Wednesday, August 26, 2009

2009-08-23 Linville Gorge Hike Report & Photos

Linville Gorge Hike
With Andy and Boone
Sunday, August 23rd, 2009
Babel Tower, Linville River, Fantasy Creek,
Futuristic Wall, West Face Rock, Henson Creek

Back in February, after visiting Babel Tower, Andy and I found a scramble path on the West Side of the Tower which led us to a really neato spot along the Linville River.

We were curious about what was downstream, but further exploration would be almost impossible without getting wet. That was out of the question on that day because the river was about 50% covered with ice. It was way to cold to get in the water, and we weren’t about to attempt walking across any icy surfaces!

We decided that we would plan a return trip during the summer and explore downstream when the water would be warm enough to spend a good bit of the day in the river.

The Linville River below Babel Tower

Well, the summer is almost over so we planned our return.

Our planned route:
- Start on the Babel Tower Trail
- Off Trail scramble down the west side of Babel Tower down to the river
- Follow the river downstream to Henson Creek
- Explore Henson Creek
- Connect to the West Face “Trail” and explore West Face Rock and Futuristic Wall
- Descend down Fantasy Creek to the Linville River
- Cross the river and connect to the LGT
- Head back up to BT / LGT junction and return to vehicle via the Babel Tower Trail.

Usually when hiking the Linville Gorge area, I like to spend the previous evening at my wife’s parents place in Rutherfordton, NC. This really cuts down on the drive time in the morning. However, this time I would be making the entire drive from Spartanburg, SC which meant getting up fairly early.

Sometime during the night some moron crashed into a telephone pole and electrical transformer, knocking out power to over 2,000 Duke Power Customers on the West Side of Spartanburg.

Sometime in the very early hours of the morning, I peaked at the clock and quickly realized we were without power. I couldn’t risk falling back asleep without an alarm to wake me up, so I went ahead a got up.

I was glad I packed all my gear in the truck the night before, because it is a challenge getting ready for a hike while it is still dark outside without power inside. I had to disable the garage door opener and open the garage manually. However, it does not stay open when you do this. So, I had to get Amy out of bed to back my truck out while I held to garage door open.

Despite the morning power outage, I still managed to make it out in time and arrive at the Marion, NC Wal-Mart a few minutes before our 9:00am meeting time. Once Andy arrived we decided to take my truck since we have heard that the condition of the Kissler Memorial Highway (dirt road on the West side of Linville Gorge) has seriously deteriorated since our last visit.

While Andy’s Corolla probably could have made it, the road was definitely in bad shape and we were glad we had my truck. I grabbed one of the few remaining parking spots at the Babel Tower Trailhead and we hit the trail.
View from near the Babel Tower Trailhead

While all the trails heading down the West Side of the Gorge are steep, the Babel Tower Trail is one of the more user friendly and we made good time towards Babel Tower. Despite the crowd of cars at the parking area, we didn’t see anyone on the trail and only a small group of college age kids camping near the LGT / Babel Trail intersection.

Babel Tower

Before continuing our descent towards the river, we decided to check out the view from the top of Babel Tower. I am not sure the best route to take up the top, but this time we accidentally went up a different way and ended up at a completely different viewpoint.

Jack and Boone on Babel Tower

Andy and Boone on Babel Tower
View of Table Rock from Babel Tower

After enjoying the views and breeze from the top of Babel Tower we had no problem finding the scramble path down to the river and arrived at the same spot we visited in February. Only this time, there was no ice on the water.
Climbing down Babel Tower towards the Linville River

Taking a break along the River
(see Andy on the right to get a sense of how big these boulders and rock walls are)

Judging by the puddles in the potholes on the drive in and the overall wetness of the rocks and trails, it was obvious that the area experienced some rain the previous evening. As a result the river was up a bit. Would it be too high for us to attempt our planned adventure?
We didn’t get very far downstream before deciding this was not a good idea. The raging river squeezes through a narrow chasm with sheer near vertical rock walls on each side. While we might be a little more adventurous than your average hiker, we were not crazy enough to continue on with our plan.
Maybe the next time we go through an extreme drought (last summer would have been good) we will try again. But for today, it was on to Plan B.
We still wanted to explore the Futuristic Wall area between Henson and Fantasy Creek, so we scrambled back up to the main trail and descended down the South East side of Babel Tower via the LGT. After a series of switchbacks (very rare for Linville Gorge), we saw some pink ribbons tied to a tree and decided to follow them down towards the river.
Andy Crossing the Linville River
Across the river we could see Fantasy Creek. Actually, you don’t see much of a creek as it flows almost entirely underground. But the obvious creek bed would be our route to follow.
There was no way across the river without getting wet, so that’s what we did. We crossed through waist high water and arrived on the opposite bank without any problems and started our scramble up Fantasy Creek.

View of Babel Tower from the Linville River
This is definitely not a trail, but ribbons tied to trees pretty much lead the way via the path of least resistance. We eventually got to a neato cave at the base of a very impressive rock wall. We continued north along the base of the rock wall in total awe of its magnitude.
I am not exactly sure what is considered the actual Futuristic Wall, and what is considered West Face Rock, but it didn’t really matter. All I know is that this section of “trail” follows along the base of some of the most impressive displays of towering rock walls anywhere!
This is not an official trail, but for the most part it was very easy to follow. It was obvious that someone put a good bit of effort into keeping the route clear. It wouldn’t take much to make this an official and sustainable trail.
We took our time and did a lot of exploring. We tried to find a good place to scramble up the rocks to catch a view, but didn’t see any safe way for us non rock climbers to scale the walls.
Eventually, we made it to Henson Creek and followed that a short distance down to the Linville River where we took a little break and Boone went for a swim.
After our break we explored up Henson Creek a short distance. We would have liked to go further, but it was getting late in the day and we still had a long way back to my truck. We will just have to plan a return visit to further explore Henson Creek!
Henson Creek

Since the return hike was all backtracking and we knew exactly where we were going, it went much quicker. At least until we got to the crossing of the Linville River.
I made it across with no problems, Andy made it across with no problems, but for some reason, Boone refused to get in. The dog just stood on a rock on the other side whining and yelping.
Andy Crossing the River  -  Boone on the Rocks refusing to go any further
Andy was convinced that once we got out of site, Boone would gather up the courage and follow us. That didn’t work!

Since leaving Boone behind was not an option, we got back in the River, re-crossed to the other side, and put the leash on Boone. It still required both of us (one pulling & one pushing) to get Boone into the River and eventually across and on with the remainder of our hike.

We were already soaked with sweat and river water when the rain started, so it didn’t bother us one bit. It felt refreshing, especially since it occurred during the grunt climb out of the gorge section of the hike.
This Google Earth Image shows our approximate hike route

The rain stopped shortly before we arrived back at my truck, so we were able to change into dry clothes before hitting the road towards home.

While we did not succeed in our original plan, it was still a great hike and we both got to see parts of Linville Gorge that we have not seen before. There is still a lot of gorge left to explore, so I know we’ll be back!
Jack on the Rocks above the Linville River

Additional Photos from our Adventure are posted here:

1 comment:

HemlockMan said...

I really like Linville Gorge. I can understand why some eastern hikers get fixated with it.

Well, that makes the last two hikes you and Andy have made into the Gorge that I've missed. I hope I can join you guys the next time. Andy's talking about doing the Amphitheater, and that's a spot I really want to see. Andy says that it's comparable to western terrain.