3 days 2 nights in the Linville Gorge – Pisgah National Forest, NC.
Max elevation: 3612 ft
Min elevation: 1844 ft
Day 1 Thursday April 28, 2016– We started our adventure by parking one vehicle at the Spence Ridge trail head. There were a lot of unknowns going into this hike, and having a second vehicle was one of our ways of making things as safe as we could. After dropping a vehicle off at Spence Ridge, we headed to Wolf Pit where our other vehicle would be left and we would begin our hike.
Wolf Pit trail head has pretty limited parking, so if you plan to start there it would be better to get an early start. When we first showed up there were only one or two other cars, but by the time we left on Saturday every possible spot to park a car was taken. The trail itself was pretty straight forward to follow as were all of the trail on this hike, but I was surprised by just how much stair stepping we had to do. Overall, it is a pretty tough trail and requires a lot more effort than you may think. The great thing is that you are treated to some pretty great views almost right away. Overall, it only takes about 1 ½ to 2 miles to get to the top of Mt Shortoff and the views are awesome.
For our first night we chose to set up camp at Overlook 1 camp site. This site has a spectacular view, but there are certainly some things to think about before staying there. It was a little on the small side, so if your party needs more space, then there are better options at Camp Shortoff. Another issue we ran into was the wind. The wind picked up so badly that first night that we had to take down our tarps. It wasn’t that big of a deal since the weather didn’t call for rain that night, but it could have been a different story.
The best water source at the top of Shortoff is the Watertree. You can easily get to it from just about all of the campsites and it seems like a reliable water source. There is a well-worn foot trial that branches off of the MST down to the spring.
Day 2 – We started back on the MST from Shortoff Overlook 1 after a quick trip to Watertree to top off our water bottles. It was about 0900 and already starting to get pretty hot. Getting from Shortoff to Saddle Camp was pretty easy. We got to Saddle Camp within a couple of hours of hiking and stopped for lunch. I originally planned for making larger lunches, even cooking something in most cases. However, the hiking around the Gorge will change your mind on that. I ended up keeping lunches pretty simple with snickers and granola bars. There is a water source called Waterchim down the hill side from Saddle Camp. It is a pretty steep trail and best done without your pack. If you keep following the side trail to the end you will find the creek. The water was running really well and was very cold. I would consider this our best water source the entire trip.
After lunch we headed from Saddle Camp to Table Rock, and without a doubt this is the hardest thing I have ever done. In terms of distance it is only about four or five miles, but it is all uphill both ways (at least it felt that way). This is truly a tough hike and anyone that wants to give it a try should certainly take a few precautions. Make sure you have plenty of water and bring along a tarp for shade. I found myself becoming a heat case about half way up to the Amphitheatre. We had to break out a tarp and just chill out for a good hour before finishing the climb. You will also notice in the video that I change my shirt at this point in the hike. I changed over from a solid black shirt to a lighter grey. It is amazing how simple changes like that can really effect you on a hike. Once you are up and past the Amphitheatre, the sites get pretty interesting. There is a lot of rock scrambling and you can see both sides of the ridge line.
For our second camp site we chose to stay at the base of Table Rock. More specifically at the start of the Little Table Rock trail. This was a way better camp site then I expected. It easily supported two hammocks and a tent. There are enough trees to protect you from the wind a bit, but still up high enough to provide some great views. We ended up finding a couple foot trails that lead from the camp site to rock outcropping. These are well worth exploring. Water at Table Rock wasn’t as good as one would hope. We did find a source mark on the map just off the trail a little way. Again, the path was straight down a hill side, but this time we found it very overgrown and difficult to maneuver. The water source itself was just barely running and required a lot of time to collect enough water for three guys for the night and next day. The trick we ended up using to get water was using a Ziploc bag pressed against the rock face, the water would trickle into the bag a little at a time. Make sure you have way to carry the water with your hands free, you will need those to get back up to the main trail.
Day 3 – Originally, we planned on a four-day trip, but after a brutal second day and a 90% chance of thunderstorms on the horizon we decided to cut the trip a little short. After a quick breakfast and a few more photos of the Gorge, we headed back down the MST. About half way down there comes a point that the trail splits, one way following the MST and the other is an unofficial trail called the MST – Spence Ridge Connector. It is pretty hard to miss the split, as it happens right at a fairly open camp site. The rest of the trail to the Spence Ridge trail head is easy going and didn’t take long at all. For anyone that is looking to start at Spence Ridge and head up the MST to Table Rock, you should know that the trail is very steep in places and could be very challenging.
We finished our trip with a lunch at Louise’s Rock House and were not disappointed at all. The food was great and the prices were right. It’s certainly worth the drive up to the Linville Falls area.
Download Garmin GPX file for this trip:
Download Google Earth KML file for this trip:
All of the planning for this trip was done from the Linvillegorge.net forum. These guys are great and provided a ton of information. This included detailed maps, Garmin gpx files, water data, videos and more.
For those that are looking to cross the river, the foot bridge is still out at Spence Ridge trail. You can keep an eye on the USGS water flow rate. I’m told that anything under 200 is passable by foot. During our trip the flow rate jumped over 40 cubic feet per second with just a bit of rain. It was up in the thousands of cubic feet per seconds when the bridge got washed out several years ago.