Sunday, July 14, 2013

Linville Gorge - Rock Jock

ROCK JOCK TRAIL in the Linville Gorge

Returning at long last to my beloved Linville Gorge....we ventured for the first time to the western side and decided to hike the scenic Rock Jock Trail...don't you love that name?!  To get there we took NC 181 to NC 183....and turned on to the Kistler Memorial Highway, NC 105....a gravel highway across the western ridge of the Gorge.

At the northern entry to the "highway" there is an information cabin manned by some of the nicest people in the mountain.  There you can see a nice large map of the Linville Gorge, buy souvenirs and get some good information on the weather.

Speaking of hiking companion listened to Ed Matthews of News 2....I checked out the weather on my Weather Channel app on my I Phone.....I expected the rain to end, and the skies clear for a late afternoon hike up Rock Jock trail.   My hiking companion told me confidently that Ed Matthews said it would not clear until sometime after 5 pm.... of course she was right!

The Rock Jock trail is a ridge trail on the western side of the Gorge much like the Jonas Ridge trail is on the eastern side.  I am led to believe that the trail is but a remnant of a once larger trail that once connected Wiseman's View to the Pinchin Trail which was displaced by a forest fire in 2007.  The trail showed the new regrowth of nature replenishing the forest with greenery.   We accessed the trail at the Conley Cove Trail Head.  Meeting a hiker coming up from Conley Cove on the Linville River, we discovered that the frequent rains had made all the trails to the river cascades of water.  A point we would learn on our on accord as we took the drier Rock Jock Trail.

The clouds streaming up the Gorge from the south obscured the peaks of the all too familiar mountains to the east.  Still we were awed by the views all along the trail.  Many side trails led us to rock outcroppings which provided stunning view of the river below.

The trees are much smaller in stature on the ridges on the western side of the Gorge.  All along the trail are opportunities to view the Gorge from Hawksbill Mountain in the north to Shortoff Mountain to the south.  I cannot wait to return on a clear day.  Nevertheless the views from the trail did not disappoint us.  For as I topped a small ridge, I looked back toward the cliffs we had just left and spied the first of many waterfalls of the day.  This one coming from the side of the mountain and plunging hundreds of feet to the forest floor.

About a 8/10ths of a mile, the trail led to a magnificent cliff, known as Hackers Point. I photographed this cliff from the adjoining ridge.  I did not know then I would soon be standing on the edge of this cliff enjoying the view. From this location we took a break and took in various views of the Linville Gorge.

Looking north we got a look at the northern end of the gorge near Devil's Cliff.

The river is very brown and even from this distance I could tell that it was swiftly moving and riding high in its banks.

Across the gorge from Hackers Point is the North Carolina Wall which was obscured by clouds.  Still we occasionally got a glimpse of the ridges and the lush green foliage.

Though we were disappointed that we could not see the peaks of the eastern side of the Gorge, the views of low hanging clouds over the mountain ridges offered some impressively changing views of the Gorge that you do not get to see on a clear day.

As we left the Hackers Point, we took the first trail we saw expecting it to be the Rock Jock Trail...and for awhile that is what we thought.
It was an easy trail crossing a ridge with some nice wildflowers adorning our path.

I rebuilt a trail cairn on a log....only to find a larger cairn just a few feet down the trail.  As is my custom on the trail, each rock I place is my prayer of thanksgiving for an amazing creation of nature which we are enjoying...and my own personal prayer for forgiveness for taking God's creation and presence in my life for granted.
As we continued down the trail, my hiking companion began to speculate that we were no longer on the Rock Jock Trail as she believed it to be on the ridge above the trail we were walking.  Not to worry I replied, a trail map on Linville Gorge. net which I reviewed showed a loop and we were probably on the lower portion of the loop.  As we continued on, the roar of the various streams flowing from the mountain got distinctly louder....perhaps a waterfall, I suggested?

It soon became apparent that the trail was leading us beneath a rocky cliff.  The entire mountain seemed to be weeping.  Everywhere we looked was a new waterfall.  The trail was turning into a canal and it became easier just to walk in the water rather than around it.....

As we slogged along the trail the roar of the rushing water became much louder and soon we found ourselves standing beneath one of the neatest waterfalls I have ever seen.  I think it is called BlueJay Falls.

The water was flowing from the top of a rock face some 25 feet high and extending at least 80 feet in length. Various smaller waterfalls flowed across this stone edifice but in the middle was one large waterfall.

We splashed around in the falls laughing like little kids playing in a creek.  We were soaked from head to toe but did not mind one bit because there is just something about waterfalls that make the rest of the world just disappear.

We left the falls hoping for a drier trail and for a little while it seemed that we were trudging up the mountain along an established trail.  Then a familiar roar got louder and we found that the trail up the mountain was along a rocky slope which had become for all intents and purposes a waterfall!.... Now I have never climbed up a waterfall and made it about half way when it began to rain.  Prudence got the best of me, realizing that we could climb up the rocky falls coming down in a driving rain storm might prove a bit more adventurous than the FBWG could handle.  So we turned around and hiked back out in a downpour.

The Rock Jock Trail may be one of the best trails in the Gorge on a clear day....we can't wait to return.  The Waterfall is a real treat well worth the effort to get there to enjoy..... So access is 8....great parking off Kistler Highway....trails are a 7 today...too wet...too slippery.....scenery is an 8 for today...but I expect it could be at least a 9 on a clear day....overall ranking is a solid 8

Since the day was early, we decided to see where the Kistler Highway would end up as we drove south....along the way clouds obscured the views until we got to the southern end of the Gorge, then we got a couple of great view of Lake James
Another view from this overlook was the valley and the distant South Mountains.

The final overlook gave a look at Shortoff Mountain peaking out from the clouds.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Eno River State Park - Holden Mill Trail

HOLDEN MILL TRAIL at Eno River State Park

Rain in the Blue Ridge kept us in the flat lands and we returned to an old favorite, the Eno River State Park. We hiked the Holden Mill Trail and the Buckquarter Creek Trail. It was a hot 87 degree day, but we turned in a nice five mile workout along one the State's oldest rivers.

The Eno River State Park is laid out in two sections.  We first visited the Eastern Section in December and hiked the trails on the western side of the river.  Today we chose to return to hike the eastern trails and the Holden Mill Trail seemed most inviting. To access this part of the park, you travel on Pleasant Green Road off US 70 and park in the first parking lot. A short trail takes you from the parking lot to Fews Ford where you encounter the trail head sign for Buckquarter Creek Trail. 

During our first visit to Eno River State Park, we spotted the elusive "red heeled Badunkadunk" at this site. It is a nice small series of falls which is located a few hundred yards north of Fews Ford.
If you make it to the falls, you have missed the Buckquarter Creek Loop Trail.  It is on the right just before you climb the steps leading to the falls. If you intend to combine the  Buckquarter Creek with the Holden Mill Loop you will need to take this trail or else will as we did hike an extra half mile to get back to Holden Mill trail head.

Along the trail we encountered some of nature's most unusual creatures, the beautiful butterfly and the river turtle.

Butterflies were more numerous than turtles but they were much harder to photograph.  The turtles were sunbathing at various locations on the river.  Often rocks had several turtles crowded on top catching some rays.  But we soon encountered these "bumps on a log".

My favorite turtle was the one we saw on the way out who was "planking" on a rock!

The Buckquarter Creek Trail intersects with the Holden Mill Creek Trail at a bridge over Buckquarter Creek.  If you hike it correctly the bridge will be on the right...we did not so we continued past the bridge and followed a trail through the woods up on the ridge above the river.
For some reason the Buckquarter Creek Trail was terminated and redirected to the loop back to the river. It you look at the map, there is a lot more to the Buckquarter Creek Trail than the park allowed us to access.  This hike introduced us to the surprisingly steep part of the Eno River Trails, not mountain steep mind you but steep enough for the Fat Bald White Guy on an 87 degree day!

Returning to the river path and retracing our steps we arrived again at the bridge over Buckquarter Creek and began our hike of the Holden Mill Loop.  We took the loop to the right and encountered a lush forest path that soon turned into a steep .45 mile climb....well steep for a FBWG on an 87 degree day.

When you hike the Eno River State Park you are reminded of the rich history of the land now reclaimed by forest.  This section of the park is no different.  The Holden Mill Trail takes you to the remnants of an old mill.  While there is just a stone foundation that is all that is left of the old mill, the advertisement tells a tale of a once vibrant part of the rural Orange County community.

The remnants of the mill is a large rock foundation and what looks like portions of a dam that redirected the Eno River to the mill site.

The river narrows at the mill site.  When we observed this site from the other side of the river I thought it to be a bridge abutment or a ford. 

The trip back was along the river bank and parts of the trail were over large river rocks which created a scramble of sorts but provided great views of the Eno.

I climbed out on a rock in the middle of the river to take a picture and found the way out was easier than the way back.

 There was a nice rock beach that attracted sunbathers.....thank goodness they kept their clothes on....the guy with a beard gave me pause though as I saw him without a shirt and was momentarily confused.

The Eno River State Park did not disappoint us.  The eastern trails are just as varied and interesting as their sister trails to the west.  This hike is much more enjoyable in December than in July.   But anytime you can play in the Eno is a good day!

The trails are an 8....the views are a 7.....access is a 9.  Great hike on a hot July day...Overall grade is an 8.
My hiking companion found a frog on the trail and since I did not step on it, I thought I would make him famous.  She named him Franz Frog