Mountains-to-Sea Trail – in Linville Gorge

Starting with 389.8 miles, 61,950 ft. ascent

MST13-Goldenrod in Linville Gorge

Wolff Pit Rd. up Shortoff Mt. to Table Rock

9.0 miles  3,100 ft. ascent

It rained all night. I heard water pattering on the roof of the cabin in Ginger Cake Acres but Sharon, Kate and I are persevering. The weather is awful – no other word to use but we’re here so we’re hiking.

The next Mountains-to-Sea Trail section in question is from NC 126 on an access trail up to Table Rock in Linville Gorge. I suggest that we go down and back up to Table Rock, saving a lot of driving. But it would be 15 miles of walking and a long uphill at the end of the day. The other alternative is to drive down to NC 126 near Lake James State Park to Wolff Pit Rd. After I say “15 miles”, there’s no question – we’re driving more and hiking less. 

We drive down to NC 126 to start the trail up to Table Rock. From NC 181 South, we take Rose Creek Rd. a gravel road, then Fish Hatchery Rd. to NC 126. Wolff Pit Rd. is not obvious because the sign is turned around but we finally find it and go to the end of the road. We’ve entered Linville Gorge Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest.

We climb up a blue blazed trail for 1.1 miles to the MST. It’s raining but it’s warm so I leave my rain pants off.

This area was burned in summer 2007 and flowers are reclaiming the area. White snakeroot, milkweed, goldenrod (above) and yellow asters – Sharon takes pictures of them all while my camera stays protected in my pack for half the hike.

MST13-SharonandKateWe know it’s going to be a lot of climbing.

Shortoff Mt., with its wonderful views of Lake James, Linville Gorge and even the Blacks, is just fog.

To my surprise, after Shortoff Mt., the trail is flat and even goes down a bit. We’re skirting the wilderness but there are blazes here and there.

At one point, Sharon in the lead is unsure of the trail. Kate finds a trail on the left and we take it happily for a while. But the trail keeps going down sharply and becomes more and more obstructed. Blue ribbons mark the trail haphazardly. As we keep going down more steeply, I wonder aloud if we’re not heading into Linville Gorge itself. I really do want to correct a possible mistake before we see the Linville River.

My compass says we’re going west when we should be going north but Chimney Gap is at 2,500 feet and we’re not that low yet. We decide that if we go down lower than 2,500 feet, we need to turn around.

A few minutes later, we’re on our way back up. As we climb, I hope that we actually have made a mistake because if we didn’t, then what do we do? We will have blown the day and not learned anything. It’s early in the day so we’re not concerned about our safety, just those miles.

We struggle to go up through blowdowns and rocky stretches. When we get back up to our known MST spot, sure enough, we see a trail going right which we should have taken. But the mileage in Scot’s book for the Chimbric Ridge Trail, the blue cross trail,  was wrong; we should not have been this close to the blue trail. Once we go down the correct MST trail, there are white circles a plenty. Sharon keeps yelling out “a blaze” for each one. “She’s not blaze about the blazes.”

We’re all tired and wet. We reach Chimney Gap, a wide flat area where the wind whistles through. It’s now 2 P.M. and we haven’t stopped for lunch. I have a packet of tuna, mayonnaise and crackers – not a quick trail lunch; it’s a poor choice on a wet day. We continue climbing into the woods and eat standing up on the trail.

MST13-Danny in ChimneyThe trail is now really steep. We struggle up but I don’t care – we’re on the trail.

No views, though. I feel sorry for Kate and Sharon. I’ve seen the wonderful views when I hiked here for my book and also with Carolina Mountain Club but they’re seeing a lot of fog.

The Chimneys Rock formations are outstanding even in the fog. We’re back at 3:50 P.M. and now have to drive back down in the fog to NC 126 to pick up my car. We’ve hiked for 6:45 hrs. which included getting lost and drove for three hours.

 How much do you need to know?

How much do you want to know about your trail?

We have now left the Linville Gorge Mount Mitchell National Geographic map. Once back at the cabin, Sharon and I spread out a map of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Scot’s book and the North Carolina road map. In desperation, we check Alan De Hart’s book, Hiking North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail as a last resort – it’s dated but we want to see if anything jives for the next two days.

If you need to know every challenge, every ascent, stream ford, and blowdown, the MST is not for you. You know to go with the flow, sometimes literally.

Cumulative after Day 34, 398.8 miles, 65,050 ft. ascent

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *