Linville Gorge Wilderness: Sitting Bear Mountain

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.

8 thoughts on “Linville Gorge Wilderness: Sitting Bear Mountain

  1. When camping, if I wake up in snow -I misjudged the weather. I no longer plan a trip in the winter snow… not any more anyway. A friend is planning to thru-hike the AT starting March 1st, and I warned him about possibly hitting cold weather and snow during that first month or so. That can be brutal! Nice photos, as always, Jonathan. I do appreciate your ability to get out on the trail in such a regular manner. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol. I hear that. What struck me about winter camping is that your margin of error goes way down. Hypothetically, if we had been miles upon miles away from the car, Johnny would have had to suffer through the night with no sleeping pad. Whereas in summer it would have been a minor nuisance. In re to your friend, tell him that even though we’re in the South, the Smoky’s can get some substantial snow in March-April. Legit. Those 6,000’ peaks are like being in Vermont or Canada. Thanks for the comments and being an avid reader of my blog. It’s very, very much appreciated! Best to you and yours this Christmas!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. GREAT WRITE UP… I LIKED THE “two pertinent things about the Gorge to know…”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m trying to get out more in the winter, too. Cold has always been a deterrent! How do you like the Zpacks tent? I see you use multiple sleep pads like I do, anything to fend off the chill. The Gorge looks like a fun place to explore!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally sympathize with the cold aversion. The thing that is still a deterrent to me is that so much of ones time is spent just trying to stay warm: carrying extra clothes, collecting wood, maintaining the fire, walking to stay warm. It’s so much more intensive than summer camping. I love the Zpacks tent! Emily found it at a gear consignment shop so I was stoked to get it at such a great deal. This one is a first generation, so the newer ones have made a lot of design improvements. This was my first time using it, but so far I love it. It’s so light. The Gorge is such a wonderful place. I can’t adequately describe how awesome the views are. Awe inspiring. Thanks for writing!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I visit the Gorge regularly, and always take visitors there when they want to experience the most beautiful place I’ve found since moving to these mountains eight years ago. I prefer Wiseman’s View, because of its sheer drama. So far, everyone agrees. I made the obligatory walk to the Falls a few times, but there were just too many people, and the views were minimal from the overlooks. I’ve climbed Hawksbill Mountain twice, and look forward to a third climb in the Spring. I’ve never been much of a camper, so my visits are limited to daylight hours. Also, I have a lot of issues with very cold weather, and prefer the comfort of a warm bed at times like that. SEARCH my blog for photos related to the Gorge, and I think you’ll appreciate what you find. Drone videos by other people just take my breath away. There is no more spectacular place in all the mountains than Linville Gorge. Thank you for taking me there once again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. The Gorge is so beautiful. Speak of the devil, I’m about to take my oldest daughter to Hawksbill today! I agree about the cold weather. I’m cold natured so I have to wear double the clothes as everyone else. I will definitely make sure to look at the photos this afternoon. Thanks for posting!!


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