Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Skyway Loop

We've been crisscrossing Alabama in the past couple weeks, and I had my eye on an FKT loop near the highpoint of the state.  Seems like highpoints and FKTs go hand-in-hand around here.  We had just enough time to stop for a long run, and 17 miles (with moderate climbing) seemed like an excellent goal.  Except, it was rainy.  Well, you can't always have great weather for FKT's.  Even with a fairly flexible lifestyle.  Sometimes you just gotta run in the rain!

There were no women's times posted yet on the FKT website, time to set another "you can beat this" benchmark.  John is doing more running lately, and with the perhaps questionable fords (with the rain that morning), he agreed to come with me for the first several miles and spot my creek crossings.  I love running with John and am very excited that we are getting to do it more and more lately.

It wasn't but a slight drizzle at the start, very helpful for the motivation to get out of the truck.  We parked at the Chinnabee Silent Trail trailhead (the northern of the 2 trailhead options) and I opted for a counterclockwise loop to reach the 3 fords early in the endeavor.

The Chinnabee Trail is great for running, super smooth and fun, and we covered the early miles quickly.  The first ford, at Cheaha Falls, was ankle deep.  Simple!

Such a pretty creek around the Devil's Den area.  We've made a point to see everything we can with the word "devil" in the name and so far none have disappointed.

On the other hand, this trail isn't exactly "Silent":

Stamp of approval:

Quite lovely.

At the turn onto the Skyway Trail (the second of 3 trails in this loop), we found the reason for the blue flags we had been following - the Mount Cheaha 50K race will be running this route on Saturday.  Cool!

The second ford was the deepest, but still not at all challenging.  When this area gets a deluge, I'm sure these creeks get a lot higher, but for us it wasn't a problem.  I was mostly psyched to have a photographer along for once.

Dancing my way to shore:

For his part, John noticed a few blow-downs and bits of trail work that needed doing.  This particular one was too big to work on without tools, but there were a few others that caught his eye.  Trail work makes John happy, so we were both getting a lot out of this adventure.

The last ford (except for several small creeks), and another "no problem".  Thank you once again John, my FKT runs are so much better for your company!

One of the blue flags for the upcoming 50K:

The rest of the Skyway Trail was nice, easy running, just some elevation changes as it went down into several drainages and back up again.

One of many campsites I saw along the way:

Another opportunity to get my feet wet.  Word of the day = wet.

I believe this is the CCC chimney mentioned in the trail notes:

Lots of pretty trail and pretty creeks:

Climbing up to the intersection with the Pinhoti Trail, where the race course merges into the loop:

And IMMEDIATELY there are rocks.  I've seen a bit of the Pinhoti Trail in Georgia, and it's rocky over there too.  Never have I finished a piece of the Pinhoti and said "hey, I'd love to do that again."  In this case, this bit of trail is directly above a not-rocky piece of Skyway Trail I had just come up.  But it's the Pinhoti, so there are rocks.

Crossing the main road at Adams Gap and heading into the Cheaha Wilderness for a few miles:

Thankfully, much of this part of the Pinhoti actually isn't a rock garden.  There were sections of stones but also plenty of runnable trail.  Which was great, because it contoured in and out along a long hillside for quite a ways, and it started raining again.  For real this time.  I paused once to refill my bottle from a creek but otherwise kept moving at a decent clip.

I stopped bringing out the camera, to keep it protected from the rain.  Overall I had way fewer photos than normal, so that probably made me a tad faster.

The switchbacks up the rocks to Rocky Top were marked with blue blazes but I occasionally had to look around to verify whether I needed to traverse, climb, or make a switchback.  I don't know why the trail doesn't just turn and go uphill, but OK, switchbacks it is!

Near the top I found an overhanging boulder and that seemed like a good place for one quick selfie:

And for good measure, a photo of the mist around the mountaintop:

Thank goodness for one particular blue blaze, or I might have wandered around the summit for a few minutes.  The trail led through some rocks and down through some thick vegetation.  I was happy for the rain jacket and thick tights, protecting me from getting too wet and occasionally protecting me from encroaching plants.

The trail along the ridge was interesting, lots of little campsites that seemed like they would be a great place to pitch a tent in better weather, and winding around through a few rock formations.

One last intersection, the turn back onto the Chinnabee for the last couple miles.  It was kind of a long, rocky angled descent, but I was still happy to be going in this direction vs. picking my way down directly off of Rocky Top.

Then a fun last mile through the woods, back to an excellent trail and a nice way to finish.

But wait!  One more creek crossing.  Really?  Yes, well, I'm wet already so whatever!

One slight pause to figure out how to traverse the Turnipseed Campground, and then I was back to the start of the loop.  John jumped out of the truck to take my picture, thanks John!

Everything wet came off, replaced with dry clothes and shoes, and we were soon on our way down the hill and driving toward Georgia.  John reported on his enjoyable trail work, and we were both quite satisfied with our 5+ hours on the trail.  It was great to be out in the woods, even in the rain!

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