My birthday is coming up and I asked my wife Jenny for the same thing I asked for last year: a trip to Linville Gorge. Our 2012 trip was a mess that left us with plenty of good stories and started a blog (you can read it here: http://thelongroadtozion.blogspot.com/2012/04/report-that-started-this-ball-rolling.html?m=1). After the Sandy Flat trail turned waterfalls, hail storms, and the demoralizing walk from Conley Cove back to Wiseman’s View, I had to play it straight on this one.
We parked at PinchIn.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We drove into the Gorge from I-40 to exit 90 to Nebo, around Lake James, up 126 to Kistler Memorial Highway 105. This is my favorite entrance to the Gorge because of the spectacular views of Shortoff Mountain from the road. I’m always amazed at how quick we get to the exit, yet we’re still an hour away from parking because of the slow going the surrounding roads demand. We hit the gravel on Kistler and the adventure began. I am driving my 2007 Toyota Matrix, front wheel drive, with about 4/32’s of tread on the tires.
We made it to Pinnacle parking with no problem. A short hike up to the top gives the best view of Lake James from the west side of the Gorge, as well as an amazing view of the cliffs of Shortoff Mountain. Getting back to the car, the parking area was full of a group wearing hard hats and carrying orange Home Depot buckets. I’m guessing they were goat herders.
After a short drive, we now parked at PinchIn. The goal of this trip was to see Daffodil Flats, a field if daffodils deep down by the river. They typically bloom March-ish, and we had been seeing daffodils blooming since February so I thought it would be a decent time. Options to get to Daffodil Flats: 1) PinchIn to Linville Gorge Trail. All official, longer, and a difficult climb out. Nothing perilous. 2) Pinnacle to the Mountains to Sea Trail to Leadmine to LGT. Wet. Previously scouted and decided not the best place to bring the girls. 3) Unnamed. Yeah, right. Not after last year. If I was with some hardcore bushwhacking scrambling rhodo-cracker like Wigg Faulkner, you betcha. My sweet wife? I chose PinchIn. In an effort to make this easier for her, I let her use my trekking poles, and I packed everything else (except her DSLR Canon) in my 35L Gregory pack. She was packless, and I was the pack-mule hoping this hike wouldn’t turn me into the pack-ass.
Down we went. The hike down PinchIn was really sweet. On both sides of the ridge, the recent rain was audible in waterflow. A few trickles on the south side of the ridge, and a good creek on the north side from a plateau. I noted what looked like some remnant of trail and question if that plateau is where Rock Jock extends north up to the Mossy Canyon Ridge Trail (MCRT). Once at the cliffs, we took on some of my favorite Gorge views. Shortoff to the south, the North Carolina Wall, Table Rock and Hawksbill to the north. I love being able to look at those areas and trace routes I’ve hiked previously. A wildfire from a few years ago has cleared off the ridge of all but a few charred tree trunks. There was some slip sliding down in some steeper section with dry and dusty dirt, and we just lolly gagged our way down to the river. That last leg on PinchIn after it heads north off the ridge is steeeeep, but none of it is treacherous. Just difficult. We tried to put thoughts of hiking back up PinchIn to the car out of our mind as we headed south on the LGT intersection.
Not too far from PinchIn are a few campsites, and the first one is pretty sweet right on the river. My feet and shins were complaining from walking the last mile and a half with the brakes on, and the river with a few broad rocks at the shore was pretty welcoming. Off with the socks and shoes, out with the trail mix (Omega-3 blend from Trader Joe’s is a winner). The Linville River was ICE COLD, but pretty rejuvenating to tired feet. A couple guys were camping on the east side, and I wondered where they came in from. a river crossing would have been extremely unpleasant, temperature wise. After shoeing back up, we headed south on the LGT. It was really cool to have the cliffs of Shortoff directly above us and be able to see the balcony in the side of the mountain where the Crack of Doom emerges. We were graced with the awesome sight of a blue heron gliding above the river and coming to rest on the east side. It took back to the air before we could get to a spot clear enough for a photo, but watching it gracefully fly back up the river was a truly spectacular sight.
I know that it’s easy to overestimate distance when hiking in the Gorge, but I was starting to question if I had missed it, even though I didn’t think so. About the time I started getting the urge to say, “It has to be just up ahead…?” I saw some yellow through the brush. Daffodil Flats.
They weren’t quite in full bloom, but there were still plenty enough not to disappoint. Jenny walked around and took some photos, while I checked out the area. The ground was extremely soggy along the west side of the flats, with a little stream coming down from the cliffs (from Rockefeller Plaza or Nate’s Waterfall, perhaps?). Several feet to either side of it, even though it looked dry, was boggy. I looked back when I heard the sucking sounds of Jenny pulling her feet loose from the muck. I set up the hammock (unmodified ENO DoubleNest with SlapStrapPro’s for anyone who cares), we sat back and enjoyed our turkey on hoagie sandwiches for lunch. Reclining side by side with Jenny in the hammock, leisurely enjoying our lunch, and feasting our eyes on that field of daffodils was one of those moments I wish I could have frozen time. Resting with my wife, who I love even more than hammocks in the Linville Gorge, is one of the sweetest balms to my soul. Life is difficult, and to have an excellent wife to run this race with brings so much joy to me. Honey, I love you so much.
We could have laid there forever. I was totally wishing I had packed camping gear because we would have pitched right there and stayed the night. Unfortunately, it was 2:30pm and now this good thing must come to an end. We had to head back, and this was the halfway point. I knew that this trip would have it’s difficulties, but I did not anticipate that our energy would be depleted as much as it was by the time we got to Daffodil Flats. We had over a mile before we got to the LGT PinchIn intersection where the work actually began! On the way out, we met Trish (AdventureSeeker, I think she said?) and a couple of her friends, said hi, talked about the forums at linvillegorge.net. Always nice to run into a Gorge Rat.
So back onto the LGT. There was a bunch of blowdown on the trail, making it much more difficult than it needed to be. Several trees to climb over, and some points where the trail was blocked totally. That blowdown did provide me with a nice walking staff, which I actually picked up on the way in. After a mile of climbing over and under natural hurdles, we were at PinchIn. It was time to start praying that God, giver of all good things and mercies anew, would give us the energy to ascend the 1760′ of elevation over the next 1.5 miles that has been shorthandedly named PinchIn Trail. We felt spent. We knew what was waiting for us, looming over us, between us and the car. We each had a semi-frozen 32oz Gatorade, one for each of my side pockets in my cargo pants, hoping the heat of my body would accelerate its solid to liquid transition. We were gonna need what those drinks would provide. With one step forward, we began the grind out.
One of my biggest regrets from the Sandy Flat trip is that we parked at Wiseman’s View and didn’t go to the overlooks. Being so close to it, I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass again, no matter how tired we were. The only thing that stood in our way now was the Kistler Memorial Highway, which has the reputation of being one of the roughest roads in western North Carolina.
Indeed. The Matrix was doing good, and it has decent ground clearance. Front wheel drive yes, but using the torque from first and second gears, using that shifter, got us through it. It was rough and rutty up to Conley Cove, but between there and Wiseman’s View was pretty sketchy. At one turn, on a steep incline (they’re everywhere in Linville Gorge, even the roads), there were several rocks jutting up from the road, and while I made it over them, I was fearful of what my oil pan and transmission pan looked like. After the bonejarring drive several miles up Kistler and then bouncing down the access drive to Wiseman’s, I was able to check the car out and I’m happy to report my Matrix survived. The views along Kistler were fantastic. I looked at the Ampitheater and feel like the hike out of there was even more grizzly than PinchIn.
Wiseman’s View is an easy paved walkway to the cliffs, and is even handicap accessible. A nice cool down stretch after the punishment we just put our bodies through. What a view the overlooks give here. Touristy or not, Wiseman’s View offers the easiest and most magnificent views of the Linville Gorge. We gazed upon Hawksbill and Table Rock, with Brown Mountain beyond, as the sun settled behind the ridge we were standing on. The curtain was closing on the Linville Gorge for the day, and we got to see its final call. Wonderful. What a great day with my wife.
We ducked under the guardrail on the north side of Wiseman’s to take a peek off the cliffs, which I’m pretty certain was UGs Point. Looking straight down into what I’m also pretty sure was Sandy Flats, we heard music. In the side of the cliff right in front of us, a guy had set up camp, tent pitched and radio playing “How Bizarre” by OMC, one of my least favorite songs ever.
Kistler Memorial Highway north of Wiseman’s View was still slow going but in much better condition than the southern section. Pretty soon we were back on 183, and I’m pretty sure I heard my car make a big such of relief. Either that, or I cheesily made the sigh on behalf of my car. My front wheel drive Matrix had driven the entirety of Kistler Memorial Highway. Rock on.
What a full day it was. We were so tired. I felt like my legs were going to atrophy in the driver’s seat, but we still had one more stop. That’s right. The part that no trip to the Gorge is complete without. We pulled into Famous Louise’s Rockhouse for a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie. Grace upon grace and foretastes of Heaven beyond the hearth of that door! The grind of the day met with the delight of pie. What a shallow shell of an image of our life and when Jesus finally brings to fruition the new Earth and those who are His recline at the marriage supper of the Lamb who was slain. Thanks for the eschatological break there.
What a great day it was! Jenny, the Gorge, daffodils, wonderful conversation, and pie. With Linville Falls, Sandy Flat, Cathedral Falls, Conley Cove, Daffodil Flats, PinchIn (both ways!), 2 sections of the LGT, Kistler Memorial Highway, and strawberry rhubarb pie at Louise’s, I think Jenny has earned her stripes and is officially a Gorge Rat-ette…. and she’s still smiling at me.
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
Proverbs 31:10 esv