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Big Rock Mountain bouldering bushwhacking hiking Nine Times Forest Pickens scrambling South Carolina The SC Project Trip Reports

The SC Project: Big Rock Mountain

The group stopping at an overlook on the way to the summit of Big Rock Mountain.
Big Rock Mountain has been showing up a lot lately in the photo feeds of my fellow explorer friends. After seeing a few of those photos, I knew I had to get on that mountain and see what was going on up there. Surely there couldn’t be a place like this in South Carolina. Lew me tell you, Big Rock is a scramblers paradise. I’m not much involved in any kind of rock climbing or bouldering any more, and I haven’t made any effort to begin rappelling. Scrambling and bushwhacking though, that’s what we found just outside of Pickens, SC. 
The crew today would be myself, Steve (twice veteran of Linville Gorge), Josh (once veteran of Linville Gorge), Wally (who I hiked with at Mountain Bridge Wilderness and El Lieutenant in the snow), and new hiking buddies Stan and Jonathan. After snagging my typical prehike breakfast at Dunkin Donuts in Traveler’s Rest (bacon egg and cheese on a Manager’s Special cheese covered bagel… oh yeah), I made the drive like I was heading to Panthertown, but I would be at my destination much sooner. A 45 minute drive from Traveler’s Rest brought us to the obscure parking lot for Nine Times, where we could access either the Preserve or the Forest. Yeah, it’s split up. We would go beyond the red gate, then the gate warning us that security cameras were in use, so we could explore Big Rock Mountain. 
Before coming, I had very little information to go on. That’s my excuse, at least, except it’s not much of one. I had just bought the Nine Times & Big Rock Outdoor Companion (authored by local resident, Brad Caldwell) earlier in the week, but to be honest I didn’t thoroughly read it. I knew roundabout where we would be going, and assumed there was a pretty clear path up to the top. After all, I could make out the road from the satellite imagery. Should be no problem, right? Well, with my decision making skills in a bit of a fuzz this morning, we cut across a logged area and into the woods beyond instead of just following the road. On the positive side, we got to the ridge of the mountain in only half a mile instead of one-and-a-quarter-mile. On the negative side, it was a steepish bushwhack. I mean, I’ve hiked up worse and made worse errors, but this took us on the route to expend a ton of our energy reserves at the beginning of the hike, Awesome!
Pink Mountain in the foreground. What is the rocky mountain behind the furthest ridges?
We followed some old semblance of trail (or overgrown logging road, possibly) right on the spine of the ridge over to the summit of Big Rock. We could see where we were going so our direction was good. I mean, there’s a mountain with a huge rock pile on it. It’s kinda hard to miss. Finally, some of those big rocks started to emerge. “Whoa, check that out!” That’s what started to erupt from this group of hikers. A few really large boulders were on the path (ha, path, if you can call it that) we were on. At first, we were only seeing them, then hiking around them, and then pressed into them as the briers, downfall, and bushes proved the exposed rock to be the path of least resistance. It was at this point that we lost Wally to his wonder and he scrambled up those big rocks on Big Rock, leaving us to follow him up. Even the house sized boulder that he managed to get to the top of was not the peak, but once we were all up there the view was incredible. There was a large flatish mountain we first thought was Table Rock, but I quickly realized that it was in the wrong direction. I’m still working on figuring that out, so if anyone has any help with that, I’d love for you to say so in the comments here. Looking at the maps, I am thinking that it was Whiteside Mountain, but I could be wrong. A bit further up and the summit of Big Rock Mountain has a big flat rock on it, almost like some kind of altar. Stan and I chilled out up here, as he jokes that one of his biggest problems in life was a farmer’s tan. Through the trees, we were able to easily make out Table Rock, The Stool, and Cesaer’s Head beyond. Based on GPS distances readings, we were 8 miles away. Once we were all at the top, and Wally is like, “On to Pink Mountain!” which is the closest mountain to the northwest, within the forest. He didn’t realize what I had planned for the day. I think a few of the guys didn’t realize what I had planned for the day, including me. This is where the fun would begin. 
Table Rock, The Stool, and Cesaer’s Head from the Big Rock summit
I’m not really sure why I planned this the way I did. Oh yeah, it’s 1.75 miles to the top, we’ll walk around a little bit, and then come back down. Easy! Well, that didn’t include the unplanned direct brute force route to the top of the mountain. I knew I wanted to climb around on some Big Rocks, but I guess the deceptiveness of Google Earth combined with the photos that were of nearly all rock, I wasn’t thinking about all the waist high scrub and briers we would have to bushwhack through to access many of the areas. Sorry Stan, I told you shorts would be fine. Look at it this way, now you have lots of cool hiking scars on your legs. I saw some of the meanest looking briers I have ever seen up on that mountain. It is a vicious place! As I watched all the guys navigate through the scrub, I could tell the difference that Linville Gorge had made on Steve. He just seemed to spot things in a subtle different way. Climbing up on one of the boulders, Wally and I made a rough determination of where we wanted to go and how we would get there. Going by the guidebook, one area I wanted to be was at the Shaman’s Cave Boulder. We spotted it from a higher vantage point, but our route would have to take us back towards the summit as we worked around some of the more sheer rock faces.

The guys climbing up one of the many cracks in the boulder maze.

On our way down, we passed through the Big Slopey Project/The Cravasse Boulder. Way cool! This crack was one of my favorite places that we went through on the mountain. I got to do a few chimneying moves in there. Really, just to move my body in ways like that feels great. I love that feeling of just climbing on stuff, We worked down cracks, around boulders, through bushes, up gullies, and finally found ourselves at the Shaman’s Cave Boulder. We found an old ragged hammock that looks like it gave way a while ago. For the adventurous, it’d be a great campsite. There is a fire ring, and a couple bolts in the rocks for hanging a hammock that is not so ragged and still in working condition. Wally is a guy that loves to move and be active. That much is obvious. He asked me what was beyond my comfort level, so I told him anything that I would have to explain to his wife. I knew what he was thinking. Straight up the tree to the top of the Shaman’s Cave Boulder he went. How’s the view up there?? He replies, “Pretty much the same.” Coming down was a bit slower and meticulous. Fortunately, I won’t have to explain anything to his wife. Nicely done, buddy.

Shaman’s Cave Boulder
We were looking back directly at the Main Wall, and the guide had some hints towards a cave area. Naturally, I would want to find that. What is the fascination with caves? Sure, there is that sense to say, “I really want to stand on that big rock” but to enter into the earth? I’m not sure what the draw is, but for some, the allure of a cave is difficult to resist. Well, I just gave into it. Making sure everyone in the group was still doing OK, we pressed on along the Main Wall. I didn’t want to descend too low as to miss the cave for the sake of an easier route, so I stayed a bit higher. Maybe not such a great idea as far as getting snagged on briers goes. Really, I could have avoided it. We came to the base of a huge rock, and the group split ways. A few went left, a few went right. After a few moments of indecision, I called out to the left group and asked what it looked like over there. “I don’t know, awesome!” Turns out it was awesome because the cave area was there. Really, it’s a chimney, but really, it was what I was looking for! You can climb in and over a rock at one end of the crack and come out into the main area of the cave. Really cool, but not for everyone, for sure.
Wally and Stan still at our lunch spot
Wally, Stan and I climbed up on the top of a flat rock for our lunch break, and Josh, Jonathan and Steve hung out just below the climb. I scarfed my typical hikertrash lunch of a sandwich with peanut butter, bananas, and craisins, then scrambled over towards the next set of ledges and boulders. Looking back and seeing the cliff that we had eaten lunch on top of, I just had a good laugh of enjoyment at seeing where we had been sitting. After poking around the Flowering Hominid area, we decided it was time to start working back towards the car. Looking at my GPS, we were directly below the summit of the mountain we had stood on earlier. Three options: (1) we could hike down the mountain into someone’s yard, which I was not about to do. (2) hike back through the maze of boulders, which would be the long ways (3) the direct route – UP. Either we could go up right in front of us, or bushwhack further east and take a slab up there. Wally and Stan decided to scout out what was right in front of us. They called down that it was actionable, though not in those words. Based on the guide book, I think we went up the Joe Dirt route, which was rated as a 5.2 pitch. 
Before we climbed back up to the summit
Though it was a bit steep and sketchy in parts, we made it back to the summit. Somehow, we got separated coming down towards the ridgeline, but we were able to reconvene with a bit of effort. On the way out, I definitely did not want to come back down the way we had come up, but rather find the “right” way. Looking at my GPS, Stan came alongside with his cellphone and pulled up the satellite imagery of where we were. I could see the road on the satellite, and we were way off it. I guess that’s too much time trying to figure out where the rocks I wanted to visit and not enough looking at the route up the mountain. Sadly, it was really obvious. It’s a dirt road. We came down the rocky cliff faces beneath the power lines, which was a challenge in itself. The briers got really thick in there, and it was like hiking through velcro because the thorns would grab and not let you go any further until you pulled yourself free. I felt sorry again for Stan and his shorts. Sorry buddy. Anyone who knows anything about Nine Times has to be rolling their eyes at me as they read this. Go ahead, I deserve it. I poorly planned getting up the mountain. Next time will be better. 
Coming down the mountain in one of the cleanest and easiest to hike stretches
We made it back to the cars fine enough, after some more bushes, briers, and slides to access the dirt road. As we were putting our gear in the trunks, Brad Caldwell pulled up. It was great to meet him and share a few short anecdotes about our time on the mountain. He said that normally, we would be guaranteed to see rattlesnakes in the area. I was surprised we didn’t see any snakes, to be honest. We did see a few yellow jackets, but I didn’t ever disturb any nests where we got swarmed. The Lord blessed us with a safe, active, and wondrous day on the mountain. Really, a great notch in The South Carolina Project for me. Tracked distance on the GPS shows us at 4.25miles. We climbed 1206ft in elevation, and descended 1145ft (How does that work?). The highest elevation we were at was 1803ft.
GPS track overlay onto Google Earth of our hike
I do want to say a few things about the area, though, for anyone considering an adventure there. Yes, it’s incredible, I’d never seen anything like it in South Carolina, and the boulder maze was incredible to navigate. I had a blast! Navigating that boulderfield is not easy hiking, though. There is a lot of route finding, trying to work the puzzle of which is the best way, the least resistant way. There are a lot of scratchy bushes that will not ultimately hurt you but will draw blood, The kind of adventure you’ll find on Big Rock is not for everyone, but for those who love that kind of thing, it holds mega rewards. Biggest downsides: the boulderfields are south facing, so you get the full brunt of the sun. Summertime hiking would be miserable due to the heat reflecting off those rocks. Combine that with the lack of any water, creeks or streams on the mountain, and you’ve got yourself a challenge. Really, just know what you’re getting into and prepare well by packing enough water and researching your route (I could take my own lesson!). I know for sure that I’ll be back to explore Nine Times more thoroughly! It is an amazing and incredible area, a real hidden jewel for the state of South Carolina.
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Babel Tower Cabin Trail hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Linville Gorge Trail scrambling Trip Reports WNC

The First Time I Underestimated Linville Gorge

So this is actually the first trip report I ever wrote, originally posted at LinvilleGorge.net. My family and I had been to Linville Falls from the Blue Ridge Parkway before, but this would be my first time actually entering the Linville Gorge. There have been a few edits, removing silly emoticons, and changed a few of the numbers as I later found out. The guys at LG.N helped me plan this trip, and warned me that I might be biting off more than I could chew for my first visit. In fact, it was on this trip that I received a piece of advice regarding the seriousness of Linville Gorge that still stays with me:

“Two entities will see your hike: God and Linville Gorge.

If you bite off more than you can chew God will forgive you….. Linville Gorge will Not.” 
~ Bob Underwood

One of the things I really want to highlight is how we went up to the top of Babel Tower. We didn’t realize there was a very easy trail that accessed the top, and we scrambled and free climbed up to the top of it from the south face. Way sketchy, but we were all into climbing a lot. I don’t recommend anyone takes that route. Some of the hiking I had done prior that I thought would prep me for this trip was  the Raven Cliff Falls/Dismal Loop in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness of SC, Table Rock State Park in SC, and also some backpacking at Sam Knob and TurkeyPen near Brevard. I was unprepared for how rugged the terrain would actually be in Linville Gorge. Daunting then, it is something I have come to love now, over 3 years and over a dozen trips later. If you’re planning to hike in Linville, and looking at routes on the map, forming a plan, it’s a good rule of thumb to estimate an average hiking time of 1 MPH. You may go less then that, depending on how difficult of a situation you get into, and how many times you stop to take in the view.

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Well, we made it! Our PLAN was to park at Pine Gap, hike Kistler to the Babel trail, ascend Babel, then down to LGT up to Pine Gap, check out the rock face there at the toe by Bynum, then out to Kistler back to the car.

Let me start by saying, after my first trip into Linville Gorge, I underestimated it in every way.

Started out praying for our safety, the trip and that we would be marvel more at our Creator than his creation (which I knew I would be inclined to do). Then as we were pulling our packs out of the car, an ambulance drove by with his window down, waved, and yelled “Don’t do it!” but at least he said it with a smile. Hmm, this was when I began to wonder if I underestimated.

We headed up the road from Pine gap and saw a Blue square blaze on the east side of Kistler before Cabin. Does this go anywhere?? Pine Gap parking to Babel parking lot is a long haul, but it was a nice teaser as we could make out the gorge from the road. We finally get to Babel, excited, and ready to bring 2 cars next time we come so we can shuttle along Kistler. There were plenty of just-off-the-road campsites to crash at. I was actually surprised at how all the campsites we came across, even in the gorge, had such significant fire rings/pits.

(The view from the first rock outcrop on Babel Tower Trail, Babel Tower is the small peak in the middle)
We hiked down Babel after taking a few trailhead pics to the first rock outcrop where the trail turns dramatically. Wow, absolutely amazing. We took a break here because one of my buddies took off his sunglasses at the Babel parking lot and left them on one of the rails. We watched his pack while he ran back. We loved this view. It was very motivating when the guys who were with me that had not been involved in any of the planning looked down, saw Babel tower, and said “is that where we’re going?!?” It was a pleasure to say “Yeah!” The hike down to Babel tower was enjoyable, with just enough canopy to keep us cool. The trail is so eroded in places it becomes a ditch, but no so bad I guess. As we were descending, I began to understand why I should be more worried about a broken leg or rolled ankle than any wildlife.

We saw several large leafed trees, with clusters of leaves of about 8 or 9 roughly bigger than your hand (on the small ones!) Does anyone know what kind of trees they are? We enjoyed them all throughout the gorge.

(The way we went to the top of Babel Tower – which later I found out is the hard way)

So we made it to the Linville Gorge Trail (LGT) and immediately were met with overview sights of the river, then we hopped over the crevasses and boulders, hung over the hanging rock, checked out the cave/shelter overhang, etc. We eventually climbed up to the top of Babel Tower. There’s some trees there that are nice to climb and post off of, making the top easier access. On the way to the pinnacle, there is a pretty sketchy looking rope. I opted for a lift from one of our guys who stayed on the ground. The view of the gorge is absolutely breathtaking. I underestimated the vastness and how huge everything was. I’ve been looking at this through Google Earth for too long. I was blown away from atop Babel Tower. The spirit of exploration soared in all of us in this area. At this point, we had all decided this was the most awesome place we’d been. The exploration and sheer childlike wonder that was induced made this much more than a hike to see some beautiful vista. This was a completely foreign world to the east, unlike anything we’d seen. One friend had spent 3 months in Haiti as a missionary and he said all the dead trees reminded him of Haiti. I really feel like they add a it of beauty to the whole area. Anyways, I wish we would have explored it more thoroughly, but we moved on.

(Erich climbing down the south face of Babel Tower, with Ben waiting below)

We hiked west on the LGT looking for the campsites along the 2nd peninsula. After taking what seemed like a trail down to the river (across mostly boulders really), we ended up at the waterfall/swimming hole. Some guys were already there sliding down the waterfall and jumping off the cliff so we moved up to the campsite on the beach to dip in the river to cool off and eat lunch. We saw a bunch of minnows, but nothing else really. This looks like a great campsite, unless the water is high! After we ate lunch, we were trying to figure out if we had passed the LGTCS4 and were really at LGTCS1, or not. (NOTE: These are campsite names listed on the 2010 edition of the LG map from LinvilleGorge.net) Compass was really helpful here by determining which bend in the river we were facing. Plus, I thought there was no way we had gone all the way up to CS1, so we hiked back up to where we left LGT and continued on. The trails are tough to follow here with all the boulders. I started to get confused myself by the way the LGT curved by this offshoot trail, and I almost convinced myself it was Cabin. Either way we’d end up back towards Kistler so we went on, but I was about 80% sure we were still on LGT.

We met up with some guys who had just come down Cabin at a rock outcrop overlooking the first peninsula. Verified we were on LGT, and gave them some help as they were heading towards Babel tower. I told them we came in Babel and we were planning on hiking out Pine Gap. “Wow you have a full day!” Did not fill us with enthusiasm at this point. I had greatly underestimated how long we would be here. I figured 3 hours to go from Babel to Pine Gap. We were right around 3.5hrs here and hadn’t even hit Cabin yet. We voted to exit on Cabin. The guys from LG.N were right. This is not the Appalachian Trail, and distance cannot be measured normally. I was amazed at how little ground we seemed to cover compared to how much time we spent covering it. LGT is also extremely overgrown with thorny brush, to the point for several long patches we could not see where we were placing our feet.

(Looking up Cabin Trail)

Coming in, I knew and had explained to my buddies that Cabin would be one of our early exit routes should we decide not to go the whole way. We knew it was approx 900 ft out over 3/4 of a mile, and it would would be steep.. but we were totally caught off guard by what a grueling and miserable hike out this was. This is also where I figured out that I under-estimated the heat. Even though weather.com said 75F for Linville Falls, it was hot and humid this whole trip. One friend said he had done some research and Linville Gorge was actually listed as a temperate rain forest? I’d believe that! Phew! Having a river soaked bandana really helped out here. There were some straight up climbs on rock that were at least 6ft steps. Wow, this was tougher than anything we’d ever done prior. Free climbing Babel Tower was a cakewalk compared to this. At one point, we even saw a trail of blood drops, which only added to the mood of the hike. We all still had water and were drinking it, but even with that… we must have been taking a break every 50ft. I totally underestimated Cabin. I anticipated climbing out via Pine Gap!

(Blood on Cabin Trail)

Once it started to level off, it was so nice to be back to Kistler, where I just had been hoping a few hours earlier I wouldn’t have to hike anymore of, haha. The thunder also began as we hit Kistler, too. Even though we were ragged out, we were wishing someone would give us a lift but acknowledging that we wouldn’t give a lift to any guys that looked as rough as we did. As soon as we got back to the car and got our packs in, the rain fell torrentially. Coming out from Kistler, we could scarcely see the road at some points! Small kindness from God, surely.

Didn’t go to Wiseman’s or Linville Falls like I had planned, and we didn’t eat at Louise’s. Although, I did stop in and pick up a copy of Allen Hyde’s hiking guide. 2011 3rd Edition. I haven’t had much chance to look through it yet.

One thing’s for sure… we all can’t wait to go back. Enjoy! Thank you all for all your help in planning this trip! I had so much more confidence going in than I would have going in green! I imagine taking someone up Cabin who was not already in love with adventure… that would quite ruin any further adventures for them for a long time.

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hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post L.O.S.T. Lower Original Scrambler's Trail North Carolina scrambling Trip report

L.O.S.T. at Linville Gorge

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.

 (Chad on Fern Point)

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.

(Josh and TJ on typical rocky ground found on Rock Jock. This is flat compared to what we would be on later.)

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.

(Steve on the lower chute descent scramble)

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., as seen from Little Seneca. Josh, TJ and Luke enjoying the perfect lunch spot.)

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.

(Luke sitting on Little Seneca)

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.

(Zen Falls)

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.

(Razor’s Edge Rock, as seen from Zen Point)

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.

(Chris, Chad and Luke: the heroes of Rock Jock)

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.

(Actual unedited GPS track overlay and elevation profile of our hike)
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bushwhacking camping hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina Razor's Edge Rock Jock scrambling Trip report

My First Time on Rock Jock

(The view from the top of the Razor’s Edge descent gully within Razor’s Edge Canyon, Razor’s Edge Point to the upper right, with the North Carolina Wall and Sphinx in view across the Gorge) 
In event of my upcoming return trip to Rock Jock, I headed back to LinvilleGorge.net and retrieved my original trip report for the weekend of October 14-15, 2011. This was the first time I hiked Rock Jock, the first time I got into a serious bushwhack, and my second time ever hiking in the Gorge. I never have made it to Pertraeus Point… Hmmm…. I added a few notes into the report to either clarify or update based on better knowledge.

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.

On a side note, as we were walking up Kistler looking for sites, a hunter stopped in his truck and we spoke with him. Apparently a huge tree had just blown over and blocked the road. It was sooo windy up on Dogback! He informed us he cleared the tree with his chainsaw, and took off. This tree is pretty obvious if you’re down in that area.

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.

(Razor’s Edge Rock, as seen from Razor’s Edge Point, with L.O.S.T.’s ledges in the upper right)

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.

Tom stayed at RE point to take pictures of us, and the rest of us headed down to find RE rock. Chris and I got a little side tracked scoping out the south side of the point, spotting the campsite where someone’s been enjoying a fire and awesome view of the Amphitheater.  Erich and Ben made it down first, so it was cool to see someone crossing the ledge from the higher perspective. Once Chris and I were on the descent to RE, he asks me, “Are you sure you want to be using those trekking poles?” I said, “Yeah man! They are stabilizing me!” And not 5 seconds after the words were out of my mouth, I took a spill and Chris’s arm was in my armpit. Oops! That descent is slippery on the dirt and mud, and it took out my trekking pole. Getting down to the Razor’s Edge from there was a bit of a scramble up the 15 feet or so of rock and then an easy rock hop and walk out to the edge. I won’t belabor the point with many words, but I will say it’s breathtaking to be on that point and if anyone is doing Rock Jock you absolutely should NOT miss Razor’s Edge.
(Me and my bent up trekking pole in Razor’s Edge descent gully)
Heading back to the Rock Jock, we headed north again. Zen Creek (I’m assuming?) had a great pool of crystal clear water that looked fantastic to pump from. Not really any other sources on Rock Jock that looked as pumpable (although Mossy Creek and Blue Jay both had water running on them). We came back up on the trail to Lost Dog (I think) where we had come out the day prior. There was a nice and big camp site not far from here, and we headed back up to the old Conley entrance. I was wanting to come out on Rock Jock at Conley. Should I have just stayed to the right of that big camp? The map looks like it has a big loop around this area and felt kind of confusing when I looked at it.

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!

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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.
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camping hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post scrambling South Carolina Trip Planning

Potential 2014 Adventures

Well it’s almost 2014 and there were several 2013 bucket list trips that didn’t happen. Let’s look at some of the thoughts I have for 2014. These are open invite, but some of them will require more gear than just comfortable shoes. I may get them all and I may get none of them, but it’s at least in the ballpark of where I’d like to be journeying next year. I hope some of you will decide to join me.
1. Bonas Defeat
Anticipated difficulty: high, potentially dangerous
Overnight: maybe
This was high on my list this year and it never happened due to the large amount of rain the area got in its prime season, then when the opportunity opened up later in the fall, I had already committed to the Gorge Rat Gathering in Linville. So what puts Bonas Defeat on the list? Not a trail, that’s for sure. I’ve read in articles that it’s been described as hiking down the barrel of a shotgun. It’s a rock hopping scramble that almost guarantees getting wet. It needs to be done when there hasn’t been any rain due to an automatic floodgate at one end that can open and flash flood the whole gorge, making it more dangerous. Recent reports have suggested the danger, though existent, may be over-hyped. The YouTube videos look awesome though. I’d want to visit Paradise Falls nearby on the same trip.
2. Return to Big Pisgah and Dismal Creek
Anticipated difficulty: very high
Overnight: probably
Giant waterfalls, lush jungle landscapes, house-sized boulders, cliff faces, rock walls, and “steep”-doesn’t-do-them-justice ridges. Dismal Creek has been referred to as one of the most foreboding places in the Southern Appalachian Mountains (Jim Bob Tinsley The Land Of Waterfalls). Ever since going to Dismal Falls on Big Pisgah this year, the desire to go back has been growing, even though as I was finishing that first hike it seemed to be one of the most leg-destroying hikes I’ve ever been on. This was originally the “traverse Big Pisgah” plan, but that may not happen due to wanting to be considerate and mindful of not trespassing on private property. While it will probably include a trip to Rhapsodie and Dismal Falls, the real point is to see what’s beyond those explored spots. New territory. What’s in those hills? This is the area that fueled my thoughts of wanting to have a handheld GPS unit. If one got lost in there, they’d be in a world of hurt. Very little traffic coming through here, comparatively. Experienced adventurers only. 
3. The entire Linville Gorge Trail
Anticipated difficulty: moderate
Overnight: probably
It’s 16+ miles from one end of the Gorge to the other, whether we go N>S or S>N is yet to be determined. Though Linville is rugged, I’ve hiked parts of the LGT (albeit probably the easier parts), and I don’t see it as difficult as say, a hike up PinchIn or doing the LNCW/Sphinx scramble. The southern end is a nice walk through the woods, and the northern end has ankle twisting talus covering the path. Probably overnight it and camp somewhere between PinchIn and Conley Cove, which is a section I have not been on but give incredible views of the NC Wall, Ampitheater, and Sphinx from the river.I’ll be using Phil Phelan’s LGHC guide to help plan this one more thoroughly when the time comes, as this is essentially half the circuit of his loop around the whole Linville Gorge. Also, maybe but maybe not noteworthy is that this would be the longest hike I’ve ever done. 
4. Falls Creek Falls
Anticipated difficulty: moderate
Overnight: nope
Not too far from Jones Gap in SC, this is one waterfall that’s too close to home for me that it’s a shame I haven’t been there this far. The guidebooks say it’s strenuous of 600ft in elevation over 1.5 miles, but after hiking in Linville Gorge, that sounds pretty mild. I’ve heard it described has having several different rock characteristics all wrapped up in one waterfall that makes it a very unique experience. Greenville, this one is right in our backyard so I hope some of you go.
5. Two Saddles Loop
Anticipated difficulty: nightmarish
Overnight: probably not
Linville Gorge off-trail trying to “hike” a “hypothetical” loop that reportedly involves crawling on hands and knees through briars and rhododendron and 2 cold river crossings. The map for this can be found on Bob Underwood’s yahoo group for Linville Gorge. It will go down Brushy Ridge Trail, cross the Island Ridge saddle, bushwhack Hyde’s Ledge above the river as it makes it’s way through Babel Canyon, up Henson Creek, and then back out the north quad. Only the senseless need apply for that one. This will be a bleeder, and we’ll likely be mighty confused as to what path to take in certain parts.
6. Babel Tower peninsula exploration
Anticipated difficulty: high
Overnight: probably not
A return to Babel Tower for a thorough exploration which would include Hell’s Ridge Camp, finally doing Avatar’s Rib, overlooks of Babel Canyon, and a lot of cool scrambling with some bushwhacking involved. Only rated high because from what I’ve read and seen first hand, some of the scrambling looks technical. Standing at the top of Avatar and looking down is certainly intimidating, and climbing down is always more difficult than up. The bushwhacking I’ve already done in the area wasn’t that bad.
7. Rim of the Gap
Anticipated difficulty: moderate
Overnight: no
My friend Erich and I have been talking about this hike for a couple years now. It’s in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness in Upstate SC. While the terrain looks steep, we would shuttle and hike from Caeser’s Head down into Jones Gap with cars parked on each end, so I would anticipate the difficulty being less in this direction. Approximately 5 miles of ridge looking down into Jones Gap.
8. Devil’s Fork State Park
Anticipated difficulty: moderate
Overnight: No
My family went with me last year to see the endangered Oconee Bells blooming in April. I’d love to go again, perhaps to a different part of the park, and see some more of the shore. Lake Jocasee is really one of the most beautiful spots in SC, even from the drive up docks at Devil’s Fork.
9. Waterfalls on Highway 11
Anticipated difficulty: high
Overnight: no
This is another carryover from last year, and I almost made this trip mid-December, but the combination of mid-30°temps and rain made me lean toward canceling it. Per the guidebook I’m using, there are 10 waterfalls in this area starting at Wildcat Falls. There are two branches (Wildcat Creek and Slickum Creek) that I hope to follow upstream as far as possible, as far as Persimmon Ridge Rd if that’s possible. There have been some deaths of even experienced hikers at Upper Wildcat, so I would likely not venture to the top of that one, but hopefully Slickum is “actionable.”
10. Greenland Creek
Anticipated difficulty: moderate to high
Overnight: maybe
I’ve seen Schoolhouse Falls on Greenland Creek, but if I’m correct (without looking at the map), Greenland Creek Falls and Carlton Falls are both upstream from there. I’ve been looking at pics of both, especially Carlton Falls, and if love to visit both of those firsthand.
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Family hiking History http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post 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.
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bushwhacking Coram Deo Ledge Dellinger Creek Dellinger Falls Gorge Rats hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina Rockefeller Plaza scrambling Trip report

From Rockefeller to Dellinger: Linville Gorge Off-Trail

A sunrise from the Linville Gorge is among the best I have ever seen. It’s even worth leaving your house in Greenville, SC at 5:00am for. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite make that. There was some solace to be found that when I arrived at Pinnacle, the peak was nearly enshrouded in fog so there was very little view anyway. At least for the moment. As the sun rose, the fog began to fade, and I was able to witness some awe-inspiring (yet still hazy) views of Shortoff Mountain’s profile, Lake James, the South Mountains and beyond. Incredible. I will never get tired of watching the sun crest in the east over Morganton and Lake James, leaving its patches of fog near the ground like small glistening ponds. I love that stuff. 

It was only 7:45 at this point, and I wasn’t scheduled to meet up with the guys until 9:00, so after taking a few pictures I settled into a cleft in the rock atop Pinnacle and did some reading. I knew I was going to be in for some more amazing views, and my heart really needs to be tenderized towards who is the author of those views, so I landed in Psalms.
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; 
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; 
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also. 
The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 
(Psalm 95:1-5 ESV)
I packed up, jumped in the car, and headed toward the rendezvous point. Along Kistler Memorial Highway (which is so rough and washboarded, it will rattle your teeth), I notice in the rearview mirror a Subaru Outback coming up behind me. A wave out the window, this is my buddy Mike (darkbyrd) I’ve been looking forward to meeting. We pull up in the parking area, and another friend from the LG group, Tyler (hikerman), is already there waiting for us. Great to finally meet these guys. Todd of flickinamazing and the page Waterfalls of Western North Carolina (which has an iPhone/iPad app to go with it – check it out!) and his friend Ben met us up there, and after a group photo, we’re off.
When planning this trip, we had talked about Henson Creek, but we decided against it. Under normal conditions, Henson is slick with green slime and requires extra care. After all the rain we’ve had this summer, we felt like it was taking unnecessary risk to approach Henson. 
Mike was the only member of our team who had been to our first destination, a recently discover waterfall named Rockefeller Plaza, so Mike took point. We followed him down an obvious trail from the road, but it petered out quickly. We were mostly navigating by sparse flags and a GPS track. Not much trail here, especially when we veered off the “main” trail. I used the word trail VERY loosely here. We had to fight through the bushes and work our way down the cliff ledges. Make no mistake, this is not a hiking trip. This is a scrambling trip. Precariously and slowly maneuvering our way down slanted rock faces, it was slow moving. We took a side trip to an outcropping to get an overlook of the upper section of Rockefeller. Ben and Todd worked the area a little while trying to find a way down, and the rest of us took a siesta. Deciding there was no way down, we backtracked and continued on. After some good down climbs, sliding, and fighting through scratchy bushes, we found ourselves standing at Rockefeller Plaza. 

Rockefeller Plaza was by Wigg Faulkner in honor of John D. Rockefeller, who donated the Linville Gorge to the American people many years ago. This is a really splendid waterfall, with a small cave behind it. We sat here for a while, took pictures, climbed some rock, and just soaked in the beauty that was before us. Truly this waterfall is a rich area. It just FEELS special there.
We headed back in generally the way we came. We had missed it on the way in, but we stayed higher and found ourselves in Bandit’s Cave. While it has been explored already and found out to be more of an overhung amphitheater than a cave, it is still a cool spot. Climbing up into the area, I found some blackberry bushes that offered up a really nice snack for the tough exit in front of us. I will say it feels a lot safer climbing UP rock than DOWN it. 
Once back at the car, we weighed our options for the next step. We had originally talked about searching for Dellinger Falls, of which there seems to be very little documentation of. After climbing out of the Rockefeller area, though, we were beat. We speculated attempting L.O.S.T., Avatar’s Rib, the southern section of Rock Jock, and even driving over to Shortoff and attempting the Crack of Doom. As we sat at the cars and in the shade and had a little bit to eat, we found ourselves rejuvenated and we decided to go with the original plan: search for Dellinger Falls. 
I had heard Bob Underwood speak of these falls, and Mike had read Cayoneer Engineer’s report of the area on the yahoo group, but beyond that we only knew of a general area to aim for. We didn’t even know what the waterfall looked like. For the sake of people’s safety, I’m only going to say that we took a barely there trail, bushwhacked straight off the side of and down a ridge, and into a hole. It was straight through thick 10′ tall pines, briars, and the biggest Devil’s Walking Stick we had ever seen. For the unfamiliar, Devil’s Walking Stick is a sapling/tree that has thorns spiraled around its trunk. The biggest ones we saw had trunks of probably 2″ diameter. Normally, one would just avoid those. However, the terrain we were on was so steep, and we were constantly stepping on loose rock that would slide from under our feet and careen down the edge (followed by a hollering of “ROCK!”), we were forced to grab onto what would keep us from falling. Let’s just say we felt it was DWS and heard the “Aagh!” before we saw it. It was this all the way off the ridge, NO trail, NO flagging. There was no evidence that anyone had ever entered this area the way we did. It was beyond scratchy. So, in the midst of this scratchy, loose route finding, I really have to give these guys an applause. No one was complaining, and everyone seemed generally enthusiastic about the descent. It was decided somewhere on the side of that ridge, that there would be no coming back the way we came. Worst case scenario, which we were going to bank on, would be to follow Dellinger Creek down to the river (which may present it’s own unknown obstacles and challenges), and exit via Leadmine and Pinnacle or Wolfpit West. That translates into a LOT of elevation gain and hiking to get out, but we were OK with that if it came to it. We were commenting on how even though we didn’t know exactly where we were, it was good to know that we all had enough knowledge or Linville Gorge terrain, landmarks, and landscape that we would not be lost. With that, we continued down into the hole. We emerged at the creek, which was a Godsend because almost everybody was out of water at that point. Mike and Todd got out the filters, refilled everyone, and we enjoyed the rest. Looking at the GPS and topo lines, we were approximately 250′ in elevation LOWER than our intended target area. This meant we had to climb UP. I started working up the canyon, and everyone else started working the creek. I should have just gone with them, as they were making quick work up the creek. Guess I need to watch some more Man vs Wild because my terrain navigation was not kicking in at that point. I found a fallen log and crossed over the deep blowdown and deadfall over to the creek to meet Tyler. We worked up the creek, not really even getting our feet wet. Dellinger Creek is extremely rocky, and the flow was low, so we were able to scramble up the creek without really getting our feet that wet. Well, maybe once. The entire creek was green with moss, green slime, and slick rock. I mentioned to Mike that it is ironic we chose not to do Henson for the very conditions we found ourselves in. That being said, I’m glad we did this instead of Henson. 
Dellinger Falls. What a beauty! We found ourselves in a giant cathedral with the thin and whispy Dellinger Falls plunging approximately 100′ over the cliff edge until it met its final pool and joined the rocky creek bed below. If that wasn’t beautiful enough, there were so many cool rock formations and boulders down there. We hung out here for a while and took pictures from many different angles.
What to do next. We weren’t leaving the way we came in. I think it was Todd that said this was the one trip he’d been on that going down was worse than coming up. We still weren’t that excited for the slog to the river and then up Leadmine. On discussion, we felt it was best to work the cliffs for an exit, and that it would be more promising to try and find a way out from there than descend another 500-600′ to the river only to ascend again. Turns out that was a great decision.
Still partially a scratchy and rocky bushwhack, we worked some of the ledges and found a route up. We came to a fantastic ledge with a fantastic overhang with an obstructed view of Shortoff and Lake James, and a nearly unobstructed view further north into the Gorge.

Given the privilege to name the ledge, I felt it should be called the Coram Deo Ledge (I need to write another post about that process). Coram Deo is Latin for “In the Face of God” or “In the Presence of God.” While standing here, His creation and handiwork is right in your face. It really is an awesome view ranking among my other favorites, like the Sphinx and Crack of Doom balcony.

Just beyond the Coram Deo Ledge was a small but cool mini-cave in the rock I think we have dubbed the Mesa Hole, due to its unusual resemblance to many Mesa caverns is the southwest. I can’t even begin to give an explanation how this occurred so far up the cliff wall. It went back probably less than 10′. Just beyond the Mesa Hole is another overhang, which I think has just become part of what Mike referred to as the Dellinger Creek Wall. 
Success! We emerged back out onto our initial entrance trail. Now the hike out. Climbing out of here made the hike up PinchIn feel like Mickey Mouse. It was hot, exposed except for the scratchy sappy pines, and a far steeper grade than PinchIn. I’ve said several times that if you want to play in the Linville Gorge, you have to pay… and we played EXTRA hard today. Now it was time to pay for it. The mostly grown over “trail” still felt like a game of follow the path of least resistance to the next tattered flag through the pines. Oh, those pines! We didn’t even come up from the river, and this was brutal.
Brutal. That’s the tag we pretty much attached to the day. Not every hike in Linville is like this (although it could be if you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going). If any of us had broken a leg or an ankle or anything like that, we would have been in severe trouble. We were in some hellacious terrain, and I woke up this morning still picking thorns out of my hands. In spite of all that, it had to rank among the top adventures I’ve had in the Gorge. The exploration, new things, camaraderie, and all the things we got to see, it truly was a great adventure.
Back at the car 2 hours earlier than I had anticipated, I was hungry. Clif Bars and Peanut Butter & Banana sandwiches are all fine for the trail, but it was time for some protein. I followed Tyler to Morganton and had a mushroom & Swiss burger at Hardee’s. It was nice for both of us to sit down voluntarily, instead of our feet shooting out from under us. Thanks again for that time, dude. It was a really nice way to spend the evening and relive the day.
Normally, I would come home 221, but I decided to take 64 past the South Mountains and what a joy it was to have the great mountain scenery along that. Then taking 74 west into the sunset, it couldn’t have been a better drive home.
What a great day hanging out with some Gorge Rats. It’s good to have hiking buddies who ain’t got no sense, just like me. It really does take a special kind of person to fight briars and pines and skree and green slimy creeks and steep slopes in August off-trail in the temperate rainforest jungle of the Linville Gorge while keeping a wonder and excitement filled smile on their faces. You guys are nuts, and I can’t wait to get out there and explore with y’all again.
 
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Bonas Defeat hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Nantahala North Carolina scrambling Tanasee Dam Tuckaseegee River Waterfalls

Planning Bonas Defeat

Bonas Defeat Gorge has been dancing on the top of my 2013 bucket list, and the window may be coming to finally drop into this high adventure exploration.

I thought it would be helpful to collect some of my findings in one place (here), not only for my sake but for anyone who may be looking into going. This will be a difficult hike through water and wet rocks, literally through the force that carved out the gorge itself, the Tuckaseegee River. There are waterfalls, slot canyons, pot holes, slick rocks, and more. These are not merely the payoff destinations, but also the obstacles that indeed make the journey the destination. 
I first came to know about Bonas Defeat when I bought Burt Kornegay’s “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown.” (If you’re in Greenville, SC, this excellent map can be bought at Mast General Store downtown. Otherwise, you can buy it ay Kornegay’s website, which I’ll lost all websites at the bottom of this post). Internet research led to finding a few trip reports and YouTube videos, but based on the info I can find, I think it’s safe to say that not many people venture into Bonas Defeat. At least venture in and document it. 
As to the time and mileage and that kind of thing, the hike at the bottom of Bonas Defeat Gorge looks to be approximately 2 miles long, and the estimates I’ve gotten for a time frame it takes to do it is 3-5 hours. I’m not sure if that time includes the road walk to complete any loop.
What IS Bonas Defeat? That is actually the name of one of the cliffs in the Gorge.  Legend has it, and if you’re reading this you’ve either already researched and found this info OR you’re especially nice to read my ramblings, errmm… Legend has it that a man had a dog named Bonas who used to chase deer and such off the edge of this cliff. One day, a deer outsmarted him and sidestepped, and poor poochy ran straight off the cliff and fell the 400′ to his defeat… BONAS Defeat. Yep. Anyway.
There is a dam at the Gorge that has an automatic spill gate. If the dam gets too full, as best I can tell and can’t find any release schedule, it opens. This means that Bonas Defeat is a severe hazard for flash flooding. In wet weather, it’s a definite STAY OUT. We’ve had a lot of that lately. As much as I likely a sketchy adventure, being caught in a flash flood doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time. Neither does dying. Use caution on the “when” side of the planning. 
For gear, I am pretty much looking at basic hiking pants, probably zip offs, and wicking shirt. Leaning towards Chaco’s for footwear, although FiveFingers are tempting. I’ve considered using an old pair of socks inside out OVER the FiveFingers once I get on the slick rock. We’ll see. 
Right now, that spill gate and the rain we’ve been having is making me consider Bonas Defeat sometime in late August to September. At least I would hope to do it then. Possibly I might even be able to wrangle up a posse to go on this wet and wild adventure. Hidden caves, slot canyons, river hiking, scrambling… and then once at the end, another slot canyon up to Paradise Falls. 
Who’s in?
Here are some of the links I’ve used in researching Bonas Defeat Gorge. I hope you may find them useful as well.
(Rich Stevenson’s site on Bonas Defeat)
http://www.ncwaterfalls.com/bonas1.htm
(Rich Stevenson’s site on Bonas Defeat)
http://www.pbase.com/waterfallrich/bonas_defeat_gorge
(Song of Myself: A Bonas Defeat Photographic Extravaganza)
http://singthebodyelectric.blogspot.com/2006/06/bonas-defeat-photographic-extravaganza.html?m=1

(Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine: Mapping the Secrets article)
http://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/hiking/mapping-the-secrets/
(Burt Kornegay’s “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown”)
http://www.slickrockexpeditions.com/map_request.htm
(Nantahala, Tanasee and surround lake levels)
http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/nantahala/nantahala-lake-levels.asp
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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.)