bushwhacking Coram Deo Ledge Dellinger Creek Dellinger Falls Gorge Rats hiking North Carolina Rockefeller Plaza scrambling Trip report

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.
Crack of Doom Gorge Rats hiking scrambling Shortoff Mountain Trip report

Shortoff Mountain and the Crack of Doom

I recently drove up to Linville Gorge for the *Fall 2012 Gorge Rat Gathering. We’d be ratting around on Shortoff Mountain, covering the majority of its trails today. This would be a full day.

I arrived at WolfPit at 7:30am, screwed around with my gear, and finally hit the trail up Shortoff at 7:45. The sun was rising and a low lying fog lazily coated Morganton and Lake James. Taking the long way up (as opposed to the old Jeep Trail), I was met with my first sights of the Gorge as I came to the cliffs of Shortoff. What a welcoming sight! There is something about that first high view visual of the Big Ditch that is really special. I don’t know if it’s a sense of finally being in one of my favorite places, if it’s the mountain air, if it’s an endorphin release, or something entirely different. If you’ve been to the Gorge, you know what I’m talking about.

I continued on along the main trail, stopping for every overlook, spotted Wigg’s Point (which is directly above the Crack of Doom), passed the Gully Pipe and eventually came to a clearing full of hammocks. I knew I was in the right place. After over a year of participating in the forums at, I was able to meet some of the guys face to face.

My first scramble with the Gorge Rats would be into the Crack of Doom. As far as we know, only Bob Underwood (Credit goes to Bob for finding and naming the route) and his friend Cato Hollar had been in it. Wigg had done the scouting and found the entrance hole on a previous trip, and now we found ourselves standing at the mouth of what would be one of the best scrambles in Linville Gorge. We bushpushed our way down a scratchy gully and came to a hole. A couple guys opted not to even go down at this point. Even though I went down, I foun myself asking the question that seems to come up on many Gorge expeditions: “We’re going down THERE?” It was going to get much better, or worse…depends on how you look at it.

So down the rabbit hole about 8 feet and we’re back on the ground. In a few more steps we emerge at a drop off., with a small ledge and a hole that goes back into the mountain. Headlamps on. We enter into a floorless fissure cave. Well, it has a floor, but it’s at least 20 feet below us. The floor gains elevation as it reaches the back of the cave, so it’s accessible, but only by walking a small 6″ ledge (at the best spot) while holding your body weight against the opposite wall. Five of us pile into the back of the cave, enjoying the natural air conditioning, then begin to head down the crack one by one. There is all kinds of loose rock and debris in the fissure, so careless steps could send that rock and debris careening down the crack and onto the noggin of the descender. One at a time.

There are three rock shelves, and reaching the lower levels involve having to chimney your way down. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, in the scenario of this crack (which is probably 3feet at its widest spot), it means you press your feet against one wall while applying pressure to the other wall with your back and shoulders. You then use variations in the rock as footholds and handholds, and work your way down while you keep applying pressure to both walls with your body. 10 feet down to the second level, then half chimneying/half climbing down another 8 feet to the third level. The chimneying is much easier than the climbing, because climbing down has the greater difficulty of not being able to see any foot or handholds. Of course, there is always the thought that the rock you’re using as a handhold may have some nasty spider or venomous snake living behind it. Once at the bottom level, you can scurry down the ledge to what we called “The REAL Crack of Doom,” but it’s more appropriate to call it the Suicide Crack because it would be suicide to descend it. There is ado much loose stone and talus in the crack that any attempt to use the route would be an express elevator to the bottom, guessing 100ft below, and even if you were to use a rope and a helmet, you’d be bombarded with falling rock. An all around bad place. Once below the shelves, a tight 90 degree turn puts us into the Serpentine Crack IN the mountain, where you might have 18″ of wiggle room to slide yourself through. The crack empties you out onto a beautiful balcony on the side of the cliffs of Shortoff Mountain, giving possibly the most amazing northern view of the Linville Gorge. It is prime for wonder and awe, marveling at what a creation the Lord has made. But after so long, one has to work their way back UP the Crack of Doom.

Upon emerging, we took a bunch of pictures and talked about the Crack, then split up. The group I was in went to the Olson Trail along the cliffs of Shortoff. This is an easy trail as far as Linville Gorge goes. If you’re looking for it, coming up from Wolfpit parking area, it’s about 22 steps past the Mountains To Sea to the river intersection. Turn left, and look for remnants of white flagging. Olson offers spectacular scenery from Shortoff mountain, and it’s always changing. You’ll hike along some flat areas, sidehill, scramble over some boulders and under some ledges, and pass by some magnifiscent rock walls. Wigg took me to the Spring Tree, and View One, and his tunnel nearby View One which also offers a splended campsite (save there is no water). But the Crack of Doom was really the star of this day..