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Trip Report: Pinhoti Trail – Dennis Mill Trailhead


April 2nd 2022 – 7:30am Start – 36* F and Partly Cloudy – 8.6mi out-and-back over 4 hours moving.

I kissed Trouble bye, then Atlas and I hopped in the car at about 6:30am. The drive from Cartersville to Chatsworth was beautiful, passing mostly through farmland and woods. Having walked the Pinhoti in 2014, I was looking forward to stepping out on this section again. Jokes on me, I didn’t recognize it at all, though that’s not altogether abnormal.

The Dennis Mill trailhead is well marked with a large Chattahoochee forest sign. The parking lot was empty that morning, save one only frosted-over car. This was perfect, as I like starting the day alone when I hike with Atlas, as it means he’ll get some energy out and behave better once we do encounter other hikers. I checked a stream right next to the trailhead to update the water report in FarOut (GutHook) and texted Trouble my day-start message from my inReach. I was hoping to test out the inReach Mini 2 on this day-hike, but had 4G the whole time so no need. I did learn that a trail with this many switchbacks will report short on the inReach GPS track (inReach wrote 4.6mi, actual 8.6mi). My goal was to hike a little over 4 miles into the forest over 2 rises to a small waterfall, then turn around.

The trail starts out wide, following what appears to be a overgrown road with a very gently grade for about a quarter mile before the first roll off, providing a nice warm up. Here we hit the first little stream, there would be plenty, for Atlas to wet his whistle. Just ahead, a stone slab details how the Pinhoti connects to distant trails and landmarks. We climbed a reasonable grade for about the next half hour, stopping along the way to snap pictures of Spring budding in trees and flowers along the way. This is my favorite time of year to hike. I love watching the forest stretch her limbs and wake up. Wild irises and mountain laurels dotted the edge of the trail while spotted wakerobins, a personal favorite, unfurled their lipstick petals by each brook and stream.

After half an hour we topped our first climb. The going was easy, with what looked like recent trail maintenance having cleared a couple dozen blow-downs. We took a break to let Atlas drink some water and have a snack. We lingered for about fifteen minutes shooting video of Atlas and I walking for a new YouTube channel, Trouble on Trail. I’ll tell y’all more soon, but basically it’s documenting my girlfriend, Trouble, as she tries attempts to embrace the hiker-trash life.

The trail descended for about a mile, winding down deeper into the Chattahoochee forest. Part way down, we disturbed a Turkey from its roost, which quickly became the highlight of Atlas’ day. Like the good boi he is, he didn’t lunge or chase, but he did look between the turkey’s landing spot and me back and forth for a while like, “Dad, I can get him. It’s only 30 feet straight up a pine tree. Easy jump!” Instead, I rewarded him for maintaining his composure, and we carried on down the trail. As the trail leveled out we came to a brook, just deep enough for a bottle, so I topped mine off and updated FarOut with the water report. Maybe 30 yards later we came to a deeper brook, with a pool that would have been easier to dip my bottle in. I chuckled and corrected my water report with the bigger brook and walked another 50 yards to… a full blown creak. Note to self, refresh yourself with the trail guide.

We took another 15 minuter at this creek. It was maybe 40 degrees at this point, but Atlas enjoyed the a refreshing splash around through the riffles. Here, about 2 miles in, are a few good seats on rocks and logs. Take a load off.

After our brief respite we forded the creek headed out the final ascent of our out direction. This section is about 2 miles uphill, similar in grade, coming out to another old forest road. Here the Pinhoti turns and widens into very cushy grass tread, at least in April. At times I had visibility up trail for up to 50 yards, so I loosed Atlas’ leash and we practiced obedience commands while we hiked. My lungs began to ache at this point, as they still haven’t been 100% since Corona in January, though they seem better on each hike. Part way up we took a breather, then climbed the rest of the way up. At one point along the ridge the deciduous forest gave way to a short pine stand. Although I prefer looking at the hardwoods, the loamy pine straw felt amazing under my feet. Atlas did a good boi here too, heeling and sitting immediately after startling a doe just yards ahead. He earned his treats this day.

After about an hours ascending the trail leveled to the sound of rushing water. Ahead a stream roared as it crashed down the mountain. This was our turn-around, though I had more gas and we putted on. After another half hour I picked a knoll in the trail and decided we turned back here. A half hour back and we were setting up for lunch back at the stream. This stream is piped under the trail before dropping into a steep gully, and nearby is a perfectly flat rock on the edge. What a great place to sit and cook. My feet dangling over the edge, I enjoyed a dehydrated Pad Thai and Atlas engulfed a bowl of Purina Pro Plan, Lamb flavor. Yum.

We lounged here for about an hour eating and taking pictures. There’s a tiny two foot waterfall up-hill from the trail, so ducked into the woods carefully on the river rock to pose in the little waterfall cove.

(insert lunch pics)

It was about 10:30am now and we packed up from lunch and headed back down whence we came. A breeze rolled in as we descended, refreshing my (already high) spirits with crisp mountain air. I cut on a podcast (Behind the Bastards, I highly recommend) as we sauntered down the mountain. The trail passed fast under our feet and we jogged at times until we came back to the pine stand. Here we met a gentleman who I chatted with for about twenty minutes, talking about the highlights of the Pinhoti, both of us having completed it, but him just last year. He also talked about running into a hiker with a candied trail name just a couple weeks back, and his ears pricked up when I mentioned Skittles had recently passed though. I happened to be talking to Skittles that day to try and drop him some trail grub, little did I know he had already long passed and was knocking out miles in Tennessee.

At the bottom of this descent we passed a couple bikers puffing as they pushed their bikes up the mountain before stopping for one more break back at the first creek. Here I struck up a conversation with polite gentleman. We identified similar military veterans tattoos and we talked about our time in the service. He turned out to be a prior officer on Navy minesweepers, which I found intriguing. I was in the Army, but always had a love of ships courtesy of my Navy dad. After a chat, we parted ways and Atlas and I started climbing back up our first ascent. This time I my legs were started to run out of gas and we stopped every five minutes to stretch them out. Eventually we rolled over the top where I could see the trailhead (I think) from the ridge. We didn’t stop this time, rolling on down the mountain.

Half an hour later Atlas and I stepped back out into the trailhead. This was my first real day hike of 2022 and man did it feel good to stretch my legs. All in all, we did 8.6 miles in 5.5 hours, including breaks. It was a good day.

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