Monday, December 12, 2011

Five Points

A month or two ago I read about this new trail system "Five Points" on the Sorba Forum. It was supposed to be up near Chattanooga somewhere. From the photos it looked like the kind of place I'd really dig but I then I half-forgot about it with everything else that was going on.

When I was at Mulberry Gap for Andrew's birthday, Richie brought it back up though. Legend says that it was designed and/or built by the same guy that did Racoon Mountain and that it's part of an effort to build a chain of connected trail systems from Chattanooga down to the Pinhoti, or at least to Taylor's Ridge. That little bit of background information was apparently what I needed to hear and it drove the trail firmly into The List.

Yesterday I got the chance to cross it off.

I did a little research online and it turned out that 5 Points is on the Cloudland Canyon property. So I printed out a map and headed off to Cloudland Canyon.

 Cloudland Canyon Park Sign

If I'd done 1% more research then I'd have realized that the trail system is up the road a bit from what you'd think of as the park proper. It's technically on their property, but not on the part that the public generally goes to.

Before I realized my error I drove around the main park area for a while. They've got miles of hiking trails and a waterfall and beautiful views and I'm definitely going back there sometime.

And! There are two inholdings on the park property. One of them just is a classic North Georgia used-to-be-farm property. The other has a trailer up near the road and a house set a little back on the property and it looks like both exploded all over the yard.

Between the natural scenic beauty and those two properties, the park is a perfect microcosm of North Georgia.

After figuring out what I'd done wrong, I got back on the road and went the right way. I'd sort of noticed on the way in, but after seeing the shredded house in the park, I really started noticing... The entire neighborhood is a collection of once-farm properties with dilapidated houses, trailers or shops next door and industrial debris and old trucks scattered about, randomly. It looked like a long time ago the town had been just prosperous enough to get established before drying up completely. Now, several generations later, people still live on their great-grandparents' land but for half of them, there just isn't enough money to hold it all together. That's how it struck me at the time. Later I would get a little more insight, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

On Hwy 157 I saw some little squirrel looking thing bound across the road. It was red though, like the squirrels in Dallas and Tennessee. As I got closer though I realized that it was big, bigger than a squirrel, and it had black markings on it too. It was some kind of weasel. At first I thought it was an escaped pet ferret but no, it was something else. The Weird Red Weasel of North Georgia.

Eventually I made it to where I had originally intended to be. The 5 Points Trailhead.

 5 Points Trailhead Sign

There, I met Travis, with whom I have shared so many adventures.


There were 6 or 8 other dudes in the parking lot too. I noticed two odd things about them. One, they all had shaggy beards. Like, I-just-finished-hiking-the-AT beards. Maybe they were holdovers from "Movember". Maybe they all just got finished hiking the AT. I wonder. The second odd thing was that they were all riding 26'ers. After Jessie and Karlos and the majority of the Florida mountain biking community making fun of my 26'er, I now notice the size of everybody's wheels. The bell can't be un-rung. It's like the guys and the custody swaps. Once you find out, it just jumps out at you everywhere.

The 5 Points Lot is great. There's a composting privy and an actual changing room, though the slats in the changing room don't quite overlap enough and you can see into the one next door as you walk into the other one. Fortunately I am only slightly more modest than Flea so this was not a problem for me.

The only problem I had was the temperature. It was like 37 degrees. Brisk. I prayed that there would be no sudden gust of wind before I was fully dressed and thankfully, my prayers were answered.

When we were done screwing around with bikes and gear, me and Travis hit the trails. The first one reminded me of Santos. It rolled up, down, over and around these weird little bluffs which couldn't possibly have been actual bluffs because they appeared to be mainly composed of little bits of sandstone and shale. I couldn't imagine a natural process that could have formed them, or any of the dozens of little half-frozen ponds between them either. I mentioned that to Travis and we discussed it a bit. Mining? Maybe. Whatever it was, it was done a long time ago.

The name of the trail should have given us a clue. If I'd paid attention to it, then it might have. The trail was called "Tailings Run". As in mine-tailings. As in the piles of dirt left over from a mining operation. I had guessed that they might have been left over from a mining operation, but even later when I read the name at the next intersection, I didn't put it together. It finally hit me on the way home later, like a Thunderbold of Duh. I was thinking about something else, then Bam! "Tailings."

On the drive in, Travis had gone up north in search of breakfast and noticed that the trail crossed the road up there. The map didn't show it crossing, so we checked it out. Yep, it crosses the road. On the other side, it's "Long Branch".

 Long Branch Trail

Later I would read on the Internet that Long Branch leads north for about 5.6 miles. It looks like that plan to connect up with Chattanooga is coming together after all.

On either side of the road there were these crazy signs.

 Oncoming Traffic Does Not Yield

I love the dramatic depiction. It reminded me of a sign that Norma had seen up north warning you not to approach elk with a similarly dramatic depiction of an elk attacking a guy. It's just not what you expect to see on such a familiar yellow road sign.

Most of the trails out there loop out and back from a central point - 5 Points.

 5 Points

Though I'm not sure that's the right name for it because I counted 8 trails leading out of there, 7 of which followed old roadbeds, so it's not like it was 5 points historically and 3 more were added recently. Maybe 7 Points just didn't sound as good. Maybe it got the name when before two of the roads were built. These are the kinds of things that I just need to know. Somebody knows. Tell me.

We'd ridden Tailings Run, taken the CCT out and back and climbed part of the Fugget Lift when we noticed Slickenside, which was marked in black on the map. The black trails kind of blended into the lines for the old roadbeds and it always surprised me to find one. Slickenside was chocked full of berms and small tabletops but it looked like maybe it was designed to be ridden in the other direction so we did an out-and-back. The other direction was anticlimactic though. You really had to work for almost every jump and it was a little disappointing.

We rode the rest of the Fugget Lift, took Windy Shot back to 5 Points and headed out on Kettle Bottom. I kept expecting it to drop down into the Valley but for some reason we kept switching back up the hill. Any minute now... It turned out we were not on Kettle Bottom. I had a map and the signage out there is very obvious and highly descriptive...

 Signage you'd think we'd have a hard time getting lost, yet we still managed it.

Fortunately everything loops back on itself so we were on Kettle Bottom soon enough and hit the first long run-out of the day. It wasn't crazy-steep but it was long and fast and fun with good views, a lot like the Pinhoti in the Cohttas.

At the north end there was an impressive Tire Pile.

 The Great Tire Pile

More tires had been dumped up closer to 5 Points too, and there was also a Great Bottle Pile.

 The Great Bottle Pile

Some of the bottles were really old and interesting. I have this duality about trash. By rights, trash should be cleaned up, but if there isn't much of it and it's old enough to be unfamiliar, and it somehow escapes the clean-up process then maybe a piece of trash can become an artifact and maybe it makes a more culturally and historically valuable statement left in place. Even if that statement is negative, like "People used to dump trash up here", it is still historically accurate. Me and Travis discussed this a bit while we rode back up to bomb down Hanging Wall and Foot Wall.

Iz called me on the climb. It still amazes me where I get mobile phone coverage. She'd lost her thumb drive. I didn't know where it was but if she'd just keep things a little more organized...

Hanging wall and Foot Wall were fun. A lot of the trail sits on an old, narrow roadbed.

 Old Roadbed

But a good bit is purpose-cut singletrack too.


It looked like they used the old roads whenever they could but when they were below grade, or when they just ended, they cut new trail. There was substantial variety in the scenery and the character of the trail. It wasn't just the same 100 yards, ten thousand times. I love that.

I don't remember exactly what trails we rode next. Somehow we worked our way down to the southern end and discovered the old, buried Torino.


Somebody went through a lot of trouble to ditch that hulk. The apparently hauled it out on the old road that is now Backend, pushed it over the side and then piled dirt and rock all over it so it couldn't be seen from the road. The trail runs right by it though, so it's easy to see from the other side. I bet if you unbury it, there are bodies in the back seat.

Again, with the trash. I hope they leave that one in place.

We rode all over the south side trails.

 Travis Climbing

There are two called North Hogsback and South Hogsback that were even gnarlier than Tailings but ran over the same kind of terrain.

 Coal Mine Piles

There's just NO way that's natural.

Still not realizing what it was, we debated it further. Travis suggested that they might be the remnants of civil-war era earthworks. There were battles galore fought throughout that area and you can't preserve them all as historic sites. I could totally imagine that and for a while, it was our operative theory.

We made it to the Ascalon Road Trailhead where I used the facilities, then we headed back up for two more loops back to 5 Points and back. The only really technical part of the whole system is on the Caprock trail where you have to crawl over lots of exposed rock a la the Pinhoti on Dug Gap Mountain. There's even a loop where if you screw it up, you can loop back until you get it right. I never got it right. There was this tricky ledge I couldn't get over, and in the other direction I managed to get my bike to rebound out from under me once. Woohoo!

Travis's tire had been leaking down and he had to juice it, once up by the old Turino...

 Tire Repair

...and again down lower right before we headed back to the lot at the end of the day.

While he was attending to it the second time, I waited about 50 yards down the trail at the next intersection and ran into a group of hikers that we'd seen earlier. It was a couple, their kids and one of their mothers. Three generations of family out hiking together. I love it. I talked to them a bit and it turned out they lived nearby, had for generations, had walked all over the mountain for years and knew the history really well. Post-civil war it had been a coal mine and all that weird terrain was, in fact, mine tailings. The coal was mainly shipped to Chickamauga by rail but the older lady's father used to buy coal from the mine and resell it locally. She'd gone there with him to pick it up several times. The ground was always warm, the coal was always scattered in thin piles everywhere and it steamed constantly. To her, it seemed like the entrance to the pit of hell. The coal was originally dug out by hand but later they brought in steam shovels and it was eventually abandoned in the late 1800's.

What are the odds that I'd run into the one family out there hiking, right when I'd be stopped otherwise, and that they would be that closely tied to the history of the mountain, which we just happened to be curious about after noticing the weird terrain that probably nobody else would think twice about. What are the odds!?


It had been a long day, and a slightly cold day too. It probably never got higher than 40 degrees and I'd been wiggling my toes for hours. Somehow though, it didn't seem nearly as bad as it did on the road a few days earlier and it was over ten degrees colder.

Back at the lot we asked some locals about good places to eat. They suggested two allegedly great Mexican joints but Travis wanted a burger. He was attempting to consult the internet when a guy came over and suggested the Pigeon Mountain Country Store. His directions weren't that accurate but oddly enough, I knew where it was. I'd ridden by it twice this past summer trying to beat the sunset back to my car.

They were always closed when I'd ridden by and I told myself "Someday I'll be up here early enough to eat there" and lo, the prophesy was fulfilled.

 Pigeon Mountain Country Store

They make burgers from locally-raised grass-fed beef and serve them on an onion roll and man it hit the spot. Man! I'm eating there next time I'm up that way and you should too.

In the parking lot on the way out, I observed a custody swap. Can't un-ring that bell. I see them everywhere.

Satisfied! That's how I felt on the drive home. It was all smiles and satisfaction. I had a two and a half hour drive back but I definitely got my money's worth. New trails, great trails! A long ride, good food, and it was great to ride with Travis again. I almost can't wait for next weekend. Maybe I can do it all over again.

1 comment:

  1. sounds like tons of fun!

    i hear you on noticing the wheels all the time....i'm running a 29er fork/wheel on the front of my 26er, get all kinds of weird looks, but hey it works for me. (and motorcycles of the dirt variety too mind you!)