The first highlight on last weekend's outstanding run came early on with the discovery of this oddly shaped tree marking the site of our first turn.
From there it was just a short way to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain. This
rocky pinnacle of a mountain offered an excellent 360 degree vantage
point where we were able to see exactly where we were heading. As we
stared out at the massive face of Shortoff Mountain where our immediate
future was taking us I couldn't help but to ponder our fate. All of my
other 'half marathons' in, around and through Linville Gorge have been both brutally painful and stunningly beautiful.
Shortoff loomed ominously before us and although it was just a short way off the path did not look easy.
With Table Rock hanging just ahead and no time to waste we plunged down from the top of Pinnacle straight into the gorge on a steep and exposed section of trail.
After a fast descent there was a little bit of rolling and varied terrain before we reached our first crossing of the Linville River. It is still February but yet temperatures were in the 70s and I was running in nothing but a pair of shorts and the river felt great.
On the other side of the river there was nowhere to go except up so I dug in and tried to make time up the mountain. The earth was barren and scorched with enormous views everywhere you turned your head. Somewhere along this dreamscape I passed a couple of hikers who remarked that I must be a mirage which had me imaging an oasis awaiting me at the top as I trudged ahead.
I paused briefly at a crossroads for Yuri before we continued the short distance to the top of Shortoff.
Just like always the effort was well worth it and the view from the top was unparalleled.
From there we had several miles along the Eastern rim of the gorge before we would take Cambric Ridge back down to the river where our way out awaited us. This section of trail was closer to a lunar dreamscape than to your normal WNC environment. We were both thoroughly enjoying the unique terrain and I told Yuri we would have to keep an eye out for Cambric Ridge trail. I wasn't worried at all about finding it because I've been there before and know exactly what it looks like so imagine my surprise when I started to think that we might have somehow gotten off the MST. The trail we were on was very overgrown and covered in dead fall and just didn't seem right. Then we realized we were losing elevation very quickly and were on our way down to the river.
Then the trail looked familiar and I realized that we were already on Cambric without having noticed the turn. I'm still not sure how that happened but it did and just a few minutes later we were once again preparing to ford the river.
After the final river crossing there was only Pinch In trail between
us and the finish so I decided to give that final mile climb everything I
had. Halfway up I started feeling dizzy and when I thought I couldn't push
any harder I looked over my shoulder and saw Yuri just below me. I
paused long enough to snap a single picture and then resumed my frantic
dash out of the gorge. As I neared the top the world started to spin and
just as I was sure my heart would explode I stumbled the last few steps
up to the trailhead.