Thursday, May 5, 2011

Backpacking the Linville Gorge Loop

Last weekend my friend, Tom Sliker, and I completed a 22 mile backpacking trip around the Linville Gorge Loop.  This hike was written up in Backpacker Magazine last year, much to the chagrin of those who frequent the Gorge.  It was rugged terrain, described as appropriate only for the "fit & adventurous".  I figure 1 out of 2 ain't bad.  However, about halfway into the trip I felt much less adventurous.  This time of year was a good time to go, as the wildflowers were in bloom, the weather was comfortable and there wasn't too bad of a crowd.  Linville is near Morganton, NC (which is kind of between Boone and Hickory). I used to go rock climbing here in my younger days, scaling routes on NC's Table Rock and in the Gorge, but this was my first backpacking trip here.  Here's the play-by play:

Day 1: (6 miles)
We started Friday morning parking at Wolf Pit Road Trail head (near the southeast end of the gorge.) We climbed the trail to Shortoff Mountain for our first glimpse into the Gorge.  from here we hiked along or around the East rim for about 6 miles.  The upper rim was spectacular and, although difficult, well worth the effort.  Water was much more available than we had been led to believe, but possibly because of rain earlier in the week. We camped in an area called the Chimneys under a huge overhanging rock.  I was able to use some knot-tying/rock-climbing skills to suspend my Hennessey Hammock under the rock overhang in the absence of trees.  Because this campsite was along the rim of the gorge, it was too windy to safely have a campfire, but we enjoyed incredible views as the sun set. 

Day 2: (10 miles)
We packed and left camp around 8:30am and headed toward the Table Rock parking area.  This is NC's Table Rock in case you're confused.  There are clean privies here and garbage cans, so it was a nice resting spot. From here we began our descent into the gorge via the Little Table Rock trail, which was brutal for about an hour, but then became almost boring, once it connected to the Spence Ridge Trail.  It finally emerged at the Linville River, with one-sided, split-log bridges across.  This is a rocky river, laden with enormous boulders.  Some fishermen were in the river, but apparently without any luck. 

We hiked South along the river the rest of the day.  This section of the trail was poorly maintained, with lots of fallen trees to climb over, rocky footing, up and down sections, and many more hikers than the previous day (probably because it was Saturday).  We were hoping to camp at Daffodil Flats, an old homestead campsite, but it was occupied when we arrived, so we proceeded downstream for about another 45 minutes.  We actually passed a couple of other options electing NOT to camp on a sandy riverbank nor at a site where previous "campers" had left dozens of cans of uneaten food (potential critter bait).  we found a respectable site near the end of the river trail.  It needed some clean-up too, but it was nice and we rested well.

Day 3: (6 miles)
Sunday we awoke, ate breakfast and headed out later than planned (around 9am).  We quickly hit a turn in the trail that begins to circumnavigate some private farm land on the valley floor.  Although it was supposed to be marked with blue blazes, it was almost vertical and the blazes disappeared quickly.  At one point we missed a turn and found ourselves lost for about 15 minutes.  We were less than 50 yards away from the trail, but the terrain was so rugged it took us a while just to get back on trail.  With course corrected we headed around the Gorge and back towards the Linville River.  This loop trail "fords" the river (which was actually one of the things that drew us to this hike.)  Conditions were safe enough and we took turns crossing.  NOTE: always unbuckle your pack and try to use a walking stick when crossing a river.  This river was slightly higher than knee deep at the deepest point and the current was gentle.  After taking a break to dry off and snack we began the climb back out of the gorge, via the Mountains to Sea Trail.  We gradually made our way back to the car at Wolf Pitt Road and headed. home.

If you are interested in a shorter trip, I recommend parking at the Table Rock parking area and camping nearby.  There are many great day hikes available from that area, but I suggest climbing the back side of Table Rock (via trails), and hiking out to the Chimneys, Rock Peak, or even Shortoff Mountain.


Tim O'Keefe said...

Hey Tighty,

I almost forgot to check your blog out because it has been a while. I have had that picture from the snow day on my blog roll for months. I will have to read your post later - but I love the pictures. You are an adventurer.

They are doing a sermon series about Love Wins at ELCC. Maybe you should check it out.

I'm glad that you are back on the blogging horse again. - Peace

The Nicholsons said...

I knew you were going on a hike, but DANG! Awesome. And that first picture - stunning.

Anonymous said...

Hey glad you guys found the river Ford. My friend and I missed it and crossed we think my much farther up and ended up climbing (hand holds, foot holds and no climbing gear) up 900 ft to meet the MTS. This was a little hairy but luckily it rained 2 out the 3 days we were there so we were already miserable Haha.

Anonymous said...

That almost vertical 'blue-blazed' trail is called Leadmine. It could have been made a lot more gentle but it is an illegal trail and not listed on official US Forest Service maps. People rightly fear a stiff fine if they are caught extending it. BUT It is Not illegal to hike or map or photograph. The north end of Leadmine will eventually become an erosion ditch and it would be best if the USFS would recognize it, improve it and extend it to become a smooth trail for backpacking. It is the roughest segment of the ITAYG loop. Your hike also could be more gentle if you use the Faulkner Flats trail ( also unofficial) from the east bank of the river directly up to Wolfpit road.

Wes Kanoy said...

Awesome place that you or your friend hung the hammock from. Under the rock, and hanging from rock, nice. I love the gorge.

-Wes Kanoy

R. Montejo said...

Hi there! We are planning to do this same loop (starting and ending at Wolfpit) in about 3 months but have been advised against it because we are beginners. TBH, it sounds doable based on what I read about your experience here. Challenging but possible, and we are looking for a challenge.