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backpacking hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Linville Gorge Adventures LLC Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit North Carolina Phil Phelan Product Review

Guidebook Review: Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit

“The Ultimate Hiker’s Guide to the Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit: The Toughest Hiking Circuit East of the Rocky Mountains” by Phil Phelan has made it’s way into my hands. As an enjoyer of all things Linville Gorge (well… most things…  this place can hurt you, and we don’t like injuries or getting lost), I had to get a copy.

The Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit is described in the guide as one tough hike, with a distance of 33.06 miles and 16,605ft of elevation change.
What this is: a guide to a complete loop of the Linville Gorge in North Carolina that is small enough to take with you on the trail as you hike this vicious circuit. With driving directions to get you started in the northwest quadrant, Phil Phelan will take you by the hand from Pine Gap to Pine Gap, using USFS official and unofficial trails, in a giant circuit from the northern-most to the southern-most regions of the Gorge without road-walking or taking the same steps twice (unless you side trip to one of the numerous described overlooks). Each page is broken down into a bite size section of the circuit, with a topo map, track, landmarks, GPS coordinates, quality star rating, distance, campsites, water, elevation change, cautions, travel times, a precise and often witty description of what the hiker will find, and a difficulty scale (created by the the author) called the “T.E.N.T.” system. Phelan’s system ranks the section of described trail on 4 factors: Tread, Elevation, Navigation, and Traffic. By rating each section, this will guide the reader on making wise choices when it comes to whether or not they should be hiking that section of trail. 
What this is not: a complete guide of trails in the Linville Gorge, and a comprehensive disclosure of every secret nook and cranny. While Phil Phelan makes mention of many of those places, this particular guide does not lead to all of them. Don’t see that as a detractor, though. This guide can still be used for many sections, day hikes, and backpacking trips even without doing the whole loop. 
I personally have not hiked this circuit (which I hope to remedy), nor have I been on every section of trail described in the guide. I have been to Linville several times (which pales to the time Phil Phelan has spent there), and I have hiked several sections described in the guide. As I read about the sections of the LGT south of Sandy Flats, I was thinking I wish I had this guide when my poor wife and I were in the hailstorm last year, only to be minutes north of the cave he described. That would have beat being huddled under the rhododendron! 
I’ve now read Phil’s guide cover to cover, and it is indeed a treat. It will allow you to experience a place known for its difficulty in a safer way. It will inspire you to take on this beast of a circuit in one of the most amazing hiking destinations in the east. This guide truly is a great contribution to the already existing Linville Gorge hiking community. This feels like only the tip of the iceberg as what to expect from Phelan, and whatever he has up his sleeve next should be highly anticipated.
To get a copy for yourself, e-mail Phil at linvillegorgeadventures@yahoo.com, or search Linville Gorge Adventures on Facebook.
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backpacking camping hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Little Green Mountain Panthertown Valley Schoolhouse Falls Trip report Yosemite of the East

Trip Report – Panthertown Valley May 11-12, 2012

So myself, Andrew and Matt are planning on going to Panthertown on Friday. Rob emails me during the week to invite me up to Graveyard Fields with him and his boys the same time. I had been anticipating Panthertown for a while, so I declined to go but instead invited his group to join ours! They did. Ready to roll – 4 guys, 4 boys. Awesome.

This was also the maiden voyage of the Lorax. I read Dr Seuss’s book to my daughter, Emma. That’s our thing. We each got a stuffed Lorax, and his trial run was on this trip. A mascot for a photo album. Anyway..

Rob and the boys headed up earlier in the day, and we were going to meet them at the shelter. Gory details spared, things were not going the way I planned and wanted them to on this end. I left on my own, then Andrew and Matt were not far behind me. Cold Mountain Road, here I come.

I arrived at the Cold Mountain Gap trailhead a little after 7:30pm. After screwing around with my pack and trekking poles and map and taking pictures of the Lorax at the trailhead, I finally headed off into the woods at 7:49pm. 5 minutes into Panthertown Valley trail, I was met with praise music cutting through the forest. An oddity, for sure. Canaan Lands, which is accessible from this trail, was the source of the music. High quality speakers with soothing crooning of how Jesus died for my sins. I’m apparently not going to be allowed to hold onto my grudge this evening. Also, I have no idea what Canaan Lands is. Hm.

Heading on, Panthertown Valley Trail is an old logging road and extremely easy going. Along the way to my intersection at Mac’s Gap, I was pleasantly surprised by the biodiversity of the area. A true sandy flats (unlike some I have experienced!) followed the creek. At one point there was even a white sand bar island within the creek, a beautiful area with a small waterfall within sight. Small nature sign posts scattered along informed me that the sphagnum moss growing showed the area to be a perfect bog that allowed the growth of carnivorous plants. Cool, although I did not see any, which is not cool. I looked for some variety of a Pitcher plant, which is what I thought seemed appropriate, but nothing. Next time.

I met up with Andrew and Matt on Mac’s Gap trail before it cut through some meadows and campsites. Briefly, we spoke on the anticipation and expectation we had of our reconciliation before it had even happened, and how we would be better friends after we worked through it. It’s funny how idolatry works. I held onto this trip so tightly that I was willing to allow resentment grow for my friend and brother who Christ died for as well. Hiking in the dark, though still not what I would prefer, is better than a severed relationship. John Calvin was indeed right when he said, “Our hearts are a factory of idols.”

Moving on.

We came to the intersection of Mac’s Gap Trail and Granny Burrell Trail, and took Granny Burrell. This is a complete rhododendron tunnel, and had an otherworldly feel as we were now hiking in the dark. An opening in the rhodo to our right revealed Granny Burrell Falls, which we walked out into the middle of. This makes sense if you’ve seen the falls, as it’s a giant sluice. I did not get a picture, sorry. We continued on with headlamps giving me tunnel vision through our rhododendron mess. Easy to follow, but wet and sloppy and dark as we went through.

After we came out on the Great Wall trail, I started giving whistle beeps to communicate with Rob. We all found each other and we camped in the trees right across from the shelter. A few bratwurst over the fire and lateral thinking puzzles later (albatross, anyone?), we crashed for the evening. It was a chilly 45F, but my North Face Green Kazoo worked beautifully. I also used a Magellan (Academy Sports brand) mummy bag liner. This was also the first time I used my Therm-A-Rest pillow which Jenny’s parents bought for me for my birthday. It’s the small size, fits right in the hood of my mummy bag, and will now be the one luxury I do not leave home without. What a difference that made from the improvised stuff sack/clothes pillow. Blech!

6:20am. Awake.

We mulled around camp a bit, ate breakfast, broke camp and finally set off on the Great Wall trail. I was really looking forward to this, having the Great Wall of Panthertown looming over us as we hiked the valley. Unfortunately, the trees of Panthertown obscured much of our view and gave us teasing glimpses of the spectacular rock face.

We turned left onto the Big Green trail which led us on the ascent to Big Green Mountain (home of the Great Wall of Panthertown). The US Forest Service has put in plenty of work on stairs (wooden and cut into the rock), bridges, etc. All of the obstacles, save the elevation gain, we’re gone. We found 2 of the 3 side trails out to the cliffs of the Great Wall. Spectacular views of the valley and Goldspring Ridge from here. The rhododendron and mountain laurel were blooming beautifully. Plenty of bees, as well.

If you’ve ever been to the top of Table Rock in Table Rock State Park in South Carolina, the cliffs of Big Green were very similar. I love cliffs and rock formations, and I love scrambling around on them. So that’s what I did. Apparently being on the edges of cliffs like these don’t bother me that much, as Andrew comments very similar to what my wife Jenny did when we were in Linville Gorge in March…in that I am pretty nonchalant and lightfooted in these areas. Lightfoot. I could stand that as a trail name, although SlowPoke might be much more appropriate as I am ALWAYS the slowest guy and at the back of the pack. Anyway… So I was on these cliffs, and came to a lip in the rock. I was descending from the top, and I hopped over the lip.

Pucker factor just went to high alert.

Behind me, which I do not see, but hear, in the lip of the cliff, is a rattlesnake. He immediately began rattling as I landed probably right in front of him. I did not get bit (as I would not be worrying about thing like trip reports if I did get bit), but after I was clear of his area, we DID try to maneuver around to see if we could get a good look at him. No such luck. He wanted an altercation with me about as much as I wanted one with him. The snake slithered back into the rock crevice (I assume) and quit rattling.

At the end of the Big Green Trail, there is an official dead end. Unofficially, there is a steep descent trail that is through a messy snag of rhododendron, but it was a fun descent. Chandler (one of the boys) and I even used some branches to swing around on as we descended. Good stuff!

Back on Mac’s Gap near the intersection to Granny Burrell trail, we took Mac’s Gap towards Little Green Mountain. There were a few black and green swamp areas that were pretty cool, but still no pitcher plants. We came to a section of trail where the trees thinned out to a clearing and what looked to be a great view of Blackrock Mountain. While it was a great view, I discovered the clearing was a bog when my boot sunk in about 6 inches. Time to head back.

From here we trekked up to the peak of Little Green Mountain on the Little Green Trail. Once on top, the terrain was very similar to Big Green: flowering rhododendron and mountain laurel, bees, granite cliffs. We followed the way around to Tranquility Point, where an older couple who lives in the area were taking in their lovely tranquility. What a great spot, an not entirely long or difficult to get to, really. A beautiful view of Blackrock Mountain from here.

Ok, now we were on our way to what I hoped would be the crown jewel of this trip: Schoolhouse Falls. This has to be one of my favorite waterfalls now. As with any picture, justice is not done. Like a mirror dimly lit indeed. There was a great pool at the base that would be perfect for cooling down on a hot day. A few stepping stones allowed for crossing the creek and gain access to the sides and rear of the waterfall. It is wallowed out behind the falls, so there is plenty of room for a number of people to stand. There is a rocky shore here with a spot for 2 tents, plus there were a couple of (Clark!!) hammocks near them. Best thing I can say is check out this waterfall for yourself, it’s a beauty for sure.

Not far from there, we made it back to the first bridge on Panthertown Valley Trail. It’s worth noting there is a wooden bike rack here, as the trail allows for mountain bikers as well as horseback riding. Obviously hikers, too.

Overall a good trip. There is definitely the potential for an exploratory waterfall hunting trip in the future, probably up the Devil’s Elbow trail and maybe even up to Big Pisgah, time allowing. If you’re new to backpacking, this is a good trip to go on. Good view, some elevation but nothing long and brutal. I will say that I think it is vital to have Burt Kornegay’s “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown” map before going in. That made a world of difference for us. I was also surprised at the amount of signs the USFS had put up. While there were no blazes, trail intersections (at least the official ones) were very officially marked.

Study the area, study the map, take your compass, take your map, and start chasing some waterfalls!

Pictures are on my Facebook.

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backpacking camping hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Panthertown Valley Trip Planning Yosemite of the East

Panthertown Valley is this week!

Panthertown Valley.

I’ve waited quite a while to go here, and now I’m only a few days away from leaving. I have heard about this “Yosemite of the East” for a good while. I’ve heard about a confusing mess of trails, a land ripe with waterfalls, and 300 foot granite domes. The time is finally coming.

Looking at the weather, it has cleared up to 0% chance of precip on Friday and 10% on Saturday, partly sunny with a high of 66F. This will be perfect weather!

Looking at our route, I intend to keep it pretty much the same as prior planning, but instead of summitting Big Green Mountain, perhaps we will just make a loop up to Little Green Mountain instead of making a figure-8 route back towards Granny Burrell Falls (although we will still pass these falls as we hike the valley). The decision won’t have to be made until we climb the southern end of Big Green Mountain, which looks to be just short of a 500ft climb from the base of the valley if we go to the highest elevation of the summit.

Looking at the companions, as of today, two guys are planning on going with me. One new to our adventures, and one who has shared my “spacious” Marmot Limelight 2P tent with me in TurkeyPen area near Brevard.

Looking at gear, I have an ENO DoubleNest, but no bug net or tarp in the unlikely case of weather.. although there is a shelter there I could hang in. If not, the Marmot Limelight 2P may come, or possibly a Coleman 4P (not sure the model). I will likely pack my Gregory Z35r pack with whichever shelter, The North Face Green Kazoo sleeping bag, Therm-A-Rest Trail Light pad. I’ll likely wear either Timberland hiking boots or Five Ten Guide Tennies, REI Sahara cargo pants, The North Face vapor wick T shirt, bandana, and SmartWool socks. Bear Grylls Ultimate knife will be making its debut.

Looking at food, probably frozen hotdogs packed in that will hopefully be thaw by dinner, not sure on breakfast, beef jerky and Clif bars for trail snacks. Bears are a possibility, so I need to freshen up on how to tie a bear bag.

Looking at going, I’m pumped. Hopefully I can get out of work a few hours early to spend time with Jenny and the kids before I leave for the evening. I hope to rendezvous in Greet and leave from there.

Looking at coming back, I’m shooting for 3pm on Saturday, but that is subject to change depending on how we explore. That’s always a penciled in return time.

If you want to go, you need to contact me ASAP so we can work it in the plans.

Looking to the future, I am anticipating an exploratory trip to Bonas Defeat, possibly hammocking in Big Pisgah near Dismal Falls the night prior. This is all preliminary speculation on routes with very little research beyond knowing the areas exist and are somewhat close to one another. I anticipate this would not be for the feint of heart, though. Bonas Defeat is supposed to be some of the best canyoneering in the southeast. We’ll see what a scrambler can do without the gear.