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Posts Tagged ‘Linville Gorge’

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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Standing atop Wiseman’s View at night is a little scary.  The moonlit canyon inspires feelings of smallness, ineptitude, and a general sense of insecurity at one’s own ability to survive in such a place.  Yet in spite of these feelings, people such as myself are repeatedly drawn to this spot and to the Linville Gorge which plummets over a thousand feet below it.

Charles and I are on our way home, driving up from a long day of enjoying the sights and sounds of Asheville.  The moon hangs like a polished orb above us and is so bright we can almost see without the car’s headlights.  As we drive, a wood cock dashes across the road and I almost wreck the car trying to get a look at this seldom-seen bird.

It’s about the time we get to North Cove that I blurt out “Hey babe, let’s drive up to Wiseman’s View on our way to Boone.  The moon will be amazing and we may even see the brown mountain lights.”  I know that Charles, in his obsession with the Gorge and unquenchable moon-lust, won’t be able to say no.

And so we find ourselves driving up a narrow, gravelly, wet road on the west rim of the gorge.  On our way up, we enjoy views of Hawksbill as the leaves are not yet able to obstruct our view.  Surprisingly, quite a number of car campers have braved the wet roads and cool, windy night to stake out campsites along the road.

At the top, we park the car, throw on our jackets and walk out to Wiseman’s View.  Charles has a flashlight, but because the moon is so luminous, he stashes it in his coat pocket.  As we stand on the windswept overlook, Charles and I are bathed in moonlight and the sound of the rushing river below.  An enormous rainstorm the night before has risen the water level several feet and it sounds like a raging bull beneath us.  Looking out into the Gorge, we see two small campfires twinkle along the river; Charles and I muse about what it would be like to camp so deep in the Gorge on such a raw spring night.

We stand a while longer on the outlook, silently hoping to see a glimpse of the famous Brown Mountain lights that we were lucky enough to spot one weekend while camping along the river.  The lights are most commonly seen just along Table Rock.  Because it’s such a beautiful and mysterious night, I feel sure we’ve got a good chance.

See it:  The Linville Gorge is mysterious, dangerous, wild, and even mythical.  That’s why year after year so many people visit it.  Wiseman’s View is especially popular as it affords fantastic views of the Gorge just minutes after stepping out of your vehicle.

To get to Wiseman’s View, turn onto the Kistler Memorial Hwy. (formerly NC 105) from Hwy 183.  On your way up, you’ll pass the following places:

1. Alternate parking area for Linville Falls
2. Information Cabin (on your right)
3. Parking area for Pine Gap Trail
4. Parking area for Bynum Bluff Trail
5. Parking area Cabin Trail
6. Parking area for Babel Tower Trail
7. A sign will point the way (to the left) for Wiseman’s View.

You’ll also pass numerous car campsites.  These sites usually operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.  The campsites are easy to access, relatively large, and some can accommodate more than one vehicle.  Fires are permitted.

If you’re interested in the Gorge in general, you might enjoy the following links, which offer additional information on the Gorge as well as the Brown Mountain Lights:  Tips on Linville Gorge, Linville Gorge & Brown Mountain Lights.

Charles, inspired by our experience, wrote the following poem:

________________________________________
Wiseman’s View

We live here on the cusp of tame and wild:

civilization’s trappings (gaudy signs,

bright lights to mend the darkness, barking dogs

to insulate a house) can disappear

in seconds from a simple change of course.

We spent a day in artful buildings cast

by clever men:

before us lay their bright

ingenious pinnacles, and we drove home

through dynamited corridors of granite.

At last, we turned away from the perfection

and shame of man’s devices on a road

into the gorge.

Before us now lies darkness,

the cenotaph of Table Rock, the plunging

reality of cliffs and river pure,

two token campfires in the scary wild.

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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

© Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (including images and information) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Please see copyright page for additional information.

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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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