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  1. #1
    Senior Member Twistytee's Avatar
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    Linville Gorge Grand Loop - Nov 2022

    Posting this trip report up as a follow-on to the trip planning thread I had going in the Outings section.

    Over the years I have made numerous adventures down into the Gorge from both the West side off Old NC 105, from the Linville Falls Visitor Center, and from several of the trail heads on the Eastern rim, but I never had a chance to complete the full loop until now. If I had my choice I would prefer not to do longer trips solo, particularly through challenging terrain like the Gorge, but I decided not to let that hold me back and set a long weekend aside to complete the ~40-mile route. My base weight was heavy at just under 21 lbs, but that included my bigger pack, winter tarp, a set of zeroes, my puffy, and sandals for the river crossing. In hindsight I could have made do with my 20 degree set and a lighter pack, but better to have a margin of safety down in the Gorge.

    I parked at the Spence Ridge trail head with the intent to pick-up the Ledge Trail and scramble over to Hawks Bill and complete the Northeast Quadrant on the first day in order to have ample daylight post the recent time change. Unfortunately the weather turned cold on my scheduled weekend (requiring the use of winter tarp and quilts) and recent precipitation left the trail icy and challenging to navigate with a full pack. Given I didn't have a hiking partner to call for help if I got into trouble, I decided to play it safe and back-tracked to the fire road and re-entered at the Hawksbill trail head.

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    The trail up Hawksbill also had a fair amount of ice, including some unique icicle formations off ground ferns and tree branches:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    The summit of Hawksbill is always impressive, although the biting wind quickly had me heading back down the trail and over to Jonas Ridge.

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    From Hawksbill down to Jonas Ridge and over to Sitting Bear I made my way over the gap to Devil's Hole Trail and up to Sitting Bear Rock where I took my first break in advance of climbing that crazy vertical up to the campsites along the top of the ridgeline. I then continued on to One Rock and took the unmarked trail over to Gingercake/Brushy Ridge.

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Meadow on the way to Brushy Ridge Trail:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr


    I picked-up Joe Johnson over to Long Arm and then took Gulf Contour down to the Linville Falls Visitor Center. This was probably the worst part of the loop in terms of blow downs and generally struggling to pick-up parts of the little used trail. I made it to the Visitor Center at about 11:45am, which indicated I had completed the full Northeast Quadrant in about 4 hours. Pretty good pace (2.25 mph) considering all the fallen trees and ice on the trail.

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Obligatory shot of Linville Falls

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    The river really picks up the pace here as it carves its way amongst the massive rock formations:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    From the Falls I decided to take Marion Wright Trail over to the Pine Gap Trail and down to the Linville River Trail. This was another icy section with some dicey downhill hops over slick boulders.

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    For those of you familiar with this section of the Linville River Trail there are some slick ledge crossings with near vertical drops on the down slope. Nothing to hold onto as the upper rock wall was covered with frozen runoff and my trekking poles could find little purchase along the ledge:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    I got to Babel Tower by about 3pm and did a portion of the side trail to see this unique rock formation before heading back to the LGT and begin looking for a campsite for the night. Unfortunately for me, most of the established campsites on this section of the river are not particularly hammock friendly and better suited to tents. I ended-up traveling a full 17 miles until a reached a decent hammock site almost exactly opposite from Hawksbill.

    View back north of Babel Tower through the trees:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    View from my campsite of the sun setting on Hawksbill:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Home for Night #1 - I used my 11' HG Journey tarp, my 11' SLD Trail Lair, and my winter quilts as temps were forecasted to fall into the lower 20s/teens. In reality I think it stayed closer to high 20s/low 30s. My water bottle did begin to freeze up and my stove had a hard time getting going in the am, but I slept warm with the heavier quilts.

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Day #2 had me up before dawn and cooking breakfast knowing that I had another long hiking day ahead of me. The morning started to warm-up nicely and got into the mid 50s by the time I made it to the southern river crossing at the Mountains to Sea Trail.

    One of the more peaceful sections of the river:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Some bushcrafters at work at one of the riverside campsites:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Preview of Shortoff Mountain from the Leadmine Trail:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    I connected with the MST at the top of Leadmine trail and quickly made it up and around the large parcel of private land and down to the southern river crossing by about 1pm. That covered ~9 miles from my campsite across from Hawksbill. Unfortunately I packed my camera phone away in a waterproof bag for the crossing and didn't grab a shot of the river crossing. The water was icy cold and my feet were numb by the time I made it across to the east bank.

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    The ~1.5 mile march up the ridgeline to Shortoff was as unrelenting as ever. At least I wasn't doing it in the heat of the summer.

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    First glimpse of Lake James through the trees:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Better View as I neared the top:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Success! I made it to the junction of the MST, Wolfpit and the Jeep Trail:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    One of the many impressive views from the top of Shortoff Mountain:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Shortoff Pond

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    From here it was about 3pm in the afternoon and I had to make a decision - camp for the night and risk the exposure and foretasted high winds, or carry on along the MST to try to make camp at Chimney Gap where I knew there would be water. I chose option #2 and headed off for Chimney Gap. Unfortunately when I got there it was already occupied by a young couple tent camping. Rather than intrude, I decided to fill-up on water and trudge onto Saddle Camp.

    I set-up my rig at Saddle Camp around 4pm which marked another 17-mile day, and then set to work making dinner and getting ready for a cold and windy night. The wind ended-up being worse than foretasted, and it made sleep near impossible for the second night. I had to hop out several times to re-stake my tarp, and the gusts were strong enough that they blew my trekking poles out from under my tarp as well as sent my tyvek ground cloth flying into some nearby brush. According to my thermometer, temps dropped to around the freezing mark but I think the wind chill made it feel much colder.

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Up at pre-dawn again, I quickly broke camp and decided to delay coffee and breakfast until I could find some better cover at the day access area for Table Rock.

    Sunrise shots on the approach to the Chimneys

    by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Everyone's favorite squeeze past the rock climbing sites at the Chimneys

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    I made the summit of Table Rock around 9am after making hot breakfast at the picnic tables near the day parking lot.

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    The panoramic views on top of Table Rock are pretty impressive:

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    by Twistytee, on Flickr

    After descending Table Rock I re-joined the MST for the short hike over Table Rock Gap and back to my car at Spence Ridge. I was glad I was going downhill as last time I tacked this section as part of the ITAYG southern loop, I had to hike up this same trail on a hot day while low on water.

    Untitled by Twistytee, on Flickr

    I got back to my car just before 10:00am for a 3rd day mileage of ~4 miles and total miles on the trip of 38. I was able to maintain a general hiking pace of 2.25 mph over the full loop which helped me finish in under 2.5 days, and I was also able to complete the trip without injury or incident. According to most reports this loop features ~9,000 feet of elevation gain over the full circuit, and that seemed to be close to what my Garmin recorded. I'll likely plan to come back again to finish the Ledge Trail as part of a day hike so I can cross that off the list.

    Hope you enjoy the photos and following along on my latest Linville journey.

  2. #2
    Senior Member
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    Great report and pictures. You put in the miles for sure. My treks are a lot shorter! I’ve day hiked some bit of that area but never over night. What a treasure the place is!
    The deep mystery gives rise to the spirits -Charc

    Always strive to be the best but never believe you are - Juan Manuel Fangio

  3. #3
    PappyAmos's Avatar
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    I think this is the best trip report I've ever seen with many sights I haven't seen in 30+ years. Thank you for sharing.

  4. #4
    Red Cinema's Avatar
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    Excellent work, thanks for sharing
    //
    “Stories set in the Culture in which Things Went Wrong tended to start with humans losing or forgetting or deliberately leaving behind their terminal. It was a conventional opening, the equivalent of straying off the path in the wild woods in one age, or a car breaking down at night on a lonely road in another.”
    ― Iain M. Banks, The Player of Games

  5. #5
    all secure in sector 7 Shug's Avatar
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    Awesome.....yes, I typed awesome.
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    Whooooo Buddy)))) All Secure in Sector Seven

  6. #6
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    Major miles, nice job. 2nd pic is needle ice! Mind was blown my first siting. I’ve definitely felt that wind on shortoff / chimneys…

    Ledge trail’s not too precarious, but I bet some slick surfaces climbing around the rock slides. Definitely worth checking out. I agree though - when there’s not much light I’m all in favor of getting to camp early.

    Wasnt there a map at some point posted here of LG hang spots?


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  7. #7
    Senior Member mistone's Avatar
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    There's not been one day I've been on short off and it was not windy probably one of my favorite places to hike just a 5-minute drive from the house
    Its a good day to be out in the woods no matter the weather.Mist One..

  8. #8
    Senior Member
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    Great report, sounds like you overcame a bunch of challenges along the way to accomplish this trip. A classic cold & windy November weekend in the Gorge. We encountered the same (surprising to us) lack of good hammock camping along the Babel Tower stretch of the LGT. We eventually shoe-horned 2 un-ideal hangs into the site just north of dry pothole but I wouldn't recommend it.

  9. #9
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    Thanks for the trip report. That's quite a trek going solo in windy freezing temps, rugged terrain with big elevation change between rim and river.

    I've been to Linville Gorge half a dozen times over the last 30 years, but only for dayhikes. The view from the summit of Hawksbill is among my favorites in the Southeast.

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