Friday, November 29, 2013

Rocky Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway


On Black Friday 2013, we decided to hike Rocky Knob....It was 35 degrees and the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed because of snow and ice.....but maneuvering around the back roads of Virginia, we found a way to get on the Parkway and get almost all the way to Rocky Knob....almost....

About two miles from the Rocky Knob Visitor center and the trail head for the Black Ridge Trail, we encountered an unmovable object...a gate across the Parkway..... with no alternate route available we were undaunted....heck we drove all this way to what if we would have to hoof it a couple miles to the trail we parked on the side of the road and started up the closed Blue Ridge Parkway.

To the our right was a large fenced cow pasture.  My trail research led me to believe that this was a part of the Rock Castle Gorge loop trail....the 11 mile Rock Castle Gorge loop trail.... but remembering that the trail ran along the ridge line to the summit of Rocky Knob, we jumped the fence....dodged some cow patties and started up the trail to the summit of  Grassy Knoll (3475')

From the summit we enjoyed a view of the surrounding countryside and spied for the first time our destination....Rocky Knob in the distance.

With the sun at our back we started down the Rock Castle Gorge Trail along the ridgeline toward Rocky Knob. 

Soon the pasture trail ended and we crossed the fence over a wooden step ladder of sorts.  It was a good place to hang my Red Sox hat while I removed my toboggan.  It may be 35 degrees but the FBWG was working up a sweat.

The trail became a ridgeline wooded trail with many nice views to the south.  I am sure in the summer these views would be obscured by the foliage but on a winter day we got an good idea of how steep the trail into the Rock Castle Gorge would be and decided that reaching the Rocky Knob summit would be our destination and not the 11 mile Gorge Loop.

The trail ran along the ridgeline for a mile or so and we came to a place with an unusual name Twelve O'clock Knob Overlook.  From this place we could see the Visitor Center and learned we were not the only folks who jumped the fence and were taking a hike in the sunny Black Friday.....we could not help but think of the poor souls waiting in line at Walmart as we gazed from the overlook at majestic Virginia Mountains. 

From the Twelve O'clock Overlook the distant blue ridge glistened in the afternoon sun.  We also got to read about the Rock Castle Gorge and agreed that someday we would take the hike.

At the Twelve O'clock Overlook, we were able to read the trail map and realized that the loop hike we envisioned could be cobbled together even though we started a mile short of the trailhead at the visitor off we trudged up a narrow, snowy, rocky ridgeline trail toward the summit of what we thought was Rocky Knob.....along the way we marveled at more views of the Rock Castle Gorge.

As we trudged up the summit of what we thought was Rocky Knob we were reminded of our trek to Mount Rogers.  The trail was rocky and narrow....and when you reach the top of one ridge, you learn that there is another that you must climb to get to your destination.....the first ridge was okay but dang the second one was so steep that we knew it had to be Rocky Knob....but when we got to the top we saw yet another ridge we had to climb.

The summit of Rocky Knob is 3572'.....and just below the ridge top is a shelter similar to that we saw at Mt Rogers and at Bluff Mountain.

The Shelter was 2.57 miles from where we started the hike but we agreed that the .4 mile summit of Rocky Knob was much more difficult than we imaged...duh....walking in leaves and snow is sorta like hiking in sand....we welcomed the break in the shelter....and seeing that everyone else had carved their initials, the FBWG had to leave his mark as well.

We decided to take the trail to the picnic area and linked up with the Picnic Loop and soon found ourselves at the Visitors Center where our original destination the trail head of Black Ridge Loop trail.   Seeing the ominous sign, we knew we need to get a move on as we did not want to meet Yogi or Boo Boo.

Leaving the Visitors Center, we plunged into the woods and being that the trails were on the northern side of the ridgeline found ourselves hiking along an increasingly snowy path.

Just as we saw on Basin Cove and Laurel Bluff there was evidence on the trail of an old homestead.  Looking at the size of this chimney it appeared that this was a pretty large dwelling.

Leaving the homestead the trail merged with a fire road.  It was icy and slick and steeper than we appreciated.

From the top of the fire road we emerged onto Black Ridge and during frequent rest breaks captured some nice views of the mountains to the north.

The fire road turned into a farm road as it ran along the border of the Park with a neighboring cow pasture.  Near the end of the trail we passed a dilapidated shed and I captured a nice window view from an opening the wooden slats.

We found our way back to the parkway as the Black Ridge trail crossed the road about the same spot as we jumped the cow pasture fence to begin our hike.  Before we turned to walk down the road I turned and snapped a picture of Rocky Knob to remind me just how far we had trudged.

This was a 5.5 mile loop which we constructed just by chance.  It turned out to be exactly the hike I had planned to walk but from the trail head at the Visitors Center.  It was a great winter day and the scenery was much better than I had imagined.  Access is an 8 only because the Parkway was closed and we had to sneak around to get in.....the trail was an 8....well marked and maintained....scenery was an 8.....Overall a solid 8.....great loop even if it is not marked as such on the map...I believe the fall views along this hike would rival any on the Blue Ridge.....we gonna come back for sure

On the way out we stopped by a sight we observed on the way in.  About a half mile north of Mabry Mill, there is a rock wall about 50 yards in length and 30 feet or more high.  From this wall water from mountain springs flow...during the recent wet weather the wall was turned into a sheet of ice adorned with icicles some over a foot in length......quite a sight

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Linville Falls - Plunge Basin

PLUNGE BASIN at Linville Falls

So it is a cold Sunday morning....a day that most folks just lounge around the house and watch football...but my hiking companion suggested that we go for a 22 degree mountain cold...down to the foot of the Linville Falls.   Well what is a Fat Bald White Guy to do....if there is a better two mile hike in North Carolina....I have yet to find it!

On our first trip to the Linville Falls(, we observed from the safety of the Chimney Overlook a number of folks scampering along the rocks at the base of the lower falls.  It intrigued me as to how they got there....but since Linville Falls is the most popular feature of the Linville Gorge....and the FBWG is not into social hiking, we stayed way from this picturesque place until we found a 22 degree day to go hike the Plunge Basin Trail!.... and we had the trail to ourselves! duh!

You pick up the Plunge Basin Trail on the left side of the Linville Falls visitor center... which is right off the Blue Ridge Parkway....real easy access...the trail is wide and well marked and is adorned with rhododendrons.  I bet the place is an amazing sight when they are blooming. 

 The trail to the base of the falls is 3/4 of a mile from the parking lot but the Plunge Basin Overlook is 1/2 mile from the lot.  We decided to visit the overlook first and taking the right fork we trudged down to a nice stone walled overlook.
If you have read my updated blog entry on the Linville Falls, you recognize the topography.  On the western side of the river you can view the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls from overlooks off the trails.   The best view coming from the Chimney Overlook. The Plunge Basin Overlook is on the eastern side of the river halfway between the Lower Falls and the Chimney.  It provides a great view of the Lower Falls.
Looking at the fury of the water plunging through the narrow channel you realize that the entire Linville River is being forced into a channel not 20 feet wide.....and it then explodes out of the Lower Falls into the Plunge Basin.

Looking across the basin we can see the Chimney Overlook and spy a couple looking down on the falls.  Funny thing is I never noticed the Plunge Basin Overlook when I was at the Chimney Overlook.

If you are not into a strenuous but short hike, then make the Plunge Basin Overlook you destination as it is a pretty easy out and back one miler...but if you want to experience one of the neatest places in the entire state of North Carolina....trudge down the Plunge Basin Trail....
it is steep and rugged but not a long trail, so with patience most folks can make the trek.

About halfway down the trail you encounter some steps that are much sturdier than they look.  The trail fish hooks at the bottom of the steps and I was surprised to see that we were at the base of the stone face of the ridge we just descended.  At the base of the wall I looked up and took a neat picture of the vertical wall adorned with a pine tree.

Leaving the rock wall, the trail meanders over and around boulders and roots toward the roar of the you get the first glimpse of the river you encounter a fork in the trail referenced with rocks that look like ice cubes....take the right fork for the quickest route the falls.

The trail leads to a sandy rock beach and if you are timid this is the closest you will get to the falls....but if you are like the FBWG you will rock scamper for a closer view!

We found a path over some rocks and across some eddies and with some creative scrambling we found ourselves close enough to experience a temperature drop and feel the spray of the Lower Falls.

The Linville Gorge forms a "U" at the spot where the Linville River flows over the rock wall forming the Linville Falls.  The canyon walls at this point are a couple of hundred feet high or more.

As we got closer to the falls we were in awe of the power and majesty of this wonderful creation of God's handiwork.  Having seen the falls from a distance did not prepare us for the power of the water flowing off the rocky mountain wall into the calm waters of the Plunge Basin.

Of course we erected a cairn at this spot, it would be sacrilegious not to pause and give thanks for such a magnificently beautiful site.

Leaving the falls were tough but the sun was sinking fast over the western ridge.  As we left we took time to look at the river as it flowed with amazing calmness away from the falls.

Leaving the basin I took a couple of pictures of some of the more distinctive rock formations which stood as silent sentinels to the flowing river.
The trail out is steep and strenuous but it really was not a bad hike as the distance is so short. We took our time and as we reached the top of the ridge we decided  to take an intersecting trail to see the Duggers Creek Falls. 

The trail runs parallel to the parking lot along a fire road then to a nice bridge over Duggers Creek.  From the middle of the bridge you can see Duggers Creek Falls.

This is one of the best hikes in North Carolina.  It is short and moderately strenuous but the payoff is worth the extra effort. I cannot fully explain the power of the Lower Falls as the water cascades off the rock cliffs into the Plunge Basin.  You can view the falls from many other places but until you stand at the base you have not experienced the Linville Falls.  Access is a 9; trails are a 9; scenery is a 10....overall this a 9+ trail....and if you take the trip when it is 22 degrees, you will have the trail to yourself!