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bushwhacking Gorges State Park Heaven hiking Horsepasture River http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post reflection Team Waterfall Trip report Waterfalls Windy Falls

The Day We Went to Windy Falls

Windy Falls first showed up on my radar over a year ago on the day my friend Luke and I met and hiked together for the first time. There had been talk of trying to hike it, but there were also several reports of people slipping on the Falls and dying there, as well. It was a hike both of us felt like we never needed to have on our list of accomplishments. On the tail end of this past winter, I planned to make an ascent of Narrow Rock Ridge while section hiking the Foothills Trail to get a distant view of Windy Falls, but foggy and soggy conditions factored into that plan being abandoned. A couple months ago, my friend Andy, who had spent several years working different approaches and researching past attempts and failures, led a small group on a successful expedition to the base of Windy Falls. It could be done, but not without difficulty. A few more groups that I’m aware of made successful trips to the base. Then came the invite, and I wanted to visit Windy Falls.
The Horsepasture Drop-Off
I hitched a ride with my buddy Darrin up to Gorges State Park where we would meet up with several friends, some new to us, some old to us. Those who met at the morning rendezvous were Darrin, myself, Luke, Scott, Emily, Johnny, Jack, Stephanie, Kitty, and the infamous Thomas “Badger” Mabry. At 8:45, we hit the trail. The main trails in Gorges are wide gravel roads that are super easy to follow. We left those trails and meandered down uneven trodden dirt to reach the Horsepasture River.
The boulders in that river are massive. The water flow in that river was full and powerful, even though levels were obviously down. Luke and I climbed some of the boulders upstream, and as we sat there watching the force of the water come from above and disappear over an obvious drop below, one of the late Keith Green’s songs began playing in my mind. This place is living in a garbage can compared to what’s waiting in Heaven. Luke quips, “Let’s hope we don’t find out today.” 
House-sized boulder in the upper sections of Windy Falls
The next stop downstream on the Horsepasture River is the Windy Falls terrace, a huge sloping rock where it would be less than easy to meet your demise. When we got there, the conditions were dry, so we were able to carefully explore around it. If that rock is wet, it is also slick, and no attempt should be made to walk on it. At the top of the area, the river rushes beneath a house sized boulder. We made no attempt to get close to the river. A slip up here, and you’re done. About halfway down the rock face is a large separation Crack that becomes a wedge after about four feet. It has been called the Crack of Doom in all seriousness and tongue-in-cheek. (Either way, it is nothing like the Crack of Doom in Linville Gorge.) We took the opportunity to make light of a serious place and play like we were falling in the Crack. 
Don’t slip on the upper terrace
The next section down came with much more difficulty. The path, which was essentially non-existent, split our group up in attempts to find the safest way down. Sheer Rock faces to the left of us, Windy Falls to the right, with the rugged tangle of North Carolina jungle filling in every space between. After using rope to scramble down dripping wet rock faces into standing puddles of black mud, we finally emerged through a pile of boulders onto the clear balcony overlooking the most powerful section of Windy Falls with the most technical section of the route still in front of us.
The Badger enters the Windy Falls keyhole
From the balcony above the plunge pool, with an overhanging cave right behind it, there are two ways down. The first and unfavorable option is over the edge. The water below obscures some hefty boulders that will win against your mass and inertia. The second option is climbing down through the rocks. The easiest way is a tight squeeze through a keyhole. That squeeze can be bypassed with the use of sturdy enough rope, and you can unsafely rappell-lite around the keyhole. Either through or around the keyhole, a rock shelf is the next stop, with the ground another 8 feet below. From here, the rocks angled down toward the water, but another passageway allowed us to travel beneath the boulder balcony into a near silent cave littered with rocks and driftwood beaten to smooth rounded edges by the Horsepasture River. A short scramble or committed walk in the water and we were at the base of the main drop. 
Kitty, Stephanie, and Luke exit the cave
Windy Falls is a raging fury of whitewater as the Horsepasture River crashes down rugged Rock to the plunge pool below. Within the walls of this gorge, the Horsepasture claims full right to its designation as a Wild and Scenic River. 
For the next several hours, the group spent their time eating lunch, taking pictures, scrambling on boulders, exploring ledges to get down river, were joined by Spencer and Stephanie, jumping off and sliding down rocks to swim in the plunge pools. The one thing I really wanted to do for myself was hang a hammock down there, and I was able to find a place after scouting a bit. One by one, the group split as we made our way from the pools, through the cave, out the keyhole, and back up through the boulders and black mud and ledges. 
Darrin goes for one of many slides on the slick rock, with Spencer on the balcony above.
Darrin, Scott, and I stopped at the same pool we visited earlier (where the Keith Green song came to mind), and we got back in the water. Scott took the water leisurely to enjoy a relaxing float about the surface. I wasn’t up to a full swim. Darrin got several more jumps and slides in. If there’s one thing to be said about hiking with Darrin, that dude loves to be in the water. Jumping off rocks into deep river plunge pools and lakes is his thing, for sure. The look on his face, man, he just loves life at that moment. Badger, Kitty, and Stephanie soon joined us, and they too happily entered the waters. It was like other lenses came over my eyes and these thoughts flooded my mind in that contemplative moment:
Team Waterfall loving Windy Falls with abandon
Loving life, there is no question. What struck me was the thought, where does that love come from? How is it that playing carefree in the waters equates with ultimate life? How is it possible that we can enjoy such a good gift as swimming in plunge pools and the sitting beneath the cooling, pummeling pressure of waterfalls? I know that we do, but what precedes that? Deeper questions than any of the pools, for sure. As I meditate on it, that train of thought ends at the Father. Man’s joy is a reflection of the Father’s joy, as we are made in His image. Raw delight points back to the Father, who is the fountain of living water Himself. All these things are gifts and yet, outside of Christ, we are not in a restored relationship with the Father and reject His goodness. We sit, like I did, on the side of the river, not wanting to commit to the waters. (I promise I did not sit out of the water to force that analogy.) In Jesus, the Father beckons us to abandon the shore and plunge into the depths of His reconciling grace to taste the satisfying pleasures of being His.
The walk back to the parking lot was uneventful. I’m surprised we made it the whole day without any timber rattler or copperhead sightings, considering where we had been poking around. For my first visit to Gorges State Park, outside of dipping into it on the Foothills Trail, I’d say it’s going to be hard to beat.
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Fellowship guy friendship hiking Jones Gap Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Rim of the Gap South Carolina The SC Project Trip report

Scrambling the Rim of the Gap

One of the definitions of the word fellowship in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is a company of equals or friends. There are those whose fellowship is found in their draw to dive deep, wrestling to taste the air of colored forests and breathe the waters of satisfaction. Off into the Mountain Bridge Wilderness three such men went.
Erich, Jeremy, and I would begin our day together driving westward on South Carolina’s beautiful Highway 11 towards Ceasar’s Head State Park. Right before the junction with 276, we passed what is normally Lower Wildcat Falls, visible from the road. This day, it was Lower Wildcat Rock, as no water was cascading over it. I had some plans in mind to see a few South Carolina waterfalls that I hadn’t visited yet, but the water flow from Wildcat Creek wasn’t feeling too promising. Nevertheless, we pressed on, for there was more to see than waterfalls.
Very low flow at Rock Cliff Falls today
We parked just past Caesar’s Head at the parking area that also allows access for Raven Cliff Falls, though we wouldn’t be poking around there today. It’s be down the orange blaze for us – Coldspring Branch was our first trail. It was easy warmup hiking as we started out and took our turn to the Coldspring Connector towards our priority goal of the day – Rim of the Gap. First, though, we diverted to the Frank Coggins Trail and took one half of the lollipop over to Naturaland Trust Trail. We crossed 276, where Naturaland Trust goes through a landowners driveway and front yard, and less than a quarter of a mile from there came down to a cracked rock face that was normally Rock Cliff Falls. It was not dry, but it was a trickle. Beyond the Falls is an excellent rock face the we would have loved to follow further, but we had a full day ahead of us.
Talking scars on natives at the totally dry Firewater Falls
Retracing our steps back to the Frank Coggins Trail, we took the other side of the lollipop loop past Firewater Falls, which was only a dry faced overhang this day. No water whatsoever was trickling over. The conversation had turned to snakes just prior to this, and Erich was telling the story of one of the tribesman he treated in Indonesia that had a terrifyingly close encounter with an anaconda. I’ve probably heard that story over a dozen times in the six years I’ve known Erich and it never gets old.
Our next turn brought us to the Rim of the Gap Trail. Erich and I had been talking about hiking this trail for the last four years, and we’ve always diverted elsewhere. With what might be the last time we would be able to hike together for a while, we decided today would be the day. It starts out at the bridge (which was built as an Eagle Scout project by my friend Darrin’s son) over Cliff Falls, and there is a small side path where people have obviously been walking to get a view of the base of the Falls. The flow was low, but still enough to be called a waterfall. There was a sure tropical feel to that little alcove. Warning though, this was the one spot where I slipped on the slickrock. It is very slippery down there, even as low as the water volume was and without any spray from the falls. On normal flow, it would be way worse. If you do follow that worn path down, please stay off the rocks.

Cliff Falls with low flow and a tropical feel

Any fall on Rim of the Gap could be fatal. Why fatal? Well, you’re on the very edge rim of the ridge that rises to the south of Jones Gap. There is water that has to be crossed, bare rock, slick rock, roots, and shrubs that all require some technical maneuvers to pass. A casual stumble or slip could potentially have you careening off the Rim of the Gap down the mountain to be slammed into the trees and bare rock below. Is the trail dangerous? The trail is good, and fairly easy to follow. Like I said, though, it is technical. There are sections you’ll have to scramble on all fours up rock faces and navigate through boulders. Also, to watch out for is snakes. There had been a report of timber rattlesnakes spotted on Rim of the Gap the week prior on The South Carolina Project group on Facebook. OK, enough of the public service announcement.

On on of the Hamlin boy bridges above Cliff Falls
I’m happy to announce that neither myself, Jeremy, or Erich went careening off the Rim of the Gap. On the contrary, we had a great, safe time. There are awesome rock walls, flowing water cascades (which felt strange in the dryness we had already witnessed), and huge boulders to scramble through. We came upon a cave where my aforementioned friend Darrin had something growl at him from within. There is also a trip report floating around in the internet about witnessing a cougar on this trail. Whether or not there are legit cougars in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness, I don’t have much insight. I can only say that I have never seen one, but it’s fun to insert cougar lore comments into most outdoor conversations. Granted, I’ve never been stalked, either. At least… not to my knowledge.

For a good section of the trail, we could hear home construction going on in the neighborhood just at the top of the ridge, which didn’t spoil the day by any means, but did take some of the wildness out of it. Fortunately the terrain made up for a lot of that! We climbed up ledges, behind huge rock formations, behind boulders, and on trail that skirts vicariously close to the edge. We climbed beneath Weight Watchers Rock, which is a massive boulder supported by a smaller boulder and provides a just human sized gap beneath them to squeeze through. There is a walk around, which takes you closer to the edge of the gap. Hiking is slow going through the western section of the trail because even though the trail is straightforward, the terrain is not. I’ll let some of the pictures speak for themselves.
Jeremy inspecting the cougar cave. There were no cougars inside today.
Erich loving this scramble. 

The eastern section is much more mellow and easy to follow. So easy in fact that we didn’t even see a four-point buck standing at the trail right before we walked up on it. He took off like a shot back into the forest, but only far enough in for him to be disguised while he kept an eye on us. As we got closer to the Jones Gap Trail and Middle Saluda River, the ground began to have more soggy sections. Rim of the Gap ended, and we made for the river to cool off, soak our shirts and hats, snack, and refill on water. 

It really is the Rim of the Gap
Now for the climb back up to the parking lot. Fortunately, it’s a gradual climb (for the most part) over 5 miles. Jones Gap Trail has a lot of rocks on it which increase the difficulty due to trip factor, but overall it’s not that bad. It meanders fairly close to the river for much of it, which we took advantage of. At one point, visible from the trail, was a smaller waterfall on the river with a pool beneath it and dry rock on one side. The day was hot, probably over 90°F, and we’d been hiking for several hours. Sweaty and dirty, the cool water of the Middle Saluda was too tempting to resist. The waterfall had a large rock at the base of it, so sliding down it wasn’t much of an option. A few feet downstream, however, was a sandy-bottomed pool wallowed out into the bedrock. Accompanied by tiny fish, we took turns submersing ourselves beneath the water of a natural bathtub formation in the river. Life giving water, dropping heat-exhausting body temperatures, and revitalizing sore limbs. Good stuff. I had wanted to get a glimpse of Jones Gap Falls, but we completely blew past it. For another day.
The bathtub in the Middle Saluda River
We made the turn onto Coldspring Branch Trail and decided to take it to the top of the ridge instead of climbing up Bill Kimball and the face of El Lieutenant. The last time I had been on Coldspring Branch was last November on the snowy day, so it looked plenty different yet familiar on this tropical August weekend as it bubbled and rushed down the Valley to the Middle Saluda River below. Hiking out felt like a grunt especially at the end of the day, and though we had seen and hiked through a lot of incredible places, it was a welcome relaxing moment to end our 13.5 mile hike. I also need to report that we didn’t see one rattlesnake.
We had eaten lunch a few hours earlier and were ready for a little something extra, so we stopped at the F-Mart for one of “the best hot dogs in town.” Now with a little sustenance in our bellies, we stopped off the day with a trip to the Swamp Rabbit Brewery & Taproom for a glass of Red Whitey. Their Raspberry White Ale is an award winner, and it did not disappoint. 
Swamp Rabbit Brewery’s Red Whitey
It’s easy to retrace our steps here on a blog post, but our conversation is not so easy to retrace. While it feels like we were all over the map over the course of 13.5 miles, we were even more all over in our discussion. This is the bedrock of the fellowship: to know God as Father and the pleasure that results from that relationship. To dive into the depths of what it means to be reconciled to the Father through the Son who bought these brothers with His blood is an amazing thing. Out of that, should we be talking less and doing more? Perhaps not. Without understanding the ramifications of the relationship with Father, what is anything we would set our hands and feet to do? We would burn out. His love is satisfying, motivating, and sustaining, and what a good gift He has given to create fellowships of His own. Fellowships who delight in Him.

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Governor's Rock hiking kayaking Lake Oolenoy paddling Slicking Falls South Carolina summit Table Rock TheSCProject Trip report

Good Morning, Table Rock

Saturday morning was planned to be a short trip to Slickum Creek to show off the waterfall Sweet Thing on Slickum and a visit to Cesaer’s Head, but events changed the course of the morning. I was given a kayak several months ago (thank you!!) and still had not put it in the water yet. 
My plan was to wake up leisurely, have breakfast and coffee at home, and then leave the house about 8:00am. Instead, I woke up at 5:00am and became anxious. Some of that was life events; a big bulk of it was, “I’m supposed to be sleeping and I’m not falling asleep.” It’s still dark. My mind turned to being able to catch the sunrise. If you have never seen a Carolina sunrise, let me tell you that they are typically brilliant. Many are motivated to trudge up mountains in the dark to savor the few moments of the morning majesty. As I was driving on the Pumpkintown Highway, the glow began to illuminate the tips of the tree tops, and by the time I was at the intersection with Highway 11, the burst of light was happening.

Sunrise burst over the trees at the corner of Highway 11 and Pumpkintown Highway
I pulled into the Table Rock visitor center across from the East Gate entrance. After parking, unloading the kayak, and hauling it down to the water, I noticed the boat launch was on the other side of the lake. I would have to launch right off the shore, but no big deal. It looked like more than one person had walked down there anyway. A short walk out onto the dock gave me a view of Lake Oolenoy, as smooth as glass in the cool of the morning. Dragging the kayak out into the sandbar, I sat in and used the paddle to push off into the lake.
This was my first time ever in a kayak. The only experience I had with kayaks was looking at them in a store, wearing a Life is Good t-shirt, and watching Pat Keller videos on YouTube. For anyone interested, mine is a Pelican Ultimate100dlx. Entry level, for sure. As I glided through the water, I heard water trickling. Looking into the boat, I was expecting to see it slowly filling with water. Nope. That sound was only the kayak gliding through the water. Newbie kayak experience. 
I stayed near the shore as I paddled until I began to feel more comfortable with the kayak, the stability, and the maneuvering. First destination was going to be under Highway 11 and towards Table Rock. The only other company I had on the lake was a few fisherman trolling around in john boats. I paddled up to where the lake narrowed and became very shallow. My presence there was enough to disturb several of whatever was in the water. They trashed about, splashing the shallow water and kicking up the sediment from the bottom in a murky escape. I made my way back under Highway 11 towards to boat launch side of Lake Oolenoy. A few more boats were out now, and not wanting to interfere with a couple guys launching their canoe took me further out into the center of the lake. Pretty comfortable by this point so I made my way towards a couple coves on the south side of the lake where I was able to sit in the shade while taking some unobstructed panorama photos of Pinnacle Mountain and Table Rock. This is an awe inspiring view that you do not get from any terra firma that I have stood on. I paddled around a bit more on the southern side of the lake before making my way back to shore. I had spent about an hour on the water and felt great. With the kayak back on the roof of my car, it was only 8:00am.
Pinnacle Mountain, Panther Gap, Table Rock, and The Stool
I did not bring a backpack with me, but I did manage to grab a few essentials (water bottle, LifeStraw, small snack, GPS, monocular) to stuff in my cargo shorts pockets just in case there was an opportunity for a quick hike. The destination was one I already had in mind, which is why I packed what I did. The GPS and monocular would allow me to accomplish two goals that I have been thinking about ever since embarking on The South Carolina Project: take a photo of Slicking Falls and get an elevation profile and track (with waypoints) of the Table Rock trail. A quick hike. 
Carrick Creek Falls
So, for the unfamiliar, the red blazed trail to the top of South Carolina’s awesome monadnock Table Rock is a lengthy uphill 1800′ over the course of 3.6 miles. Being solo, I figured I could make the out and back within 4 hours, though it would not be without some huffing and puffing. I wanted to be back home around 1:00PM, so I estimated that there would be enough time. Start time, 8:30am.
Carrick Creek Falls is only a minute or two into the hike. There’s a nice deck built there to turn it into a popular splashing hole for families with kids. There is no reliable water on the trail after passing the intersection of the green blazed Carrick Creek Trail. There are two moist gullies that I remember crossing over in the second mile of the trail, but there was not enough to filter. Maybe after heavy rains, but again: not reliable. The trail is filled with large SUV sized boulders that are easy to scramble on, but unfortunately the views are obscured by all the trees. On the plus side, that makes for hiking that, though hot, is not sun baked and scorching. By the time I had reached the shelter at the halfway point, I had passed most groups. Not that it’s any badge of ability or anything, but hiking solo can streamline what time frame you’re able to accomplish something in. There is a nice view just a few yards past the shelter where you can make out Pinnacle Lake, Lake Oolenoy and even a distant Paris Mountain. The first couple miles just feel like up and up and up until it levels out decently for a short time after the 2 mile mark.
Shelter at the halfway point
View from near the shelter.Pinnacle Lake and  Lake Oolenoy below. Paris Mountain barely visible towards the left.
I crossed paths with two hikers, Bruce and Nicole, coming up to Governor’s Rock. We made some friendly small talk, and I asked him if he had heard of Nine Times Forest and Preserve, which you can see past Pinnacle Mountain. I fumbled with my GPS trying to figure out which mountain was Big Rock, but given that I was trying to keep a time schedule, I left Bruce at the bald and kept on towards the top. Some of the steepest and rockiest scrambles of the trail are in the second half of the trail, but once on the ridge, it levels out. Before emerging to the view on the south side of the mountain, a large tangle of BlackBerry bushes was growing fruitfully along the trail. Their sweetness was a welcome reward for the summit. I spent just a minute taking in the view at the overlook and peering down at the Stool (the smaller mountain at the south-eastern base of Table Rock). The question most people seem to ask around the summit of Table Rock is, “Did you go all the way to the back?” I have hiked up here twice before, so I was already aware of it. Indeed, the BEST view is through the bushes, over the rock balds, and onto the eastern side of Table Rock to look out upon the reservoir and Caesar’s Head. This is also where those with a keen eye for waterfalls can get the only legal view of Slicking Falls across the reservoir. It was 10:30am.

Me on Governor’s Rock, Pinnacle Mountain behind on the right, Nine Times in the distance on the left.
Slicking Falls. Not bad for a Galaxy S5 through a monocular.
As I sat on a pile of rocks enjoying the view, Bruce and Nicole came out of the woods to enjoy the spot with me. Turns out they are training for a hike to Everest base camp in a couple months, so it was very cool to hear their story. Bruce told me of a previous trip to Nepal and meeting the Rimpoche in one of the monasteries, who would grant you one question to ask of him. I can’t remember what he said he asked him, but the recollection of wrestling with trying to come up with the question was highly interesting. “What is the meaning of life is too generic.” I was personally challenged to think of what my answer would be. Such an answer is not whimsically given on the fly, but takes some pondering. We said our goodbyes and best of lucks, and at 10:45am, I started down the mountain. 
View from the back east side of the Table Rock summit. Slicking Falls towards the left. Caesar’s Head beyond.
On my way out, I noticed some yellow flowers growing low. At closer inspection, unless my eyes deceived me, they were horned bladderworts! I didn’t expect to find those blooming fully on the sun baked rocks. No signs, at least in a quick glance, of any sundews or pitcher plants like we had seen earlier in the year when exploring nearby bogs. As I was about to leave the bald rock of the summit, I noticed a few blueberry bushes growing. A small handful of those, with a couple more small handfuls of blackberries on the way out, and I was given over to the enjoyment of foraging. The wild sweetness of the berries was a treat to lift the spirits for a departing descent.
Horned Bladderworts on the summit of Table Rock
The hike back down the mountain was largely uneventful as I rock hopped along the path, paying attention to where my feet fell while using gravity and momentum to take some of the effort out. I passed a handful of hikers on the way down that I had also passed on the way up. “How much further to the top?” The answers went from “less than half a mile!” to “about 1.3 miles” and the number kept going up. Granted that the temperature was in the 90F’s, but there were a lot of worn out people at less than the halfway point on the trail. Folks were carrying fully loaded backpacks, some had trekking poles. If I had remembered mine, I would have used them.  I had the impression that Table Rock is much more demanding than people suspect it to be. It is a challenge, for sure. Would I say it’s fun? I will let you decide that. Once I heard Carrick Creek rushing, I knew I’d be getting in and taking a long swig with the LifeStraw of that cool mountain water. Really, though, it was hot enough that there was not much coolness to the water. It was cooler, buy not cold by any stretch. I sat back in my car at 12:05pm. 
Total time to hike to the top of Table Rock and back along the red blazed trail: 3 hours 35 minutes. Do not use that as an estimate for you. Remember: I was only carrying a bottle of water, perhaps 5lbs. I was solo. I was also hoofing it to keep a good pace. The only breaks I took were for 15 minutes at the summit to eat a small snack and talk with Bruce and Nicole, and then 15-20 seconds to stand on top of a rock or two take a picture several times along the trail. I barely stopped. Another thing to consider is that I’ve bushwhacked through briers and rhododendron on elevations and terrain worse than that red blazed trail. Though a challenge, I have been in a lot worse. None of that is to brag, but to give you pause while you consider realistically what it will require of you. Bring lots of water (70oz would be good), and like I said before, trekking poles are great. In fact, this was the trail that convinced me to own a pair.
What of the question? If I could ask the Rimpoche one question, what would it be? After considering the question on the hike down, I could only think of one question. One question that makes a world of difference, and the most important question that has ever been posed to me: “Who do you say that I am?

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bushwhacking Confusion Falls hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Matthews Creek Moonshine Falls Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Raven Cliff Falls South Carolina Team Waterfall The SC Project Trip report Waterfalls

Raven Cliff Falls Megahike

Raven Cliff Falls from the base
So there I was.. surrounded by a tangle of deadfall, briers, and rhododendron. That wasn’t even the worst part. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll start at the beginning.

It was my pleasure to join up with some members of Team Waterfall for an exciting and challenging exploration of Raven Cliff Falls and beyond in South Carolina’s Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Since I wasn’t planning any of the routes or destination, and it is highly discouraged to leave the trail in South Carolina’s parks (for good reason), I left my GPS at home. I wanted to enjoy the freedom of not messing with a gadget, to give my trust completely to the planner for where we would go, and to not record any route for others to follow. I don’t encourage anyone to try to reproduce what we did as described in this trip report. To have an injury in some of the areas we went would mean a world of hurt, and an extremely difficult search and rescue.

As we drove up 276 towards Caesar’s Head, we caught a few glimpses of the sun as it faithfully emerged over the horizon as a burning ball of neon orange, a color only the sun can so vividly reproduce as contrasted against the fading remnants of night. What a glorious way to start the day.

Darrin, Andy, Van and I pulled into the parking lot for Raven Cliff Falls and left the car to began our hike at 7:20am. The last thermometer reading on the car’s dash display was 20°F. It was gonna be a cold day. Praise God it was only briskly crisp, without any wind.

The most complete view of Raven Cliff Falls

I have hiked Raven Cliff twice before. Once, just to the observation deck, and once the Dismal/Naturaland/Gum Gap loop (clockwise). To my surprise, we left the main trail even before getting to the observation deck. In fact, we never even saw the observation deck on the way in. Rolling hills gave way to steep descents. The trees and scrub cleared briefly to frame our first view of Raven Cliff Falls, which was awesome. You can see so much more of it than from the observation deck or the boulder overlook on Dismal Trail. The suspension bridge, first drop, upper cascades, second drop (the big one), and lower cascades are all visible.

Then we started descending… in earnest.

It was here where I first noticed the leaves. Mid-November, there was some fall color still hanging on, though not abundantly at this elevation. Most of those leaves were now on the ground. On top of being deafening, descending over leaves is super slippery. If you’ve ever hiked down a steep slope over leaves, you know it’s more of a slide than a hike. So the descent to Matthews Creek in some places went really quickly, because I was essentially sitting on the ground and butt sliding, using feet for braking and hands for stabilizing. Yep, leaves are sketchy. They make for really unstable footing, as well as hiding hazards like rocks and roots. When we weren’t sliding, we were scrambling down rock formations, some several feet high. If you’re familiar with Linville Gorge, you might call the descent to the base of Raven Cliff Falls as a rough Cabin Trail.

We came out of a chute in a huge rockpile formation, and Matthews Creek was at our feet. The sun was just beginning to clear the ridges and illuminating the valley. You could hear the roar of the waterfall, but it was completely out of sight. Water poured over rock and ground from several directions, disappearing out of sight downstream over more rock. A wet crossing brought us to mostly dry rock with several completely frozen puddles. It would have been really easy to take a fall here. Walking upstream and then BAM! Raven Cliff Falls in all its glory. The light was perfect. Warming sunlight behind us, with the falls still hidden away in its mountain pocket, and the setting waning moon still visible above the ridge. Absolutely gorgeous. It was at this exact moment that I decided Raven Cliff Falls was my favorite waterfall. Just incredible.

Raven Cliff Falls beneath the waning moon

From here, we would begin our climb out. Our next destination was to the base of the main drop, but it’s impossible to just dead-reckon straight towards it. So here began the real tangle at the beginning of this report, which by the way, is an over-dramatic but sensational way to start a story. Bushwhacking uphill from the base of Raven Cliff Falls is a steep mess of scratchy briers and bushes, with leaves on the ground giving you the “two steps forward one step back” effect, huge jungle vines, fallen trees, rhododendron thickets, and cliff faces that block your progress. When your in a mess like that, you have one of two ways to look at your situation. Option one: You can either feel hopelessly lost with not knowing where you are exactly in an area that is fighting your every movement and will likely hide your remains from ever being found. Option two: You can enjoy the puzzle of having a vague idea where you are, but not knowing exactly, and move with the obstacles instead of against them (even if it means ungracefully doing a head over feet when a vine snags your boot while climbing over a fallen tree) in hopes that it eventually clears out while following a path of least resistance, which likely will still be quite resistant. I suppose we went with option two since we emerged to dive into another tangle on another day. Route finding in the bush is really one of the most challenging aspects of trips like these, but there are rewards.

Raven Cliff Falls on ice
Like standing at the base of the main drop of a huge waterfall. Even cooler, everything was iced over from the spray of the falls and frigid temps the last couple days. Every branch of every bush was encased in ice. The rhododendron leaves were covered with layers of ice so thick that each rhodo plant sounded like a wooden wind chime when the branches were shaken. Totally cool in there! (Check out the short video I recorded of the area) We hung around for a while, took a bazillion pictures, and hauled our way out of the slick ice and mud back to the top, where it was a long walk through deadfall and brush and deafening leaves until we finally emerged onto Gum Gap Trail.

It felt like another long walk, but we eventually made it to the suspension bridge at the top of the falls. We ate lunch at a great open section of bedrock along the bank of Matthews Creek just at the brink of the first drop of Raven Cliff Falls. Darrin and I bushwhacked down to the base of the first drop, and got a cool view of the upper falls with the bridge right above it. We neglected to go any further down, as we had some other goals we wanted to achieve during the rest of our hike. We had a long ways to go to the car. Here, Van had to part ways with us. He headed back to the car, and Darrin, Andy and I continued on.

Andy and Van on the suspension bridge above Raven Cliff Falls

At the opposite sign of the suspension bridge, there are signs saying the Naturaland Trust Trail is closed. We wanted to check out the condition of the trail, since it was closed after the extremely rainy summer of 2013 that caused landslides in the area, so we proceeded against caution. There were several points on the trail where it narrows down and it’d be easy to plummet off the side. Probably a good decision to heed the caution we didn’t. Even if the trail was open, it felt really confusing with lots of twists and turns and steep climbs down rocky terrain that demand attentive and selective foot placement. Add in the leaves, and our hike down the trail was slow. At one point, we took the trail less traveled through more scrub like we’d been through earlier, and emerged on a perfect ledge to overlook the falls. What might have been a couple hundred feet away from us was the frozen point we were standing over two hours prior. It’s a lot of work to get from one side of the falls to the other. What an awesome time at Raven Cliff Falls. We got to see it from several unique and excellent perspectives. This would be our last view of the falls today.

Ledge view of Raven Cliff Falls
What we came to next has been a favorite of mine from the first time I saw it over three years ago. That first visit to The Cathedral was also the last time I had been there, until this hike. Really, there is no way to photograph or describe the Cathedral accurately. It really must be seen to be believed. The best I can tell you is that it’s a huge multifaceted rock wall that dominates the whole area and commands attention. Water had been trickling down the sides and formed several icicles. Darrin even pointed out a hawks next in a giant crack, where he had seen the hawk circle and eventually land on a previous trip.
Ice on the walls of The Cathedral. The hawk nest is about halfway up the crack on the left

The final landmark on Naturaland Trust Trail on our way out was the old cable crossing bridge over Matthews Creek. The cable bridge had been taken down, which I heard reports of but couldn’t give a first hand account of. Indeed, the cable bridge is down. The trees it was attached to are dead, but not fallen over. Other nearby trees are, though. Two big trees have fallen over at the same spot the cable bridge used to be. The trees cross in the middle, making for an awkward climb over, but it wasn’t too bad.

After the creek crossing, the elevation levels out. We passed by the Dismal Trail and loudly sloshed our way through the leaves towards Asbury Hills. Decision time, at the intersection of Naturaland Trust and path to the car, which was just over a mile away. Back to the car? We still had a couple hours of daylight.

We continued on Naturaland Trust, looking for the large rock cairns that stand on the way to Moonshine Falls. I had been there this past May, but visiting there would really add to this trip! The leaves seemed thicker on the ground here than what we had seen prior. It was was deafening, to the point we couldn’t hear each other talk over the sound of the leaves. Though the ground cover of leaves was thick, many trees still had fall colors clinging to their branches. The displays of yellows, oranges, and reds were far better here than they had been at the trail head of Raven Cliff Falls.

One cairn, two cairns, off the ridge at the sound of water and we’re at the overhang that still has old rusted remains of moonshine stills and barrels beneath it and Matthews Creek pouring over the top of it. A pretty impressive collection of remains, really. Moonshine Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls because of the unique “cave” area behind it that isn’t overly common on our Carolina waterfalls. I found myself wondering how long ago this water had fallen over the edge of Raven Cliff Falls, and if it had become part of Moonshine Falls at the same time we were arriving. The pool at the base was full of leaves. This is really my favorite view of the falls.

Andy crafting the shot from behind Moonshine Falls

We still had daylight, still had time. When I had come earlier in the year, TJ and I made an attempt to find Confusion Falls, but abandoned it after we couldn’t follow the trail any longer down the steep slope. Today, we would find it. We dropped our packs and I found the slope down was even steeper than I had previously thought. We took turns sliding down, went too far, and had to backtrack the creek, climbing over deadfall and through rhododendron. Confusion Falls is really cool, as its the conversion of two creeks, plummeting off an overhang to become one creek at the base. It has an almost tropical feel to it, even in the midst of a South Carolina autumn.

Confusion Falls

The climb back up the ridge is a complete grunt. Andy described it as a 50-degree slope covered in acorns and dry leaves. There were several sections I slid back down towards the bottom. Secure footing is a wish and absent dream on that ascent. The best emerging technique for climbing out seemed to be to launch from one tree to another, as the trees became handholds and footholds. It’s a short trip to Confusion Falls from Moonshine Falls, but it’s not without its price.

The day had been full of leg destroying adventures, so we were looking forward to the easy hike out, even if it was still over two miles to the car. There is still an intact cable bridge over Matthews Creek on Asbury Hills property. Darrin and I used the bridge, but being only half and hour from the car, Andy decided to wade across. On the Red Trail closer to the parking area, the leaves were as bad as they’d been, obscuring thick roots and embedded rocks. Thank you, leaves, for giving us a few finals stumbles and falls at the last stretch of the hike. Though we didn’t track it with a GPS, Darrin estimates we covered at least 10 miles. 

Our final photo op over the recreation lake at Asbury Hills

Nearly at the parking lot is a small lake at Asbury Hills. The mountain behind it was lit with the last rays of the evening sun, igniting the fall leaves in a glowing tapestry of color that reflected perfectly against the mirror stillness of the lake. The day opened and closed with majestic paintings of the Lord in the colors of the sun, almost like the front and back covers of a book that told of His glory. Certainly, that was the story my eyes saw this day.

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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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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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EcoTour Green River Gorge http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Saluda The Gorge Trip report zipline

The Gorge Zipline

This was the only picture I got from the day with no cameras allowed, but I’ve got a head full of great memories. Know that this was the first time I’ve ever been on a zipline, and it was a total thrill. 
For Father’s Day, Jenny and the kids bought me a pass to The Gorge, a new zipline in Saluda, NC. Maneuvering dates around the monsoon rains we’ve been getting hammered with and lining up some company on it, I finally made it with my great friend and fellow adventurer, Erich. 
So this trip report, per se, will also serve as a review of this Eco tour.
Prior to going, I had to call in and make the reservations for us. I spoke to Sara who was super pleasant, and even advised that the morning tour would have less chance of afternoon thunderstorms, if that were an element for me. Thank you! 10am it is. I got the confirmation email immediately, and filled out some basic info. Ready to ride.
The drive in is easy access. There’s a nice bold sign at the road directing you to turn in to The Gorge. A bit bumpy on the gravel road, but my low-tread worn out tires made it up no problem. Once parked, the picture above is what you’re welcomed with. We walked up to this cool little outpost, got checked in (which includes a weigh in: gotta be between 70-250lbs), and then poked around while we waited for our group to be harnessed up.
We found a modern and super clean facility (including bathrooms), coffee and water, a comfortable outdoor lounge with a viewing dock of departing groups, a store with The Gorge gear (shirts, hats, etc.), sunglasses, and even a mini-fridge with Gatorade, PBR, craft brews, and more for the return. It is totally comfortable and an easy enjoyable wait.
We met our guides, Devin and MK, who helped us get safely harnessed and helmeted up. Prior to our first zip, we went through some basics of movement and what to expect. There’s a small practice area so you aren’t learning on the first run.
From this point on, I won’t spoil anything for you. I can only tell you that you’ll be having a great time. Tons of fun, awesome views of the Green River Gorge, incredible scenery all around you. Devin and MK kept it professional, safe at all times, and definitely light hearted and fun – the way an adventure should be. They were super knowledgable about the Green River Gorge, and were pointing out rapids, ancient trees, streams, and more. Again, the views were awesome and so great to soak in. Erich and I were commenting during the tour how it was nice to have an adventure and great views that we didn’t have to work that hard for, or slog up a mountain to earn. (A note on “no cameras”: it was nice to not have people around you on a platform texting, fooling with electronics, etc.) Once we finished the last line, there was a short easy hike where we met up with a shuttle ride back to the outpost. Nice!
I want to make a note of the ZipStop system that The Gorge uses. Apparently, they are one of the few zip lines in the USA that use this instead of a hand brake system. Being that this was my first time on a zip, I wasn’t really familiar with how that worked. Apparently, you’re given really thick palmed leather gloves and to slow down you… grab the zipline?? No thanks. The Zip Stop and trolley system that The Gorge uses is top notch.
We made it safe and sound, no injuries, just full of thrills, as we ended our day. We even scored some views and had some conversation about Linville Gorge, which makes anything better in my book.
Closing the day, we took Devin’s advice and hit up Ward’s Grill in downtown Saluda for a burger. That was definitely a great way to close the day out. It’s like Saluda’s version of strawberry-rhubarb pie or something.
For anyone who may have some fear or hesitation when it comes to a thing like ziplines and heights, I would just say not to let that be a barrier for you. This canopy tour was a real treat! 
A great day in a new Gorge for me. There’s tons of adventure to be mined out of the Green River Gorge, and zip lining over it is an amazing way to start. Thanks again to everyone at The Gorge who made our trip an enjoyable one!
For more information, directions, videos, and to make reservations, check out http://thegorgezipline.com/.