Monday, January 8, 2018



During the first week of 2018, the temperature in the Linville Gorge rarely rose above 20 degrees.  In a week's time, the Linville River froze to the point that the Linville Falls became a frozen white column of ice.  Hearing that this is the first time in over 30 years that the falls had frozen, Easy Jake and the Fat Bald White Guy set off to hike the falls

 My Faithful Hiking Companion and I hiked the Linville Falls twice. The first time was June of 2012 when we visited the Upper Falls, Chimney View and Erwin view on the western side of the Gorge. June 2012 hike In the winter of 2013, we hiked Plunge Basin starting at the visitor center accessed off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was 27 degrees that day but the river was far from frozen.  Plunge Basin  It was a mere 19 degrees when Easy Jake and I started our hike in January of 2018.  The Parkway was closed so we parked on the western side off Kistler Highway near the village of Linville Falls.  We soon discovered that the Linville River was frozen.

Hiking about a half mile from the parking lot, we arrived at the trail to the Upper Falls overlook. There we got our first glimpse of the frozen falls of Linville Gorge.  The Linville Falls are two distinct cascades. The Upper Falls are twin cascades.  Both were nearly frozen completely.
The roar of the water that was rushing through the narrow unfrozen channel echoed throughout the woods.  A close up of one of the cascades is a beautifully crafted ice sculpture.  The cold rushing water struggled to push through the ice flow forming a small ice-less pool at the base of the cascade.
The Linville River pauses at the foot of the Upper Cascades forming a large pool.  The river is forced at this point into a narrow channel that flows around the overlook.  Here the river again freezes.  The river at this point is reduced to a large pipe size flow of rushing water slowed but not deterred by large blocks of ice.  The tubular flow of the river is forced around the rocks of the Lower Cascade.
The narrow crevices at the top of the Lower Cascade blast the water out the other side like an enormous fire hose nozzle.  We would have to wait to see the full fury of the Lower Cascade.  One has to hike down the Plunge Basin Trail to get the best view of one of the best waterfalls on the east coast. 
Leaving the Upper Cascade overlook, we proceeded down the riverside trail to the visitors' center about a mile away.  The trail followed the Linville River upstream.  Along the way we paused to take in the majestic scenery of this frozen waterway.
From the beach along the river, we could not help looking back to see the river flowing into the Upper Falls cascades.
Ice completely encased the large granite rock in the middle of the river.  It really looks like the rock is being squeezed by the ice flow.
About a mile down a wide graveled trail we arrived at the bridge at the visitors' center and crossed to the eastern side of the river.  The Plunge Basin trailhead is adjacent to the visitors' center on the parking lot side of the building.  As we crossed the bridge we got another look at the ice-covered flow.  Crossing the bridge you could feel the temperature lower as you stood over the ice.  The visitors' center is a great place to rest your dawgs, but we only paused to speak to another hiker before we set off up the Plunge Basin trail.
The Plunge Basin Trail is a typical mountain trail.  It is a bit wider and more worn than other trails in the Gorge but is a far cry from the pedestrian gravel trail that leads from the visitors' center along the western side of the river.  About a third of a mile the uphill slog crests and the trail forks.  Taking the right fork takes you to the Plunge Basin Overlook.  The left fork takes you to the river. 
We visited the overlook first and found a crowd of folks taking in the view.  But there is a good reason for this.  It may be the best view of the Lower Cascade.  We waited our turn and took a few stunning photographs.
Leaving the overlook we trudged up to the Gorge fork and proceeded down the trail to the river.  The trail is well marked and maintained and has a nice set of steps (I know I hate steps but this is the exception)  to help you navigate the steep drop off the rock wall that forms the eastern side of Plunge Basin. Easy Jake posed next to the rock wall to illustrate just how large it is.  

Not far from the rock wall, the trail descends to the river bank and the first glimpses of the frozen river can be seen.  When we emerged from the trees onto the river, we found it nearly completely frozen over.  The temperature reminded us of stepping into a meat locker.  It was easily ten degrees cooler in the gorge.  We could hear the roar of the Lower Cascade and soon was able to get our first glimpse of a truly surreal sight.  I thought I had traveled to Narnia.

Aside from a small pool of water at the base of the Lower Cascade, the entire Plunge Basin was frozen.  The ice nestled up to a projecting rock formation and prevented us from getting close to the falls as we did in 2013.  So we settled on viewing the falls and the basin from a large rock in the sitting on the eastern side of the river.  Joining us atop this river rock is was a nice lady who was hiking alone.  Her name was Dianne, and I promised to make her famous by taking her picture and putting it in the blog.  What do you think....postcard? 

We took our time on the rock and took many photographs of the Lower Cascade and the Plunge Basin.  

The ice greatly restricted the flow of the water off the rock wall that forms the Lower Cascade. Restricting the water increased the flow and created a roaring frothy blast of water from the side of the mountain in the basin.    
We left the Plunge Basin.  We had hiked 2.5 miles and decided to take in the Chimney View Overlook which is on the western side of the Gorge about a third of a mile south of the Upper Cascade Overlook.  The trek out is a steep slog but because the trail is just a mile long the steep part of the trail is only about a third of a mile.  Before we left, we took one last look at the Lower Cascade.    
Trudging up the trail to the Chimney View Overlook we followed the river downstream.  We found a creek feeding the river completely frozen over.

The trail above the Upper Cascade Overlook spur trail is deceptively steep.  It is a wide pedestrian trail that leads to the top of some steep stairs that leads to one of the more scenic overlooks in the Gorge.  From a distance, we could see the ice-covered Upper and Lower Cascades.   Some of the best pictures of the day were taken there.  We were glad we saved this overlook for last as we could see the Upper Cascade Overlook, the Plunge Basin Overlook and the river rock where we stood taking in Plunge Basin alongside the river. 
Spying our river rock, we noticed that a brave soul had ventured across the rock outcropping and did not fall into the icy river.  The river rock seemed so far away.  

We also got a great view of the Linville River flowing downstream from the falls.   
Another scenic overlook that revealed the majesty of the creation laid before us.  Easy Jake looked at me and simply said: "How can someone look at this and not believe in God?"  
What can you say about a five-mile hike in 20-degree weather?  The access was a 9....the trails were well marked and easily traveled...9... the scenery was a 10+....understand this may be a once in a lifetime scene....Effort to View ratio was perfect...on this day...this was a 10 rated hike...
The Linville Gorge never disappoints.  This day was special.  The majesty of the scenery.  The beauty of the day.  A walk in the mountains with a good friend, the world stopped and we enjoyed the moment. 

"Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and to pray in where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike."- John Muir

Monday, January 1, 2018

NEW YEAR'S DAY 2018 - Eno River State Park


For the last five years, Easy Jake has joined the Fat Bald White Guy and his Faithful Hiking Companion on the first hike of the New Year.  Until this year we hiked Linville Gorge. Seeing that temps there were in the single digits, we decided to travel eastward to the Eno River State Park.  We began the hike at 19 degrees, but ended it at a balmy 27 degrees!

We hiked the Laurel Bluff Trail in the May of 2013 and a detailed account of the trail is contained in that blog.  See:
It is an interesting trail as it meanders through the remnants of the Durham City Reservoir that served the city from 1887 - 1927.  The stone foundations of the pump buildings are along the Pump Station Trail which is a 1.5-mile loop trail that runs along with the Laurel Bluff Trail.  The trail is well marked and maintained.  Access is at the end of Rivermont Road.  The access is not marked on Cole Road as are other Eno State Park access points. Turn left off Cole Road on Rivermont.  You pretty much got to know where you are going to find it.  The trail is a moderate trail with some short climbs atop the river bluffs. In the summer the trail is adorned with magnificent mountain laurel blossoms.
Easy Jake and I climbed to the basement of the foundation of the pump house.  From there you can imagine the size of this facility. The picture below was taken in 1905. The dam that impounded 6 million gallons of water no longer exists.  We are standing in the basement of the remnants of the old pump station seen in that picture. The water from the reservoir was pumped to a 3 million gallon reservoir on the top of Huckleberry Hill 8300 feet away, where it provided gravity pressure for the city of Durham.  It was quite the engineering feat. The quality of the masonry work still remains even though the structures are long gone.
The river at the Pump Station is calm enough that on this cold morning it had a film of ice across the surface.  The ice provides a great reflection.
Near the pump station is the Nancy Rhodes Creek where there was erected a large floodgate that stands today like a castle wall. The gate created a smaller reservoir on the Nancy Rhodes Creek. This structure is often hidden in the summer by the foliage but is one of the more interesting structures left on the site.
Like a young boy, I had to climb around the "castle" wall.  My Faithful Hiking Companion took a picture of me on top of one of the walls.  
Looking at this structure, you get an understanding of the amount of masonry work that was required to construct this reservoir and its attendant facilities.  This wall has stood for over 100 years.  
Before leaving the pump station, my Faithful Hiking Companion took this picture of the Eno. We then trudged down Laurel Bluff trail.  The views of the river were nice.  The Eno River never disappoints.  Winter on the Eno was no exception. Gone was the green of summer replaced by different shades of brown and grey. The river has a few small rapids and was spotted with icy patches. It flowed with a lazy confidence knowing where it was going and not in a hurry to get there.  I am reminded of the Andrew Weyth quote:  "I prefer winter and fall when you feel the bone structure of the landscape -the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."
The trail crosses several river bluffs which in the summer are adorned with laurel.  Today with the summer foilage dormant, better views of the river were available to us.
Our destination was the remnants of an old dam just west of Guess Road.  The distance from the trailhead to this point was 3.5 miles.  At the 3.25 mark stands as a silent sentinel, a chimney.  This chimney is the in the middle of the foundation of a small cabin.  An old pump and the stone chimney is all that remains of this dwelling. It would be nice to hear the stories this old chimney would tell.  The chimney must have been constructed by the same masons that built the Nancy Rhodes Creek wall.  Looks like it is still being used by campers.  Wolfpack in da house!
Not far from the old homestead is the remnants of the dam.  It is located across the river from a rocky beach.  No doubt a nice swimming hole in the summer, but on the first day of the year, it is just a picturesque section of the Eno.  At the dam, the Eno separates to form two channels around an island.  The dam still guards one channel.  On the island is a stand of river birch trees.
As we noticed in 2013, the view downstream is stunning.
Notice the reflection of the birch trees in the lower left corner.  I could not resist trying to get a better picture of this unique reflection.
No matter the angle, the view downstream at this point is worth the 3.5-mile walk to get here. The icy film floating on the surface of the river adds interesting texture to the photo.

Leaving the rocky beach at the dam was tough but the longer we stay immobile, the colder we got!  Hiking at a brisk pace certainly made the 20-degree weather tolerable but sitting on a rock beside the river was another thing entirely.  We did not linger long at the rocky beach but greatly enjoyed it nonetheless.  Easy Jake begins his last week of work tomorrow.  He has been my banker and faithful friend. He has served the Kernersville community well. It was our pleasure to kick off his last week of work with a pleasant hike on the Eno. Happy earned it!
When in doubt, hike the Eno.  The Eno River State Park is convenient to both the Triangle and the Triad.  It offers a variety of trails for all kinds of hikers.  The river is the center of each hike and offers a different view on every trail.  I like the Laurel Bluff trail the best. It is picturesque and has a variety of bluff views of the river.  Access is better GPS the trailhead...trail is a 9...well marked and maintained... the scenery is a 9....effort to view is about right due to the length of the hike...overall 9 rated hike.