We’ve already had a couple of good backpack trips this year, on the Neusiok Trail in the coastal Croatan National Forest in January, and on the Appalachian Trail in the Pisgah and Cherokee national forests in February. We have two more weekend trips planned, and will be adding longer trips shortly. So far, here’s our lineup:
Never has there been more incentive to be outside than there is for the winter that lies ahead. We’ve always known that being outside is good for us; now we’re being told that it’s vital for our well-being.
For late fall we have three backpack trips suited to people who may have burned through their vacation, for the winter, we have three weekend trips to our most iconic locations. Here’s the lineup:
Every Thursday until the world reopens, we’re going to share with YouTube videos of the outdoor world. Each week will have a different focus. This week’s: The places our GetBackpacking! program hopes to visit this year.
OK, so maybe we can’t hike some of the places we want. But somebody has, and odds are they’ve posted a video about it on YouTube. They may not be the real thing, but they do provide voyeuristic escape, a bit of humor (both intentional and otherwise), and they can inspire your planning for trips in the hopefully not-too-distant future. And the videos cover just about every trail you can imagine.
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.
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.
See you on the trail!
Find out more
Learn more and sign up for our =&0=&, here.
We also have a somewhat similar GetBackpacking! trip planned to the =&1=& for Oct. 25-28. Learn more about it and sign up here.