Returning to Linville Gorge

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A June day, and the weather was a breezy mid-60 degrees. Perfect for a long hike with a weighted backpack.

I had returned to Linville Gorge with a quest to capture some fantastic summer photos along with a personal journey of rest and reflection. Well, as much rest as one could get hiking down a 1,000-foot mountain side.

I last hiked this particular trail over five years ago. Yet everything seemed familiar enough that I could remember particular trees, stones and off-shoots from the trail. Not even 15 minutes into the hike, I recognized an old fallen tree that had since been cut to provide more room to get around on the trail. A photo I took on that initial hike was one of my favorites, showing the roots, the barren trunk that was twice as large as a 50-gallon drum and the broken limbs scattered from the fall.

While the trunk had been cut in two, the roots were still towering eight feet high from where they had pulled from the loose ground. Subconsciously, I patted one of the larger root outcroppings while passing by, later snickering at myself for treating it as an old friend that had seen better days.

Another 15 minutes of hiking presented the first overlook along the trail. Another of my favorite photos was taken along this mark, a somewhat selfie in which I had set the timer on the camera and captured myself looking out along the wide and deep expanse of reds, oranges, yellows and browns from that fall morning. This time, I replicated the photo from before, thinking it was a good time to take a quick rest and to capture the same scene but with various shades of green covering the mountainside beyond.

There is not much to say about the next span of trail, other than it was covered in a green canopy and outlined by various white and pink flowers along the way. They stood in sharp contrast to the deep brown earth between the plate-sized rocks that was the trail. It was a long hike to the next portion that marked the progression to my end goal.

Then, after a good 90 minutes of hiking, there was a beach of stone. The stone work had stone walls, lined with stone towers and giving way to stone crevices. This was the Babel Tower are, the next rest-stop along the way.

I lay the pack down, and then lie myself down on one of the flat surfaces in a spot in the shade. My water was still cool, though not cold, but refreshing nonetheless. Fifteen minutes did not seem long enough, but in a strange way seemed like all I needed to make the next push on the trail. I looked over at Babel Tower, a stone spire to my east that stood some 50 feet higher than the stone around it, and gave it a nod of appreciation. I then donned the backpack once again and continued my journey.

The next phase of the trail consists of multiple switchbacks running anywhere from 50 to 100 yards long. Some were easy and soft earth and soil. Some were hard, uneven rocky pathways that forced me to grab a small tree trunk or branch to help balance the walk across.

The roar of the river can be heard from the top of the trailhead, but it becomes especially loud here. If you weren’t familiar with the trail, you would think you were next to the river. However, the river is only made mightier by the way the sounds echo back and forth off the harsh stone walls encompassing the bottom, an echo chamber if you will.

Once the final switchback becomes apparent though, you begin to see the glory of the great Linville River, and it was glorious in every sense of the word.

Even though I was tired from the hike down, it didn’t take long to set up camp and cook a quick meal before taking a rest.

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.