If you’re reading this, it’s probable you’ve already read this on Facebook or linvillegorge.net… 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 Linvillegorge.net). 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.