Archive for the ‘Backpacking’ Category

The Shortoff Trail on the south rim of the Linville Gorge begins just north of Lake James, the placid endpoint of the wild Linville River.

We ascended through brush and scrappy trees just recovering from the 2007 fire that swept across Shortoff Mountain.  While desolate, the landscape is still varied and interesting, and offers a great case study for the aftereffects of a forest fire.  Plenty of pines and a few hardy deciduous trees have broken through the scorched soil to stake their claims.  The trail itself is somewhat eroded, but easily divined.  In the hot, sandy soil, we saw many lizards and toads basking and looking for prey (or waiting to become prey).

Shortoff Mtn. Trail

The initial stages of the trail will give you great views of Lake James to the south; as you ascend you’ll begin to see glimpses of the gorge’s southern end.  It only takes about a mile and a half of fairly easy hiking to reach a point where you can look out to the jagged rock faces that make the Linville Gorge so unique.

View toward Lake James

View toward north end of Gorge (rock on right side is frequented by climbers)

Eventually, we came to a promontory that gave perfect views toward Table Rock and Hawksbill.  This trail offers a unique and seldom-seen perspective on the two great massifs of the Gorge. While the West rim has a dedicated road with trails descending into the gorge, the East rim offers a trail that mostly follows the ridgeline—this gives you the chance to see the gorge from an elevated position.

View north toward Table Rock & Hawksbill

View toward Table Rock

Northward view from trail

Hike it: Like every hike in the Linville Gorge, The Shortoff Mtn. Trail is not easy, but it is still quite accessible and well worth your time.  If you’re up for a multi-day adventure, this trail will eventually take you all the way to Table Rock.

  • Length: 4.4 miles
  • Duration: 3-4 hrs.
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult
  • Hike Configuration: There and back
  • Blaze: Mountains to Sea (white blaze) for first part; no blaze after that
  • Condition: Rugged
  • Trailhead: Small gravel parking area at end of Wolf Pit Rd.
  • Traffic: Light
  • Directions: 1.) From Boone, your best line is to take NC 105 to Linville, then turn onto NC 181 South. 2.) Once you’re down the mountain, look for Rose Creek Road to your right. 3.) Follow Rose Creek until it terminates at Fish Hatchery Road and take a right. 4.) This road will end at NC 126; take a right and follow 126 for about a mile until you see Wolf Pit Road on your right. 5.) Follow this road to its terminus at the trailhead.

From points south (Marion and Morganton), simply connect to NC 126 (if you’re coming from Marion, Wolf Pit Road will be on your left; from the east, you’ll find it on the right).

Additional Resources:  The Linville Gorge & Tips on Linville Gorge

Entry by Charles

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Max Patch.  It’s one of those places you learn about, either in backpacking magazines or from AT hikers who talk about how refreshing it is after miles of endless woods to emerge on such a high, windswept plateau where the sun shines and the grass seems to stretch like Kansas prairie.

After about two weeks of deliberation, my husband and I decide that we just can’t wait any longer before hitting the famous Max Patch.  After a three hour drive, we finally land in the parking lot at the base of the mountain’s grassy foot.  Grabbing our sticks and gear, we head up the trail on the north side of the loop that leads to the mountaintop.

The trail is peppered with tangerine-colored azaleas, and I’m delighted that our hike coincides with the annual bloom.

Above: flame azaleas on loop around Max Patch 

At the summit of Max Patch (which is named after the farmer who cleared the mountain for cattle grazing), we feel like we can see the entire world.  Lolling clouds play with the mountains below, casting shadows whimsically in and out of deep valleys.  Birds soar overhead, and I can see why birders enjoy visiting this area as it’s home to Canada Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and Goldfinches, just to name a few.

Above: views from Max Patch

After some well-deserved gawking, Charles and I leave the loop and head south down the Appalachian Trail toward Brown Gap.

This is classic AT terrain—sylvan glades, decaying trillium, and a well-trodden footpath.  Along the way, we spot a turkey vulture as well as a coopers hawk flying low through the trees.  The presence of the birds makes the woods seem all the more untamed and my only disappointment is that they’re too quick for my camera.

Above: AT south toward Brown Gap

After about 2.5 miles, we begin what feels like a gradual decent down the mountain toward Brown Gap. (I’ll later learn that the ascent does not feel gradual, but more like a full-scale cardio workout.)  I’m glad I have my hiking stick as it helps me keep my footing as we traverse tree roots and packed leaf litter.  Charles and I are alone the entire time we follow the AT and we savor the solitude, especially since we’re on the most popular hiking trail in the east.

Once at Brown Gap, we linger only long enough to snap a picture of the campsite and to eat a snack of trail mix and salty jerky.

Above: campsite at Brown Gap

After finally making our way back to Max Patch, I’m relieved to see the sunshine on the grassy fields once more.  I tell myself the three hour drive was worth it.  The only downside is that we didn’t bring our overnight packs.  Somehow I feel jealous of all those lucky folks who get to sleep along the AT, under the night’s restless stars.

Hike it:  Want to experience Max Patch?  Here’s how to get there:

  • Head toward Hot Springs, turning south on 209 (there will be signs directing you toward Max Patch)
  • From there, turn right on Meadow Fork road
  • Turn right on Little Creek Road and eventually right on Max Patch road

Charles and I hiked south toward Brown Gap (3.5 miles from Max Patch, there’s a campsite at the gap), but hikers more commonly head north toward Roaring Fork and Lemon Gap.  If you’re down for a real hike, you can go all the way to Hot Springs.

There are numerous campsites in either direction and AT hikers commonly crowd the Roaring Fork shelter during the high season, so bring your tent just in case.  Since this is the AT, the trail is conspicuously marked, so it would be hard to get lost.  In terms of difficulty, the hardest part of this hike was coming back out of Brown gap.

From what I’ve heard, there is no camping on Max Patch as it’s extremely exposed.  As someone who shrivels at the thought of a lightning storm, I can’t say this is a bad idea.

For additional insights and information on Max Patch, please visit the following:

If you’re interesting in birding, you won’t be disappointed with what Max Patch has to offer.  Check out the following sight for detailed information on birding in the area: Wildlife South.

Entry by Lori Beth

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The most marvelous thing about the Linville Gorge is that so few people know it’s there.

Anyone driving around the High Country can hardly miss the prominent massifs of Table Rock and Hawksbill on the gorge’s eastern rim; a drive through Avery County will likely cross the lazy headwaters of the Linville River several times.   However, the casual tourist will have no idea that the Linville River has carved a primordial chasm in the earth.  We have built our roads around it in the spaces it allows, and none of these roads conveys the briefest glimpse of the terrifying beauty the lies just over the ridge.

Above: view of Gorge from Table Rock

The popular Parkway stop at Linville Falls conveys a sense of the river’s grand course, and anyone wishing to fully experience the gorge should stop there first.  Its casual trails will lead you to several dramatic perspectives of the formerly gentle Linville River plummeting down immense granite boulders and carving its initial course through the gorge.  Exploring deeper into the gorge requires:

  • good equipment,
  • good maps, and
  • a desire to commit yourself to the wilderness.

This place is indeed wilderness; you can expect no clearly-marked trails or easy access points.  The terrain is perpetually rugged—walking a mile in the Linville Gorge is invariably more strenuous than walking a mile on any other trail in the High Country.

During one of our hikes, Lori Beth and I explored the Western rim of the gorge from the Cabin Trail, which descends nearly 1000 feet (in only .75 miles) to the Linville Gorge Trail.  Going down the trail with 30lb packs is exhausting; coming back up can be downright scary.  We’re both seasoned hikers, and we both found this short trail to be among the most difficult we had ever attempted.

We continued south on the Linville Gorge Trail to Sandy Flats.  This is where a former west rim trail intersects with the Linville Gorge trail in a (rare!) flat area.  The river is only a short walk below, and we made use of it over the course of two days  to bathe, purify water, and look for wildlife.   During our two days at camp, we saw four human beings pass by on the trail.

Above: view of river from bottom of Gorge

Hike it: There is no easy hike in the gorge.  This is a wilderness, and all hikers should be well-equipped with the essential  matériel and skills. As with any wilderness area, you should always have plenty of water and food, as well as adequate clothing.  If you plan to be near the river, a water filtration unit is very useful, as it can help significantly lighten your load.  You must also carry a topographic map of the area and a compass, and have the requisite skills to use them.  Some trails in the gorge are well-marked, but most are very primitive—plenty of people get lost here every year.  If you hike here, you are truly at the mercy of nature; do not underestimate its power.  If immersion in the wilderness sounds like your kind of hiking experience, the Linville Gorge will not disappoint!

The Eastern rim is accessible from NC181 via Gingercake Road (it’s a long drive on dirt roads, but ultimately worth the effort).  From the Table Rock parking area you can hike to the top of the namesake massif or head south to Shortoff Mountain for views of the south end of the gorge.

The Western rim can be reached by driving down NC 183; it’s a short distance from the Linville Falls community to the road (Kistler Memorial Highway) that traverses the Western rim.  All of the Western rim access trails are located on this road, which will ultimately lead you to Lake James (the terminus of the river that carved the gorge).  The Pine Gap and Babel Tower trails are more generous in terms of elevation gain over a distance than the Cabin trail or the Pinch In trail.

For additional tips, information, and useful links, please visit the following:  Tips on Linville Gorge

Entry by Charles

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