A January Linville Gorge Adventure

On Friday afternoon, Jeremy Puskas, Ben Maycock, and myself jumped in the Subaru and headed for the Linville Gorge. This would be Jeremy’s first time, and we were all pretty excited.

A small bit of history: in August 2011, Ben and I made our first hike into the Gorge to Babel Tower. We did not explore as thoroughly as we would have liked, as we were trying to make it up the Linville Gorge Trail and out at Pine Gap. We came out Cabin Trail. I cringe at the memory. After reading Marshall’s trip reports and seeing his photos of Avatar’s Rib last weekend, it was dead center in my radar to explore, so I thought a revisit of Babel Tower would be well appropriate. Oh, and if any Gorge Rats are reading this, Jeremy’s trail name is FireInMyBones, and mine is black.red.white. (www.linvillegorge.net for anyone who wants to join in on that avenue of fun :))

So we headed up to the Gorge. Jeremy had talked to Hanging Burrito and Running Feather (Gorge Rats) and we were supposed to meet them at Sitting Bear. While we were at Sitting Bear, we found a roasting fork stuck in the ground, so we decided to pack it out. Long story short, we did not meet them and could not find them, and we ended up camping at Hawksbill.

By the time we got here, we were frustrated at things not going as we had planned, and our spirits were low. Jeremy and I are both hangers (hammock campers), Ben is a ground dweller (tent camper), and we found a great spot for all of us to be within a few feet of each other. Everywhere in the Gorge was sopping wet from all the rain, and the fog was THICK. We had hopes of a roaring fire to cook hot dogs over with a titanium grate of Jeremy’s, but we struggled to get a fire going. Jeremy and Ben worked it with some wet lighting tinder, and with talent much greater than mine on top of what had to be the Lord’s providence, started a fire. Ben had found a rock overhang with a few still dry sticks in it, and they were able to get the fire going enough to dry out some of the wet wood. It was smoky, but we had a fire. Not enough to cook dogs on a grate over, though. In another showing of providence, we remembered the roasting fork! To quote Mark Driscoll, “Coincidence is the unbeliever’s word for providence. You say that was coincidence? No, that was the Lord.” Exactly. So now Jeremy broke out his world famous chili. This stuff is awesome, don’t pass it up if you get the chance. Hot dogs with chili, 1554, friends around the fire telling tales, camp set, our spirits were lifting as our bellies were filling. We sang a few songs before heading off to bed, and I had the best nights sleep in the outdoors I have ever had. Thank you, Eagle’s Nest Outfitters.

We started stirring at 7:00am. A quick decision led to a Hawksbill summit before breakfast. We were supposed to meet Mike (darkbyrd) at 8am at Babel Tower, and I tried to send an email and call him from my iPhone, but we weren’t going to make it. The hike up was in the easy side of moderate as far as Gorge standards go. You’ll definitely generate some body heat. I was so pleased that we were able to make Jeremy’s first view of the entire Gorge be from the cliffs of Hawksbill. The rock up there is so dramatic, coupled with the Gorge itself still dark in mystery while everything to the east was covered in sun soaked fog. It was amazing. This was also the first time Ben and I had been to Hawksbill. A great moment for sure. We mulled around the cliffs, looked for spots to hang a hammock, tried to give Mike another call, and headed back down for breakfast. By the time we ate, broke camp, packed up, and finally made it to Babel Tower parking, it was after 10:00am. Sorry Mike. We did see your note.

We took off down the trail. This was my first time hiking with Jeremy, who hikes and camps ultralight, and just received the Peregrine Award for hiking and documenting the 77 mile Foothills Trail. He is speedy, even in the Gorge. We made it to Babel Tower in about 30 minutes, and had no trouble finding the route to the top. This was exciting for me because the first time we were here, Erich Johnson and I did some real sketchy free climbing up the south side of Babel. Finding out that there is actually a path and easy scramble up there was sweet. Especially it was great to have Ben up there with me, because he wisely chose not to do the free climb we did the first time. We gave a loud “Whooooo buddy!!” towards Westface Rock because I had read Wigg and Marshall were planning on scrambling over there. We got a “Whooooo buddyyy!!” in return, but were unable to see anyone on the east side. Then we heard a “Whooooo!” and saw Mike and McKenzie way below us on the switchbacks to the river. Sorry we did not cross paths that day, buddy.

Heading north, we found the shortcut from Babel Tower to Avatar’s Rib that Marshall had described on his trip. There is a downed tree that can be shimmied, but a few feet west of that is a larger tree that can be used to post against as your scramble down the cliff, as Jeremy did. Ben and I took the trail back to the base of Babel Tower and met up with Jeremy on the scramble up to Avatar’s Rib. Once up there, we hollered again, got a response, and were able to catch a glimpse of Wigg and Marshall on the Sulpher Fungus Ledge. You feel tiny when you’re in the Gorge, but until you see someone from across can you appreciate just how small we really are. Like rats running around in a maze, indeed…like Gorge Rats. Indeed.

A short discussion led us to foregoing Avatar’s Rib and heading into the bushes to find Hell’s Ridge Camp on the northwest corner of the Babel peninsula. “Where to?” was the question, and without any trail, we just headed into the direction I believed the camp was. What I know of Hell’s Ridge Camp is this: it is a long forgotten and unvisited campsite of avid Linville explorer since the 1960’s, Bob Underwood, who currently is living in India. He had been asking about it and mentioned it in a discussion we were having, so I wanted to visit it. So we started into the bushes and briars. We came upon what looked like trail that was heading in the direction we wanted to go, so we took it. We actually didn’t do any backtracking, although we lost the trail to the bushes a few times. A flat semi-clearing at the cliffs! This had to be it. A great camp, for sure. We had a look around and I took some video surveying the area. Time to head back. We followed our path back up toward’s Upper Avatar’s Rib, but managed to move away from our original entry. Not far beyond finding a stack of feathers where someone had a good snack, where there was some trail, was a large cairn on the rock to Hell’s Ridge Camp! As far as we could tell, it didn’t look like anyone had been out there recently, but that cairn was definitely to the way to Hell’s Ridge Camp. Bob, I know you’ll be reading this. I’d love to know the backstory on Hell’s Ridge and its naming.

After a little more scrambling and lunch break on Babel Tower (there’s a fire ring up there if anyone’s curious), we talked about the next plans. We hadn’t been to the river yet, but still wanted to hit the falls and Louise’s. We talked about the switchbacks and decided to just make the call once we got to the intersection. Coming down from Babel, Ben and I followed a lower trail we assumed would connect back up towards the Linville Gorge Trail but we ended up on a lower trail. This had to be the path to Babel Canyon at the river, so we went for it. I’ve been at the river at the sandy beach campsite further upstream, Spence Bridge, Cathedral Falls, and along the LGT from Leadmine to PinchIn. I can easily say that Babel Canyon is the most awesome place I’ve seen it. I explored around a little bit as far as I felt safe with the wet rocks while Jeremy and Ben took a swim. Brrr!

After the swim, we all headed back up to the car. Being Jeremy’s first time in the Gorge, he really wanted to experience not just a deep trip in but also the highlights. Having already bagged Hawksbill, we drove all the way down Kistler (noting the southern entrance to Rock Jock (the Mossy Canyon Ridge Trail/MCRT) to Pinnacle. There’s such great views with such little effort there. Then we headed back north to Wiseman’s View. Kistler between Wiseman’s and Conley Cove is pretty rough, with lots of washboarding and some decent ruts, but we did see a Ford Taurus wagon making it. I guess it’s your decision with your car. I personally don’t want a gash in my oil pan.

Anyway, Wiseman’s. There is handicap wheelchair access to the views here, making it the EASIEST and most level path in the whole Gorge. Getting to these spectacular views is as easy as walking to your mailbox. Anyone can do this. Looking over the edge, we saw a toy dog someone had dropped on a ledge. I scrambled down over the edge and brought it back up to the wall. The lost dog. I took a pic of the lost dog looking toward Lost Dog camp. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but I left the dog by one of the pillars to the rail for someone else to find. I did, however, pack out the Mountain Dew can that someone left on the edge. I suppose it evens out. We also packed out a beer bottle from Hawksbill, and our hot dog roasting fork from Sitting Bear. Go us.

The final Gorge stop for us was Linville Falls. This is more trail than path, but it’s easy hiking. Less than half a mile in and to get to the falls. There are several different overlooks, and they are all worth seeing. I love the upper falls and seeing the chute that funnels the water to the top of the falls. I’m always impressed with that, then going to the next overlook to see the water exploding out of the cliffs. Excellent stuff totally worth it. As we stood on the final overlook with the falls below us and the sun setting beyond, we were ending the day in the same way we started it. What a grand day it has been for us. We had first mentioned it in the bushes and briars of Babel Tower, but we came back to the conversation here. Just imagine what beauty we will behold on the day when The Lord wipes away every tear, creation is redeemed, when the dross is consumed and the gold is refined. What will a redeemed North Carolina look like, free of the curse when all of mankind is finally completely reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross and resurrection, and the faith of God’s rag-tag group of grace getters is made sight? What a day that will be, indeed!

Topping off our adventure, as any adventure in the Linville Gorge should be topped off with, was a trip to Famous Louise’s Rockhouse on the corner of 221 and 183. Dinner for a well worked up appetite, and the obligatory strawberry rhubarb pie, really is a great way to close the day.

I love the Linville Gorge.

I’d like to recommend Jeremy’s video trip report at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFg6snQaJuA&sns=em

(For new adventurers, a great intro to the Gorge is this. Drive 221 north into the community of Linville Falls and turn right on 183 and stay to the right at the dirt road, which is Kistler Memorial Highway. Pass the info cabin and park on the left at the Linville Falls parking. Leisurely take your time to the falls. There is a little bit of uphill but nothing terribly difficult. This is an easy trail. After visiting the Falls, head south on Kistler to Wiseman’s View (there’s a sign on the left), and enjoy those views. Head back to Louise’s for some pie. This’ll probably only take you a couple hours, but it’s a great way to visit the Linville Gorge. If you want a little longer of a trip with additional great views, access Kistler from the south via 126 just out of Nebo. You’ll be able to get the Shortoff Mountain views and the short 1/4 mile high to Pinnacle Mountain. Then head north to Wiseman’s View, Linville Falls, and Louise’s. Note that Linville Falls is also accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway.)

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