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LOST in Linville Gorge December 16, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Linville Gorge.
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Relaxing at Zen Point

Relaxing at Little Seneca

Lower Original Scramblers’ Trail—LOST. What a great way to spend a day.

Here’s the story behind the name: When the Rockjock trail was first blazed along the western rim of Linville Gorge, it touched the most dramatic points  between Wiseman’s View and the Pinch-In trail. But fires in the gorge area, plus destruction of the forest by the pine bark beetle, damaged Rockjock. A severe fire in 2007 completed the obliteration.

Over the following years the trail was rebuilt—but not exactly where it had been before. As I understand it, Forest Service influence resulted in a big piece of it being made straighter and safer at the cost of bypassing its more “interesting” sections (read “difficult” or “precarious”).  LOST consists of very faint paths that travel along or out to those super-fun spots on the brink of the rim that have a precipitous dropoff. Much of LOST is, well, just about lost in the brush and the blowdowns.

Our outing yesterday was masterminded by Marshall Weatherman. He and the others of my companions are members of the Piedmont Hiking and Outing Club, but this was not an official club outing. The others were Dale Dagenbach (he and I both went to New College), Gary Johnson, Jim Plant, and Will Truslow. When I found out about this hike, I seized the opportunity to go along with people who are really knowledgeable about this area. It would be tough or impossible to do this without a guide.

We left my car at the Pinch-In trailhead on the Kistler Memorial Highway, which is not really a highway but a dirt road that features atrocious washboarding, especially on the hills. Then we drove to the Conley Cove trailhead and started by descending that trail past the junction with the “new, improved” Rockjock. We soon left the trail to scramble down to Conley Cave.

The cave is quite large with a beautiful flat roof.

The cave is quite large with a beautiful flat roof.

We climbed up a steep rock crack near the cave and waded through some brush.

Lots of this kinds of going.

Lots of this kind of going.

We made our first visit to the rim.

Looking across the gorge.

Looking across at Hawksbill.

Jim enjoys the view.

Jim enjoys the view.

We climbed up to the Rockjock trail. Where we reached it, LOST had not yet diverged from the official pathway. Markers such as you see below were put in place years ago by Bob Underwood, the guru of Rockjock (and more recently of LOST). The names he gave to the notable points reveal a sense of whimsy.

One of the original metal trail markers. It has the initials “RJT” on it.

Looking down the gorge.

This was a pitch pine or Table Mountain pine.

Oak leaves.

Beautiful oak leaves.

Marshall wears his GPS on his shoulder, attached with velcro and a lanyard.

Marshall wears his GPS on his shoulder, attached with velcro and a lanyard.

Dead pine at Hackers Point. Still a beautiful shape.

Dead pine at Hackers Point. Table Rock across the gorge.

I’ve seen photos of the tree above when it was alive not that long ago. It was beautiful, like something in a Japanese brush painting. It still has a wonderful shape.

We scrambled through a crack to return to Rockjock.

A moment of map and GPS study.

Jim studies map, Dale ponders, Gary checks GPS.

We scrambled down to One Bat Cave.

One Bat Cave.

One Bat Cave.

From around this point until past Razor Point, we were on LOST rather than the official trail. Rocky passageways, gullies, and keyholes put us through our paces. We had some interesting scrambles and visited notable points along the rim.

Linville River flows far below.

Linville River flows far below.

More bushwhacking.

More bushwhacking.

Will scrambles down a fissure.

Will scrambles down a fissure.

Dale slides down.

Dale slides down.

Rocks at Zen Point.

Rocks near Little Seneca.

Overhang as seen from out on the point.

Overhang as seen from out on Little Seneca.

Holly beside the path. We saw mistletoe, too!

Holly beside the path. We saw mistletoe, too!

Devil's walking stick (Aralia spinosa).

Devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa).

Climbing Zen Canyon.

Climbing Zen Canyon.

We touched Zen Point, where we had views not only into the gorge but over to Razor’s Edge Rock, our next destination. Two of the group headed out Razor’s Edge while the rest of us went to Razor Point to take pictures of our companions on the exposed rock. In the photo below, you see the Edge in the middle, the long fin of exposed rock.

Some of us then descended to the Edge to join our friends. You scramble down a very steep gully and then tackle an awkward little scramble to get out on the Edge itself.

Razor's Edge in center of photo.

Razor’s Edge in center of photo, taken from Razor Point.

Out on Razor's Edge, looking back toward the gully.

Out on Razor’s Edge, looking back toward the gully.

I am standing on a pile of stones near the end of Razor's Edge.

I am standing on a pile of stones near the end of Razor’s Edge.

The little ledge system that’s the gateway to the Edge isn’t that much of an obstacle to climb in getting out to the Edge, but it is awkward coming back down. There are dropoffs on both sides. I used a handy little protrusion on the side as a foothold.

Marshall descends the “gateway” to Razor’s Edge Rock.

We continued on to Sunshine Point.

The gorge from Sunshine Point.

The gorge from Sunshine Point.

Looking across to the Amphitheatre.

Looking across to the Amphitheatre.

Now we faced a steep climb of 800′ back up to the road. Rockjock hits the Kistler “highway” 0.6 miles north of the Pinch-In trailhead, so we had a short road walk at the end. My altimeter showed a cumulative elevation gain of 2390′.

Toward the end of our outing, we saw a rhododendron in bloom—quite something for December. I’d noticed these rhodies along the way. They have small leaves like the Rhododendron minus that you see in places like the gullies around the Bunion in the Smokies, but this is a very different environment, much warmer and lower in elevation. My wildflower book indicates this is sometimes called R. minus subspecies Michaux, but it is also known as Piedmont or Carolina rhododendron (R. carolinianum).

I’ve been bitten by the Linville bug. I’ll be back.

Carolina rhododendron in bloom in December.

Carolina rhododendron in bloom in December.

Comments»

1. Dusty - December 16, 2012

Great report Jenny! So glad that you finally got a “proper” taste of the gorge! ;) There is so much fun packed into it’s 13,,000+ acres that it should be illegal. Although, I have not hiked with him yet, Marshall is a great guy and he and I have exchanged a lot of info back and forth over the last couple of years. He really knows that gorge and prefers “our kind” of hiking.

LOST was one of my first real off trail trips in the gorge a couple of years ago. That first time a couple of friends and I actually made it all the way down to One Bat Cave and then lost the route and never found the slot leading down to the next ledge that holds the keyhole and Seneca (we had not traversed far enough south along the wall). So we ended up doing a hellacious and burly bushwhack straight up the wall of the gorge to finally intersect the Rockjock again. Dang.. that was steep.

I was so frustrated with having to bail that I went back to the computer, studied some satellite imagery, talked to Marshall or one of the other Linville gorge rats and went back by myself a few days later and blazed through the whole thing solo with full success.

Let’s definitely get the gang together in early 2013 and go back. There’s a lot more that I would love to show you!

Cheers,
Dusty

2. Gary - December 17, 2012

sounds wonderful .. a friend’s some is at NC Asheville, he would like us to come and take him hiking .. so hopefully will see you then.
Gary

3. walksandrambles - December 22, 2012

Was attracted to your blog by your gravatar…the morning glory. I grew the same variety last summer…absolutely beautiful! Interesting post, too!

Jenny - December 23, 2012

That morning glory was a volunteer–I’ve never had as much luck with seeds as just letting them happen! One of my favorite flowers.

4. Bob Underwood - March 10, 2014

LOST =Lower Original Scramblers Trail and was at one time long ago the original Rockjock. It was made for scramblers and Rockjocks ( climbers) rather than for backpackers. When the fire burned it down, i petitioned to the US Forest Service to have it re established. This job was left to me and another volunteer but it proved too much for us…. The USFS had a spare fire crew and put them to work. They finished the job and made the trail more democratic. The Rockjock at one time extended south to Pinchin and futher south to Dobson knob road intersection. This was once all good, wide-cut trail. The current south exit comes back up to the road on an old steep boundary trail i call MCRT—but it shows up on the official maps as the south end of Rockjock. This is an error as the original south end of Rockjock was at DKRI. I keep hoping that others will take up the cause of re establishing this abandoned section. I was able to persuade the USFS to re establish the central part of Rockjock–and so far i am the only one to innitiate the successful reestablishment of a Linville Wilderness trail and thereby make it LEGAL for volunteers to maintain. Glad you enjoyed.!! In addition there was also a North section which extended from Conley Cove almost to Wisemans View which had some wonderful waterfalls, scenic outcrops, caves and campsites. North Rockjock was also lost in the fire–and it well deserves to be reestablished but the regrowth makes hiking even worse than the open woods before the fires. Only the central section of Rockjock is open for hiking and about 2/3 of the entire original trail has been abandoned —much to the loss of those who love challenging and thrilling scenery. Thanks for your report.

Jenny - March 10, 2014

You have provided valuable information. Thank you very much. I hope to return to that fascinating place very soon.

By the way (added later—my first response came when I was in an airport), I want to say that I recognize your special stature when it comes to Linville. There are certain people who by their inspiration and dedication lay the groundwork for future generations. You are one of those geniuses.


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