My husband (Joel) and I have collectively done a handful of overnight backpacking expeditions. But “overnight” has been the extent of our time frame. So, for Joel’s birthday this May, we decided to take on a trip we’d been dreaming about – a three day hike through the Linville Gorge Wilderness.
We will both tell you it was the most challenging, yet rewarding thing we’ve done in quite a while. And mind you, we just finished living and traveling aboard a 27’ sailboat. The challenges brought on by our tiny ship were more of the mentally exerting type. The Linville Gorge was three days of both physical and mental trials. Yet, the view from the mountain peak (quite literally) was well worth the burning muscles, tired shoulders and sweaty brows it took to climb to the top.
Joel is a planner. He’s a detail guy and the king of research. Leave it to him to find the good info, the best gear and the hardest route. He joined a few forums, did some studying and bought a guidebook. We sat down to pour over our map a few days before we planned to begin the hike. I’m truly convinced he enjoys finding the hardest route. The full Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit is comprised of 16,605 ft of elevation change and 33.93 miles. We compromised a little, discussed time constraints, and chose a modified version of the Linville Gorge Circuit. I had an inkling our untrained bodies would have trouble completing the entire trek in a three day period. We would both later be thankful for Joel’s willingness to make changes to our route.
Backpacks stocked, we parked at our trailhead and eagerly walked into the wilderness. The path was well-beaten and clear signs marked the trail. Joel, looking down at his guidebook, regretfully informed me we’d already started off on the wrong trail. We returned to where our car sat and, following the words of our book, walked to the middle of the gravel parking lot and took a sharp right into the forest. What little trail there was, had been covered by the lush green of spring. Our hike plans for much of day one and day two routed us on trails unrecognized by the National Park Service. I could already tell my highly allergic skin would be thankful for the shield of my hiking pants as we marched through poison ivy.
Halfway through the first day, we met the Linville River by its side. This would be the first of many views we would see of her rushing water. After a quick rest and a handful of almonds, we followed the river to meet our next trail.
For the rugged adventurer type, the Linville Gorge is a Gold Mine. It’s described as the Grand Canyon of the East. And its loop is said to be the most difficult route east of the Rockies. If you’re up for the challenge, the Gorge will win your heart as it pushes you, wears you out and then rewards you with beauty. Those who have walked its soil before have left behind many scattered campsites. Each with their small fire pit assembled from rocks found nearby. The best sites come with an incredible view and level ground to sleep on. Weekend hikers must apply for a required permit through National Park Service. However, if you go on a weekday (like we did) not only will you not need a permit but you might just have the whole place to yourself. For all three days we spent in the Linville Gorge Wilderness, we only saw one other couple and their dogs. It was a refreshing seclusion to find ourselves alone amongst the soaring mountains, rushing river and all the many wild things.
We filtered spring water as it trickled out from the mountain. Slowly our chlorine filled city water was replaced with the refreshing, pure water of the Linville Mountains. In the next few days, before complete our loop, we would scale several mountains, crawl up and down 70 degree inclines, cross the rushing river, get lost, follow our compass, bathe in the river, sleep by its edge, realize we over packed, be awestruck by faultless views and tango with a few copperhead snakes. Our three days in the Gorge were refreshing and beautiful. Each day after breakfast and coffee, we packed up our site and walked until dinnertime. Every night, we made it to our campsite exhausted yet accomplished set up camp, made dinner, sat by the fire, hung our food from the bears and fell into bed before sundown.
In the most extreme and exhausting moments of our hike, we dreamed of our return to the parking lot where our car sat waiting. But, in our three-day trek we fell in love with the challenge and adventure that accompanies backpacking in the Gorge. Out in the silence of wilderness, you begin to hear a new orchestra. The stomp of your hiking boots, the beating of your own heart, the rivers waters, wind sweeping through the mountain, the drip of a mountain spring; the harmony of nature. Your mind, always rushing to keep up with the demands of society, begins to slow and focus on the present moment. Just as you are refreshed with peace, you become tuned in to your physical state of exhaustion. You’ve pushed your body all day carrying your means for survival on your back. But, there is a clear goal to reach that day. And, your options are clear as well. You either press on or give up. There’s no room for procrastination in the wilderness, only growth. You tell yourself you can keep going, keep climbing and every step you take you grow – stronger, wiser and confident.
SO, if you’ve been dreaming about a trip that scares you, that you feel is out of your league – DO IT. Take it from a Newbie in the world of backpacking; you can do it and you should do it. Do your research, be prepared, and then go let the wilderness challenge you, grow you, and restore you all the same.