Babel Tower bushwhacking Hawksbill Heaven Hell's Ridge Camp hiking Linville Falls Linville Gorge Louise's Pinnacle Rhubarb Pie scrambling Trip report Wiseman's View

A January Linville Gorge Adventure

On Friday afternoon, Jeremy Puskas, Ben Maycock, and myself jumped in the Subaru and headed for the Linville Gorge. This would be Jeremy’s first time, and we were all pretty excited.

A small bit of history: in August 2011, Ben and I made our first hike into the Gorge to Babel Tower. We did not explore as thoroughly as we would have liked, as we were trying to make it up the Linville Gorge Trail and out at Pine Gap. We came out Cabin Trail. I cringe at the memory. After reading Marshall’s trip reports and seeing his photos of Avatar’s Rib last weekend, it was dead center in my radar to explore, so I thought a revisit of Babel Tower would be well appropriate. Oh, and if any Gorge Rats are reading this, Jeremy’s trail name is FireInMyBones, and mine is ( for anyone who wants to join in on that avenue of fun :))

So we headed up to the Gorge. Jeremy had talked to Hanging Burrito and Running Feather (Gorge Rats) and we were supposed to meet them at Sitting Bear. While we were at Sitting Bear, we found a roasting fork stuck in the ground, so we decided to pack it out. Long story short, we did not meet them and could not find them, and we ended up camping at Hawksbill.

By the time we got here, we were frustrated at things not going as we had planned, and our spirits were low. Jeremy and I are both hangers (hammock campers), Ben is a ground dweller (tent camper), and we found a great spot for all of us to be within a few feet of each other. Everywhere in the Gorge was sopping wet from all the rain, and the fog was THICK. We had hopes of a roaring fire to cook hot dogs over with a titanium grate of Jeremy’s, but we struggled to get a fire going. Jeremy and Ben worked it with some wet lighting tinder, and with talent much greater than mine on top of what had to be the Lord’s providence, started a fire. Ben had found a rock overhang with a few still dry sticks in it, and they were able to get the fire going enough to dry out some of the wet wood. It was smoky, but we had a fire. Not enough to cook dogs on a grate over, though. In another showing of providence, we remembered the roasting fork! To quote Mark Driscoll, “Coincidence is the unbeliever’s word for providence. You say that was coincidence? No, that was the Lord.” Exactly. So now Jeremy broke out his world famous chili. This stuff is awesome, don’t pass it up if you get the chance. Hot dogs with chili, 1554, friends around the fire telling tales, camp set, our spirits were lifting as our bellies were filling. We sang a few songs before heading off to bed, and I had the best nights sleep in the outdoors I have ever had. Thank you, Eagle’s Nest Outfitters.

We started stirring at 7:00am. A quick decision led to a Hawksbill summit before breakfast. We were supposed to meet Mike (darkbyrd) at 8am at Babel Tower, and I tried to send an email and call him from my iPhone, but we weren’t going to make it. The hike up was in the easy side of moderate as far as Gorge standards go. You’ll definitely generate some body heat. I was so pleased that we were able to make Jeremy’s first view of the entire Gorge be from the cliffs of Hawksbill. The rock up there is so dramatic, coupled with the Gorge itself still dark in mystery while everything to the east was covered in sun soaked fog. It was amazing. This was also the first time Ben and I had been to Hawksbill. A great moment for sure. We mulled around the cliffs, looked for spots to hang a hammock, tried to give Mike another call, and headed back down for breakfast. By the time we ate, broke camp, packed up, and finally made it to Babel Tower parking, it was after 10:00am. Sorry Mike. We did see your note.

We took off down the trail. This was my first time hiking with Jeremy, who hikes and camps ultralight, and just received the Peregrine Award for hiking and documenting the 77 mile Foothills Trail. He is speedy, even in the Gorge. We made it to Babel Tower in about 30 minutes, and had no trouble finding the route to the top. This was exciting for me because the first time we were here, Erich Johnson and I did some real sketchy free climbing up the south side of Babel. Finding out that there is actually a path and easy scramble up there was sweet. Especially it was great to have Ben up there with me, because he wisely chose not to do the free climb we did the first time. We gave a loud “Whooooo buddy!!” towards Westface Rock because I had read Wigg and Marshall were planning on scrambling over there. We got a “Whooooo buddyyy!!” in return, but were unable to see anyone on the east side. Then we heard a “Whooooo!” and saw Mike and McKenzie way below us on the switchbacks to the river. Sorry we did not cross paths that day, buddy.

Heading north, we found the shortcut from Babel Tower to Avatar’s Rib that Marshall had described on his trip. There is a downed tree that can be shimmied, but a few feet west of that is a larger tree that can be used to post against as your scramble down the cliff, as Jeremy did. Ben and I took the trail back to the base of Babel Tower and met up with Jeremy on the scramble up to Avatar’s Rib. Once up there, we hollered again, got a response, and were able to catch a glimpse of Wigg and Marshall on the Sulpher Fungus Ledge. You feel tiny when you’re in the Gorge, but until you see someone from across can you appreciate just how small we really are. Like rats running around in a maze, indeed…like Gorge Rats. Indeed.

A short discussion led us to foregoing Avatar’s Rib and heading into the bushes to find Hell’s Ridge Camp on the northwest corner of the Babel peninsula. “Where to?” was the question, and without any trail, we just headed into the direction I believed the camp was. What I know of Hell’s Ridge Camp is this: it is a long forgotten and unvisited campsite of avid Linville explorer since the 1960’s, Bob Underwood, who currently is living in India. He had been asking about it and mentioned it in a discussion we were having, so I wanted to visit it. So we started into the bushes and briars. We came upon what looked like trail that was heading in the direction we wanted to go, so we took it. We actually didn’t do any backtracking, although we lost the trail to the bushes a few times. A flat semi-clearing at the cliffs! This had to be it. A great camp, for sure. We had a look around and I took some video surveying the area. Time to head back. We followed our path back up toward’s Upper Avatar’s Rib, but managed to move away from our original entry. Not far beyond finding a stack of feathers where someone had a good snack, where there was some trail, was a large cairn on the rock to Hell’s Ridge Camp! As far as we could tell, it didn’t look like anyone had been out there recently, but that cairn was definitely to the way to Hell’s Ridge Camp. Bob, I know you’ll be reading this. I’d love to know the backstory on Hell’s Ridge and its naming.

After a little more scrambling and lunch break on Babel Tower (there’s a fire ring up there if anyone’s curious), we talked about the next plans. We hadn’t been to the river yet, but still wanted to hit the falls and Louise’s. We talked about the switchbacks and decided to just make the call once we got to the intersection. Coming down from Babel, Ben and I followed a lower trail we assumed would connect back up towards the Linville Gorge Trail but we ended up on a lower trail. This had to be the path to Babel Canyon at the river, so we went for it. I’ve been at the river at the sandy beach campsite further upstream, Spence Bridge, Cathedral Falls, and along the LGT from Leadmine to PinchIn. I can easily say that Babel Canyon is the most awesome place I’ve seen it. I explored around a little bit as far as I felt safe with the wet rocks while Jeremy and Ben took a swim. Brrr!

After the swim, we all headed back up to the car. Being Jeremy’s first time in the Gorge, he really wanted to experience not just a deep trip in but also the highlights. Having already bagged Hawksbill, we drove all the way down Kistler (noting the southern entrance to Rock Jock (the Mossy Canyon Ridge Trail/MCRT) to Pinnacle. There’s such great views with such little effort there. Then we headed back north to Wiseman’s View. Kistler between Wiseman’s and Conley Cove is pretty rough, with lots of washboarding and some decent ruts, but we did see a Ford Taurus wagon making it. I guess it’s your decision with your car. I personally don’t want a gash in my oil pan.

Anyway, Wiseman’s. There is handicap wheelchair access to the views here, making it the EASIEST and most level path in the whole Gorge. Getting to these spectacular views is as easy as walking to your mailbox. Anyone can do this. Looking over the edge, we saw a toy dog someone had dropped on a ledge. I scrambled down over the edge and brought it back up to the wall. The lost dog. I took a pic of the lost dog looking toward Lost Dog camp. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but I left the dog by one of the pillars to the rail for someone else to find. I did, however, pack out the Mountain Dew can that someone left on the edge. I suppose it evens out. We also packed out a beer bottle from Hawksbill, and our hot dog roasting fork from Sitting Bear. Go us.

The final Gorge stop for us was Linville Falls. This is more trail than path, but it’s easy hiking. Less than half a mile in and to get to the falls. There are several different overlooks, and they are all worth seeing. I love the upper falls and seeing the chute that funnels the water to the top of the falls. I’m always impressed with that, then going to the next overlook to see the water exploding out of the cliffs. Excellent stuff totally worth it. As we stood on the final overlook with the falls below us and the sun setting beyond, we were ending the day in the same way we started it. What a grand day it has been for us. We had first mentioned it in the bushes and briars of Babel Tower, but we came back to the conversation here. Just imagine what beauty we will behold on the day when The Lord wipes away every tear, creation is redeemed, when the dross is consumed and the gold is refined. What will a redeemed North Carolina look like, free of the curse when all of mankind is finally completely reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross and resurrection, and the faith of God’s rag-tag group of grace getters is made sight? What a day that will be, indeed!

Topping off our adventure, as any adventure in the Linville Gorge should be topped off with, was a trip to Famous Louise’s Rockhouse on the corner of 221 and 183. Dinner for a well worked up appetite, and the obligatory strawberry rhubarb pie, really is a great way to close the day.

I love the Linville Gorge.

I’d like to recommend Jeremy’s video trip report at

(For new adventurers, a great intro to the Gorge is this. Drive 221 north into the community of Linville Falls and turn right on 183 and stay to the right at the dirt road, which is Kistler Memorial Highway. Pass the info cabin and park on the left at the Linville Falls parking. Leisurely take your time to the falls. There is a little bit of uphill but nothing terribly difficult. This is an easy trail. After visiting the Falls, head south on Kistler to Wiseman’s View (there’s a sign on the left), and enjoy those views. Head back to Louise’s for some pie. This’ll probably only take you a couple hours, but it’s a great way to visit the Linville Gorge. If you want a little longer of a trip with additional great views, access Kistler from the south via 126 just out of Nebo. You’ll be able to get the Shortoff Mountain views and the short 1/4 mile high to Pinnacle Mountain. Then head north to Wiseman’s View, Linville Falls, and Louise’s. Note that Linville Falls is also accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway.)

Crack of Doom Gorge Rats hiking scrambling Shortoff Mountain Trip report

Shortoff Mountain and the Crack of Doom

I recently drove up to Linville Gorge for the *Fall 2012 Gorge Rat Gathering. We’d be ratting around on Shortoff Mountain, covering the majority of its trails today. This would be a full day.

I arrived at WolfPit at 7:30am, screwed around with my gear, and finally hit the trail up Shortoff at 7:45. The sun was rising and a low lying fog lazily coated Morganton and Lake James. Taking the long way up (as opposed to the old Jeep Trail), I was met with my first sights of the Gorge as I came to the cliffs of Shortoff. What a welcoming sight! There is something about that first high view visual of the Big Ditch that is really special. I don’t know if it’s a sense of finally being in one of my favorite places, if it’s the mountain air, if it’s an endorphin release, or something entirely different. If you’ve been to the Gorge, you know what I’m talking about.

I continued on along the main trail, stopping for every overlook, spotted Wigg’s Point (which is directly above the Crack of Doom), passed the Gully Pipe and eventually came to a clearing full of hammocks. I knew I was in the right place. After over a year of participating in the forums at, I was able to meet some of the guys face to face.

My first scramble with the Gorge Rats would be into the Crack of Doom. As far as we know, only Bob Underwood (Credit goes to Bob for finding and naming the route) and his friend Cato Hollar had been in it. Wigg had done the scouting and found the entrance hole on a previous trip, and now we found ourselves standing at the mouth of what would be one of the best scrambles in Linville Gorge. We bushpushed our way down a scratchy gully and came to a hole. A couple guys opted not to even go down at this point. Even though I went down, I foun myself asking the question that seems to come up on many Gorge expeditions: “We’re going down THERE?” It was going to get much better, or worse…depends on how you look at it.

So down the rabbit hole about 8 feet and we’re back on the ground. In a few more steps we emerge at a drop off., with a small ledge and a hole that goes back into the mountain. Headlamps on. We enter into a floorless fissure cave. Well, it has a floor, but it’s at least 20 feet below us. The floor gains elevation as it reaches the back of the cave, so it’s accessible, but only by walking a small 6″ ledge (at the best spot) while holding your body weight against the opposite wall. Five of us pile into the back of the cave, enjoying the natural air conditioning, then begin to head down the crack one by one. There is all kinds of loose rock and debris in the fissure, so careless steps could send that rock and debris careening down the crack and onto the noggin of the descender. One at a time.

There are three rock shelves, and reaching the lower levels involve having to chimney your way down. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, in the scenario of this crack (which is probably 3feet at its widest spot), it means you press your feet against one wall while applying pressure to the other wall with your back and shoulders. You then use variations in the rock as footholds and handholds, and work your way down while you keep applying pressure to both walls with your body. 10 feet down to the second level, then half chimneying/half climbing down another 8 feet to the third level. The chimneying is much easier than the climbing, because climbing down has the greater difficulty of not being able to see any foot or handholds. Of course, there is always the thought that the rock you’re using as a handhold may have some nasty spider or venomous snake living behind it. Once at the bottom level, you can scurry down the ledge to what we called “The REAL Crack of Doom,” but it’s more appropriate to call it the Suicide Crack because it would be suicide to descend it. There is ado much loose stone and talus in the crack that any attempt to use the route would be an express elevator to the bottom, guessing 100ft below, and even if you were to use a rope and a helmet, you’d be bombarded with falling rock. An all around bad place. Once below the shelves, a tight 90 degree turn puts us into the Serpentine Crack IN the mountain, where you might have 18″ of wiggle room to slide yourself through. The crack empties you out onto a beautiful balcony on the side of the cliffs of Shortoff Mountain, giving possibly the most amazing northern view of the Linville Gorge. It is prime for wonder and awe, marveling at what a creation the Lord has made. But after so long, one has to work their way back UP the Crack of Doom.

Upon emerging, we took a bunch of pictures and talked about the Crack, then split up. The group I was in went to the Olson Trail along the cliffs of Shortoff. This is an easy trail as far as Linville Gorge goes. If you’re looking for it, coming up from Wolfpit parking area, it’s about 22 steps past the Mountains To Sea to the river intersection. Turn left, and look for remnants of white flagging. Olson offers spectacular scenery from Shortoff mountain, and it’s always changing. You’ll hike along some flat areas, sidehill, scramble over some boulders and under some ledges, and pass by some magnifiscent rock walls. Wigg took me to the Spring Tree, and View One, and his tunnel nearby View One which also offers a splended campsite (save there is no water). But the Crack of Doom was really the star of this day..

bushwhacking LNCW Mossy Monster North Carolina scrambling Sphinx Trip report

Linville Gorge LNCW Trip Report

We arrived at Table rock parking approximately 8:30pm, and it was plenty dark already. Camping just south of the picnic area was not exactly what I thought would be the greatest spot to camp, but with our route in mind and not wanting to carry all of our gear on that route, I opted to sacrifice on our campsite. I remembered there being campsites south of the parking, but in our haste to make camp we mistook the ones just prior to the Linville Gorge Wilderness signs for being the ones we were looking for. We picked a site with a fire ring on the southeastern most space, and set up our campsite.
After setting up camp, we chose to headlamp hike up to the Chimneys versus Table Rock, since we were unfamiliar with the TR trail and had no desire to mess ourselves up in the dark. We made our way south on the Mountains to Sea Trail until the first rock outcrop and clearings. The sky was so clear, the stars were really vibrant and we were dazzled with sights of the Milky Way spanning it’s way across the night sky. Even with it being so dark, we were able to make out the silhouettes of the Chimneys and the west rim of the Gorge, and then the ranges beyond. Further south in the Chimneys, we were able to spot the campsite Dave and I found last December beneath the sky bridge, as it was given away by the occupiers headlamps.
It was slightly unnerving as I hung my hammock only a yard or two away from a tree bearing the sign “North Carolina Bear Sanctuary.” As I had prepped for this trip and the prep overflowed out of my mouth, most people questioned my hammock plans as making myself a bear snack, which I dismissed; however, as I laid in my hammock for its maiden overnight voyage away from the circle of the guys in my group, I felt somewhat like a bear snack. To release the suspense, dear reader, I did not become such a snack. Our sleeping was impeded by the noisy campers in the vicinity. At last watch check, one group had a loud repetitive guitar player singing off-key until at least 1:15AM. He wasn’t crooning Jack Johnson-esque tunes either; he was belting them out like some drunken combination of Kurt Cobain and Homer Simpson, hollering and hammering the same 3 chords over and over and over despite our mocking and Josh’s yell of “shut up!!” Beyond our serenade, we found clear skies beyond this hour to be a double edged sword. The stars are beautiful, but up on the ridge the 75% illuminated moon directly overhead turned on all the lights for us. Hanging in an ENO DoubleNest became a blessing, as the extra fabric served to shade my eyes.
We started stirring and moving about around 7AM, witnessed a vibrant and neon sunrise, broke camp, stashed our bulk in the van, and headed south on the Mountains to Sea Trail (here on out, MST) around 8:40AM. We kept on through the Chimneys, and actually didn’t scramble around much. We were pretty set on getting to the Mossy Monster trail , so while we enjoyed the scenery, we didn’t stick around. By 9AM, we were on the trail to the Mossy Monster.
I was keeping my eyes out for a right turn for the descent gully, and took the first one. I had forgotten about Zak Kuhn’s photo of the dead tree with the white tag remnants, so I took the wrong one. The trail we were on took us to the cliffs between Apricot and Mossy Monster, where a couple had pitched there tent and spent the night. What a spot! It was great to bring all my guys to the cliff edge, point down to the Mossy Monster separation crack, and say, “That’s where we’re heading. We’re going DOWN that crack.” We took some obligatory pictures and headed back up to the trail, found the right descent trail, and headed towards the gully.
We surveyed the first scramble and found it to be quite wet. There was steady water flowing down the rock, although the volume wasn’t that high. With careful foot and hand placement, we got down the first scramble with out much problem. If you make your way out to this scramble and decide it looks too sketchy, I promise that this is the point you should turn around. If this were icy, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to make it down safely without crampons. We are now on high adventure.
The trail beyond the first scramble was easy to follow, albeit steep. Someone has definitely been using it. The Mossy Monster separation crack is awe-inspiring and impressive. Some posting got us down the initial entry, and I was glad to be wearing approach shoes with sticky soles. The separation crack, unlike the first scramble, was free of any water and totally dry. The photos I took down here were all blurry, so most of them didn’t turn out. The descent through the separation crack was one of my favorite parts of this trip, and it was over way too soon. Once we exited the crack, the trail (which was easy to follow) turned north, down a ledge, and circled back around to the beginning of the NC Wall and shortly after entered the Talus Field.
The Talus Field is tricky footing not only because the terrain is so uneven, but because every now and then we’d find slabs that shifted under our weight. Committing to a step with full body weight only to find your step shifting down under your feet is kind of unnerving. Like the Mossy Monster separation crack, this was over way too soon. We took a few pictures as some of the outcrops before we got to the tree climb area.
There has been some discussion as how to get to the ledge from here. It’s obvious where the tree climb is once you make it there. Some bark is worn off the step branch, which is a nice handle to hold at the crux of leaving the tree for the ledge, but the tree seems alive and solid enough. Still, I chose the free climb to the ledge about 15feet beyond the tree. There are plenty of hand holds, but with a slight backwards lean to the free climb it looks much easier to climb the tree. I vote for making the free climb the “official” path, although people will inevitably choose whichever they deem easiest/less risky in the moment of decision.
After we were all on the ledge, I knew we would be faced with the option of staying on the ledge or choosing the Brute Force Route (from here on, BFR). Shortly after the tree/free climb, there is an obvious break in the bushes on the right with a rock staircase heading down. I’m assuming this is the stair steps to the BFR. Knowing we did NOT want this route, we steered left to stay against the wall, and within a few short scrambles found ourselves at The Cove, back on the ledge, and overlooking the Sphinx. The ledge is very scenic with great views every step of the way. It is fantastic to see how the perspectives and viewing angles highlight the Sphinx in different ways. With each step, that awesome rock formation seemed to change shape.
With the Sphinx’s spine coming more into view as we progressed south, the question of when we leave the wall arose. We had seen the giant boulder along the ledge, as well as the downed tree which can be seen in Google Earth. I had speculated this being a direct traverse down to the base of the Sphinx, but going with my gut and listening to advise, I chose to keep heading toward the Amphitheater. There was never an obvious right turn to head towards the Sphinx. Once at the Icebergs, I was able to climb to the top of the first one for a survey of the area, and climbing to the top of the second Iceberg confirmed at least the general direction and wall we needed to be heading for.
The bushwhacking along the LNCW was thick and had plenty of briars and brambles, but at least there seemed to be a faint and general path towards the Amphitheater. Not so with the Sphinx. Whereas before we were allowing a “path” to guide us, once we made the northern turn off the ledge and back towards the Sphinx, it was all trial and error. In some sections, we were able to stick to the wall; however, frequently that was overgrown and the path of least resistance pushed us back out into the bush. The brambles out there are beyond scratchy, and seem to have the highest concentration of thorns at ankle level. Every patch we went through insisted we would be held back, and a number of times I had to stop and “untie” my feet from the thorny vines. Also along the wall, there was a good amount of water trickling down and off the wall. We got into some mud here, but really none of it was so slick to lose our footing. We kept an eye on the Sphinx, not really knowing where the ascent point was, hoping it was not at the base of the spine. That joker looked long and steep. We made it into the pines, and this is a good indication of when to really bear west until you run into some rock. Where we ended up was a rock face about 10ft high directly in front of us, which The Spire formation was on. Two of my guys climbed up and over that to ascend, but the rest of us worked our way south along the wall and came to what we knew had to be the right point to start working our way up. There’s an easy incline with a burned tree that is perfect for posting your foot on to make it up the first step. I doubt this tree will last forever, but if it doesn’t, this route is still what I saw to be the best option. From here, it is a very easy walk (similar to the UNCW) to the Sky Bridge. At this point, there’s two options. (1) An easy spot to rest, with fantastic views, and no more scrambling involved. (2) The final scramble to the top of the Sphinx. What makes the final scramble intimidating is the crevasse below it. The scramble itself is not difficult, as there are some decent sized jug handholds, and decent ledges for footholds. (Let me interject here: I was wearing FiveTen Guide Tennies, which are approach shoes with sticky C4 Stealth Rubber and dot tread. These give great grip on rock surface, and I’ll review them in another post. For the purposes of this report, just understand I wasn’t wearing sneakers and the final scramble may be more dangerous than I’m judging, based on the shoes I was wearing). There are plenty of spots for good hand and foot placement up to the top. Just go slow, keep your wits about you, and do your best not to look down if that kind of thing bothers you. It also helps if you have a spotter on the first level, at least when you’re coming down. If you’re unsure and you have someone suggesting foot placements, it’s a great help.
The Sphinx! We made it to the top! As we were getting closer to the Amphitheater on the ledge, I was beginning to wonder if this would happen. I was not about to miss the Sphinx after all the effort and planning. Here we stood. The Sphinx. Friends, that is what victory tastes like. Sitting up there with some of the most magnificent Gorge views to be had makes any lunch you stuffed in your sack taste good, although my homemade trail mix with bacon and orange cranberries was pushing the limit of “everything tastes better in the bush.” Anyway. We arrived at the Sphinx pinnacle at 11:30AM, and we ate, rested, and hung out there until around 12:15PM. So we descended the Sphinx and…
Here is where we got split up.
I didn’t realize we had decided to split up, so I was running around in the bushes by myself like I don’t know trying to keep my group together. Didn’t work. Erich and Josh had taken the proposed direct climb up to the LNCW ledge, and everyone else had taken the wall back to the Icebergs. I thought I had just lost the other guys and went back for them, but since they yelled they were OK, I figured I was too far behind to be safe following them so I rejoined the wall group. What they reported was a wet but not overly difficult time, climbing up about 4 or 5 ledges to get to the main ledge. They encountered the first snake, a baby rattler, and came away unscathed. In the thought of route making, it would be more difficult than following the lower wall. Realize though, that the ferocity of the briars and brambles between the Amp and Sphinx is what caused them to take the direct route up the ledge. If this were cleared out, it would solve a lot of problems with this path.
We descended between the first and second Icebergs, and towards the lower mouth of the Amphitheater. For whatever reason, I gave very little study to this area in the planning stages of this trip. I suppose I just assumed there would be a well used climbers trail all the way to the bottom (that would be OBVIOUS from the bottom as approached from LNCW). Instead, it was a giant scramble through prime snake territory. As we came in, we angled right/south and stayed closer to the side (not hugging the wall by any means) of the Daddy and the Mummy. About 5 minutes into the Amp, I heard Josh start singing and whooping and scrambling at a pace that could only have been attained by a snake sighting. At least the fat 2″ diameter Copperhead was more interested in traveling down than Josh was. This is probably why we kept towards the right side. Eventually we worked our way up and over to the site that looks up into the Mummy’s rappel gully. We took a break here and watched as a couple climbers set up to rappel. We moved on before watching them make it down, but as Zak had said from his previous report… It’s steep. From here we kept towards the south end, and the bushes got thick. We could tell where the descent gully to the Amp was from the UNCW, so we eventually just made a straight cut north to get there. Lo and behold, a path that was way better than what we took to get there! Our group had split into two in the Amp, and by the time I got there (2nd group), the first guys had gone up. Apparently they didn’t see the trail to the left and thy climbed up the creek. When we got there, we heard them yelling, “Don’t climb the creek!!” I guess not!
Once at the top, it was decision time. The MST or UNCW back to the car? We had votes going both ways. I really wanted to summit Table Rock after the LNCW, but judging on how worn out my guys were, I figured UNCW was a great compromise, so that’s where I cast my vote. I don’t know if the aye’s or nay’s won, but we did the UNCW anyway.
I’m glad we did! It was fantastic to see the Sphinx from the UNCW cliff ledges, and to trace where we had gone. The best part about the whole thing was that we were on the ledge the same time a group began climbing the Sphinx! It must have been Kurtis and his guys from Tampa. It was only a few minutes after 2PM when we saw someone up there. I took a few photos and a couple videos, and then we moved on. The views of the Camel and Apricot were nice and really made me wish for some more adventure, although…the Gorge had taken pretty much every ounce of energy we could muster. Fighting bushes and briars and scrambling ledges all day takes it out of you, but it’s so worth it. If you want to play, you gots’ta pay…and indeed we did. On the way back to the car, I noted the Twin Towers and Catbrier Point. That looks like a mess getting out there, but tons of fun!
And what better way to conclude this trip than dinner and a slice of Strawberry Rhubarb pie at Louise’s? Nothing concludes a day in the Gorge like a slice of pie. I can’t wait to get back out there.
backpacking camping hiking Little Green Mountain Panthertown Valley Schoolhouse Falls Trip report Yosemite of the East

Trip Report – Panthertown Valley May 11-12, 2012

So myself, Andrew and Matt are planning on going to Panthertown on Friday. Rob emails me during the week to invite me up to Graveyard Fields with him and his boys the same time. I had been anticipating Panthertown for a while, so I declined to go but instead invited his group to join ours! They did. Ready to roll – 4 guys, 4 boys. Awesome.

This was also the maiden voyage of the Lorax. I read Dr Seuss’s book to my daughter, Emma. That’s our thing. We each got a stuffed Lorax, and his trial run was on this trip. A mascot for a photo album. Anyway..

Rob and the boys headed up earlier in the day, and we were going to meet them at the shelter. Gory details spared, things were not going the way I planned and wanted them to on this end. I left on my own, then Andrew and Matt were not far behind me. Cold Mountain Road, here I come.

I arrived at the Cold Mountain Gap trailhead a little after 7:30pm. After screwing around with my pack and trekking poles and map and taking pictures of the Lorax at the trailhead, I finally headed off into the woods at 7:49pm. 5 minutes into Panthertown Valley trail, I was met with praise music cutting through the forest. An oddity, for sure. Canaan Lands, which is accessible from this trail, was the source of the music. High quality speakers with soothing crooning of how Jesus died for my sins. I’m apparently not going to be allowed to hold onto my grudge this evening. Also, I have no idea what Canaan Lands is. Hm.

Heading on, Panthertown Valley Trail is an old logging road and extremely easy going. Along the way to my intersection at Mac’s Gap, I was pleasantly surprised by the biodiversity of the area. A true sandy flats (unlike some I have experienced!) followed the creek. At one point there was even a white sand bar island within the creek, a beautiful area with a small waterfall within sight. Small nature sign posts scattered along informed me that the sphagnum moss growing showed the area to be a perfect bog that allowed the growth of carnivorous plants. Cool, although I did not see any, which is not cool. I looked for some variety of a Pitcher plant, which is what I thought seemed appropriate, but nothing. Next time.

I met up with Andrew and Matt on Mac’s Gap trail before it cut through some meadows and campsites. Briefly, we spoke on the anticipation and expectation we had of our reconciliation before it had even happened, and how we would be better friends after we worked through it. It’s funny how idolatry works. I held onto this trip so tightly that I was willing to allow resentment grow for my friend and brother who Christ died for as well. Hiking in the dark, though still not what I would prefer, is better than a severed relationship. John Calvin was indeed right when he said, “Our hearts are a factory of idols.”

Moving on.

We came to the intersection of Mac’s Gap Trail and Granny Burrell Trail, and took Granny Burrell. This is a complete rhododendron tunnel, and had an otherworldly feel as we were now hiking in the dark. An opening in the rhodo to our right revealed Granny Burrell Falls, which we walked out into the middle of. This makes sense if you’ve seen the falls, as it’s a giant sluice. I did not get a picture, sorry. We continued on with headlamps giving me tunnel vision through our rhododendron mess. Easy to follow, but wet and sloppy and dark as we went through.

After we came out on the Great Wall trail, I started giving whistle beeps to communicate with Rob. We all found each other and we camped in the trees right across from the shelter. A few bratwurst over the fire and lateral thinking puzzles later (albatross, anyone?), we crashed for the evening. It was a chilly 45F, but my North Face Green Kazoo worked beautifully. I also used a Magellan (Academy Sports brand) mummy bag liner. This was also the first time I used my Therm-A-Rest pillow which Jenny’s parents bought for me for my birthday. It’s the small size, fits right in the hood of my mummy bag, and will now be the one luxury I do not leave home without. What a difference that made from the improvised stuff sack/clothes pillow. Blech!

6:20am. Awake.

We mulled around camp a bit, ate breakfast, broke camp and finally set off on the Great Wall trail. I was really looking forward to this, having the Great Wall of Panthertown looming over us as we hiked the valley. Unfortunately, the trees of Panthertown obscured much of our view and gave us teasing glimpses of the spectacular rock face.

We turned left onto the Big Green trail which led us on the ascent to Big Green Mountain (home of the Great Wall of Panthertown). The US Forest Service has put in plenty of work on stairs (wooden and cut into the rock), bridges, etc. All of the obstacles, save the elevation gain, we’re gone. We found 2 of the 3 side trails out to the cliffs of the Great Wall. Spectacular views of the valley and Goldspring Ridge from here. The rhododendron and mountain laurel were blooming beautifully. Plenty of bees, as well.

If you’ve ever been to the top of Table Rock in Table Rock State Park in South Carolina, the cliffs of Big Green were very similar. I love cliffs and rock formations, and I love scrambling around on them. So that’s what I did. Apparently being on the edges of cliffs like these don’t bother me that much, as Andrew comments very similar to what my wife Jenny did when we were in Linville Gorge in March…in that I am pretty nonchalant and lightfooted in these areas. Lightfoot. I could stand that as a trail name, although SlowPoke might be much more appropriate as I am ALWAYS the slowest guy and at the back of the pack. Anyway… So I was on these cliffs, and came to a lip in the rock. I was descending from the top, and I hopped over the lip.

Pucker factor just went to high alert.

Behind me, which I do not see, but hear, in the lip of the cliff, is a rattlesnake. He immediately began rattling as I landed probably right in front of him. I did not get bit (as I would not be worrying about thing like trip reports if I did get bit), but after I was clear of his area, we DID try to maneuver around to see if we could get a good look at him. No such luck. He wanted an altercation with me about as much as I wanted one with him. The snake slithered back into the rock crevice (I assume) and quit rattling.

At the end of the Big Green Trail, there is an official dead end. Unofficially, there is a steep descent trail that is through a messy snag of rhododendron, but it was a fun descent. Chandler (one of the boys) and I even used some branches to swing around on as we descended. Good stuff!

Back on Mac’s Gap near the intersection to Granny Burrell trail, we took Mac’s Gap towards Little Green Mountain. There were a few black and green swamp areas that were pretty cool, but still no pitcher plants. We came to a section of trail where the trees thinned out to a clearing and what looked to be a great view of Blackrock Mountain. While it was a great view, I discovered the clearing was a bog when my boot sunk in about 6 inches. Time to head back.

From here we trekked up to the peak of Little Green Mountain on the Little Green Trail. Once on top, the terrain was very similar to Big Green: flowering rhododendron and mountain laurel, bees, granite cliffs. We followed the way around to Tranquility Point, where an older couple who lives in the area were taking in their lovely tranquility. What a great spot, an not entirely long or difficult to get to, really. A beautiful view of Blackrock Mountain from here.

Ok, now we were on our way to what I hoped would be the crown jewel of this trip: Schoolhouse Falls. This has to be one of my favorite waterfalls now. As with any picture, justice is not done. Like a mirror dimly lit indeed. There was a great pool at the base that would be perfect for cooling down on a hot day. A few stepping stones allowed for crossing the creek and gain access to the sides and rear of the waterfall. It is wallowed out behind the falls, so there is plenty of room for a number of people to stand. There is a rocky shore here with a spot for 2 tents, plus there were a couple of (Clark!!) hammocks near them. Best thing I can say is check out this waterfall for yourself, it’s a beauty for sure.

Not far from there, we made it back to the first bridge on Panthertown Valley Trail. It’s worth noting there is a wooden bike rack here, as the trail allows for mountain bikers as well as horseback riding. Obviously hikers, too.

Overall a good trip. There is definitely the potential for an exploratory waterfall hunting trip in the future, probably up the Devil’s Elbow trail and maybe even up to Big Pisgah, time allowing. If you’re new to backpacking, this is a good trip to go on. Good view, some elevation but nothing long and brutal. I will say that I think it is vital to have Burt Kornegay’s “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown” map before going in. That made a world of difference for us. I was also surprised at the amount of signs the USFS had put up. While there were no blazes, trail intersections (at least the official ones) were very officially marked.

Study the area, study the map, take your compass, take your map, and start chasing some waterfalls!

Pictures are on my Facebook.

Categories LNCW Trip report

Guest Post: LNCW Trip Report by Dusty Allison

I want to give a big thank you to Dusty Allison, who works for Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine. He has graciously allowed me to use his trip report of Linville Gorge’s Lower North Carolina Wall that he posted on He did this trip last year, and this is a great description of what awaits those who would venture into this area.

If you are not familiar with Blue Ridge Outdoors already, you are missing out. It’s my favorite outdoor magazine, and highlights so many of the things that make the Blue Ridge area so grand. I have BRO to thank for fueling my passion for Linville Gorge, as the first issue I picked up featured the Gorge. Make sure to stop by your local outfitters and pick one up for free! If you’re in Greenville, SC – that would be Appalachian Outfitters near Haywood Mall and Half-Moon Outfitters on Laurens Rd. Or you can also visit

Lower North Carolina Wall Trip Report
by Dusty Allison.

Seth and I met up in Asheville on Friday morning and were at the Table Rock parking lot and hitting the trail by 10. It was a little later than we had hoped but we were still in deliberation mode on which side of the gorge we would hit even as we drove up Hwy 221. Having made recent adventure pilgrimages with Seth such as the full Black Mountain Crest trail and the Plott Balsam range while we bagged a few more peaks for the South Beyond 6000 challenge, I knew that I would introduce him to the Gorge properly by either taking him through LOST and some of the canyons on the eastern side or the Lower NC Wall (which I myself had not even done yet but had read plenty regarding it here on the forum). Knowing that the TR road would be closing in just 3 or 4 weeks, I made the decision to go big or go home. So we turned the wheels toward Gingercake and silently hoped for minimal ice on the NC Wall.
Even getting a late start, I can never get beyond the Chimneys without leaving the trail and scrambling all around, up, over and through this fantastic playground. The visibility for the day was perfect and there was little snow within the gorge itself as we surveyed the magnificent surroundings from the top of the Chimneys. I pointed out and named all of the gorge landmarks that I knew and that we could see as well as the Black Mountain range to the west and the Roans looming to the north. We also eyed that landslide scar with much curiosity that spills eastward from the Chimneys down into the valley. A lot of our recent bushwhacking/off-trail adventures have been free climbing and scrambling many landslide scars all over Mt. LeConte in the Smokies, so we vowed that we would return soon enough and give that scar the exploration it deserves.
So my plan was to leave the MST and head down the Mossy Monster trail and then head out to explore Apricot Buttress and the Camel before doubling back and heading down the MM chute to the lower wall. it good company and conversation or the fact that we have been on too many recent outings where we have to hike in long distances before ever getting to the good off-trail stuff in the Smokies, but I missed the MM trail. Yep. However, I did not realize it immediately. We made our right turn on what we thought was MM and I even remember thinking quietly to myself “Huh..that’s funny..the Mossy monster trail is marked with a white quartz rock. I remember reading that the Amp trail is also marked with one of those. Funny coincidence!”…and down the trail we went. That’s how sure I was that there was no way we could have already hiked as far as the turnoff to the Amp. As most of you here can imagine…my mouth dropped as we neared the stone-cairn junction for the climbers descent trail and the South buttress trail and that big beautiful canyon reveled itself. Holy Gorge Rat….we just arrived at where we were supposed to come out at the end of the day!
After a bit of head scratching and a couple of chuckles, we made the decision that instead of returning to the MST, we would traipse across the Upper NC Wall back northward to the gully leading down to the Mossy Monster and pick up the original route there. The Upper NC Wall was a gorgeous and exceptional unexpected journey and it was great fun to look down from the brink to get our first real glimpse of the day of the Sphinx.
It did not take long to get the junction where we would begin the steep gully descent. Ironically, this steep terrain was one of the only areas on the whole trip where we found ice. We slowly and carefully made our way down until we finally stood at the top of the impressive separation crack of Mossy Monster. We made this fun descent with no problem and easily found the path at the bottom that would lead us along the base of the NC Wall.
The journey was majestic and straightforward as we moved along the wall bounding from rock to rock. We took turns grabbing a few pics of one another on the pinnacle before the tree climb. As a couple of the photos show, looking back at each other on the wall was almost as impressive as the pinnacle due to the sheer wall of rock both above and below the ledge we were traversing!
Once we reached the tree climb, I went up first without much trouble. There was definitely a crux moment when you leave the tree and rely on your body to cooperate with the rock to make the ledge. I turned to help Seth with his pack so he could make the climb and I could already tell that he was a little skeptical about the tree and was scouting other potential routes. He finally settled on going a few feet beyond the tree and going free form on his clamber up the rock. Despite my initial reservation, Seth nailed the execution and was soon standing with me on the ledge. So it IS possible but it still doesn’t make it easy to watch the person attempt it!
And here is where it got real fast! From the tree climb to the Sphinx is the infamous question mark and the point where the challenge and pain went to Mach 9 quickly. After exploring a few possibilities of going out a ways south along the ledge, we began to have concerns that we were going to have a hard time safely descending all of the numerous ledges and rock bands that stretched between us and the Sphinx. So after I dropped down the ridge almost directly above the Sphinx and fought unfathomable briars while scouting, I eventually retreated and climbed back up joining Seth who was waiting, watching and listening to me curse the blasted briers that were already drawing blood fast. We made the collective decision that we would retrace our route almost to the tree climb and do the direct southwesterly route that was faintly visible from earlier travelers. It was the closest thing that had the look of human travel and we hoped for the best as we quickly started dropping down the hillside. We very quickly found out this would not be the case as the brambles and thorns swallowed us both. For maybe a half hour, we could not see each other as we beat, whacked, stomped, slid, screamed, cursed, bled, and slithered our way toward the Sphinx. I cannot express the joy that we felt after we finally found ourselves at the base of that awe-inspiring formation with stinging slashes and exhausted muscles. Seth and I both have found ourselves in some nasty and gnarly situations but those briars were some of the most vicious and insidious varieties we have encountered.
Having viewed a lot of the pics of the Sphinx, I knew the route I wanted to quickly ascend up to the middle ledge. There was no way that we were not going to the very top after the fight made to reach this magnificent rock. I led the way crossing the sky bridge and climbing to the top while Seth followed so I could get a few pics of his ascent. The views of the gorge from the top of the Sphinx are priceless and we spent a little while there relaxing, smiling, and taking it all in while nursing a few of our wounds.
From the top, we knew that we were going to descend the Sphinx and bushwhack directly over to the lowest ledge of the Lower Wall to make our way to the Amp. The rest of the journey was fantastic but uneventful compared to the epic bushwhack from the tree climb to the Sphinx. Although it is long and unbelievably steep, we both agreed that the ascent up the Amp was just as fun as the descent of Mossy Monster, Golden rays of light from the quickly setting sun transformed the Amp into a beautifully hazy illuminated chamber of gold. The streams and rivulets flowed strong, cascades plummeted from the rim and the blend of soaring rock, water, and light all merged to create a sight to behold. It served as the perfect farewell to two weary but elated travelers as we finally made the journey back up to the MST and headed north toward a couple of cold beers calling our names at the car. Once we hit the Chimneys, the moon rose above the rocks while the sun finished setting, the stars emerged, and I looked back over my shoulder…already wanting to go back for a second round in that majestic and rugged landscape.
Here is the link to my pics of the day:
Heaven hiking Jones Gap Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Rainbow Falls Trip report Waterfalls Zion

This place is like a picture


Every time we go on an adventure, I am always the guy who lags behind. True, I am a slowpoke. Perhaps a better name would be a lollygagger. I’m not out to set any distance records. I’m not on some trail to march (although I do enjoy trail running on occasion… like the occasion I actually go running). I’m out to enjoy the scenery. I’m out to be awed and enamoured with what lay before my eyes.

I was made to marvel.

And marvel I did on our recent hike to Rainbow Falls in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area of Northern South Carolina. We parked at the entrance to Jones Gap State Park, in Cleveland, SC. About 2.5 miles one way, we pulled ourselves 1000ft in elevation up the side of the gorge to get to one of the most magnificent waterfalls I have seen. This was along semi-gentle contours, and it is a well cut trail with erosion control on it. The rainbow Falls Trail takes you past flowing creeks, small waterfalls, granite cliffs, good views, and finally dead ends at Rainbow Falls. It allowed for some great scrambling along slippery rocks, and I was even able to get right beneath the waterfall to feel the power and strength of water as it impacts after a 100ft fall. I took several pictures.

One of those pictures is somewhere on this post.. My friend Eric is at the base of the 100ft waterfall, which is at the point in a large canyon on either side. We are surrounded by water and cliffs and rock and greenery. What makes Rainbow Falls one of my favorite is the sense of being consumed by what is in front of you. The scene is all-encompassing, you become IN it, instead of going TO it. Instead of, “That’s cool,” you become speechless. You are in awe. You are marveling.

This is what I was made for, and experiences like this are what I aim for on every adventure into the wilderness.

This is also what a picture does not capture. Sometimes, if someone is standing in the picture, the viewer can get a sense of scale, like how big the waterfall really is. But it’s not just about the waterfall, it’s about the experience. You can’t feel the spray of the mist, the power of the falling water, the closing in of the canyon walls, or the satisfaction of making it to your destination, or the fun of rock hopping your way to the base of a waterfall, or the sense of being lost in something bigger than you are. This is the kind of thing that makes a man feel small and insignificant. I love this.

Coming back around, a picture cannot capture being there. How much more will this be true of Heaven? When we read in Scripture about the City of God, do we read thinking we have absolute clarity on what Heaven will be? It is far better to think of our view of Heaven as a picture of an amazing waterfall, mountain, canyon, ocean or river. If what we behold on this side of the glass thrills us, can you fathom what it will be like to actually stand guiltless in Heaven, where we see with eyes unveiled, the glory of what has been prepared for those who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and adoption as sons and daughters as heirs into the family of God?

View these photos of waterfalls and gorges, and desire to be lost in their midst. As you stand marveling, imagine what Zion, a Christian’s home country, must be like.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1Corinthians13:12 esv)


Perhaps reading the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis can aid you in this.