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Archive for May 24th, 2009

During D’s Christmas break, he, P, and I went to the Linville Gorge here in our county . Well, I had a bushwhacking in mind, knowing the gorge much better than in previous years.  We went atop the ridge, down a narrow cut between 300 foot cliffs, waded the river without mishap, went upstream, waded the river with some small clothes wetting, and started up the ridge.  The uphill was so strenuous that the clothes wetting and near-freezing temperatures were no problem.  Then began the adventure.  With the shortened hours of winter pushing us, we tried to find a trail I had never been on, though marked on the map.  We didn’t find it so we started up the side of the ridge, a very steep talus field.  From the bottom we could see that it would not be hard to avoid confronting a large cliff in this section so we pushed on confidently.  About halfway up we encountered the remains of a forest fire from about 5 years ago.  No, it’s not what you expect.  The downed pine trunks were thick and thicker still were the 4 year old saplings, about wrist thickness diameter, a foot to foot and a half apart and 6 to 8 feet tall.  The going got extremely difficult, steep upslope, flexible but stiff trunks to push through, and intertwined trunks in varying degrees of rot at waist or chest deep.  The way back was not an option with dark, potential wetting, and significant distance further to go.  The way forward seemed unassailable.  I knew we simply had to make the ridge and trail by dark, though it was obvious there was a goodly hike from there to the truck in the dark.  The guys quieted down to the labor ahead with only occasional exclamations of amazement at how laden with traps the way forward had become.  We reached the ridge as the last orange glow of sunset faded.  After a quick rest we began a long, quick-paced hike out, but the adventure was far from over.  Soon I had to don my head lamp, in recent years a necessary part of any hike, day or overnight.  We surged forward, but had to rest soon after the exertions of the entangled climb.  We got up and went on, noticing that we had a curious view of an adjoining valley we did not expect.  Yes, it was dark and so far moonless, but the lights in the valleys were as jewel-like as the stars. The ridge ran over to the left and the trail began to descend.  I began to have misgivings out loud but continued on.  D stopped us and explained why this could not be the way.  We turned, emotionally fatigued by the setback.  At the point we had stopped to rest we discovered the trail had taken a 180 degree switchback.  The trail we had started down, after inspection was the other end of the one we sought to find at the bottom of the gorge.  We rushed on through open forest across the top of the ridge, up and down.  After traversing a deep gap we were to come on top of a wide-backed, straight and level ridge before a steep drop to the truck, perhaps a mile and a half left.  Soon after we reached the top of the ridge we came upon our most mentally trying difficulty.  A more recent forest fire had totally decimated the landscape (we have suffered extended, several year drought which only in the last month did the NWS say was over).  There are scatter boulders, but otherwise large areas were ashen and very moon-scape in the starlight.  Nothing appeared alive and no remains of plant material was more than knee high.  The soil was almost entirely eroded into ash flows with 100+ yard lengths having no evidence of trail.  Then brush would obscure what indention in rock and gravel suggested the remains of trail.  There is a 300 foot cliff on the right and a long slope that extends for miles through National Forest on the left.  The way is forward.  I would have the guys stand at the last perceived semblance of trail while I searched the scorched landscape for evidence of the way forward.  When I found what seemed to be the way I would call them forward.  After a 1/2 mile or so intermittent areas of unburned forest would arise with definite trail and even blazes on trees, only to be followed by burned out moonscape again.  The temperature was dropping into the mid-twenties and the wind gusted hard in the bare places.  I was thankful for the cool heads of my guys and the seemingly strong headlamp.  Finally we came to the small, tree lined bog that marks the 3/4 point of the ridge.  From here on the forest was thick until we came back to our full circle and the way down where the older fire had ruined the now slowly returning south exposure pine forest.  To say we were exhausted seems trivial but we were also thankful.  P managed to get a cell phone call out (rare on this ridge) to say we were safe and don’t send out the rescue squad.  P has not been hiking since, nor has D but he has lacked opportunity.  I was very thankful for God’s watchcare over our adventure and my unwise choices.  It was an adventure to write home about and probably to give the old man a hard time over in future years. Did I learn anything?  That depends on who you ask.

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