Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Trail to Summit of Shortoff Mountain, Part II

After Jack and I stopped to take some photos from the first of many of Shortoff Mountain's lower summits, Andy caught up with us and we headed on. By this time I noticed that my old, worn pair of yaktrax were beginning to have some major problems. Nothing against these things--I love them and they're great for walking on icy surfaces--but my pair were several years old and walking across patches of bare rock were causing them to break. Before we even got to the very top of the mountain, both pairs had begun to deteriorate to the point that they were only hanging on to the heels of my boots. But I left them on, because the extra traction on my heels was better than just negotiating the icy patches without them.

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.

Another view looking down into the descent gully.

Self portrait on one side of the gully.

This was a really swell overlook where we all gathered to admire the views.

The view we had from that point.

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.

It was just very calming to walk down this trail in the ice and snow.

Tons o' fun hiking in the crusty snow!

Boone scoots ahead of me along the trail. He had a great time.

I really enjoyed looking up at the sunlight glinting off of the glaze of ice.

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.

More tomorrow...

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