December 2016: Linville Gorge Wilderness

I haven’t been to Linville Gorge Wilderness for a backpacking trip in a decade or so…too long to be away from this wonderful place.  Even though it is one of the closest wilderness areas to my home, I shy away in the “normal” hiking season due to the number of people and requirement to have permits.  In addition, during some day hikes the last few years I have been turned off by the abuse of campsites with trash left behind, and the presence several times of toilet paper (and worse) on the easy to reach rim trails.

I had to be in Charlotte for business on a Friday early in December and knew it would be a great chance to hop into the mountains.  When I saw that the temperature was projected to be 10 or below at the Gorge, I decided that would be the weekend for me as it would really cut down on the traffic on the trails.

Unusual for me, I got done with my meetings at a decent time and headed to the Conley Cove trailhead, arriving about an hour before dark.  Rather than drop into the Gorge in low light I had planned to camp on the rim the first night.  Lost Dog campsite was not far off and proved to be an ideal spot to enjoy dinner and sunset.

With views of Table Rock

And the Linville River in the bottom of the Gorge

The temp got down to right around 10 and I was glad I had switched out my Feathered Friends Osprey bag (30 degree that I have used down to just below 20) with my old faithful Marmot Sawtooth (15 degree) that I know can keep me comfortable for the most part above zero.  A couple other winter adjustments besides clothing included:

  • going back to my Nalgene bottles
  • packing my old Ridgerest pad to supplement my Nemo air matress
  • and carrying a small bottle of alcohol for the stove in my pocket along with my Sawyer filter to keep both warm.

I enjoyed great views of Table Rock and the rest of the Gorge from the rim campsite and a fantastic sunset with clear weather and full view of the stars.  Although it was cold, I kept the tent opened up all the way to get unobstructed views of sunset and sunrise.

My Trailspace Ibex Merino hat and a buff kept the head toasty, and a new puffy seemed to do a good job with a base layer of keeping out the chill.  I was warm and comfortable and really enjoying the camp.  Although I did some chores etc, I spent most of the time staring at the views…

But finally packed up my camp and tried to leave the site without a trace…not as difficult as pristine sites when the campsite is already impacted…

After lazing around camp with multiple cups of coffee and a hot breakfast of bannock, cheese, and bacon bits, I finally packed up and headed down Rock Jock Trail.

First passing Lost Dog Pond on the way out…

The name of this trail does it justice so don’t be fooled by the topo map showing it as a relatively flat rim trail.  It has multiple ups and downs including a couple scrambles up some rocks, and negotiating around several blow downs.  The last climb up to the rim is a doozy as well although less than 1,000 feet.

The other “issue” with Rock Jock is that you have to stop every ¼ mile or less for another fantastic view of…

the gorge upstream

the gorge again

the Linville River at the bottom of the Gorge

Seeps frozen in icicles this morning

Split rock

More gorge…I love photos with trees in the foreground for some reason

Occasional glimpses through the eastern rim of the Piedmont of NC

A better view of the same…still difficult to see the low hills in the distance

And more gorge…I never get tired of these.  This is an area that was burned by wildfire and is in the process of forest succession

Shortoff Mountain through the wildfire area

Back up the Gorge

And more!

And more!

Another one of Shortoff Mountain

A required selfie for the better half

Numerous coves and valleys…excuse the sunlight in this one although I think it looks neat

Water is relatively scarce on the rim and this morning the few trickles were frozen into beautiful icicles.  Fortunately it warmed up pretty quickly to 50 degrees so I was able to get water the old fashioned way at Moss Creek before the ascent up to the forest service road that borders the western side of the Gorge…and a last group of shots from Rock Jock:

I took the photo below to remember to thank the Gorge Rats for trail maintenance and the excellent website.  I got a lot less lost this trip than I used to when wandering around the maze of trails in the Gorge!  Although that does take some of the fun out of it 🙂 !

After getting to the Rock Jock trailhead, a 10 minute road walk put me at the Pinch In trailhead at noon for a drop into the Gorge and hike up the Linville River to camp at the junction with Conley Cove trail.  However, with the thawing of the frost the steep Pinch In trail was about as slick and muddy as I could safely negotiate and within a few minutes the inevitable happened – I slid on a particularly steep segment and tweaked my old knee injury.  Having promised my wife, as always, that caution would be the first priority I decided to change my itinerary and not do the 1,500 ft decent (and climb the next day) into the Gorge.  Regretting my decision to not open my new toy, a Delorme Inreach satellite communicator, until Christmas I didn’t want to end up stuck in the Gorge if my knee didn’t improve.

Therefore I hiked back north to the car by lunch (1:00) and hopped around to the other side for another night on the rim.

The road walk was not boring as I had views of the Gorge and the opposite valley to the west, and only one car went by.

This time I chose the Hawksbill for my next destination, but just popped back 30 minutes into the woods to a nice camp rather than face the climb that afternoon…resting the knee one more day.  I didn’t bring my usual trail chair this trip as I had a full load of winter gear for the cold stuffed into my ULA Ohm (a full year review is coming soon!).  However, the Ridgerest and convenient trees and rocks made for comfortable camp living.

Hawksbill was visible from camp and I had a really nice evening with only a visit from a friendly couple with two very well behaved dogs (one off leash under total voice control and another being trained on leash) out for a late day hike.

I wasn’t sure if bear activity was high in this part of the Gorge, but played it safe with a nice cooking area well removed from my tent site sheltered in the rhododendrons.

There is something I like about photos of my tent on trips…the comfort and familiarity of seeing my home on the back I guess?

I got too distracted sitting contemplating life etc to take many sunset photos but take my word for it – the night was beautiful.

Again, my Samsung phone (and the operator) don’t do justice to the moonlight.

The wonderful thing about the Caldera Ti Tri (besides being 5 ounces) is that I can dabble around camp and cook up several courses over a few hours as I see fit and feel that day.  Under 5 minutes of gathering decent handfulls of twigs for the wood stove option and I am ready for a night of cooking.  This evening it was a pack of vegetable soup with a block of Ramen noodles added, followed later by some green tea, and then later still by another meal of bannock and cheese.  I restoked the wood fire in the stove to clean up the always messy bannock.  Depending on speed in the morning, I might choose to switch back to alcohol mode but not this trip.

Hawksbill loomed over the camp in the evening and morning.

Dawn came cold but not too bad – somewhere in the 20’s and way warmer than the night before.

I don’t know why I included this fuzzy photo…maybe because it shows how I see things until my first cup of coffee?

Another lazy morning – thawing out the water bottle I didn’t put in my sleeping bag, and using my Reflectix pot cozy upside down over a low fire to bake a breakfast bannock bread with raisins.

I left camp set up and took a light pack up the trail to Hawksbill…

Not many better views than the top of the mountain….

Then a quick side trip to explore a campsite under Hawksbill that the Gorge Rats had mapped.  Looks like a great spot for a future camp…

Regrettably, I had to get back on the road to get some things done on Sunday afternoon so packed up the Ohm.  It’s pushing its limit to handle a winter load but still felt very comfortable in the upper 20 pound range.

Packing up camp and a short hike out to the car completed a really relaxing weekend that allowed me to test some new winter clothing and continue my firestarter tests.  The knee ended up feeling pretty good and I almost regret my decision to change the route, but I played it safe on a solo trip, kept a promise to my wife, and now have a great reason to come back in the next couple of months and test the Delorme coverage in the Gorge!

See you on the trail!


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