easy for them to work up a ruckus with nothing more than a slight breeze stirring them up.
I kept on as far as Scott’s Cascade, a tumble of water over loose rocks and sticks that fed the pond. I might have continued even further, convincing myself I’d just take a peek around the next bend, but this minor landmark provided me with a convenient stopping point. The cascade’s runoff flooded the trail ahead of me just enough to make crossing it tricky, especially when I couldn’t hop rocks on my bum leg.
I turned and headed back. There was no need to put the camera away since I wasn’t looking for speed here. The entire hike had been a slow, lazy walk and that seemed appropriate for the environment here. I’ll be back someday for the rest of it.