On Saturday’s final hike of our 2018-2019 Winter Wild hike series, we decided to add an extra mile or so. It was a mile of trail I hadn’t hiked.
As we made our way up the north bank of New Hope Creek, I could hear the gradient increasing upstream, the sound of water cascading over rock a bit more intense than we’re used to hearing in the Piedmont. As the noise grew, some mild scrambling was required; we shinnied up a rock outcrop overlooking the creek and emerged on a slab 30 feet above the water.read more
We love the idea of exploring the wild places out there. But actually doing it can be daunting.
The wildest place we know of in the Southeast is Linville Gorge. Most of the 11,651 acres is wilderness. The gorge is just three-quarters of a mile across, from rim to rim, and is as deep as 1,500 feet in spots. On its 13-mile run through the gorge, the Linville River drops 2,000 vertical feet. So inaccessible is much of the gorge that it contains virgin timber, a rarity in this part of the world. Trail descriptions are peppered with such phrases as “very strenuous,” “very primitive,” and “notoriously steep.” There is no “easy” in Linville Gorge.
That makes its spectacular scenery all the more desirable.
One of my most memorable views of the past couple years was from a spot along the Linville River not far from Pinch-In Trail. I glanced across the river and up, up about 1,900 vertical feet to The Chimneys, a prominent rock outcrop that loomed like the prow of an ocean liner over a row boat. To earn this view, I had descended, in full pack, the ridiculously steep, roughly defined Leadmine Trail, then hiked up the boulder-choked Linville Gorge Trail. It was laughingly slow going. But then this view.
Explore, don’t expire
Not every backpacker, I realized as the eight in my group wrestled with the trail, is ready for this level of adventure—at least in full pack.
So we came up with a trip, scheduled the weekend of Oct. 5-7, that includes the best of backpacking—spending the night in the wild—and the best of day-hiking—exploring with a light daypack that keeps you nimble enough to climb over downed hemlocks and hills of house-size boulders. The trip works like this:
Friday afternoon, we’ll hike in from the Wolf Pit Road access at the southeast end of the gorge. It’s a steady climb, but at just 1.7 miles, it’s doable even for a backpacking novice. We establish basecamp on Shortoff Mountain, in the vicinity of “Camp Shortoff,” where a run of rock outcrops affords some of the best views of the gorge and some of the best sunsets imaginable.
Saturday, we don our day packs and hike about 3 miles north on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the flattest 3 miles of trail in Linville, brushing the rim, with more great views of the gorge.
At the 3-mile mark we descend on the Cambric Ridge Trail, which drops, quickly, a little more than a mile down to the river. You won’t see this trail on most maps; it’s one of the primitive trails that are all but hidden in the gorge. We’ll take it down to the river; if the water level is low, we may cross and head downstream and loop back up to basecamp. If the river is up, we’ll hang out, have lunch, maybe take a dip, before heading back to camp. We’ll be in the heart of the gorge, in an area that’s infrequently visited.
Like taking a test drive
Saturday’s hike, about 9-10 miles in all, is a good way for a person to get a feel for experiencing challenging terrain before tackling it in full pack. Even for someone who’s day-hiked rugged areas, doing it as part of backpacking expedition helps put such terrain in a backpacking perspective and thus prepare better for venturing out in full pack. Downed hemlocks—and there are a goodly number of them—are fairly easy to scramble over in a day pack, but what about in a 60-liter pack carrying 30 pounds? Perhaps pare down the load. How about those steep descents? Maybe you don’t use trekking poles on day hikes, but think about all that weight and its impact on your knees dropping down a trail with a 45-degree descent.
We backpack so we can spend as much time as possible on the trail, not because we’re into being punished. A basecamp approach is the ideal marriage of backcountry camping and hiking, especially well-suited to our wildest places.
Fall is our favorite time of year to go backpacking: temperatures are cooling, the forest is alit in color, the air is dry, the chance of rain is greatly diminished. It’s a great time to be on the trail — and to stay on the trail.
That’s one of the many joys of backpacking: once you’re on the trail, you don’t have to leave. Stay a night, or two or three.
If you’re already a backpacker, we’ve got some great trips planned for fall. Some are ideal for folks new to backpacking (Intro to Linville Gorge, the Neusiok Trail), some are for more experienced backpackers (Joyce Kilmer/Citico Creek Wilderness). Then there’s the Appalachian Trail trip from Carvers Gap to 19E, a trip that should be on every backpacker’s resume.
If you’re not a backpacker, there’s no better time to start, and no better people to start with than us. If you’re intrigued by the notion of backpacking but need to dip a toe in before committing, we have our new Overnight Sampler. If you’re pretty sure backpacking is for you, check out our comprehensive Intro to Backpacking class.
Either way, fall’s the time to backpack. We hope to see you on the trail. For additional information on each event, click on the link below.
=&0=&, September session. Our comprehensive learn-to-backpack program includes a two-hour session on gear and how to pack a backpack; a six-hour session at Morrow Mountain State Park where be go over everything from setting up camp to cooking to hanging food, to breaking down camp; and, finally, a weekend graduation trip to South Mountains State Park.
=&1=&, Sept. 15-16, Eno River State Park, Durham; Oct. 20-21, Raven Rock State Park, Lillington. You like the idea of backpacking, but you aren’t ready to make a full-on commitment — you’d like to take a test-drive first. That’s what our Overnight Sampler is all about: we provide the key backpacking gear and food, you get to see what it’s like to hike in a full pack and camp in the backcountry overnight.
=&2=&, Burnsville. Sept. 21-23. A two-night, three-day 14-mile trip that may be the most scenically spectacular run of trail in North Carolina. We start at Carvers Gap and top Jane and Round balds right off the bat, meander through forests of mountain ash, then encounter more stunning views from atop Little Hump and Hump mountains.
=&3=&, northwest of Morganton, Oct. 5-7. Linville Gorge can provide a rewarding (and intense) immersion into backpacking. But on this trip, we’ll take a more relaxed approach, setting up basecamp on Shortoff Mountain, then day packing into the gorge.
=&4=&, Oct. 25-29, adjoining wilderness areas in North Carolina and Tennessee near Robbinsville. Its remote location and ruggedness helped spare this area from extensive logging, making it an easy choice for Wilderness designation. Participants will play a role in the actual planning of this trip, at a two-hour planning meeting a week before the trip.
=&5=&, Croatan National Forest, New Bern, Nov. 30-Dec. 2. Late fall is the time to hike the coastal Croatan National Forest. Pesky flying things and slithering denizens of the dirt are kept at bay by the cool weather, and the fall color continues to linger along this 21-mile trail that starts all coastal but delivers some surprising twists at the end.
Every year, it’s the same thing. Memorial Day arrives with great expectations for an adventurous summer. Then, suddenly, it’s August and that longed-for adventure has not yet happened.
We’ve got some great adventures planned for August that will salvage the summer and then some. Put on your adventure face, it’s time to get out and play!
=&0=&, backpacking, Linville Gorge, Aug. 10-12. Three days in one of the wildest, most scenic spots in the East will salvage any summer. Our 22 miles in the gorge starts at Table Rock on the East Rim. The first night is spentatop Shortoff Mountain, with sweeping sunset views of the gorge. On Saturday, we’ll descend to the Linville River for our first river crossing, then head up over rocky terrain interrupted only by behemoth downed trees (this being a designated Wilderness Area, the management strategy is to leave ’em where they lay). Sunday’s hike out includes more traipsing in the wilderness. It’s a backpacker’s most excellent adventure.
=&1=&, Transylvania County (and surrounding environs), camping/hiking, North Mills River Recreation Area, Aug. 17-19. Appropriately, for the dog days of August, we spend this mountain camping trip in appreciation of water. From a base camp at the North Mills River Campground, we’ll do three hikes: On Friday, we start at Gorges State Park with a hike along the Horsepasture River to Rainbow and Turtleback falls; on Saturday, we’ll explore the waterfalls—some of them swim-friendly!—at DuPont State Forest; and on Sunday, we’ll hike along—and in, at some points—North Mills River to the Hendersonville Reservoir. And, to make things even more carefree for you, we’ll provide all the food.
=&2=&, backpacking, Eno River State Park, Aug. 18-19. Here’s your chance to have some fun and sow the seeds for a whole new life of adventure. If you’ve been curious about backpacking, this is your chance to see whether spending the day on the trail and the night in the backcountry is for you. It’s a minimal investment — not even 24 hours, and we provide the backpacking gear — that could alter the trajectory of your exploring life. We’ll get you fitted in a pack and get you packed, then hike in a couple miles, set up camp, cook and hang out. We spend the night in the great outdoors, then cook some more and hike out. Just enough of a taste to let you know if backpacking is for you; if you decide it is, you’ll get 25 percent off our more extensive GetBackpacking! Intro to Backpacking class in September.
=&3=&, west of Franklin in the Nantahala National Forest, camping/hiking, Aug. 24-26. When it comes to summer adventure, nothing does it for us like days filled with challenging, scenic hiking, followed by lounging around camp and trading stories. That’s what this Classic Escape is all about: Saturday, we hike an 11-mile loop that includes a stretch on the Appalachian Trail and tops out on 5,498-foot Standing Indian Mountain, with a large view to the south and east of rolling ridges of rugged green. On Sunday we’ll fuel you with a pancake breakfast, then hike a shorter loop that includes the Appalachian Trail. In between, we’ll loll in the cool waters of Kimsey Creek, which runs through camp.
Join us for a summer adventure to remember.
For details on the August adventures mentioned:
GetBackpacking! Linville Gorge Intermediate Skills, go here.
GetHiking! A Transylvania Waterfall Weekend, go here.
GetBackpacking! Overnight Sampler, go here. Learn more about this class and our other GetBackpacking! programs here,
GetHiking! Classic Escapes: Standing Indian Area, go here.