LOST in Linville Gorge December 16, 2012Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Linville Gorge.
Tags: Amphitheatre, Kistler Highway, Little Seneca, LOST, Lower Original Scramblers' Trail, Razors Edge Rock, Rockjock trail, Sunshine Point, Zen Canyon
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.
We climbed up a steep rock crack near the cave and waded through some brush.
We made our first visit to the rim.
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.
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.
We scrambled down to 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.
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.
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.
We continued on to Sunshine Point.
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.