The weekend of May 23 - 25, 2014, Chip Wiles, Robbie Russell and I went backpacking in Linville Gorge. Chip drove our transportation, his nice, big Chevy Suburban. We motored along the western rim of the Gorge on Kistler Memorial Highway and parked at the Conley Cove trail head. Then we proceeded down Conley Cove trail to its intersection with the Linville Gorge trail at our Friday night campsite beside the Linville River.
I ate freeze dried food for most of my meals - chicken and rice casserole, beef stroganoff and granola and strawberries with milk; supplemented with lunches of beef jerky, granola bars and Snickers. It turns out that Chip is a home prepared food expert. He provided for himself and Robbie several dinners with homemade, dehydrated and vacuum packed meals, like vegetable chili, green beans and homemade whole grain bread. I got to taste several of the dinners and they were yummy!
The weather was near about perfect. The night time temperatures were in the 50's and the daytime highs were in the 70's. And nary a drop of rain! A rare treat for the Southern Appalachians. After my wet weather travails on so many trips last year, I had about given up on backpacking. The sky alternated between bright clear and occasional cloud cover.
Saturday morning the other guys did some early fishing while I slept in until the sinful hour of 8 a.m. After leisurely breaking camp, we trekked up river on the Linville Gorge trail to Sandy Flats, where we set up our second camp. Somewhere along the way Robbie lost part of his fishing rod that got dragged out of his pack by some brush beside the trail. Everybody took a mid-afternoon nap. In late afternoon Chip and Robbie shared Chip's rod on the river. Later that evening we made a roaring good fire and stayed up late talking and looking into the embers.
The trails in the Gorge are poorly maintained - if they get any maintenance at all. I have clear memories of easily hiking trails all over the Gorge in the 1970's, with no trouble staying on them or traversing them. Now, every few feet is a tough problem to navigate - huge fallen trees blocking the trail that require clambering over, under or around; steep muddy slides; brush and briar growth blocking the view of the ground; or rock gardens with no visible trail for long stretches. There are almost no trail signs and no trail blazes. My biggest adventure of the weekend was trying to find and stay on the trail after it disappeared into brush or boulders every few minutes. But, this is a nationally designated wilderness area, where man's influence is not supposed to be felt - so maybe bad trails is the price for wildness.
Speaking of wildness, we saw surprisingly little animal wildlife. Some mayflies, a few millipedes and ravens were about it. We did see right many other hikers and campers - maybe a couple dozen in three days. I was lucky enough to get to play Ranger Bob once or twice, sharing my map and giving trail directions to other hikers.
Sunday morning we broke camp with a little more alacrity, probably because we all dreaded the long, steep climb out of the Gorge. We hit the trail about an hour and a half earlier than Saturday. Our itinerary took us further upriver on the Linville Gorge trail, then up many switchbacks to the Babel Tower trail. At that intersection we took a nice, long break. Then we made a long, relentless, uphill trek along the Babel Tower trail to Kistler Memorial Highway. The last segment was to hike the Highway about 3 miles back to our vehicle.
It turns out that Robbie makes some keen observations and has a dry sense of humor. A typical exchange:
Chip (explaining the life cycle of a mayfly): these bugs only live out of the water about 24 hours; they have one day to find a mate, lay eggs and then die; nature spends a lot of energy on procreation.
Robbie (who has several grown children): I am out of the business of procreation, but I enjoy going through the motions.
Chip: Well, get that thought out of your mind! I have to sleep in your tent tonight!
After so many years of my mostly solo hiking, camping, backpacking, biking skiing and canoeing trips, it was a treat and a pleasure to spend the weekend with these two fine gentlemen. I look forward to many more group trips in the future. A good time was had by all!