Wednesday, March 25, 2009

2009-03-25 Linville Gorge - Daffodil Flats - Rock Jock

Linville Gorge Hike with Andy, Bob, and Boone
Saturday, March 21st, 2009
Pinch In Trail, Linville Gorge Trail to Daffodil Flats,
Rock Jock Trail from Pinch-in to Conley Cove

Photos are posted here:

The Linville Gorge Wilderness contains some of the most rugged terrain anywhere. Based on previous visits to the area, I would have never imagined that there could be a flat and relatively open area where thousands of Daffodils bloom and multiply year after year.

When I saw Andy’s photos last year, I decided to make Daffodil Flats a must do hike for 2009. We expected that peak bloom would be around the middle of March. Last weekend turned out to be a complete rain-out so we decided to plan the hike for this weekend hoping that the blooms would still be at or near peak.

Bob, Andy, and Boone were planning to carpool together from Charlotte and I would meet them at the Pinch In trailhead at 9:30am.

As usual, I was well ahead of schedule, so I made a few stops along the way to take some photos of Lake James and the morning view from the Kistler Memorial Highway. Since I have learned never to anticipate Andy arriving early, I took my time enjoying the sights along the “Highway”, which is actually a rough dirt road running along the entire West Rim of the Gorge.

My plan worked perfectly as I arrived at the trailhead only about two minutes early. Bob, Andy, and Boone arrived right on time, before I even have the chance to change into my hiking boots.

We decided that after hitting Daffodil Flats, we would hike the Rock Jock Trail to the Conley Cove Trailhead. Since this would require a short shuttle, so we drove up to the Conley Cove Trailhead, dropped my truck off, and returned to the Pinch In Trailhead to begin our hike.

From the parking area, the Pinch In Trail descends 1,700 feet of elevation in a little over a mile, making it one of the most brutal climbs anywhere!

The Pinch In Trail used to pass through a lush forest. However, back in the spring of 2007, a massive fire wrecked havoc and scorched over 2,400 acres of the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Two years later, the remains of that fire are still highly visible as we passed through a graveyard of charcoal trees!

On the plus side, the fire really opened up some spectacular views. If you can handle the climb, the Pinch In Trail is definitely a hiking experience you will not likely forget!

Next up would be the easiest part of the day, a leisurely stroll along the Linville River on the Linville Gorge Trail. This is probably the flattest and easiest section of trail anywhere in the Gorge, making for a nice change of pace.

Daffodil Flats was neat, but the blooms were either past peak, or simply shriveled up from the morning frost. Still an impressive sight, but I will have to return next year to hopefully capture Daffodil Flats in peak bloom.

We found a nice sandy spot along the Linville River where we enjoyed our lunch. Boone had a blast swimming in the river and playing in the sand. Andy got a mouthful of “Extra Crunchy” potato chips after Boone scattered the sand all around sending a few of the granules into Andy’s potato chip bag!

The day started downright chilly, but quickly warmed up just in time for the climb back up the Pinch In Trail. I quickly shed my jackets and pants legs and was down to shorts and t-shirt. Wow! That’s a tough climb! But, like I said earlier, if you can handle the climb, the scenery along this trail is amazing!

One of the other few positive things about the 2007 fire is that it has made off trail exploring much easier. There is no official trail connecting the Pinch In and Rock Jock trails, but Andy assured us that it would be an easy Bushwhack.

Some of the route was flagged with ribbons tied to the remains of charred trees and at other times it seemed like we were on an actual trail. But most of it was just making our way due North via the path of least resistance.

It quickly became apparent that the first type of vegetation to grow back after a fire are the Briars. I thought several times about zipping my pant legs back on, but it had gotten rather warm and those things are much easier to zip off than they are to zip back on. Plus, it can’t be too much further until we hit the Rock Jock Trail!

Two hours later, we hit the Rock Jock Trail.

Really, it wasn’t that bad. However, anytime you go off trail the mileage takes much longer than usual, even during a fairly easy bushwhack. And I really did end up with some nasty looking briar scars on my legs!

The problem now was time. While darkness would not be an issue it became obvious that we would finish up several hours later than I had anticipated. I knew my wife Amy would start getting worried, especially since I told her I would try to get back in time to join her for dinner at her parent’s house.

Somehow I managed to get a pretty good cell phone signal and was able to call and tell Amy that I would be later than expected and not to wait on me for dinner. Come 7:00pm she would have started freaking out if I didn’t get that call through! Now I didn’t have to worry about her worrying about me, and I could enjoy the trail!

The Rock Jock is a spectacular trail! Awesome views everywhere, cool canyons, rocks, caves, and some low flow waterfalls which I imagine would be pretty impressive immediately after a good rain!

Except for the die hard scramblers and bushwhackers, the Rock Jock had practically disappeared from existence over the years. It was not a maintained trail and many spots had been taken over by massive amounts of deadfall and uncontrolled undergrowth. I tried hiking it about four years ago and gave up after less than a mile.

Over the past few years, some awesome efforts in trail clearing, re-building, and re-routing have restored the Rock Jock to a much more navigable hike! While it is definitely still a rugged trail with many steep ups and downs, it follows a fairly even elevation profile, never gaining or losing more than a hundred feet or so at a time.

There are also lots of unofficial spur trails off the Rock Jock which lead to many more impressive rock outcrops and viewpoints. Since we were running short on time, we didn’t get to check them all out. But I will definitely be back to more fully explore and experience what the Rock Jock has to offer!

It was definitely a great hike!

Photos from our adventure are posted here: