This hike was, as with every hike I've taken in the Linville Gorge Wilderness, a lot of fun. However, the going was really tough and exhausting. It's very difficult to hike through soft, slushy, melting snow cover. You're constantly on the watch to prevent a fall and it's exceedingly hard to move with any speed at all. Thus, it takes a lot longer to cover a mile and the going is both mentally and physically more demanding.
We had been led to expect cold temperatures and even a good chance of snow flurries. Every weather report I'd accessed had called for the day to get no higher than 35 degrees with clouds and probable winter precipitation. So I dressed accordingly, with thermal underwear and scarf, etc. As it turned out, there was no snow at all and the skies remained mostly clear for the whole day. Also, it got rather warm--just from the feel of it, I'd say it was close to 50 degrees for most of the hike! I had to shed my gloves and scarf, earmuffs, cap. I found myself wishing that I hadn't worn the long underwear and had put on convertible pants rather than my favorite pair of hiking slacks. Oh, well.
Balanced Rock. Some time back I had my photo taken from atop this rock. Even in good conditions climbing up there is a dicey prospect. With the snow and ice it was out of the question.
We parked at the Pinch In Traihead and walked down the Kistler Highway a short distance to the Rock Jock Trailhead. I'd hiked Rock Jock before, and it's a really good trail, and one of the best for a view-heavy hike of the western rim of the gorge. It was relocated a couple of years ago when the original Rock Jock Trail was pretty much utterly destroyed in the last drought-aggravated wild fire that ravaged the south end of Linville Gorge. That fire pretty much denuded that part of the wilderness area of its tree cover and it will be many decades before those forests recover. A good portion of the hike is through trees that have been reduced to blackened coals. But shrubs and saplings are beginning to take over, so in a few years it should at least be green again.
I have yet to find any area in the East to be as rugged as Linville Gorge. And I've hiked a great deal. Not even the Whites of New England or the Longfellow Mountains of Maine seem to be as rugged as the terrain of Linville Gorge.
Fantastic view of the gorge--prominent peaks are Table Rock and Hawksbill.
More photos and details tomorrow...