Linville Gorge Bewilderment

Linville Gorge Bewilderment

The weekend before my graduation from Wake Forest University, I went backpacking in Linville Gorge. Along for the trip was yours truly Bob Laney, my sister Ann Laney, my good friend from high school Mark Boone and another good friend from NC State Billy Gardner.


We drove from US Hwy 221 to NC 183, then to the dirt road that traverses the western rim of the gorge, mis-named Kistler Memorial Highway. [It is Kistler Memorial, but the rutted gravel road is not much of a highway]. We parked at the trailhead and hiked in on the Conley Cove Trail. We went down to the river, then upstream on the Linville Gorge Trail to the Sandy Flats campsite. We camped there for the night.

The next day, for most of our prior trips on this route, we would then continue upriver to the Babel Towers Trail, to Kistler Memorial Highway, and walk back to the Conley Cove parking lot. But this trip, to save time (it cut the mileage in half), we followed a 'primitive' trail (so labeled on the old maps) straight uphill from Sandy Flats to Kistler Memorial Highway just north of Wiseman's View. [It is not on the current maps']

In fact, the path was so primitive that, despite our collective many years experience hiking in the Gorge, we lost the trail. Several places we encountered forks that were not on the map. Other places it was so close to vertical that we were climbing up rock faces as steep as ladders. We knew it was not far to the ridge, so we stopped looking at our maps. Eventually we lost the trail altogether and ended up slogging straight up hill, pushing through dense rhododendron and laurel thickets.

As Daniel Boone said, he has never been lost. But once he was a mite bewildered for three days.

We knew that the dirt road back to the parking lot ran along the rim of the gorge, so if we kept going uphill, we had to hit the road back to the cars. Or, we thought we knew. When we finally got to the ridge, there was no road! Now we became a mite bewildered. I knew that if we somehow missed the road, and kept going west, there were many miles of untracked wildernes in which to get lost. And my graduation was the next day. I began to fear that the ceremony would be conducted without me.

We mulled around on the ridge for a while, wondering which way to go, when we heard a car through the woods to our west. We were saved! The road was only a couple hundred yards away. We finally looked at our maps. The solution was that the road did run along the ridge, except for one spot where it ran around the west side of a small hill named Laurel Knob. We were standing right on Laurel Knob.

The lesson learned was to always look at our maps, and follow our progress on them. In our hubris, by foolishly ignoring our maps and depending on our memory of the Gorge, we got ourselves temporarily bewildered.

Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.