Winter Training in Linville Gorge

(Image unrelated, but it’s all I’ve got at the moment, testing mobile blogging)

Following a week of public closures due to severe weather conditions in Forsythe County, we decided to go hiking further south, though it made little difference. We had all our new gear ready, the marino wool itching to be used. Of course, that morning the roads were too icy again. We waited until a little after noon when we thought to-hell-with-it and tomorrow-won’t-be-better and society’s-for-babies and we drove to Linville Gorge. I got our old Lexus sc400–a struggling low-clearer of the heaviest metals available–400 meters up the access road before it spun out and we had to slowly reverse back down the snow and mud. We parked in a nearby lot for lake access and proceeded to hike our bonus 7 miles up the access road–Wolf Pitt Road.

That was good and fine. 1-3 inches of snow. Steady pace. We hit a fork in the road and a local directed us to Wolf Pitt Trail. As we started on an unmarked trail, the sun fell, and twilight rose with our doubts. We hit another fork, turned our map and compass all kinds of directions, and decided to go with it. Every local back on the road seemed to keep a few pens of hounds, and as we wove up into the dark mountains their wild barking lifted over the hills and pursued us.

The trail went higher and higher. If this was our trail I hadn’t realized there would be so much gain. We talked about setting up tents but nothing looked good and there was a real yearning to see just a bit further, up the next stretch, to finally be assured of where we were. It was dark now. But at last we found an intersection with the Mountain to Sea Trail (MST). We continued in search of a tenting site marked on our map. The trail went up and the night got darker and the snow thicker. We were on the ridge of the gorge now, and left of us everything dropped into a real deep and soupy murk. By the time we found the fire pit we were exhausted. We set up our tents. The cold set in.

We were cold. Kyle had the idea of setting up with our tents facing each other so we could cook from our sleeping bags, and that worked great. Our hands got chilly from working, especially Kyle’s; we’d be ordering better gloves when we got home.

That night I was almost warm. I woke many times to the roaring wind. Trees hissed and it sounded like the atmosphere was collapsing over us. Kyle’s tent lifted up a bit and mine rippled and bent. I could swear sometimes I felt that wind right through my bag. If mountains and sees are the sublime of the visible realm, wind like this is the sublime of the audible. I loved it.

The next day we hiked along the ridge. Linville Gorge is a stunning place that’s a world in itself. I highly recommend it. Our protein breakfast pancakes didn’t come out so well, but we hope to refine the process. The cheese and peanut butter was delicious. 

Just after we crossed a real treacherous ledge (some cool caves and rock formations) we were stopped by the yipping and howling of wolves. They were down in the gorge, far but not so far, and we had seen wolf tracks along the trail. They howled for what seemed like several minutes, and the sound gave me chills. “Wolf Pitt” was right.

We set up camp in daylight this time. Heated up some tasty Uncle Ben’s rice packs (from our sleeping bags) and sat on our hands. We tried to start a fire in the pit but everything was too damp. While we did that the snow started to fall. It fell fast. Some snow here and there and things were getting wet. We scrambled in for the night, a little grouchy, and bundled up as the flakes skittled the flies. Again I was dissappointed that all my new gear only kept me almost warm.

Come dawn we had six inches. Unmarked trails, treacherous ridges, wolves, and not-quite-warmth had us worried. Going down into the gorge like we’d planned seemed foolish. At this point we would either backtrack or go a little further to find an access road that would take us out of the park. We decided on the road. It was unused for the season and thick with snow. At first the plan was to camp on or near the road, but we soon encountered some of the most aggressive private property posting I have ever seen. There would be five trees in a row with yellow warnings. It didn’t make sense. So we trekked the 16 or so miles all the way back to our car. The snow thoroughly soaked our feet and I was especially dissappointed to already be having blister problems. 

We made it to the car and tore off some crime scene tape some cop had marked it with. No ticket. Whatever that meant. It was a good trip all and all, a real good shakedown to let us know what we need to be prepared for. Having been on long blistery hikes before, I’ve woken up to the susceptibility of my feet. I have declared war on abrasion.


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