Friday, September 4, 2015

Linville Gorge Half

So it has been five days now and my legs still hurt really bad. You would think I would have known that this was going to happen, and maybe I did, but I still went and did it anyway. For a few years now I've been staring at maps of the Linville Gorge and itching to do a big 13 mile loop going from rim to rim by crossing the river twice. I have set out to do it on two other occasions but fell short both times. It was a freezing winter day on the first attempt and two deep river fords kept us on the west rim of the gorge. On the second attempt we crossed the river only to find Cambric Ridge trail wasn't where it is supposed to be and had to alter our route and skip Conley Cove and Rock Jock trails. We did finally find Cambric Ridge trail which meant that I finally had all the pieces necessary to complete the route. The day came last Sunday when I headed out solo.

My route was to be:

Pinch In > Linville Gorge Trail > Cambric Ridge > Mountains to Sea > Spence Ridge > Linville Gorge Trail > Conley Cove > Rock Jock > Kistler Memorial Highway

linville gorge half

Hint: Cambric Ridge is not where it is shown on that map. (actually it might be, but I just couldn't find it there)

Pinch In trail is aptly named as it gets you down into the gorge in a pinch. It is just over a mile straight down to the river but it really is straight down which meant I started out the run by hardly being able to run. I didn't want to destroy my quads at the start and the tread was so loose and rocky that running was very sketchy anyway. But the scenery sure was good!




Pinch In dumped me at the river and I headed south on the Linville Gorge trail and followed it a short ways to the first campsite where I knew one of the branches of Cambric Ridge was just across the river.


An easy ford and then straight up Cambric Ridge I went. This trail is ridiculously steep. Unlike Pinch In the trail was heavily wooded and I made some sort of attempt at running. I was more often using my hands to do some sort of crawl run combo thing but at least I was headed up. Not a lot to the trail but like everywhere in the gorge there were gorgeous views all around.


I made good time up to the Mountains to Sea where I headed north for the Chimneys and Table Rock. For whatever reason I was expecting this stretch of trail to be mainly flat. I don't know why, especially since I have ran it several times before, but I was. Much to my dismay, after climbing Cambric fast I was faced with even more climbing. I gave up on trying to move fast and settled for just moving and had nothing left to do except smile as I worked my way up to the Chimneys.


The stretch of trail across the Chimneys and Table Rock is perhaps my favorite that I have seen in the gorge. Just mind blowing stuff.






After such a beautiful stretch of trail I was feeling really good heading down Spence River. I was thinking that I was over half way and that I would be finishing up the run in under five hours.


Compared to the other trails in the gorge Spence Ridge is very moderate and actually somewhat runnable. Once down at the river I took a few minutes to relax and swim before I tackled what I thought would be my last climb of the day before the long flat stretch across Rock Jock.


Once on the other side I headed south on the gorge trail and quickly remembered how difficult that trail is. Since it follows the river you might think it would be fairly flat and fairly easy but it is up and down over a tangle of jagged rocks and fallen trees. Nothing flat or easy about it at all. But it wasn't too long before I was going right on Conley Cove and up the last climb of the day. I really did think it was going to be the last climb and that Rock Jock was going to be just another short little trail up on the rim so I put my head down and tried to see how good of time I could make on my way up. Along the way I started thinking that Rock Jock might be a little longer than I recalled and got concerned that I might be stretching my water too thin. It has been a dry summer and most of the little tickles that cross the trail were bone dry so when I came across little more than a stagnant mud puddle with dead bugs floating on the top I had no choice but to fill a bottle and hope that my bleach would do the trick.

Once I got to the top of Conley Cove I was already five hours and 11 or 12 miles in and realized my math must have been wrong somewhere along the way. I briefly considered taking to road back but there is no fun in that so Rock Jock it was.


I don't know how long Rock Jock is or how much climbing there is on it but it seemed to go on forever through and endless series of twists and turns up and down the cliff side. At times it was very overgrown and hard to follow and other times it was littered with plenty of jagged rocks. It had already been a long day and I was starting to come a little undone on it. As amazingly beautiful it was I was just ready for it to be over. I recalled a big climb at the end of the trail and kept hoping that it would appear around the next bend but instead there was always just another bend and just another view.


As I shuffled and staggered my way along the trail it was hard not enjoy looking at all the places I had been and even got a good view of Cambric Ridge:


After an hour or so of this splendid hell the final hill appeared and I finally climbed out of the gorge for the last time of the day. In the end this 'half marathon' came in at 16 miles with 5500' of climbing with an equal descent and took me six hours to complete. It is no wonder my legs still hurt!

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