I drive across the state line and the rain isn't letting up. Visibility is decreasing and the roads have more and more standing water. I'm thinking "I'm supposed to be fording a river late this afternoon?" Maybe the rain will make things a bit more exciting. I'm after a challenge today.
Its my first visit the Linville Gorge and I'm not sure what to expect. The rain is easing up, but still ever present when I hit the trail. I drop down Babel Tower into the gorge. When I get my first good look at the swollen white water of the rocky river below I begin to rethink my plans. "I'll get to the crossing and decide then. I'm alone and not taking unneeded risks." So I head down the Linville Gorge Trail following the river unsure of how the trip will end up.
Wild Bleeding Heart in the rain
"FUCK!" I go down hard on the rocks and start sliding. I don't stop when I think I do and continue down the gorge towards the river for several more feet before I finally come to a rest. My adrenaline is going, but my elbow is hurting. I manage to get up back on the trail and see a dry cave ahead of me. I decide to stop, eat and assess the situation. A couple more steps and the ground gives way again. This time I go down on my wrist and knee before I start sliding down taking part of the muddy trail with me. I sit down under the rock overhang and wipe the mud from myself to inspect the damage. Just a few bumps and bruises. After I eat I check the map. The rain and the slippery rocks and unstable mud that make up the trail have cut my pace to half what I expected. Add in the late start I got and I decide to be open to the possibility of just an out and back instead of the loop I planned. Feeling better after some salmon and potatoes I head back down the trail. A few steps later I go down again and keep sliding...
I believe this to be Sweetshrub (aka Bubby Bush), but it could be Anise
At one point I miss a turn and am off the trail. I know exactly where I am and consider to keep going until I meet back up with the trail, but I'm alone down here on a Wednesday. Even if someone where to pass by we would never hear each other over the roar of the river so I decide boulder hopping in the rain is a bad idea. 15 minutes later I find locate the trail and keep heading south.
A mile or so later the trail really opens up and I'm able to pick up the pace to try and make up some time. The skies begin to clear and the gorge begins to widen up a bit. Its getting lighter out so I can see better.
To say this area is highly impacted would be a huge understatement. With the exception of a few stretches of overgrown and difficult to find trail you never go more than a couple minutes without walking through or past a group of campsites filled with garbage, camp equipment, fishing gear, heaping fire pits, and more. Its not exactly the Wilderness Area I was hoping to find. It would take a large effort to clean this place up and years more for the area to heal from the damage done.
I find the "unsanctioned" and unmapped trail from the LGT up to the Mountains to Sea trail. I want to thank whoever put this in for not messing around. TN/NC have been putting in too many switchbacks lately and its good that people are still building trails straight up the mountain. I haven't been on trail this steep since the Flume Slide in The Whites.
I hit the MST and really start flying now. I don't have much time before dark and would like to get across the river. The trail crosses at a really wide and slow spot and after all day of wondering I'm pleased to be able to make it across with no issue beyond the wet socks and shorts.
I grab a spot to sleep near the river and as soon as its dark I'm ready for bed. I'm lulled to sleep by the river, the whippoorwills, and the geese.
I hit the trail at sun up and start climbing through evidence of fire. The fire cleared out and made room for the flowers who are happy to soak up all that available sunshine.
If you haven't been to Linville Gorge I feel like I should tell you at this point to do the MST section. I don't recommend the LGT unless you like walking through other peoples trash. Its true its a unique area, but there are better river walks in Western NC.
I'm able to take my time and still make good miles on the MST. The weather isn't slowing me today. Its a beautiful day and I'm taking lots of photo stops and snack breaks along the way. I eventually hit Table Rock and head down the gorge and hit Spence Ridge to the only bridge across the river. I head north on the LGT to find Babel Tower and back to my car.
Starving, smelly, muddy and banged up all I want to do is find someone to eat lunch with, but who would want to share a table with a dirty hiker? I do the only reasonable thing and pick up some Thru-Hikers on my way through Roan Mtn and grab some grub with them at Bob's Dairyland.
Mountain Laurel letting us know summer is coming!
Fly Poison above the water
I was loving the Mountain Myrtle along the MST!
The Rhododendron were coming on along the rim
A few years ago on my thru hike I was reading a flower book that a friend had. The next day I recognized a single Lilly of the Valley on the trail. It was raining and I didn't get a photograph thinking I'd see more later. This is the first time I've seen them since. I was pretty excited.
The beautiful Flame Azalea