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Archive for the ‘Difficult Day Hikes’ Category

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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Below is a brief overview of things you should know about hiking in The Linville Gorge Wilderness:

Entry Fees:

  • There are no entry fees to enter or camp in the Gorge

Permits:

  • Permits are required for camping only on weekends and holidays from May 1 through October 31.  Permits are not required November 1 through April 30.  Permits are not required for visitors who do not stay overnight.

Weather:

  • Weather in the Gorge varies according to whether you are on peaks like Table Rock or down in the Gorge itself.  Weather on peaks and high outcroppings is often windy and cool in summer months.  Near the river, it can be hot and muggy.  Spring and fall temperatures are typical to the area.
  • Flash floods can be a serious threat.  Try to camp at least a few feet above the river.

Terrain:

  • Primitive and extremely rugged.  Allow for additional hiking time as one mile is like two.  Many trails are poorly marked, so bring your back-country navigational skills.

Skills:

  • Backpacking experience, navigational skills, good physical condition, emergency preparedness skills

What to Bring:

  • An extra layer of clothes
  • A daypack with extra food and the usual emergency items
  • Swimsuit (if hiking to the river)
  • Trekking poles or hiking stick (these are a must!)
  • Camera
  • Map
  • Compass

Activities:

  • Swimming, hiking, backpacking, top-roping, climbing, sport climbing, birdwatching, fishing

Trails:

Eastern Rim

Short off Mountain
Cambric Ridge
Table Rock
Spence Ridge
Jonas Ridge
Devil’s Hole
Brushy Ridge

Western Rim

Pinch in Tr.
Rock Jock Tr.
Conley Cove Tr.
Sandy Flats
Babel Tower Tr.
Bynum Tr.
Cabin Tr.
Bynum Bluff Tr.
Pine Gap Tr.

Gorge Trail

The Linville Gorge Trail follows the Linville River its entire length at the bottom of the canyon.

Other

While there are lots of serious hiking and backpacking trails in the Gorge, there are also more accessible hikes such as Wiseman’s View and Linville Falls.

Additional Information:

  • Don’t underestimate the Gorge–it is a wild, isolated, and sometimes dangerous place.
  • Avoid hiking solo and always tell someone about your plans.
  • Fires are permitted.
  • Hiking down into and out of the Gorge can be treacherous as it is extremely steep.  Use a stick or trekking poles.
  • Each year, a number of individuals are rescued from the Gorge.  In the summer of 2010, for example, my husband and I passed two young men who we later discovered were rescued just hours later due to illness.  The terrain was so intense that they were unable to hike out on their own.  Their story is not unique.
  • If you use a pack cover, it may get shredded.  The vegetation can be dense and unforgiving to pack covers, not to mention your legs and arms.  Try to wear long pants, if possible.  Consider replacing your expensive pack cover with a trash bag.
  • External frame packs can make Gorge hiking tough, due to dense vegetation and steep descents.
  • Look out for the Brown Mountain lights toward Table Rock.  I swear my husband and I saw them while camping in the summer of 2010!
  • The Gorge can be crowded during the high season (May-September), especially during weekends and holidays.  Avoid the crowds by going on a weekday.

Additional Resources:

North Carolina Outdoors

Pisgah National Forest

National Forests in North Carolina

Hiking the Carolinas

SummitPost.org

Linville Gorge Trail Data

Linville Gorge & Wiseman’s View

Books & Maps:

Linville Gorge Wilderness PDF

Linville Gorge Wilderness Area

Linville Gorge/Mt. Mitchell Map

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