Friday, September 23, 2011

Linville Gorge via Pine Gap Trail 9/18/2011

From the community of Linville Falls at the Blue Ridge Parkway we took  183 to Kistler Memorial Highway.  Our first stop on this cool, cloudy morning was the Linville Gorge Cabin.  Inside we had a nice conversation with the ladies working at the cabin about our planned hike, assuring them we were properly prepared.  I signed the guest book and promised to stop by on the way out to show them my pictures.

From here it was a short drive on the gravel highway to the trail head.  The Pine Gap trail follows the end of the ridge quickly dropping toward the river level.  It is narrow and alternates short almost flat sections with steep areas with lots of obstacles.   The ground was damp and there was lots of moss on the rocks and fallen trees.  The nearby mountain peaks were shrouded in clouds.

We had been hearing the river below up since we started the trail.  In less then a mile we reached the level of the river and took a very short side trail to the river's edge.  There were a couple of campsites here and a nice area to enjoy the river and the flowers growing near the water.  We were further downstream from the falls here then at the trail head and the water was quieter.

From here the trail climbs away from the river again for a time and passes the point where the Bynum Bluff trail climbs out of the gorge.  This is a wilderness area and there was only a small sign at the intersection.  Beyond this point we came to an area where we could hear the river on both sides of us.  The trail was right beside the river for a time but it was about a hundred feet below us.

We came to what looked like a fork in the trail.  To the right the trail appeared to stop in about fifty feet.  Later we decided that the trail was just overgrown and we should have pushed on till it was clearer again.  Instead we turned left and walked down to the river.  This appeared to be the spot where the Brushy Ridge trail fords the river.   There were several campsites here and a small waterfall.

We walked downstream from this point staying beside the river for about half a mile.  With no clear trail here we walked on all sizes of rocks including some that sloped down to the water.  In places we climbed a short distance up the steep bank.  We stopped when we approached a sharp turn in the river where we couldn't see a way to proceed and ate lunch on a big rock.

After lunch we backtracked to the intersection of the Bynum Bluff trail and began to climb out of the gorge.    This trail was less technically difficult then the Pine Gap trail but was steeper overall and gained more elevation.  For a time the trail climbed gently and we thought we were near the top. It turned out the last part of the climb was the steepest, switch backing past tall rocks.

When we did reach the top we were rewarded with a pleasant level walk along a narrow ridge.  There were some nice primitive campsites along this section and views of the mountains  obscured by clouds across the gorge and the river below.  The trail ended at Kistler Memorial Highway and we walked downhill on the gravel road back to the van.

We hiked a total of about four or five miles in five hours, spending a lot of time enjoying the river and the peacefulness of the gorge.   We encountered about five small groups of hikers the entire time.  This is a wilderness area and needs to be respected as such.  There are steep drop offs along the trail that could lead to disaster.  But with proper care this is a very special spot.

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