December 16-17, 2017
The theme for this year has been transition; new town, new car, new job, new house, new position, new everything. I’ve not spent as much time outside hiking as in previous years. I failed to camp as often, although I did complete the Pisgah 400 over the course of the fall.
I had an idea to remedy the situation, every month, the same weekend, my buddy Johnny and I would get together and hike/camp in the Linville Gorge. He really liked the idea and this past Saturday we started, what should be a fun, monthly trip.
Linville Gorge Wilderness, or “The Gorge” or “The Big Ditch”, is wonderful area in Western North Carolina, wihtinBurke County. Since it’s only 30 minutes from downtown Boone, it’s an ideal spot to visit.
There are two pertinent things about the Gorge to know: 1) aficionados of the area are rabid. Known affectionately as Gorge Rats, the area is known for people that repeatedly trek the trails for adventure. The area is teeming with cliffs and boulders and it is also popular with climbers. The physical characteristics of the Gorge are easy to describe: it’s a giant gorge, that’s steep with a river that plows through the center. The history of the mountains is synonymous with the history of industrial logging. The Gorge is unique, given the steepness, it was never logged. There are no homes within its boundaries and no roads grace the bottom. My map of the area is apropos in stating that it is a “place for solitude.” 2) The Gorge was designated a Wilderness Area in 1964. It was one of the first Wilderness areas and not much has changed in the area since that time.
The previous week’s snow had partially melted, refroze and now was a combination of slick, wintry mess. Johnny and I had thought of traversing Devil’s Hole Trail to camp by Linville River, but decided to camp near our cars at Sitting Bear. The trailhead is located off of Table Rock Road. We initially turned of Hwy. 181 at the Table Rock signage. Several miles later, the road turns to gravel before meeting the Sitting Bear sign. We hiked a ¼ mile up to a nice campsite, chock full of snow. Once we set up camp, we hiked the ½ mile to Sitting Bear. I was beyond in awe of the vistas to the south: Wiseman’s View, Table Rock, Hawksbill Mt. It is grandeur at its finest.
I’ll be honest, I’ve not done a ton of camping in cold weather. Being cold-natured has always made me shy from camping in arctic conditions. The low the night before was in the teens, but Saturday night was only in the upper 20’s, well within my limits. We got a roaring fire started, ate dinner and relaxed. People came and went and there was a jovial, friendly air of the encounters. Once the sun set, the cold air set in. At around 8:00 pm, we decided to retreat to our respective tents/hammocks. Around 30 minutes later, I heard Johnny shuffling about. “You doing alright?” I hollered. “My damn pad has deflated.” “You cold?” I asked. “Not yet.” Soon, I was slumbering away without a care in the world.
The moon was bright that night and it was pretty easy to see around. I woke at 3:00 am and glanced up, all of Johnny’s stuff was gone. I got up, looked around and he was nowhere to be seen. I retreated back to the warmth of my quilt and slept again. When I woke up, I watched a wonderful sunrise, made a strong coffee, and got the fire going. About nine, Johnny didn’t appear, so I packed up and hiked the short route out. As I approached, I heard a car running. Sure as the world, Johnny’s Jeep was cranked up. I peered in the window and saw that he had the heat on and was asleep in the back. I didn’t have the heart to wake him. I got in my car and drive on back to Boone.
I’ll tell you, I learned a lot from that trip about winter camping. But, what I mostly learned was that I too love the Gorge and can’t wait to get back soon.
Total mileage is 1.5 miles.