Also, the higher we climbed, the colder it got. The forest really began to get very icy and the air was colder. However, the wind was blowing hardly at all, so we all found that we were able to shed some of the layers of winter clothes we had started out with.
This cliff top is where most of the climbers head. You can see the top of the descent gully that they use to access the base of the cliffs. This gully is Class III scrambling and makes for a precipitous, but relatively safe way down to the bottom of the cliffs. There, the rock climbers use their technical gear to climb back up the Class V walls.
This was a really swell overlook where we all gathered to admire the views.
Soon after we entered the forest where the fires had not reached either in 2002 or in 2007. The trees were glazed and with the sun shining on the ice, it was a magical place. The forest was also alive with the sound of expanding ice and the occasional tumble of ice chunks that were breaking free in the near-freezing air.
This is one of only a very few natural ponds in the entire Southern Appalachian mountain chain. The geology of the southern Apps does not lend itself to natural lakes and ponds. Thus, there are only four or five such bodies of water in the entire chain south of New England (where glaciers carved many lakes and ponds). There are actually two of these in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, ironically located on opposite sides and opposing ends of the gorge. This one, on Shortoff Mountain, is the largest of the two.
A short video of the pond.
My hiking pal, Jack Thyen, along the Mountains to Sea Trail near the pond on Shortoff Mountain.
Not far from the pond, we reached the best summit and the nicest views on the trail. This is, so far for me, the best grandstand in all of Linville Gorge.
Click to enlarge this great stitched panorama. Of course there's nothing like actually hiking up there to see it in person.
The view from the best summit area.