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Spring in Linville Gorge April 22, 2013

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, plants.
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What a place!

What a place!

Linville Gorge is a wonderful place to spend a weekend in April. Although the gorge is known more for its crags than its plant life, it is precisely the contrast of the rugged rock formations with the green unfoldings of spring that makes this an incredible place to be at the height of the season’s beautiful turbulence. We had so many lovely and interesting things to look at that it was nearly a case of visual overload.

My companions on this car-camping trip were my old friend Gary from college, his pal Jim, and Jim’s two children Thomas and Julie. We also had a four-legged participant, Aesop. Gary has put in an appearance in this blog quite a few times. He and Jim share a passion for music. Jim plays sax and Gary plays a startling array of instruments ranging from clarinet to piano. They perform regularly in the Raleigh area, and Jim has three regular gigs every week.

Thomas and Julie are twins, both freshmen at UNC-Asheville. Julie is interested in a range of ecological subjects and Thomas is a lit major and a writer. He and I had great conversations on eccentric topics ranging from the calligrams of poet Guillaume Apollinaire to abstract expressionist photography.

Gary and Aesop

Gary and Aesop

Jim

Jim

Thomas and Julie

Thomas and Julie

At this time of year (up to May 1), it’s possible to camp without a permit at informal dispersed sites along both the eastern and western rims of the gorge. We found a great spot opposite the Hawksbill trailhead. We set up two of our tents on a ledgy site that had views of Table Rock and down into the rolling hills to the southeast. The site had a distinct slope, but the location offset the slight inconvenience of slipping downhill inside the tent. (Velcro on the bottom of the sleeping bag would have helped.) Since we had three tents, we established an annex just down the trail for the largest tent.

After setting up camp, we drove down to the Table Rock trailhead (the lower one, not the Table Rock picnic area) and did a loop going down the Spence Ridge trail, turning onto Little Table Rock trail, and making the steep climb up the mountain. Although none of my companions are regular hikers, they all did great. Incidentally, it was the first time the twins had ever camped.

After a side trip to a pinnacle with great views into the gorge (where the photos above were taken), we connected with the trail from the picnic area (part of the Mountains to Sea trail) and made our assault on the summit of Table Rock.

Looking along the summit ridge of Table Rock.

Looking along the summit ridge of Table Rock.

We descended to the road (FR 210) by way of the continuation of the MST, closing our loop. We dined beside the campfire as the sun set, daylight giving way to the radiance of a brilliant moon. The moon shone so brightly that Thomas was able to read a passage aloud to us from his book without any artificial illumination, which was strangely comical.

It got quite cold overnight but stayed above freezing. After breakfast we struck camp. In the parking lot I ran into an acquaintance, Marshall Weatherman, who was the mastermind behind an outing last December to the Lower Original Scramblers Trail (LOST). He was about to lead a group up Hawksbill and then over to Sitting Bear via one of the many obscure and challenging routes that he knows.

Our hike for the day was to start at Table Rock picnic area and follow the Shortoff trail (yet another part of the MST) to a point on Shortoff Mountain to be determined. The trail follows a narrow ridge with many crags between the picnic area and the Chimneys.

Crags along the trail.

Crags along the trail.

View across the gorge.

View across the gorge.

We saw serviceberry (Amelanchier) in bloom everywhere.

This serviceberry had a beautiful shape.

This serviceberry had a beautiful shape.

Typical Linville scenery.

Typical Linville scenery. Ho, hum.

We saw irises in bloom, violets of various colors, sand myrtle already in bud, Carolina rhododendron, and many other noteworthy shrubs and trees. Clusters of Carolina hemlock seemed to have escaped the woolly adelgid’s devastation of the Canadian hemlock. The forest of pitch pine and Table Mountain pine had been heavily damaged by pine bark beetle and fires, but large areas remained relatively unscathed. We did see one area from Shortoff Mountain that had been burned all the way down to the mineral soil in a fire that hadn’t even left any charred stumps.

The irises grew even in dry soil.

The irises grew even in dry soil.

We descended to Chimney Gap, where we had lunch, and climbed up over several humps and bumps of Shortoff Mountain. I saw fothergilla in bloom in that area.

Fothergilla.

Fothergilla.

We wished we could have kept going, but when we reached our turnaround time we headed back, tackling the steep climb up to the high, narrow ridge.

Once back at the picnic area, we organized a trip in our two cars into downtown Asheville, where we had a pleasant dinner. Aesop was able to come with us at a place that had outdoor tables (with clear plastic to shelter the tables from the wind). Aesop was very well behaved the whole weekend, though his focus was more on sniffing the ground for moles and other small mammals than on admiring the scenery.

It was a memorable weekend with a great group of people plus one fine upstanding dog.

Spring was greening the hills to the east.

Spring was greening the hills to the east.

Linville Gorge November 3, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Southern Appalachians.
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Our group on Table Rock

This was an outing of the Carolina Mountain Club led by Ted Snyder, who has been masterminding a series of jaunts called “The Bernard Elias Favorite Hikes.” Elias was a much-beloved longtime member of the CMC who passed away just this year. He’d been exploring the mountains of western NC and eastern TN since he was a boy in the 1920s,  joining the CMC in 1941. He was clearly one of those rare larger-than-life individuals passionately involved in outdoor exploration, photography, and many conservation causes, ranging from the winning of wilderness designation for Shining Rock to saving Max Patch from development to opposing the North Shore Road in the Smokies.

I am sorry that I never met him, but I was pleased to take part in this outing—I’d seen a couple of the “BE Favorites” in the CMC newsletter earlier and for one reason or another hadn’t been able to participate. So I wanted to get my name in to Ted in plenty of time to assure myself a slot on this adventure, limited to 10 participants because it was in a wilderness area. All of the other participants appeared to be regulars of the club, but they were admirably tolerant of an outsider such as myself (I do plan to actually join the club very soon!).

Our hike reached two of Bernard’s best haunts in the Linville Gorge wilderness, Hawksbill and Table Rock. We came in on state road 181 and the interestingly named Ginger Cake Road, turning onto a gravel road that borders the eastern rim of the wilderness area. We climbed Hawskbill and found it rather gusty on top.

I am having a bad hair day

I enjoyed the dwarf table mountain pines on the summit and the views into the gorge.

Looking north up the gorge

The colors were past peak, but the oaks provided some lingering yellows, and every here and there one could see a tree or shrub that was stubbornly refusing to retreat into its drab winter stage. We had a preview of our next objective, Table Rock. The giant monolithic shapes along the gorge seem powerful and mysterious.

Table Rock has a very distinctive profile

We then descended back to our cars, got in, and drove down the road a couple of miles to the Table Rock trailhead. Ted guided us up a route that was longer but more interesting than the short direct trail, which he explained has become eroded into a gully.  Each of the two climbs was approximately 1000 vertical feet, and total mileage was only about 5, but the steep rocky terrain made it seem much tougher than that.

We had lunch on Table Rock and explored down the narrow ridge where climber’s paths come up through the underbrush.

Table Rock ridge

It was yet another one of these sunny, warm, expansive kinds of days that I’ve experienced a number of times this fall. I have a feeling that one of these days I’ve got to pay the price for this way-better-than-average luck I’ve been having with weather lately. Maybe this coming weekend, when it looks like we may have snow at the higher elevations.

Looking south from Table Rock