Though I don’t use it currently, the full photo album is still available on Flickr. I noticed the photos aren’t in chronological order, so sorry about that.
I hope you enjoy this report, and I hope it inspires you to get out and see Rock Jock for yourself! Even if you don’t do any of the side trips, it’s worth seeing.
Our initial group for Friday was myself, Ben, and Tom. We came up 126 to Kistler and caught our first sight of Shortoff around 12:00PM on Friday. This was the first time I’d seen Shortoff, and it was way better than Google Earth, to say the least. Other than some rough washboarding on the south end, it was in good shape and easily accessible for a front wheel drive car, but you’ll be going slow. No major ruts. We pulled off in a MAX 2 car parking space not too far to the north of MCRT on Rock Jock, and thought we’d just walk north looking for a camp site. (NOTE: MCRT = Mossy Canyon Ridge Trail, more widely known as the southern trailhead to Rock Jock, but it was not part of the original Rock Jock, so out of respect for the builder and not to confuse it with the now lost but still referred to souther section of Rock Jock, I refer to it as MCRT) Based on Allen Hyde’s book, the swing and campsite were not far. Well, we never found them, and ended up just heading back to the truck. We kept driving north and came to the campsite on the east side of the road that overlooked Amphitheater. What a great spot! I hoped it was close enough outside of the wilderness boundaries that we wouldn’t get busted if a ranger checked in on us, and we set up camp.
For our adventure on the 14th before the rest of our guys got there, we decided to follow Wigg’s trip to Petraeus. It seemed the best option for where we were with the lest amount of driving, plus we could scope out where Rock Jock exits on Conley. We kept looking for Conley Cave, and in one form or another we found it, I’m guessing. I first thought that it was the giant overhang with water running through it (NOTE: this is the Cowboy Hotel, as I later found out), until we backtracked to what I guessed was Petraeus and we began around the base of that. I was thinking, “Sweet! Now I’m finding the real Linville Gorge off-trail!” That was when Ben began yelling, “Check this out!” and we came to what I’m guessing is the REAL Conley Cave? Very cool. Only goes back maybe 40-50 ft? but its very dark, and very cool, and apparently any of the bats that inhabit that cave like Bud Light. I had left my goat trash bags back in the truck… sorry guys. We left the cave and began looking for the crack in Petraeus to climb up and out on top to the faint trail to Lost Dog, and I am sure that we took the wrong crack. Once we were up a few levels, it turned from a scramble to a thick bushwhack. I think eventually the only ground we were standing on was the occasional protruding boulder, otherwise we were on top of down trees and thick brush. We must have pushed and guessed for 30-45 minutes. We were still ascending, but not sure if we had missed Lost Dog and were just pushing straight up to Kistler. Either way, we were able to keep a general direction to the way out. Eventually, after the bushwhack had claimed Tom’s glasses that were hanging around his neck, we came upon a faint trail. We took that south for several hundred yards (2 loads of semi-fresh bear scat here) and stumbled upon the campers at Lost Dog . They confirmed it was Lost Dog, seemed pretty friendly and looking kinda surprised at 3 guys straggling into their camp from the rough stuff. Our spirits remained good through the whole bush push and we enjoyed it, but it was pretty rough going. We came up to Rock Jock and exited via the old Conley exit. This adventure took us somewhere around 2 hours. A good one! Next time I do it, I’d like to find the RIGHT crack! We met up with a couple guys from Appalachian State, and one was wearing Chaco’s. Bloody feet are a good reminder to wear the right kind of foot protection in the Gorge.
We headed back to camp and ate our dinner and made a camp fire. As it got dark, I checked out on the road to see if I could make out any headlights coming our way. Kistler is as black as could be as night!! Holy cow.. I went back to the campfire and about 8:00PM we began to notice a red glow forming behind Table Rock. We stood up to check it out, taking turns guessing what it could be as the glow kept getting brighter and brighter. It became too large to be any kind of headlights (I knew there is a road up that way, but didn’t think it came THAT close to the ridge), then I was guessing a wild fire was starting because beneath the red glow it began to burn bright orange. It grew and grew until we realized…we are watching the moon rise from behind the ridge! It was absoutely awesome to watch. I snapped a picture, knowing it would be a joke anyway. A few minutes after this, the rest of our guys, Erich and Chris, showed up. Tom and Erich hammocked, and Ben, Chris and I shared a 4p tent. It was CRAZY windy that night, and I about froze around the campfire. Ben had checked wind chill and figured it to be something around 17 degrees, but I don’t know for sure. We hit the tent and all was toasty.
Woke up to a great sunrise over the NC Wall, ate breakfast and began shuttling cars to the south and north end of Rock Jock. We parked at the same MAYBE 2 car spot on Kistler we had the day before, because I thought I saw the Rock Jock sign only a little ways down from it. That turned out to be maybe half a mile, oops! Had I not been looking for the trail, we would have missed it. The brown stake is still at the trail head, but it is not very monumental when you’re walking down the road talking with your buddies. Just past the Rock Jock sign was the Adopted by The Gorge Rats sign. Thank you very much, guys.
We hit MCRT and I honestly think as far as the trail goes, this was one of my favorite parts. Even as destructive as the fire damage is, there is a certain level of beauty that is just different than the rest of the areas we visited. One day the plants will claim this as their own, and it is great to enjoy it as it is right now. I think the fall colors were the best here, absolutely beautiful. We made it down to where Rock Jock heads north. I was trying to keep an eye out for where it once extended south, but I didn’t see it. I saw some flagging further up towards Kistler, but not lower. Maybe I missed it? Going in and out of Mossy Canyon was a haul, and seemed like the rest of it was downhill from there.
As I was looking at the picture of the burnt log Ken gave me and trying to determine if we just passed it, we ran into a group of 1 guy and 6 women hiking south. One of our guys asked if they knew if we were anywhere close to Razor’s Edge. The guy said he’d been out here a lot and had never heard of Razor’s Edge, but he was looking for Zen Canyon. After we passed them, we might have been 30 feet from the spur trail to Razor/Zen. Oops for them! The 2 flags on the small pine are indeed still there. In the set of pictures for this trip, there are pictures of this trail head from the north and south, as well as pictures from where the trail splits off to the left to Zen. We missed the HARD left to get down to Razor’s Edge Rock and found ourselves looking down at it from the point. We ate our lunches on RE point, contemplating how we would get down there.
We got back to the cars and still had some time, so we headed up to Linville Falls as I was the only one that had been there. It was nice, but there were SOOO many people there it was just the antithesis of what we had just done and was only slightly enjoyable.
Heading back to Greenville, SC, we stopped in at REI at the Biltmore Park at Exit 37 off I-26 and got them to warranty my trekking poles. Plus it was member appreciation, so because they essentially gave me a refund and sold me a new pair, I got 20% back from my poles! Sweet deal!
A BIG Thank you to Ken Crump, Jim DeFriess and Michael Hollar for their work on the Rock Jock, and everyone else who helped me make this trip a success. Bob Underwood, I really enjoyed your trail, even if it’s not in its original form. Thanks a bunch, gorge rats!