I want to give a big thank you to Dusty Allison, who works for Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine. He has graciously allowed me to use his trip report of Linville Gorge’s Lower North Carolina Wall that he posted on http://www.linvillegorge.net. He did this trip last year, and this is a great description of what awaits those who would venture into this area.
If you are not familiar with Blue Ridge Outdoors already, you are missing out. It’s my favorite outdoor magazine, and highlights so many of the things that make the Blue Ridge area so grand. I have BRO to thank for fueling my passion for Linville Gorge, as the first issue I picked up featured the Gorge. Make sure to stop by your local outfitters and pick one up for free! If you’re in Greenville, SC – that would be Appalachian Outfitters near Haywood Mall and Half-Moon Outfitters on Laurens Rd. Or you can also visit http://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/
Lower North Carolina Wall Trip Report
by Dusty Allison.
Seth and I met up in Asheville on Friday morning and were at the Table Rock parking lot and hitting the trail by 10. It was a little later than we had hoped but we were still in deliberation mode on which side of the gorge we would hit even as we drove up Hwy 221. Having made recent adventure pilgrimages with Seth such as the full Black Mountain Crest trail and the Plott Balsam range while we bagged a few more peaks for the South Beyond 6000 challenge, I knew that I would introduce him to the Gorge properly by either taking him through LOST and some of the canyons on the eastern side or the Lower NC Wall (which I myself had not even done yet but had read plenty regarding it here on the forum). Knowing that the TR road would be closing in just 3 or 4 weeks, I made the decision to go big or go home. So we turned the wheels toward Gingercake and silently hoped for minimal ice on the NC Wall.
Even getting a late start, I can never get beyond the Chimneys without leaving the trail and scrambling all around, up, over and through this fantastic playground. The visibility for the day was perfect and there was little snow within the gorge itself as we surveyed the magnificent surroundings from the top of the Chimneys. I pointed out and named all of the gorge landmarks that I knew and that we could see as well as the Black Mountain range to the west and the Roans looming to the north. We also eyed that landslide scar with much curiosity that spills eastward from the Chimneys down into the valley. A lot of our recent bushwhacking/off-trail adventures have been free climbing and scrambling many landslide scars all over Mt. LeConte in the Smokies, so we vowed that we would return soon enough and give that scar the exploration it deserves.
So my plan was to leave the MST and head down the Mossy Monster trail and then head out to explore Apricot Buttress and the Camel before doubling back and heading down the MM chute to the lower wall. Well..call it good company and conversation or the fact that we have been on too many recent outings where we have to hike in long distances before ever getting to the good off-trail stuff in the Smokies, but I missed the MM trail. Yep. However, I did not realize it immediately. We made our right turn on what we thought was MM and I even remember thinking quietly to myself “Huh..that’s funny..the Mossy monster trail is marked with a white quartz rock. I remember reading that the Amp trail is also marked with one of those. Funny coincidence!”…and down the trail we went. That’s how sure I was that there was no way we could have already hiked as far as the turnoff to the Amp. As most of you here can imagine…my mouth dropped as we neared the stone-cairn junction for the climbers descent trail and the South buttress trail and that big beautiful canyon reveled itself. Holy Gorge Rat….we just arrived at where we were supposed to come out at the end of the day!
After a bit of head scratching and a couple of chuckles, we made the decision that instead of returning to the MST, we would traipse across the Upper NC Wall back northward to the gully leading down to the Mossy Monster and pick up the original route there. The Upper NC Wall was a gorgeous and exceptional unexpected journey and it was great fun to look down from the brink to get our first real glimpse of the day of the Sphinx.
It did not take long to get the junction where we would begin the steep gully descent. Ironically, this steep terrain was one of the only areas on the whole trip where we found ice. We slowly and carefully made our way down until we finally stood at the top of the impressive separation crack of Mossy Monster. We made this fun descent with no problem and easily found the path at the bottom that would lead us along the base of the NC Wall.
The journey was majestic and straightforward as we moved along the wall bounding from rock to rock. We took turns grabbing a few pics of one another on the pinnacle before the tree climb. As a couple of the photos show, looking back at each other on the wall was almost as impressive as the pinnacle due to the sheer wall of rock both above and below the ledge we were traversing!
Once we reached the tree climb, I went up first without much trouble. There was definitely a crux moment when you leave the tree and rely on your body to cooperate with the rock to make the ledge. I turned to help Seth with his pack so he could make the climb and I could already tell that he was a little skeptical about the tree and was scouting other potential routes. He finally settled on going a few feet beyond the tree and going free form on his clamber up the rock. Despite my initial reservation, Seth nailed the execution and was soon standing with me on the ledge. So it IS possible but it still doesn’t make it easy to watch the person attempt it!
And here is where it got real fast! From the tree climb to the Sphinx is the infamous question mark and the point where the challenge and pain went to Mach 9 quickly. After exploring a few possibilities of going out a ways south along the ledge, we began to have concerns that we were going to have a hard time safely descending all of the numerous ledges and rock bands that stretched between us and the Sphinx. So after I dropped down the ridge almost directly above the Sphinx and fought unfathomable briars while scouting, I eventually retreated and climbed back up joining Seth who was waiting, watching and listening to me curse the blasted briers that were already drawing blood fast. We made the collective decision that we would retrace our route almost to the tree climb and do the direct southwesterly route that was faintly visible from earlier travelers. It was the closest thing that had the look of human travel and we hoped for the best as we quickly started dropping down the hillside. We very quickly found out this would not be the case as the brambles and thorns swallowed us both. For maybe a half hour, we could not see each other as we beat, whacked, stomped, slid, screamed, cursed, bled, and slithered our way toward the Sphinx. I cannot express the joy that we felt after we finally found ourselves at the base of that awe-inspiring formation with stinging slashes and exhausted muscles. Seth and I both have found ourselves in some nasty and gnarly situations but those briars were some of the most vicious and insidious varieties we have encountered.
Having viewed a lot of the pics of the Sphinx, I knew the route I wanted to quickly ascend up to the middle ledge. There was no way that we were not going to the very top after the fight made to reach this magnificent rock. I led the way crossing the sky bridge and climbing to the top while Seth followed so I could get a few pics of his ascent. The views of the gorge from the top of the Sphinx are priceless and we spent a little while there relaxing, smiling, and taking it all in while nursing a few of our wounds.
From the top, we knew that we were going to descend the Sphinx and bushwhack directly over to the lowest ledge of the Lower Wall to make our way to the Amp. The rest of the journey was fantastic but uneventful compared to the epic bushwhack from the tree climb to the Sphinx. Although it is long and unbelievably steep, we both agreed that the ascent up the Amp was just as fun as the descent of Mossy Monster, Golden rays of light from the quickly setting sun transformed the Amp into a beautifully hazy illuminated chamber of gold. The streams and rivulets flowed strong, cascades plummeted from the rim and the blend of soaring rock, water, and light all merged to create a sight to behold. It served as the perfect farewell to two weary but elated travelers as we finally made the journey back up to the MST and headed north toward a couple of cold beers calling our names at the car. Once we hit the Chimneys, the moon rose above the rocks while the sun finished setting, the stars emerged, and I looked back over my shoulder…already wanting to go back for a second round in that majestic and rugged landscape.
Here is the link to my pics of the day: