From Rockefeller to Dellinger: Linville Gorge Off-Trail

A sunrise from the Linville Gorge is among the best I have ever seen. It’s even worth leaving your house in Greenville, SC at 5:00am for. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite make that. There was some solace to be found that when I arrived at Pinnacle, the peak was nearly enshrouded in fog so there was very little view anyway. At least for the moment. As the sun rose, the fog began to fade, and I was able to witness some awe-inspiring (yet still hazy) views of Shortoff Mountain’s profile, Lake James, the South Mountains and beyond. Incredible. I will never get tired of watching the sun crest in the east over Morganton and Lake James, leaving its patches of fog near the ground like small glistening ponds. I love that stuff. 

It was only 7:45 at this point, and I wasn’t scheduled to meet up with the guys until 9:00, so after taking a few pictures I settled into a cleft in the rock atop Pinnacle and did some reading. I knew I was going to be in for some more amazing views, and my heart really needs to be tenderized towards who is the author of those views, so I landed in Psalms.
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; 
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; 
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also. 
The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 
(Psalm 95:1-5 ESV)
I packed up, jumped in the car, and headed toward the rendezvous point. Along Kistler Memorial Highway (which is so rough and washboarded, it will rattle your teeth), I notice in the rearview mirror a Subaru Outback coming up behind me. A wave out the window, this is my buddy Mike (darkbyrd) I’ve been looking forward to meeting. We pull up in the parking area, and another friend from the LG group, Tyler (hikerman), is already there waiting for us. Great to finally meet these guys. Todd of flickinamazing and the page Waterfalls of Western North Carolina (which has an iPhone/iPad app to go with it – check it out!) and his friend Ben met us up there, and after a group photo, we’re off.
When planning this trip, we had talked about Henson Creek, but we decided against it. Under normal conditions, Henson is slick with green slime and requires extra care. After all the rain we’ve had this summer, we felt like it was taking unnecessary risk to approach Henson. 
Mike was the only member of our team who had been to our first destination, a recently discover waterfall named Rockefeller Plaza, so Mike took point. We followed him down an obvious trail from the road, but it petered out quickly. We were mostly navigating by sparse flags and a GPS track. Not much trail here, especially when we veered off the “main” trail. I used the word trail VERY loosely here. We had to fight through the bushes and work our way down the cliff ledges. Make no mistake, this is not a hiking trip. This is a scrambling trip. Precariously and slowly maneuvering our way down slanted rock faces, it was slow moving. We took a side trip to an outcropping to get an overlook of the upper section of Rockefeller. Ben and Todd worked the area a little while trying to find a way down, and the rest of us took a siesta. Deciding there was no way down, we backtracked and continued on. After some good down climbs, sliding, and fighting through scratchy bushes, we found ourselves standing at Rockefeller Plaza. 

Rockefeller Plaza was by Wigg Faulkner in honor of John D. Rockefeller, who donated the Linville Gorge to the American people many years ago. This is a really splendid waterfall, with a small cave behind it. We sat here for a while, took pictures, climbed some rock, and just soaked in the beauty that was before us. Truly this waterfall is a rich area. It just FEELS special there.
We headed back in generally the way we came. We had missed it on the way in, but we stayed higher and found ourselves in Bandit’s Cave. While it has been explored already and found out to be more of an overhung amphitheater than a cave, it is still a cool spot. Climbing up into the area, I found some blackberry bushes that offered up a really nice snack for the tough exit in front of us. I will say it feels a lot safer climbing UP rock than DOWN it. 
Once back at the car, we weighed our options for the next step. We had originally talked about searching for Dellinger Falls, of which there seems to be very little documentation of. After climbing out of the Rockefeller area, though, we were beat. We speculated attempting L.O.S.T., Avatar’s Rib, the southern section of Rock Jock, and even driving over to Shortoff and attempting the Crack of Doom. As we sat at the cars and in the shade and had a little bit to eat, we found ourselves rejuvenated and we decided to go with the original plan: search for Dellinger Falls. 
I had heard Bob Underwood speak of these falls, and Mike had read Cayoneer Engineer’s report of the area on the yahoo group, but beyond that we only knew of a general area to aim for. We didn’t even know what the waterfall looked like. For the sake of people’s safety, I’m only going to say that we took a barely there trail, bushwhacked straight off the side of and down a ridge, and into a hole. It was straight through thick 10′ tall pines, briars, and the biggest Devil’s Walking Stick we had ever seen. For the unfamiliar, Devil’s Walking Stick is a sapling/tree that has thorns spiraled around its trunk. The biggest ones we saw had trunks of probably 2″ diameter. Normally, one would just avoid those. However, the terrain we were on was so steep, and we were constantly stepping on loose rock that would slide from under our feet and careen down the edge (followed by a hollering of “ROCK!”), we were forced to grab onto what would keep us from falling. Let’s just say we felt it was DWS and heard the “Aagh!” before we saw it. It was this all the way off the ridge, NO trail, NO flagging. There was no evidence that anyone had ever entered this area the way we did. It was beyond scratchy. So, in the midst of this scratchy, loose route finding, I really have to give these guys an applause. No one was complaining, and everyone seemed generally enthusiastic about the descent. It was decided somewhere on the side of that ridge, that there would be no coming back the way we came. Worst case scenario, which we were going to bank on, would be to follow Dellinger Creek down to the river (which may present it’s own unknown obstacles and challenges), and exit via Leadmine and Pinnacle or Wolfpit West. That translates into a LOT of elevation gain and hiking to get out, but we were OK with that if it came to it. We were commenting on how even though we didn’t know exactly where we were, it was good to know that we all had enough knowledge or Linville Gorge terrain, landmarks, and landscape that we would not be lost. With that, we continued down into the hole. We emerged at the creek, which was a Godsend because almost everybody was out of water at that point. Mike and Todd got out the filters, refilled everyone, and we enjoyed the rest. Looking at the GPS and topo lines, we were approximately 250′ in elevation LOWER than our intended target area. This meant we had to climb UP. I started working up the canyon, and everyone else started working the creek. I should have just gone with them, as they were making quick work up the creek. Guess I need to watch some more Man vs Wild because my terrain navigation was not kicking in at that point. I found a fallen log and crossed over the deep blowdown and deadfall over to the creek to meet Tyler. We worked up the creek, not really even getting our feet wet. Dellinger Creek is extremely rocky, and the flow was low, so we were able to scramble up the creek without really getting our feet that wet. Well, maybe once. The entire creek was green with moss, green slime, and slick rock. I mentioned to Mike that it is ironic we chose not to do Henson for the very conditions we found ourselves in. That being said, I’m glad we did this instead of Henson. 
Dellinger Falls. What a beauty! We found ourselves in a giant cathedral with the thin and whispy Dellinger Falls plunging approximately 100′ over the cliff edge until it met its final pool and joined the rocky creek bed below. If that wasn’t beautiful enough, there were so many cool rock formations and boulders down there. We hung out here for a while and took pictures from many different angles.
What to do next. We weren’t leaving the way we came in. I think it was Todd that said this was the one trip he’d been on that going down was worse than coming up. We still weren’t that excited for the slog to the river and then up Leadmine. On discussion, we felt it was best to work the cliffs for an exit, and that it would be more promising to try and find a way out from there than descend another 500-600′ to the river only to ascend again. Turns out that was a great decision.
Still partially a scratchy and rocky bushwhack, we worked some of the ledges and found a route up. We came to a fantastic ledge with a fantastic overhang with an obstructed view of Shortoff and Lake James, and a nearly unobstructed view further north into the Gorge.

Given the privilege to name the ledge, I felt it should be called the Coram Deo Ledge (I need to write another post about that process). Coram Deo is Latin for “In the Face of God” or “In the Presence of God.” While standing here, His creation and handiwork is right in your face. It really is an awesome view ranking among my other favorites, like the Sphinx and Crack of Doom balcony.

Just beyond the Coram Deo Ledge was a small but cool mini-cave in the rock I think we have dubbed the Mesa Hole, due to its unusual resemblance to many Mesa caverns is the southwest. I can’t even begin to give an explanation how this occurred so far up the cliff wall. It went back probably less than 10′. Just beyond the Mesa Hole is another overhang, which I think has just become part of what Mike referred to as the Dellinger Creek Wall. 
Success! We emerged back out onto our initial entrance trail. Now the hike out. Climbing out of here made the hike up PinchIn feel like Mickey Mouse. It was hot, exposed except for the scratchy sappy pines, and a far steeper grade than PinchIn. I’ve said several times that if you want to play in the Linville Gorge, you have to pay… and we played EXTRA hard today. Now it was time to pay for it. The mostly grown over “trail” still felt like a game of follow the path of least resistance to the next tattered flag through the pines. Oh, those pines! We didn’t even come up from the river, and this was brutal.
Brutal. That’s the tag we pretty much attached to the day. Not every hike in Linville is like this (although it could be if you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going). If any of us had broken a leg or an ankle or anything like that, we would have been in severe trouble. We were in some hellacious terrain, and I woke up this morning still picking thorns out of my hands. In spite of all that, it had to rank among the top adventures I’ve had in the Gorge. The exploration, new things, camaraderie, and all the things we got to see, it truly was a great adventure.
Back at the car 2 hours earlier than I had anticipated, I was hungry. Clif Bars and Peanut Butter & Banana sandwiches are all fine for the trail, but it was time for some protein. I followed Tyler to Morganton and had a mushroom & Swiss burger at Hardee’s. It was nice for both of us to sit down voluntarily, instead of our feet shooting out from under us. Thanks again for that time, dude. It was a really nice way to spend the evening and relive the day.
Normally, I would come home 221, but I decided to take 64 past the South Mountains and what a joy it was to have the great mountain scenery along that. Then taking 74 west into the sunset, it couldn’t have been a better drive home.
What a great day hanging out with some Gorge Rats. It’s good to have hiking buddies who ain’t got no sense, just like me. It really does take a special kind of person to fight briars and pines and skree and green slimy creeks and steep slopes in August off-trail in the temperate rainforest jungle of the Linville Gorge while keeping a wonder and excitement filled smile on their faces. You guys are nuts, and I can’t wait to get out there and explore with y’all again.
 

One thought on “From Rockefeller to Dellinger: Linville Gorge Off-Trail

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s