|Daffodils by Mark Houser. Used with permission.|
|My wife Jenny hiking down PinchIn|
|Daffodil Flats, at nowhere near full bloom|
|Daffodils by Mark Houser. Used with permission.|
|My wife Jenny hiking down PinchIn|
|Daffodil Flats, at nowhere near full bloom|
|Chris and I at the Upper Whitewater Falls overlook as we begin our trip.|
|Upper Whitewater Falls|
|The Whitewater River with Upper Whitewater Falls barely visible above|
|Lower Whitewater Falls|
|The author at Hilliard Falls|
|Steep stairs and then the bridge over the Horsepasture River.|
|Camp Saturation at Bear Gap. Fogged camera lens reflects the feel well.|
When I planned this trip, I never guessed I would spend 11 hours in my hammock. At 7:40, Chris said, “You awake?” I probably had been for a few minutes already, woken by the rain. The darkness of night had given way to the dawn, but the rain remained. Chris had hung his rainshell on his trekking poles to drip dry in the night, except his poles fell over and his coat lay open collecting the rain all night. We started making breakfast, which was oatmeal for me. I was out of water and having hot chocolate or coffee wasn’t worth going out in the rain to me. After breaking down camp, repacking everything except the tarps, I kept my camp shoes and dry socks on as long as possible. It came time to do what I was dreading – putting on the wet socks and boots. It was cold, I was decently warm, and it was like jumping into an ice cold pool to put that stuff back on my feet. No sense in putting on dry socks, though, because they’d be soaked in 5 seconds. Then I’d have nothing for the next night. We finished packing the rest of our gear, prayed to the Lord for the rain to stop, and hit the trail again.
|Drenched, Chris and I enter Gorges State Park.|
Man, that pack felt heavy in the morning. The rain kept coming. What was only damp while under the tarps a few minutes ago would soon be soaked through. As we entered Gorges State Park, we were drenched. The wetness didn’t leave us for a while, but getting moving again loosened up our stiff bodies and warmed us up well enough. Though my feet were still squishing in my boots, I wasn’t cold anymore. We kept seeing forest service road come next to the trail. The Foothills Trail just kept staying away, teasing us with sight of easy walking, while we kept gaining and losing elevation. Up and down, up and down. Steps and more steps and ridges and contours brought us to Canebrake. It seemed by then that the rain had faded to drizzle to only overcast skies. Lake Jocassee laid before us with aquamarine waters, even if beneath overcast skies, giving us a rewarding and much needed vista to take in. It was nice to get out of the green and brown tunnel and see that we were making progress.
|Chris crossing the massive suspension bridge (visible on Google Earth) over the Toxaway River|
After getting to Canebrake, the Toxaway River would be coming up shortly. The suspension bridge is huge there, with great views up the river, towards Lake Jocassee, and Toxaway Creek emptying into the lake. Between Toxaway River and Creek, the Canebrake Trail from Frozen Creek Access comes in from Gorges State Park. It’s 5.1 miles to civilization (ha, the road), and we had briefly entertained the thought earlier in the day. We had also entertained the notion of getting back to the Matrix by the end of the day. For now, we would plan to hike Heartbreak Ridge over to the campsite near Laurel Fork Falls and A5, then make a decision once we got there. We were feeling confident, but that was as we walked through the Toxaway campsites towards Heartbreak Ridge.
The campsites there hold a lot of meaning to me, because that’s where my friend Tom took me camping for the first time after moving to South Carolina. We came in via boat, and spent the night there. It was the first trip that would go towards solidifying my love for the outdoors, and the will to complete a trip like the one we were on. As I was reminiscing, Chris turns to me and says, “Welcome to Mordor.”
|“Welcome to Mordor” – Heartbreak Ridge begins|
Heartbreak Ridge. There were no orcs to report of, but the steps did go straight up the mountain. Time to suck it up, buttercup. The first plateau is a false one, though it has a nice bench to take a break from the madness. “Hey, that throbbing in your chest? That’s me, your heart. By the way, your lungs would like some air, too.” The steps kept going straight up. Not including all the roots, trail sections, or rocks that accepted footfalls, I counted 287 individual wooden steps, which are nothing more than 4x4x18 wooden blocks held into the side of the mountain with rebar. So steep.. but once at the top, we were on a ridge and could make out an obstructed view of the lake. Sometime while we were up here, I noticed my clothes had dried out, and the sun was even beginning to shine through the clouds. Coming down off Heartbreak Ridge really began to remind me of the pain in my knee that started up the night before. It had shown up some in the hike so far today, but overall wasn’t that bad. The downhills really caused it to flare up, even with trekking poles. At one point where we were actually on a forest service road, we stopped at one of the bends in the trail for a lunch break. It was either eat, or not make it off this ridge. The 20 minute break was nice and gave us a chance to consider our camping plans. It was really hard to get moving again, so Laurel Fork Falls campsite near A5 was sounding pretty good. Even though Heartbreak Ridge was a grind, I’m glad we came at it from the west instead of the east. That would’ve been worse, I think. Either way, I know why I hadn’t seen that many pictures of Heartbreak Ridge for the same reason I didn’t take hardly any myself: I was just trying to breathe and remain standing. It’s brutal, and I think will give a tough challenge to any hiker, runner, or backpacker.
The sound of water rushing began to greet us a ways off, and Chris, having been through here before, noted that we were close to Laurel Fork Falls. There is some trailside improvements and tree removal once you get to the overlook, and the falls did not disappoint. I had seen pictures that others had taken from the lake level, so seeing the waterfall from the cliff side overlook was a whole new perspective. This is just beyond the boat access of A5, and only a few minutes away from the campsite. Man, that site looked great. The falls nearby, suspension bridges over Laurel Fork Creek, and plenty of trees to hammock from. Looking at the clock, it was 3:30pm. The campsite looked so inviting, but the tug of ‘we can’ began to pull harder than ‘we should’ again. If we had camped at Bearcamp Creek the night before, we wouldn’t even have been at this decision. Yet, here we stood, weighing daylight against the strength we had left. Camp here, or hike out to Laurel Valley, where my car was parked, 8 miles away. We can make it.
|Laurel Fork Falls|
We said goodbye to one of the most beautiful campsites nestled into the forests of Southern Appalachia and walked with heavy packs and set minds into Laurel Valley, where the typical rolling woods turned into rugged rhodo covered rocks and boulders. Think of an amazingly large castle that centuries ago was toppled only to leave bits intact as the jungle’s plants and waterways claimed the ruins as their own. About half an hour out from Laurel Fork Falls, we met the first people I had seen since my breakfast stop the day prior. Two couples, one guy carrying an occupied toddler backpack, were dayhiking to the falls. Surely, hopefully they were’nt parked at the same lot we were. We crossed streams and several more bridges within the Laurel Valley Heritage Preserve before we made it to Virginia Hawkins Falls. I have to say, that waterfall is a lot bigger than I anticipated it would be, based on the photos I had seen. Had there not been a couple camping at the site at the base, we probably would have decided to call it a night there. Instead, we pressed on.
The climb out of Laurel Valley was a steady uphill that under normal circumstances would probably haven’t been too bad, but we were worn out. The steep drops to and from the four rivers were now absent, and the trail followed the contour of the hills as we made our way ever closer to the car. I think the last four miles, we didn’t say too much. I remember focusing on breathing to keep a rhythm with my stride, checking the maps, and cursing the in and outs and roundabouts of the trail as it lazily curved its way back towards 178. About this time, a group of four young guys passed us on their way to Oconee coming in from Table Rock. They said we had about an hour to go, but comparing the energy they looked like they still had versus what I felt we had, it was probably closer to an hour and a half for us. We were pushing ourselves now.
|One of the final – and most uniquie – bridges before we started ascending out of Laurel Valley.|
A quick joke about losing my keys had to come before we opened the car and unloaded gear. Those seats never felt so good, and my shoulders felt so relieved. Chris had been walking on blisters (he suspects a switch to non-SmartWool socks) since Bearcamp Creek the night before, and when I got home, I found that the shoulder straps of my backpack had rubbed my shoulders raw in places. But really, we had one more obstacle – getting Chris’s SUV. We had parked behind the gate at Whitewater Falls, for security reasons. We just didn’t anticipate that we would be the ones kept out. So on the 45-minute shuttle back up to the northwest side of the lake, we just briefly prayed and asked God to have the gate be open. Around 9:00pm on Saturday, we pulled up and the gate was wide open with two other cars there. The skies were cloudless and the stars shone brightly, though we were amazed at how much light pollution still came from Greenville. Though we couldn’t see it, the rushing roar of Whitewater Falls could be heard a short distance away. God had kept us safe as we did things out of uncharacteristic bravado (though we were feeling more exhaustion and humility once we got to our cars). We learned things we shouldn’t do, and were surprised by things that we did do. Would I do it again? As I drove home that night, I said no way in Gehenna. Now, I say, maybe…but at a lesser pace where I can really enjoy my surroundings. I allowed my “having to get things done” to cloud my judgment, though I don’t necessarily regret leaving the way we did. It was good Type 2 fun.
I had just made the joke last week to a friend, “When you hike the Linville Gorge, you usually come out feeling like the Linville Gorge hiked you!” It turned out, that would be our story.
Saturday morning, Steve, Chris, Josh, TJ and I headed toward the Linville Gorge. Old Highway 105 (a.k.a. Kistler Memorial Highway) was in as good of shape as I’ve seen it on the south end. We arrived at PinchIn parking and met up with Chad and Luke. This was my first time hiking with Chad, and second time with Luke (who hiked the big waterfall day at Panthertown with me earlier this year). We all piled in the van and shuttled up to Conley Cove, where we would start our hike.
The plan was to hike Conley Cove to Rock Jock, descend to the Lower Original Scrambler’s Trail (L.O.S.T., which was the original route that Rock Jock when created by Bob Underwood), visit One Bat Cave, The Balcony, Little Seneca, climb out of Zen Canyon, scramble Zen Point, Razor’s Edge Rock, Razor’s Edge Point, back to Rock Jock, hike further south, bushwhack to Crevasse Creek Point, and then at the decision point, decide whether we would ascend Dogback Mountain up to the road via Rock Jock’s south entrance OR bushwhack along the cliff edge to PinchIn and back to the car from there.
Before going any further, let me describe scrambling for anyone who may not be familiar with the term. I’ve heard scrambling described as a sport for those too tough to hike, but too chicken to rock climb. Basically, it’s low level climbing over rocks, boulders, downfall, without the need for ropes or other protection. It’s like hiking in four-wheel drive.
We head down Conley Cove to Rock Jock with no problems. Before long, we were at Fern Point, our first big view of the Gorge. The tops of the Chimneys and Table Rock were obscured by the low lying clouds, but it was clear beneath them. We stopped at Hacker’s Point for the next overlooks, and I had a pang of sadness over the pine tree that was so identifying to the point. All that’s left is a broken off stump in the rocks. The view is still nice.
We slowed down at Split Rock, and I climbed up on top to get a couple pictures of Josh and TJ coming through. The other guys had gone ahead. Not before long, we were at the turn-off for L.O.S.T. and the frontward guys weren’t there. The entrance is pretty obscure, so I didn’t guess they had followed it. I hollered to the group, they didn’t answer. I blew my whistle, they didn’t answer. Josh went up to get a look to see if he could see them, and they weren’t in sight. I dropped my pack and ran Rock Jock until I could hear them and they answered a holler. As we figured out later, they had gone nearly 3/4 of the way to the Razor’s Edge trail.
Once we were all back together, everyone had their good laugh about not knowing how they possibly missed the turn. That’s complete sarcasm. It basically looks like someone pushed a branch out of the way and let it fall back in place. The bush push lasted for about 20 feet and we were back on trail again. Very clever disguising of the entrance to L.O.S.T., whoever worked that out. Good reason, too. These ledges became a puzzle even with a GPS track to follow, let alone without one.
We did some back and forth and looking around and we came to a spot where the path seemed to end. Looking at the GPS, we were too far to the west of the prior track. Making our way back, we searched for a way further down the ledge but never came to one. I took it to be signal variation due to the reflective characteristic the rock faces seem to have on GPS signals, and we went back to the seeming dead end. Climbing up a little, the path was at the top. I scrambled up a rotten dead log that broke under my weight, and stood at the top. I had forgotten what stuff like this was like in Linville. This was one of those “no way the trail is that close to the edge” moments. It was. Clearly, I’d been away for too long. The guys took their choice of the “too close” route vs rotten log route, and we kept on keepin’ on.
I knew we were going to have a descent coming up, and that there was a technical rocky scramble in there somewhere. As we came to a dead end in the trail, I looked down and saw a hole that would be our route. It was steep and dirty. I went first, and crab walked down the path using the shrubbery as hand and footholds to keep me from any unwanted acceleration. It leveled out some, and I hollered up, “The first part is the worst part!” The path was rocky but with careful consideration of footsteps, not difficult. Then came the scramble. Apparently, the first part wasn’t the worst part. The trail stops at a rock ledge, and begins again 6 feet below. The rocks had some wet moss on then as well, so that added an extra level of interesting. With some moves I’d been waiting for all day, it was a fun chimney down the side. We helped the other guys down, and then Chad and Chris skipped that whole ordeal and just climbed down the face of the rock. They are taller than I am. Our group ended up splitting again after this, but before long, I was hearing wind chimes. I knew where we were, even though this was my first time through here.
The Balcony on L.O.S.T. is a rocky overhang, with freedom to scramble around the fallen rocks and rock walls. A couple guys went through the tunnel and stood out on Little Seneca, a blade of rock maybe 5 feet wide that stands out from the cliff face. I love going out and standing on the edge, but for real, watching guys dangling their legs off makes me anxious. Walking out there myself, I snapped a pic of the guys settling down on the Balcony for our lunch break, then took a break myself. This was the last big rest area before our difficulty ramped up and we would have to climb out. It was also at this point where I realized I had completely forgotten about visiting One Bat Cave. We were so close.
Before long, we were at the base of Zen Canyon, looking up at Razor’s Edge Rock. The canyon is amazing. It’s a big rock pile of fallen rock, some of them loose and shaky when you step on them, with a mix of deadfall, Princess trees, Devil’s Walking Stick, and Zen Creek trickling down the south side. Though I didn’t measure it, I estimate it to be at least a 45 degree angle coming out. Trying to get a picture to capture the steep roughness of Zen Canyon is an effort in futility. Truly, the only way to understand Zen Canyon is to climb out of it yourself. If you’ve been in the Amphitheater on the east rim of the Gorge, it’s similar but the rocks are smaller. Where climbing out of the Amp is a non-stop scramble, climbing out of Zen is an effort in keeping sure footing so you don’t twist an ankle. An injury in Zen Canyon would end a trip early and turn into a bad situation. We found this out first hand.
Fortunately, we didn’t experience anything as bad as a twisted ankle or broken leg, but TJ did succumb to a condition that bites hikers at one time or another. I’ve had severe leg cramps on at least two occasions, and they’re brutal. The last time I went to Crowder’s Mountain was to go rock climbing, and my forearm cramped and gave out on me before I was 10 feet off the ground. They hurt, and hiking with a charlie horse is not fun. Our group had separated into 3 parts at this point: Steve and Josh in the lead, Luke and I in the middle, and Chris and Chad helping TJ ride the charlie horse 600 feet in elevation over rough terrain out of Zen Canyon. The slippery rocks eventually gave way to slippery mud, where God conveniently placed rhododendron to use as handholds to haul yourself further up. I say it every time, “Thank God for rhododendron.”
Even though Zen Creek seemed like only a trickle as it wound its way down the rocks of the canyon, there were a few small pools tucked away that made for a perfect spot for purifying water. Further up, we were rewarded with the beautiful Zen Falls greeting us with the soft soothing sound of its flow as if it were the balm to sooth the wound created by canyon itself.
Steve and Josh had made it to the top of the canyon before we did, and we knew we had some time before the others made it up to where we were, so we searched around for the way out. It had been a while since I looked at the GPS. I had it in my mind that we would exit right at Rock Jock, despite having been down to Razor’s Edge a few years ago and knowing the Zen Trail was a spur off the Razor’s Edge Trail, which itself is a spur off of Rock Jock. We made it to Steve and Josh, and found that the bushes had become thicker than anything we had been through so far. We poked around, and that’s when I decided to look at the GPS again. Hey, I’m the group leader after all. Looks like we missed the exit from Zen Canyon. We only climbed about 40-50 feet too high. Turns out the exit was a hard left from right about where Chris, Chad and TJ were by then. Chad followed the trail, or better described as the path that a few people might have walked at one point in time that was thinner than any other area, to confirm that we were at the right spot. Score! They didn’t have to make the rhododendron rope climb, which as it turns out, we didn’t have to make it, either. Steve and Josh had climbed straight up out of Zen Canyon not realizing there was a hard left to the side really added to the whole moment since they had to now climb down from what had seemingly been an impossible climb up. Steve took the opportunity to give me the kind of encouragement that every group leader needs: “You’re killing me!” I know it was all in good fun, buddy! That canyon is gonna get steeper every time we tell the story, isn’t it? Good times.
Chad and Chris went up first this time, TJ and I next, Luke and Josh and Steve behind. The dirt trail here is on the edge, and it’s eroding away. A perfect spot for another cramp to lay hold of TJ, so with one cramped leg bracing against a sapling and me holding his other hand, we waited it out. Once at the top, we stopped at the campsite (which is great!) and let TJ take a much needed rest. We went out to the edge of Zen Point, looked at where we had just come from, the Gorge all around us, and Razor’s Edge Rock below us. There are many good outcrops and overlooks in Linville Gorge. Too many to count, even though many of them have been named. Surely, Zen Point is among my favorite. We made it back to the camp and TJ seemed to be feeling better, although I can imagine there had to be some serious soreness going on in his legs. We decided to save Razor’s Edge for another time. Not too much of a sacrifice, because Zen Point was really the crown jewel of the string of pearls clustered in this area. Uphill, back to Rock Jock.
Even though we were back on trail, and it was far less rocky, the ascent was not kind to TJ. By the time we made it back to Rock Jock, it was decision time. Option A) follow my ambition and hike Rock Jock south, as originally planned, and try to visit Crevasse Creek Point, then climb the 500feet in elevation up Dogback Mountain to the road or Option B) do the right thing and hike Rock Jock north back to Conley. When presenting the options to the group and what each would look like, the question came up, “If we go north, is it going to be less difficult?” I offered the helpful crucial decision making tidbit which would follow me the remainder of the day: “It follows the contour.” It’s good to have friends who can laugh and joke on you. It keeps you humble. Looking at the map, it was at least another 500 feet of elevation gain to exit the south end of Rock Jock. Though going back to Conley Cove parking wasn’t flat, it DID follow contour as far as getting out. We went north.
It was slow going, and the leg cramps seemed to be seizing in TJ’s legs more violently. At first we encouraged him through them, joked with him, and so on. We had separated again, and as we passed the newly labeled “BEES” tree from the last work day on Rock Jock, we stayed put to warn them of the yellow jackets that had been reported there. Here the mood changed. Chris said, “We’re gonna have to drag him out. I’m not playing.” Of course, we didn’t drag out anyone. Chad used a combo hatchet/machete that TJ had been carrying in his pack, made quick work of a sapling, and looped the Grand Trunk hammock TJ had also been carrying around the ends. Chris took the front, Chad and Luke took turns on the rear, and they carried out our injured friend. They were awesome. For half a mile, they heaved and grunted man noises until we came to the campsite just below Old Conley parking. “How close is it?” To which I replied, “Closer than if we went to where we parked.” Chad gave me his insight: “You’re the king of divergent answers.” Apparently I’d been giving them all day. This is what I contribute. We all made it to 105, Luke and I ran up the road to get the van, and we made it back to PinchIn parking. We all had a good stretch, and it was good for TJ to get off his beaten legs.
We said our goodbyes and hope-to-hike-with-you-agains, and we left the parking area to Chad fixing his dinner and Luke running down PinchIn Trail to get a view from the cliffs before the daylight completely closed its curtain. We were in search of our own dinner.
Chad and Chris stayed with TJ almost the entire time he was injured. They kept a pace where he was able to safely maneuver the difficult terrain we covered. They are for sure the heroes of the day. It really was great to have both Chad and Luke out there with us that day. Positivity really emanated from both of them, and they contributed hugely to keeping spirits high. Really, everyone did. Except for me. I just made sure we all stayed on contour.
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!