I Got Coosa’d: Coosa Backcountry Trail

All of my solo hiking to date involved camping in campgrounds, or my car was close enough to reach in case of emergency (like being bitten by a Pit Bull). This meant my solo hikes were limited to dayhikes – I’ve been wanting more ‘challenges’ and to explore more remote places… aka “backcountry”.

Initially, I was going to do Tallulah’s backcountry, but due to all the recent rain, I figured it would be a muddy mess. Last minute, I changed my mind and decided to do Coosa Backcountry Trail. Reviews warned it was ‘strenuous’, but looking at the elevation gains, I knew this was actually going to be strenuous. http://goo.gl/sE1oa Digital Trail Guide’s review: http://goo.gl/JRKwn

I decided I was going to go at a comfortable pace, that I was in no rush, I’d set up camp whenever/wherever. (Joys of using a timer on my camera)

I got started later than I had wanted (11:15am) due to client ‘issues’. I made the mistake of not double-checking the GPS route I downloaded ahead of time (it was incorrect). But I had trail maps, my compass, my gps and my gear. I was frustrated because my gps said I had hiked 1.72 miles, when I KNEW I had hiked a lot farther. I was nursing a few blisters that I moleskinned and continued on. 

There were not many trail markers or blazes. It wasn’t hard to determine the route, but after the 1 mile marker, I did not encounter another until mile 6. I would *highly* recommend having topo maps as well as gps track because around 6.5, there were a number of trees down on the trail and it got a bit confusing… 

The blazes had been gray and/or blue at one time, but apparently the trail is randomly being re-blazed lime green (which is confusing because Bear Head Gap Trail is also being reblazed lime green). There are also red blazes for survey marking and for the Blood Mountain Trail. 

Day 1’s hike would not have been so ‘strenuous’ if I wasn’t carrying my backpack. I hate using hiking poles, but thank gawd I brought them… It really helped navigating some of the hills. The trail varies a lot, from wide smooth-ish sections to narrow rocky parts. I didn’t take many pictures of the tricky spots because I had my hands full…

We had a fair amount of rain in previous days, but it was not particularly muddy and all ‘mini-stream’ crossings were no problem.

The views of the various ridgelines were lovely, but after a while, they all seemed the same. If the leaves were on the trees, it would have been more tedious.

Unlike other hikes, Coosa did not have a lot of rock outcroppings or formations. One was particularly interesting:

* as a side note, shortly after you pass these rocks, you’ll encounter the last water source until you’re at about 6.5 miles.

On the official map (link below), there is one marked campsite. Here are some pictures:

You can drive in via a Forest Service Road (that as far as I could see was gravel and even). There was a pop-up that looked like it had been abandoned there. In the actual ‘lot’, there were some mud spots where a vehicle could get stuck. Keep that in mind if you’re planning on driving in. Below are pics of service road, which you cross to continue trail. Squint and you can see trail marker,

On the other side of the stream at the ‘official campsite’ there is a lovely clearing for walk-in camping. Nice fire ring and plenty of wood for fire. It’s quite large and is located at the intersection of 2 streams. It made for some lovely background noise & scenery. *however, there is a boggy section nearby, I imagine that is ‘skeeter central’ in the summer.

Additionally, you could access another (unofficial) campsite at mile 6 using another Forest Service Road. (I have no idea of the quality of the road, but you can reference it on trail map)

Other than the official campsite, I took pictures of each campsite I encountered along the way. Some were nicer than others. I corresponded them with waypoints on my GPS. Some sites had a nicer fire ring than others. Some had more wood accessible than others. It was frustrating wondering how much farther to the next campsite and what sort of condition it was in.

As it was getting close to sunset, my blisters were screaming and I wanted to sit down and study maps to figure out where the hell on the trail I actually was, I set up camp around mile 7 near a stream. (I needed to filter some water.) I got a bit confused where the trail was going. I wanted a good rest and daylight to figure things out.

I set up my tent. Filled 3 empty Powerade bottles with creekwater & filtered with my Katadyn. Gathered wood for campfire. Relied on Duraflame fire starter. The xxxx didn’t work again. (This was the 4th one that did not light!) I tried using leaves & matches, but eventually gave up because I was cold and retreated to my tent.

The Powerade bottles kept falling over in my tent, so I set them outside. Snuggled into my sleeping bag, bundled up for a windy 27 degree night. Munched on my homemade trail mix of Kashi, dried cranberries, flaked coconut, white chocolate chips and almond slices for dinner. I compared the trail map with my gps route and other data to get ready for the next day. I attended to my blisters. One on my heel was atrocious despite considerable padding & Blisterstop. ( include pic)

As always, I had my Bear Mace, headlamp, knife, :human” mace within reach as I went to sleep to the sound of the water rushing & wind blowing.

After dozing off, I heard noise. Rustling of leaves. I sat up. Listened. Rustling coming closer. Headlamp on. I hear ‘snorting’. I peek out the tiny window in back of my tent and see a large shadow. IT IS A BEAR! I had my trail mix in my tent. (I know, I know.) I start hollering, ringing my bear bell, using pole to bang against tent. Meanwhile, I’m wondering what I would do if bear poked its head under rainfly. I decided I couldn’t spray bear mace in the tent. I would use knife to slice thru back of tent if I needed to. After what seemed like an eternity (probably 30 seconds), it shuffled off… 

I didn’t sleep a wink the rest of the night. I put my boots back on. I had my ‘essentials’ in my daypack in case Mr. Bear came back.. Thank goodness I didn’t have to pee because I was NOT going outside my tent in the dark after that!

While I was up, I was debating if I wanted to try to complete the rest of the trail, if I could handle the really steep sections ahead and the ‘sometimes treacherous’ descent. My blisters were still throbbing. I considered hiking to the section where the trail crossed 180 again & try to bum a ride back to the Visitor Center & my car. Then I decided I would just hike back the way I came… 

Once sunrise came…

I ventured out of my tent. I noticed Mr. Bear had taken my Powerade bottles and smooshed them down by the creek. I saw a paw print in the mud that was 3.5 – 4 inches wide while breaking down my tent. The bear did not touch my tent. Even though bear activity in the winter is rare, I wasstupid to have trail mix in my tent. (I did look for a high branch to hang it, but did not see one ‘do-able’) 

I packed up and headed back. I tried ignoring the blister pain. Instead of being distracted by the unknown ahead, I enjoyed the hike back (mostly). If you happen upon a pair of Forest Green Columbia gloves with heat packs in them between mile 5-6, let me know. 😦 

I noticed some interesting trees:and water features:

Plus a long section where something had dug up around the base of lots of little trees. Assuming a squirrel… but there was a good 12 areas dug up that had not been that way the day before…

Doing the entire Coosa Backcountry Loop is an accomplishment I can’t claim yet. But doing 1/2 of it, camping and coming back is a good hike with a decent amount of challenge. 

My suggestions:
Print out a topo map with Lat/Long. Bring your compass.
Bring poles. It really helped me steady myself and heading up the hills.
Wear boots with REALLY good treads. Many areas are pinestraw-y or slick going downhill.
Bring water filtration or water purifying tablets.
Remember that it gets very windy on the ridgelines:  stake your tent & practice safe campfire techniques.
If you do Coosa in warmer weather, bring plenty of strong bug spray & drink LOTS of water.
Remember to bring gear to deal with bears – hang your food, etc.

Official Trail Map: http://goo.gl/Rf2Ho

I’ll update with GPX files. I’ll go back and note which campsites correspond to which waypoints. (Not guaranteeing 100% accuracy, but you’ll have an idea of what is ahead.)

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