Categories
Avatar's Rib Babel Tower bushwhacking Hell's Ridge Camp hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina scrambling Trip report

Linville Gorge: Babel and Beyond

This hike has been a year in the making. Last year, we only scouted out the top of the area. This year, we would complete the route. 
Brandon, Erich and I left Greenville early Saturday morning and headed up the mountain. We were running early, so we stopped at Bynum trail and walked out a little ways to get a view. We still had some time and Erich hadn’t been to Wiseman’s View yet. Kistler Memorial Highway / 105 was in as good of condition as I’ve seen it (save the giant rut that is only a few feet south of Pine Gap parking), so we made the drive to Wiseman’s in only a few minutes. It was overcast and hazy, so while we could make out all the distinctives of the area, nothing was exactly crisp, other than the 30°F temperature! 
Getting back to our trailhead, we met up with Billy and Lonnie. After waiting a few minutes past our meet time, we decided no one else was coming and headed down the Babel Trail. We made it down in pretty good time, and the trail was in typical conditions: good views at the cliff, roots and talus on the ground, and an erosive ditch at the bottom. Coming out of the ditch, though, is some of the best scrambling the Linville Gorge has to offer. You honestly don’t even have to go very far in to see a lot of very cool features. We, on the other hand, would be going very far in.

Climbing up Babel Tower requires maneuvering down beside of the rocky spires until coming to a trail that turns sharply right and uphill. It gets rocky toward the top, and you’ll have to scramble the last few feet. This time, a tree had fallen down over the top, so we had to do some working around it, but nothing too bad. Views from the top of Babel were as good as ever. Walking towards Avatar’s Rib, there is a rather large crack splitting the top of Babel. The distance is easily jumpable, but the other side is sloping and the bottom of the crack is far enough to at minimum be painful if you slip. Climbing back down the way I came, I scrambled up to the other ledge. From here we had GREAT views of Avatar’s Rib, Henson Canyon, Westface, and all the surrounding areas, not to mention a straight shot south of the Gorge. From here, there’s two options: climb back down the way you came up, or shimmy down a fallen tree to the base. Safest way is to just climb back down. A little scrambling brought us to the next peak, upper Avatar’s Rib. It’s accessible and very easy to get to, and you don’t have to do the steep climbing that is required to getting to the top of Babel. But before we moved on to Avatar, I had some other intentions..
Hell’s Ridge Camp offers views to the north of the river, Island Ridge, Henson, and the area that Hyde’s Ledge runs across. Part of this excursion was to do visual recon for the suggested “Two Saddles” loop, which has Island Ridge connecting to Henson Creek via Hyde’s Ledge. Another part is that last time I was out here, we bushwhacked straight down from Avatar, and on the way back we stumbled across a cairn. I wanted to find the cairn, mark a waypoint for it, and attempt to follow trail out to Hell’s Ridge Camp to get a track for the Linville master map. Let me say that there are only scarce amounts of trail out there. The cairn is easy enough to find. Hell’s Ridge Camp is not difficult if you do the research and don’t go in blind. The connector between the two proves well enough how the area got its name. This ridge had burned in one of the previous fires since 2000 (I’m not sure exactly what year, but I believe Lonnie said it was the Brushy Ridge Complex Fire), and has since grown up thick with brush and briars. The views from the plateau camp are nice, but there doesn’t seem to be much place to hang a hammock. Camping would require backpacking in with a tent, and to be honest, with the “trail” in the condition that it’s in, going in with a pack would likely only be worth it to the most determined camper. The views of Island Ridge and the Linville River below are nice, though. It’s just very scratchy getting out there, and unless you know what rock formations you’re looking for, you may end up frustrated. We tried to follow trail back up to Avatar, and it was much easier to find from the Hell’s Ridge Camp side, but we still lost it in a few places. Eventually, we came back out right at the cairn and headed to the main portion of our day.

Avatar’s Rib. I find the name along with the other names in the area quite ironic and interesting. Biblically, the Tower of Babel was built by men trying to ascend to heaven on their own (you can read about it starting in Genesis 11:1). An avatar is allegedly God in human form. In my studies of Linville, there has definitely been influence of such a person, although that person is now dead. So that tribute of someone claiming to build themselves up to be God on the same peninsula named after a tower that men built trying to get to God is very ironic to me. 
Avatar’s Rib is a very rocky spine on the east side of the Babel peninsula. I anticipated the descent down the many shelves of the Rib would be difficult uptake require a lot of sketchy down climbing. We were about to find out. Last year, Marshall Weatherman and Matt Perry had made this trip, and a map was made that traced out roughly the route they took down the Rib. This map was excellent, and we used it a lot as we determined which way to descend. (You can access it here: http://m.flickr.com/photos/33252703@N08/8350576464/in/set-72157632444717814/) Upper Avatar’s Rib extends out to Point A, and is simply a walk out to the edge. Some backtracking and descending on the north side will drop you below to Point C and Point B. From here you can either climb down the face of Point C, or as I went over to Point B for pictures I could see the gully between the two offered good holds to scramble down. Much safer. Much better. Once here, we had to work our ways backwards (west) on the south side of the Rib only to work our way back east. This was probably one of the more difficult areas of the descent. We split up into 3 groups at this point, but all eventually found each other on Point D and Point E. There are great formations here, and this is referenced as Lower Avatar’s Rib. We decided to break for lunch here, plenty of places to sit and rest, a large rock with a tree to sit under, and what may be my favorite views of the whole Linville Gorge. I had stood on the Sphinx twice at the time of this writing, and while spectacular, doesn’t match Lower Avatar’s Rib to me. Being so close to the river, hearing the road of its whitewater, and the northern corners of the Gorge swallowing you to one side while the ridges frame an open and sweeping view to the south is magnificent. In all honesty, this point takes less work to get to than the Sphinx, as well. 

After lunch at my new favorite place in the Gorge, it was time to finish this puzzle. Moving back to the north side, we found the route below us we wanted to take, but the climb down to that route proved to be the most difficult and dangerous aspect of Avatar’s Rib for us. Standing on a ledge, the ground was probably 10 feet below us, and there were a couple rocky shelves to stand on. Unfortunately the ledge we were standing on is inverted once you climb over the edge, and there is very little to hold onto while climbing down. The rock ledge is smooth, and there was some mountain laurel growing there but most of its branches were dead and crumbled when we’d grab them. There’s a large root across the ledge, but it didn’t feel trustworthy at all. Slowly carefully, we came down one by one, facing out so we could keep our backs to the ledge trying to hold on. Suck it in, stick out your belly, and toss your pack at this point! There’s a rootball off hanging over the ledge to hold onto, but who knows how long that will be there. Once down on the ground, it looks like there may have been a better route down if one we had backtracked some a little higher up, but that’ll will have to wait for another trip.
We were now in the Avatar descent gully. Once in the gully, we had the added benefit of live trees to use as handholds and help. William noted that it reminded him of Zen Canyon, further south in the Gorge off of Rock Jock. Noting that on Marshall and Matt’s trip report they had missed Point F and G, I wanted to try and get to those. Point F looks very difficult from the gully. Maybe there’s a way to get up there from the south side. It may have been possible to climb up from the gully, but a climb down was no way. At least a scramble down was no way. Hanging on the north side of Point F was a huge icicle, that if let loose could really give one a headache! Point G wasn’t too bad to get to but I impressive thanks to the obscured views. Erich and Brandon were able to knock down those big icicles so they weren’t a hazard, and we kept on descending.
Point H was easily accessed and there was a cool cave there and a hole to climb up out of. The downside is that there was a lot of loose rock that would have hurt worse than an icicle should any of it slide or let loose. Deeming it dangerous, we didn’t stick around long. Point H followed a side wall, which was a giant briar tangle. We got another good look at the river, Henson, Big Hole Point, etc. Back to the gully, and down to the river.
Avatar’s Rib? Check. It really was not half as bad as I anticipated it to be, and anyone with off-trail experience in Linville Gorge and Marshall’s map should be able to do it. The one physically difficult section was the rootball climb down off of Points D and E. In all honesty, though, Points D and E are the highlight of Avatar’s Rib, so only going that far would not be bad. You would only miss the river walk and the steep climb out, which we were about to figure out.

Having the three-tiered waterfall and green pools at the bottom of Henson Creek in our view almost the whole way down, Henson was on all of our minds. I didn’t know the area very well at all, so I wanted to scout and see if there was any possibility of a rock hope river crossing to the other side so we could access Henson. We walked up the shore, which is ankle twisting territory. It’s all rock. It’s very uneven. It’s spectacular. Unfortunately, it was also icy. Even though it had warmed up to 50°F, blue skies and sunny, the north face of Babel is still in the shade. A lot of water had run down the sides, forming huge icicles that connected to the ground forming pillars in many places, and coated the already slick moss with ice. It wasn’t everywhere, but there were quite a few places that were hazardous, especially where the river rocks lessened, and we were between cliff side and the river. We rockhopped upstream several hundred feet until we got to two side-by-side waterfalls on the river. There’s a lot of whitewater in here! So much of the area was covered in silt from when the river was at a higher level. We took our pictures, found what looked like a piece of old distilling container beaten up by its tumble down the river, and had a good time scrambling these rocks. It’s definitely a fun time to be here when it’s lower water. At this point, we turned back. I didn’t see any way of crossing the river while staying dry, and if we did manage to cross, the only way to Henson would be on Hyde’s Ledge, which looked thick and nasty.

 Up this close to get a good look at the area, I decided to abandon (at least for now) the suggested Two Saddles loop. It could be a thrilling hike, but it also looks very dense and with what I’d anticipate to be majorly obstructed views, I don’t see the effort worth it for me. Maybe there are other explorers out there who want to give themselves to that, but my time in Linville Gorge is too limited to spend in that direction.
Finding our way back to the overhung campsite below Babel Tower near the Linville Gorge Trail proved difficult from a navigation standpoint. The river rocks turned into river boulders and to deeper water. We were forced off the rocks and back into the dirt, which meant back into the bushes. Using GPS, we tried to stay on the same contour as the campsite, and just pressed on. For anyone who has been to the overhung campsite and is wondering: the broken cot and old cookware is still there, and it wouldn’t provide much shelter in a storm. William spotted the Linville Gorge Trail not too far off, and we worked our way up the switchbacks. This is where our physical work really began. We all seemed bright and in good spirits, but I think we all began to fatigue here. And we were at the bottom of the Gorge.
Those switchbacks below Babel really seem a lot longer in person than they do on the map! After climbing those, we were all showing signs of wear. There’s a wonderful flat spot at the top near where Babel and LGT intersect that provided a nice spot for us to elevate the feet and recover from the grind uphill. We headed west on the LGT.
The last time I was hiking on this section of the LGT was in 2011. It was in August, and the trail hadn’t been trimmed at all. We couldn’t see where we were placing our feet, praying we wouldn’t step on any snakes being so close to the river. Fortunately, the trail was very easy to follow this time around. It wasn’t overgrown, and we didn’t have any snakes, not that we really expected any this time of year. The Linville Gorge Trail is very rough, rooty, and rocky. The footing is very uneven. One if my bucket list hikes for this year was to hike the entire LGT by coming in at Pinnacle and hiking to Linville Falls. I believe I’m abandoning this plan as well, hopefully in favor of moving Shortoff Cliff Base up the list. One thing about hiking in the Gorge, each hike is really only your scouting and planning for the next one. At least it seems to go that way.
Finally, we make it to our last trail in the Linville Gorge, which was my idea. I said, “This will really be icing on the cake to make it a memorable day.” So once we came to the post in the ground that looks an awful like like “Old Sandy,” we started up Cabin Trail.

Ascending 900′ in about 3/4 mile, and extremely rocky, Cabin is, in my opinion, the one official trail that is most representative of the terrain in Linville Gorge. It’s steep. It’s brutal. It requires scrambling. It will exhaust you. It’s awesome. The only thing Cabin IS missing is the exposed views, but it also doesn’t have the fire devastation that Shortoff or PinchIn have. We hauled ourselves up Cabin, slowly but surely. Erich and Brandon moved faster than the rest of us, and I found them lying down on the parking area boundaries when I got there. Wow! Everyone should experience going up Cabin Trail, at least once. Just don’t do it when it’s icy or sweltering hot out!
A short road walk back to Babel brought us to our cars and the end of our hiking adventure in Linville that day. We met for dinner all together and parted ways. One of the reasons I love Linville Gorge is not merely for the rugged terrain and wild views. It’s also because there’s a great community of hikers that like to head out into that wild country together as a team in effort to conquer it. Really though, the Gorge always proves that it’s tougher than anyone who hikes in it.
Categories
Babel Tower bushwhacking Hawksbill Heaven Hell's Ridge Camp hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Linville Falls Linville Gorge Louise's Pinnacle Rhubarb Pie scrambling Trip report Wiseman's View

A January Linville Gorge Adventure

On Friday afternoon, Jeremy Puskas, Ben Maycock, and myself jumped in the Subaru and headed for the Linville Gorge. This would be Jeremy’s first time, and we were all pretty excited.

A small bit of history: in August 2011, Ben and I made our first hike into the Gorge to Babel Tower. We did not explore as thoroughly as we would have liked, as we were trying to make it up the Linville Gorge Trail and out at Pine Gap. We came out Cabin Trail. I cringe at the memory. After reading Marshall’s trip reports and seeing his photos of Avatar’s Rib last weekend, it was dead center in my radar to explore, so I thought a revisit of Babel Tower would be well appropriate. Oh, and if any Gorge Rats are reading this, Jeremy’s trail name is FireInMyBones, and mine is black.red.white. (www.linvillegorge.net for anyone who wants to join in on that avenue of fun :))

So we headed up to the Gorge. Jeremy had talked to Hanging Burrito and Running Feather (Gorge Rats) and we were supposed to meet them at Sitting Bear. While we were at Sitting Bear, we found a roasting fork stuck in the ground, so we decided to pack it out. Long story short, we did not meet them and could not find them, and we ended up camping at Hawksbill.

By the time we got here, we were frustrated at things not going as we had planned, and our spirits were low. Jeremy and I are both hangers (hammock campers), Ben is a ground dweller (tent camper), and we found a great spot for all of us to be within a few feet of each other. Everywhere in the Gorge was sopping wet from all the rain, and the fog was THICK. We had hopes of a roaring fire to cook hot dogs over with a titanium grate of Jeremy’s, but we struggled to get a fire going. Jeremy and Ben worked it with some wet lighting tinder, and with talent much greater than mine on top of what had to be the Lord’s providence, started a fire. Ben had found a rock overhang with a few still dry sticks in it, and they were able to get the fire going enough to dry out some of the wet wood. It was smoky, but we had a fire. Not enough to cook dogs on a grate over, though. In another showing of providence, we remembered the roasting fork! To quote Mark Driscoll, “Coincidence is the unbeliever’s word for providence. You say that was coincidence? No, that was the Lord.” Exactly. So now Jeremy broke out his world famous chili. This stuff is awesome, don’t pass it up if you get the chance. Hot dogs with chili, 1554, friends around the fire telling tales, camp set, our spirits were lifting as our bellies were filling. We sang a few songs before heading off to bed, and I had the best nights sleep in the outdoors I have ever had. Thank you, Eagle’s Nest Outfitters.

We started stirring at 7:00am. A quick decision led to a Hawksbill summit before breakfast. We were supposed to meet Mike (darkbyrd) at 8am at Babel Tower, and I tried to send an email and call him from my iPhone, but we weren’t going to make it. The hike up was in the easy side of moderate as far as Gorge standards go. You’ll definitely generate some body heat. I was so pleased that we were able to make Jeremy’s first view of the entire Gorge be from the cliffs of Hawksbill. The rock up there is so dramatic, coupled with the Gorge itself still dark in mystery while everything to the east was covered in sun soaked fog. It was amazing. This was also the first time Ben and I had been to Hawksbill. A great moment for sure. We mulled around the cliffs, looked for spots to hang a hammock, tried to give Mike another call, and headed back down for breakfast. By the time we ate, broke camp, packed up, and finally made it to Babel Tower parking, it was after 10:00am. Sorry Mike. We did see your note.

We took off down the trail. This was my first time hiking with Jeremy, who hikes and camps ultralight, and just received the Peregrine Award for hiking and documenting the 77 mile Foothills Trail. He is speedy, even in the Gorge. We made it to Babel Tower in about 30 minutes, and had no trouble finding the route to the top. This was exciting for me because the first time we were here, Erich Johnson and I did some real sketchy free climbing up the south side of Babel. Finding out that there is actually a path and easy scramble up there was sweet. Especially it was great to have Ben up there with me, because he wisely chose not to do the free climb we did the first time. We gave a loud “Whooooo buddy!!” towards Westface Rock because I had read Wigg and Marshall were planning on scrambling over there. We got a “Whooooo buddyyy!!” in return, but were unable to see anyone on the east side. Then we heard a “Whooooo!” and saw Mike and McKenzie way below us on the switchbacks to the river. Sorry we did not cross paths that day, buddy.

Heading north, we found the shortcut from Babel Tower to Avatar’s Rib that Marshall had described on his trip. There is a downed tree that can be shimmied, but a few feet west of that is a larger tree that can be used to post against as your scramble down the cliff, as Jeremy did. Ben and I took the trail back to the base of Babel Tower and met up with Jeremy on the scramble up to Avatar’s Rib. Once up there, we hollered again, got a response, and were able to catch a glimpse of Wigg and Marshall on the Sulpher Fungus Ledge. You feel tiny when you’re in the Gorge, but until you see someone from across can you appreciate just how small we really are. Like rats running around in a maze, indeed…like Gorge Rats. Indeed.

A short discussion led us to foregoing Avatar’s Rib and heading into the bushes to find Hell’s Ridge Camp on the northwest corner of the Babel peninsula. “Where to?” was the question, and without any trail, we just headed into the direction I believed the camp was. What I know of Hell’s Ridge Camp is this: it is a long forgotten and unvisited campsite of avid Linville explorer since the 1960’s, Bob Underwood, who currently is living in India. He had been asking about it and mentioned it in a discussion we were having, so I wanted to visit it. So we started into the bushes and briars. We came upon what looked like trail that was heading in the direction we wanted to go, so we took it. We actually didn’t do any backtracking, although we lost the trail to the bushes a few times. A flat semi-clearing at the cliffs! This had to be it. A great camp, for sure. We had a look around and I took some video surveying the area. Time to head back. We followed our path back up toward’s Upper Avatar’s Rib, but managed to move away from our original entry. Not far beyond finding a stack of feathers where someone had a good snack, where there was some trail, was a large cairn on the rock to Hell’s Ridge Camp! As far as we could tell, it didn’t look like anyone had been out there recently, but that cairn was definitely to the way to Hell’s Ridge Camp. Bob, I know you’ll be reading this. I’d love to know the backstory on Hell’s Ridge and its naming.

After a little more scrambling and lunch break on Babel Tower (there’s a fire ring up there if anyone’s curious), we talked about the next plans. We hadn’t been to the river yet, but still wanted to hit the falls and Louise’s. We talked about the switchbacks and decided to just make the call once we got to the intersection. Coming down from Babel, Ben and I followed a lower trail we assumed would connect back up towards the Linville Gorge Trail but we ended up on a lower trail. This had to be the path to Babel Canyon at the river, so we went for it. I’ve been at the river at the sandy beach campsite further upstream, Spence Bridge, Cathedral Falls, and along the LGT from Leadmine to PinchIn. I can easily say that Babel Canyon is the most awesome place I’ve seen it. I explored around a little bit as far as I felt safe with the wet rocks while Jeremy and Ben took a swim. Brrr!

After the swim, we all headed back up to the car. Being Jeremy’s first time in the Gorge, he really wanted to experience not just a deep trip in but also the highlights. Having already bagged Hawksbill, we drove all the way down Kistler (noting the southern entrance to Rock Jock (the Mossy Canyon Ridge Trail/MCRT) to Pinnacle. There’s such great views with such little effort there. Then we headed back north to Wiseman’s View. Kistler between Wiseman’s and Conley Cove is pretty rough, with lots of washboarding and some decent ruts, but we did see a Ford Taurus wagon making it. I guess it’s your decision with your car. I personally don’t want a gash in my oil pan.

Anyway, Wiseman’s. There is handicap wheelchair access to the views here, making it the EASIEST and most level path in the whole Gorge. Getting to these spectacular views is as easy as walking to your mailbox. Anyone can do this. Looking over the edge, we saw a toy dog someone had dropped on a ledge. I scrambled down over the edge and brought it back up to the wall. The lost dog. I took a pic of the lost dog looking toward Lost Dog camp. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but I left the dog by one of the pillars to the rail for someone else to find. I did, however, pack out the Mountain Dew can that someone left on the edge. I suppose it evens out. We also packed out a beer bottle from Hawksbill, and our hot dog roasting fork from Sitting Bear. Go us.

The final Gorge stop for us was Linville Falls. This is more trail than path, but it’s easy hiking. Less than half a mile in and to get to the falls. There are several different overlooks, and they are all worth seeing. I love the upper falls and seeing the chute that funnels the water to the top of the falls. I’m always impressed with that, then going to the next overlook to see the water exploding out of the cliffs. Excellent stuff totally worth it. As we stood on the final overlook with the falls below us and the sun setting beyond, we were ending the day in the same way we started it. What a grand day it has been for us. We had first mentioned it in the bushes and briars of Babel Tower, but we came back to the conversation here. Just imagine what beauty we will behold on the day when The Lord wipes away every tear, creation is redeemed, when the dross is consumed and the gold is refined. What will a redeemed North Carolina look like, free of the curse when all of mankind is finally completely reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross and resurrection, and the faith of God’s rag-tag group of grace getters is made sight? What a day that will be, indeed!

Topping off our adventure, as any adventure in the Linville Gorge should be topped off with, was a trip to Famous Louise’s Rockhouse on the corner of 221 and 183. Dinner for a well worked up appetite, and the obligatory strawberry rhubarb pie, really is a great way to close the day.

I love the Linville Gorge.

I’d like to recommend Jeremy’s video trip report at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFg6snQaJuA&sns=em

(For new adventurers, a great intro to the Gorge is this. Drive 221 north into the community of Linville Falls and turn right on 183 and stay to the right at the dirt road, which is Kistler Memorial Highway. Pass the info cabin and park on the left at the Linville Falls parking. Leisurely take your time to the falls. There is a little bit of uphill but nothing terribly difficult. This is an easy trail. After visiting the Falls, head south on Kistler to Wiseman’s View (there’s a sign on the left), and enjoy those views. Head back to Louise’s for some pie. This’ll probably only take you a couple hours, but it’s a great way to visit the Linville Gorge. If you want a little longer of a trip with additional great views, access Kistler from the south via 126 just out of Nebo. You’ll be able to get the Shortoff Mountain views and the short 1/4 mile high to Pinnacle Mountain. Then head north to Wiseman’s View, Linville Falls, and Louise’s. Note that Linville Falls is also accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway.)