Family hiking History Linville Gorge North Carolina scrambling Trip Planning Trip report

My History at Linville Gorge

Linville Gorge has become a pretty special place to me. Not only because its my favorite place to hike, but I have so many fond memories of my family and friends that have taken place in the Gorge. This post will serve as a log for any of my Linville Gorge trips, a short description of when and where we went, and who “we” were. This is kind of but not quite a trip report, but a boots-on-the-ground history report.
1. 5/21/2011: Linville Falls
With Jenny, Emma and Link Simons
2. 8/13/2011: Pine Gap parking, KMH/105, Babel Tower (climbed up south face, didn’t realize there was a trail to the top), LGT, Cabin (early exit), KMH/105
With Erich Johnson and Ben Maycock
3. 10/14-15/2011: Conley Cave, failed attempt to find Petraeus Point, bushwhack to eventually finding Lost Dog Camp, camped at KMH/105, Rock Jock (incl. Razor’s Edge Point, Razor’s Edge Rock, Hacker’s Point), Linville Falls
With Tom Pratt, Ben Maycock, Erich Johnson and Chris Johnson
4. 11/26/2011: Pinnacle, MST, Leadmine, LGT, PinchIn, KMH/105
With James Lanier
5. 12/17/2011: Table Rock parking, MST/Chimneys, Upper NC Wall
With Tom Pratt and Dave Cooper
6. 3/24/2012: Parked at Wiseman’s View, Sandy Flat, LGT, Cathedral Falls, Conley Cove, KMH/105
With Jenny Simons
7. 10/5-6/2012: Camped at Table Rock picnic area, MST/Chimneys, Mossy Monster, Lower NC Wall, Sphinx, Amphitheater, Upper NC Wall, MST/Chimneys, Table Rock parking.
With Erich Johnson, Nathan Walker, Josh Pratt, Dave Cooper and Rob Cooper
8. 10/23/2012: Fall Gorge Rat Gathering. Wolfpit/Shortoff, Crack of Doom, Olsen Trail, Spring Tree, Shortoff Pond, View 1, Wigg’s Tunnel.
With the Gorge Rats William Faulkner/Wigg, Tim/yogurt, Tom/TZBrown, Glen/mtncmpr, Billy Bowen/crazytrain
9. 1/12/2013: Camp at Hawksbill, old Hawksbill trail, Babel Tower, bushwhack to Hell’s Ridge camp, Babel Canyon entrance, Babel trail, Pinnacle, Wiseman’s View, Linville Falls.
With Ben Maycock and Jeremy Puskas/FireInMyBones
10. 3/9/2013: Pinnacle, PinchIn, LGT, Daffodil Flats in bloom, LGT, PinchIn, Wiseman’s View.
With Jenny Simons
11. 8/24/2013: Rockefeller Plaza, Unnamed (partial), Dellinger Falls, West Dellinger Wall, Coram Deo Ledge.
With Mike Jones/darkbyrd, Tyler Keene/hikerman, Todd Ransom and Ben Powell
12. 10/5/2013: Linville Falls and Wiseman’s View. With Jenny, Emma and Link, and Karen LeVeille.
13. 10/26-27/2013: Fall Gorge Rat Gathering: Hawksbill new trail, camp at Hawksbill, TR parking, LNCW via Zack Cat Ledge, Sphinx, Amphitheater, UNCW, Table Rock summit.
With Jeremy Puskas/FireInMyBones, Caleb Fleming, Mike Jones/darkbyrd, Rick Morris, Lonnie Crotts, Tyler Keene/hikerman, Mark Houser, and Melissa Braswell.
14. 11/2/2013: TR parking, Chimneys top trail, Camel overlook, Apricot Buttress, UNCW, MST, Crackerjack Point, Upper Linville Falls, Plunge Basin overlook and base, Wiseman’s View.
With Steve Villa, Mike Nicosia, and Brandon Torok.
15. 3/1/2014: Wiseman’s View, Babel Tower, Hell’s Ridge Camp, Avatar’s Rib (Upper and Lower), Linville River upstream past Henson Creek as far as two side by side waterfalls on the river, LGT (switchbacks to Cabin), Cabin Trail, KMH/105 road walk back to Babel.
With Lonnie Crotts, Billy Bowen, Erich Johnson, and Brandon Torok

16. 9/27/2014: Conley Cove, Rock Jock, L.O.S.T., Little Seneca, Zen Canyon, Zen Point. Rock Jock back to Old Conley parking.
With Steve Villa, Josh Jansen, TJ Smith, Chris Johnson, Luke Wilson, and Chad Collins.

17. 10/16-17/2015: Conley Cover, Rock Jock, L.O.S.T., Little Seneca, Lower Razor’s Ledge, Zen Canyon, Zen Point, Razor’s Edge Rock, Rock Jock back to Conley Cove. Camped on Old 105/KMH. Shortoff Trail, Climber’s Descent Gully, Shortoff Cliff Base, Shortoff Rock Garden, Weatherman Route of ’09, Edge of the Gap campsite, visit to the Crack of Doom entrance.
With Chris Johnson, Mike McKenzie, Waldemar Geisbrecht, Andy Kunkle (10/16), Thomas Mabry and Kitty Myers (10/17).
18. 10/13-14/2017: Babel Tower, Upper Avatar’s Rib, Hell’s Ridge Camp, Cabin Trail, Camped at Shortoff View Camp south of PinchIn on Old 105/KMH. MCRT Rock Jock, Crevasse Creek Point, Zen Point, Sunshine Access Trail.
With Steve Villa, Matt McCarnan, and Paul Gallucci.
19. 4/13-14/2018: Hawksbill sunset, camped at Hawksbill. LNCW, Sphinx, Amphitheater.
With Nathan Walker, Jared Alexander, Matt McCarnan, Waldemar Giesbrecht, Stan McCune, Jameson Wolfe, Chris Johnson, Mike McKenzie, and intersecting meetups with Thomas Mabry, Kitty Myers, and Jill Cash. Saw Spencer Clary on the Sphinx from a distance.
Babel Tower bushwhacking Hawksbill Heaven Hell's Ridge Camp hiking 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 ( 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

(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.)

Conley Cove Trail hiking Linville Gorge Linville Gorge Trail Linville River North Carolina Sandy Flats Trail scrambling Spence Bridge

The report that started this ball rolling…

If you’re reading this, it’s probable you’ve already read this on Facebook or… This is the trip report from March 24th, 2012 where my wife Jenny went with me to Linville Gorge. After typing this up and publishing it, a lot of people seemed to enjoy it and it was in response to this report that it was suggested that I start this blog. So here it is..

3/24 Trip report

I always underestimate Linville Gorge.
I’ve hiked there 4 times before this trip, and I should know that by now.

My wife, Jenny, is so gracious that for my birthday she agreed to go to the Gorge with me. This will be her first time into the big ditch. My original plan was to park at Conley Cove, take Conley to LGT then north to Cathedral Falls. On the way back, we would detour on Rock Jock to Hacker’s Point, then back to the car. But I got greedy.. Looking at maps before the trip, I was reading Allen Hyde’s Hikers Guide, and he had Sandy Flats on the map. Sandy Flats had been closed in 2004 by the USFS, which I knew, and it was not on Kenneth Crump’s 2010 Mapbook (available in the forums at I want loop hikes, and the Gorge does not offer them typically. I had done some recon on Sandy Flats for a friend who asked about it a month ago, and heard it was closed and probably overgrown but should still be followable. So, with way less research than I should have done, we parked at Wiseman’s View and went down Sandy Flats, which is easy enough to find from the intersection of KMH/Wiseman’s.

Let me interject here and say it has been raining here this week and everything is wet. Waterfalls are flowing, even where there wasn’t waterfall before. Jenny is carrying her DSLR camera pack, and I am carrying water, food and supplies for both of us (in my untested Mountain Hardwear Splitter pack), weighing in around 20lbs. So here we go..

It was definitely overgrown and was pretty much what I estimated. Not far in, we came to the cliffs, and our hike turned into a scramble. At this point, wisdom should have kicked in and said, “Turn back and do the original plan.” Sadly, I didn’t hear it because ambition was speaking much too loudly. Even then, I should have known better. We kept going. Our scramble down had turned into a waterfall from the rain, and while we did not get soaked, it was certainly slick. We kept following surveyor’s flagging that marked the route. Someone has been through here, but not enough to leave an ultra obvious path. We crossed over more water, and found a solid branch that was taller than I am we used as a walking staff. I had poles with me, but the branch allowed me to go ahead on the path and stabilize it, giving Jenny a secure handhold as she came down. I named this staff “Mercy and Kindness,” as I kept praying to God for the river to come soon and it would have been much more difficult without it. So, with Mercy and Kindness, Jenny and I made it to the final tiers of waterfalls and pools before the LGT. We stopped here, took a bunch of pictures, and enjoyed the calm and serenity of the lush Linville jungle. We emerged, freshened from the rest, at the Sandy Flats campsite where we stopped to take the shoes off and eat lunch. By this point, the sun was out, the sky was blue, the clouds were sparse and white. It had turned into a perfect day. I forgot I had packed the ENO DoubleNest in the very bottom of my pack, otherwise it would have been a real nice, sunny relaxing time. As it was, we still had a rejuvenating lunch stop. It took us over 2 hours to get from Kistler Memorial Highway to the Linville Gorge Trail. We turned south and headed for Cathedral Falls, the scenic goal of this trek.

I had not been on this section of LGT, and I assumed it would be flat near the river. If you’ve been in the Gorge, you’re probably laughing at me right now. You’re probably asking, “Did this guy even look at a map?” The answer is…barely. I looked up the original plan on Google Earth.. Anyways, back to LGT. It was up and down and narrow and plenty of views from high above the river. We began to feel the pitter-patter of rain, and decided to put the Marmots back on. I had brought a trash bag for Jenny’s camera pack, as it wasn’t waterproof. We put our hoods up, ready for the rain. “Great first trip to the Gorge for your wife, Josh. REAL smooth,” I was thinking. The rain began to increase, and the dark clouds rolled in, bringing low bassy thunder with them.  Then the lightening came, and eventually the lightening caught up with the thunder and they occurred simultaneously. As we decided to take cover under a thicker patch of rhododendron, it began to pour. Then sleet.. and then hail. It was hailing on us. Awesome. Instead of taking the opportunity to make me feel like a fool for bringing us out here, Jenny graciously laughed it off and insisted we get out my camera (Canon PowerShot D10, waterproof) and make it a memory. I have an awesome wife.

We prayed for the hail to stop, and we had to wait for the answer to finally come. About 50 steps ahead of us, there was a deep rock overhang, which would have sheltered us from the storm. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t this be a lightening magnet? Or was it simply that an overhang is not a good place to hang out with the expectation of staying dry? Help me out, guys.)  The sun emerged and we kept going and finally some color showed up on the river. Picnickers were crossing Spence Bridge, and we were almost there. Not far past that, through the mess of trees along the bank, we saw an obscured Cathedral Falls and a group of guys hammocking right in front of it. It’s a steep slide down there.. Not content with our view, we slid down the mud and I asked the guys if they minded if we walked through their site. They kindly allowed us, and we scrambled down to the boulders in the river. Sitting upon these boulders is truly the way to view Cathedral Falls. Now that the sun was shining, and our torrential day had turned to perfect weather again, we were thankful for all the the rain because the falls were gushing! We exchanged a few words about how great the Chimneys are with the guys sharing the site and headed out. There was a downed tree with all the branches broken off but stumps left, and we used that as a hand ladder to haul ourselves out. That’s a lot of work to get down to the river!

As we kept on down LGT, we admired the rock structures and amazingly huge boulders along the river. Those boulders are so big I cannot believe it, and if they broke off and tumbled down from Table Rock that would definitely be a bad day at the river! We saw a downed tree that almost nearly crossed the river not far north of Conley Cove. There’s a cave-like overhang that all kinds of goat graffiti on the walls.. Disgusting.

Conley Cove came, and I was excited for it at the moment. Later as I reflected on the trip, I realize this was our halfway point. That’s tough! Conley Cove was the clearest and easiest to follow trail we’d been on all day. Although steep, the switchbacks make it much easier. It seems like they never end, though. I started singing, “This is the trail that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friend, some people started hiking it not knowing what it was and they’ll continue hiking it forever just because this is the tra…” There were lots of downed trees along the trail which made for difficult crossing. Those tree trunks are big! As we got closer to the top and where the off-trail to Conley Cave begins, the Conley Cove trail became Conley Creek. The storm had flooded the trail, and it made for wet hiking. Up to this point, we had dry feet. Even in the storm, our shoes were wet on the outside but stayed dry inside (not even waterproof!), but a final bit on Conley got through Jenny’s shoe. We passed Rock Jock, and came across the flagging for North Rock Jock up on the right. That looks totally inviting, I really hope it gets re-established, even if just by consistent and wise use (not haphazard). I’d never been happier to see Kistler Memorial Highway.

Until we started walking back to Wiseman’s View. This is all uphill and a total grind. Ugh! Not much else to say about it.. There’s an interesting bog that resembles Lost Dog Pond on the west side of the road that was full of frogs. It started raining lightly again, and we the Marmots back on. I carried Jenny’s camera pack on my back and slung my pack over my shoulder. By the time we got back to the car,  8 hours and 51 minutes later, we were so exhausted I didn’t even want to go to the overlook at Wiseman’s View. The clouds were casting darkness over a lot of the Gorge anyway, and I knew I’d be back. On a side note, KMH has a few ruts but nothing my 2wd Toyota Matrix couldn’t handle. I was pretty encouraged by that. Owning a Subaru still wouldn’t hurt my feelings, just in case anyone is feeling generous.

What an incredibly challenging and humbling day in the Gorge. I love that place, and it reaffirmed what I tell people about it: “If you want to play, you gots ta pay.” Indeed.

A huge thank you to my wife, Jenny, who was such a trooper and maintained a gracious countenance as we waded through my poor planning and misjudgment. You are an excellent wife, Honey.