Linville Gorge Hike: Shortoff Mountain & Table Rock – 2/9/13 – 16.3 Miles – 4,524 Elevation Gain
“Have you ever hiked at Linville Gorge?
“Yes, went up Shortoff Mountain and all along the eastern edge of the Gorge to Table Rock.”
“They say the views are incredible. What did you think?”
“Don’t know. We couldn’t see a thing.”
During our Mountains-To-Sea Trail project, Danny and I hiked on a schedule, seldom changing because of weather, so I did not see Linville Gorge the first time I hiked there because of thick fog and drizzling rain. So when the Berg Wanderers planned an ambitious day hike there, I was happy to have another go at it and crossed my fingers that it would not be raining again or, more likely, snowing or icy enough to make it unsafe. Turns out we had a perfect made-to-order winter day.
Linville Gorge has been called the Grand Canyon of the East. Created by the flow of the Linville River, the Gorge is 12 miles long and 2,000 feet deep. It is designated as a wilderness area and is mostly unsigned, although the MST white blazes can be followed along the eastern rim. An Outward Bound facility is located near the Table Rock access. Although remote, the Gorge is a popular place on weekends and during good weather.
Starting from the parking area on Wolf Pit Road at the southern end of the Gorge, we were suited up for the cold. Shortoff Mountain (behind us) was our first challenge.
A one-mile blue blazed trail connected us with the Mountains-To-Sea Trail that runs con- currently with the Shortoff Trail. Lake James is in the background. Otherwise it’s an unattractive trail in the winter, the result of a devastating fire in 2007. When we hiked through here in the fall of 2010, in spite of the rain we could see the fall colors of small trees making a comeback.
Near the top of the climb the trail runs close along the edge of the Gorge. Everyone wanted a photo with this tree. (Notice the white dusting on the mountains in the background.)
From here the walking was easy for a few miles along the eastern edge of the Gorge. As it curves around to the left we could see Table Rock and Hawks Bill, which have always looked like cat's ears to me. I have many photos of these distinctive peaks from southern and northern points along the MST.
As we made our way through the scorched landscape, Table Rock became more distinct.
On a clear winter’s day: the gorgeous Gorge
Closer to the edge, looking to the left side of the Gorge. Linville River down below but we couldn’t see it.
We planned to stop for lunch at a big rock outcropping that proved to be farther away than I thought, at the top of a very steep climb. This was my first strenuous hike in several months and I was feeling it. So how far are we going anyway? Well, with this group, the hike “evolves” and after checking the time and feeling pretty confident, we decided to go all the way to the summit of Table Rock…oh, and then all the way back down. One member of the group decided to turn around at the lunch spot (smart man) and I gave him my car keys in case he got cold waiting for us. The temp was in the high 40’s, which can be chilly when you’re sitting still, but we were plenty warm, working hard going up that mountain. It felt fanastic, a clear and cool day, big views of the wide-open world.
Next up, an area called the Chimneys, rock formations stacked to look like…yes, chimneys. This is a very popular climbing spot and also a bird nesting spot for species including peregrine falcons, so sometimes access is limited or closed.
Looking back the way we came
Still on the MST, we passed through the Chimneys and the Table Rock parking area and headed up the short but steep side trail to the summit of Table Rock – encountered a bit of ice, so watch your step!
Grandfather Mountain from the summit of Table Rock
Looking back the other way from the summit, Lake James in the background.
A last look at Table Rock
We discovered more mountains on our return leg – who put them there? We finished the last mile in the dark, not uncommon for this crowd, and I was prepared with my headlamp. I later learned the stats for the day: 16.3 miles, 4,524 feet elevation gain (which means a corresponding 4,524 feet of descent). No wonder my legs were shaking until Wednesday.
"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” ~Steven Wright