Sunday, August 2, 2015

Linville Gorge - North Carolina Wall/Chimneys


On a previous trip to the Chimneys we ventured down a trail which I mistakenly thought led to the we turned around... but when I researched the trail I determined it was the Mossy Monster Trail to the North Carolina Wall.  We returned on the first day of August to correct that mistake.
To get to the North Carolina Wall, you find the trail head for the Chimneys in the Table Rock picnic area and hike through the Chimneys, then down the Mossy Monster to the cliff tops looming large above the Gorge.  The real treat to this hike is the scenic overload the trail gives of the Gorge and the surrounding countryside.

From the cliffs at the start of the trail, views of both Table Rock and Little Table Rock were enjoyed. The distant Grandfather Mountain was a blue shadow in the distance.  The Mountain to Sea trail is a ridge line trail through the Chimneys.  From this trail are numerous side trails from which many varied views of Table Rock and surrounding mountains can be enjoyed.

The MST offers similar views of the western rim of the Gorge and the distant Black Mountains.

This area of the Gorge suffered greatly from the 2013 Forest Fire, and while the mountain foliage is returning, evidence of the fire is everywhere.  There are charred trees to remind us of the ferocity of the fire and new growth to remind us of the regenerative qualities of nature.

This area of the gorge is aptly named.  Rock Chimneys are everywhere.  Photographs struggle to show the 3D depth of the various rock formations that seem to spring up from the mountainside.

I know many of the formations have names as I am sure this one does....but for me...this is God's Cairn.
This looks like an enormous trail cairn with rocks stacked in a way that seems to defy Newton's laws of gravity.

This area is a popular place for all kinds of rock climbing and rappelling.  On this trip we found a couple climbing a 150 foot rock wall and they were nice enough to let the FBWG take a picture.  Memo to file....this is something neither the FBWG nor his Faithful Hiking Companion should try!
Eventually we made it to the southern side of the Chimneys.  The MST begins a gradual descent to the Chimney Gap area between the Chimneys and Shortoff Mountain.  To the right the Mossy Monster trail begins at the base of a tree marked with the white circle MST blaze.  There was also a cairn marking the trail.

The Mossy Monster trail was very narrow and overgrown but the fire damaged landscape opened up some new vistas of the southern end of the Gorge as we rumbled down the trail.  Not having visited this area before the fire, I have no frame of reference to the extent of the damage, but I have to assume that the fire transformed the area significantly.

Tangled undergrowth replaced the shade of towering trees and there were burned logs at every step.  The trail leads to the rock cliffs overlooking the North Carolina Wall and as we arrived at this destination, we saw that the trail disappeared.
Climbing out on the first cliff we saw, we viewed the first of many stunning views of the north end of the Gorge and the Linville River snaking below.  A cool breeze masked the 83 degree weather and a gentle roar of the river made this an idyllic place to pause and rest our dogs.

Little Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain peaked about a distinctive chimney which I have photographed  from the other side many times before.   Looking around for a trail to cliffs, we found none.  The fire had obliterated any formal trail. On occasion we found remnants of former trails but for the most part, the rest of the hike on the Cliffs were a hardy rock scramble which resulted in several Gorge Tattoos.  But the views obtained from these scrambles were some of the best I have seen in my years hiking the Gorge.
Getting a view of the length of the Gorge to the south proved more difficult. It seemed that at every cliff I scrambled to, there was a tree obstructing my view of the distinctive Shortoff plateau.  So I finally gave up and leaning out got this picture of the southern end of the Gorge. 

The clear day allowed us to see the blue outline of the distant Black Mountains and Mt. Mitchell.  It was a splendid day to photograph the Gorge!  My Faithful Hiking Companion pointed out a distinctive rock indention which looked liked the entrance to a tomb....hmmm? 
"There is a sanctuary with the beauty of being alone in nature" so says Jonathan Lockwood Huie.  My Faithful Hiking Companion and I could not agree we reconstructed this cairn, I silently thanked Our Creator for the glory of all that surrounded me.
If you make this hike, make sure you visually mark the Mossy Monster Trail.  It is very hard to pick up on the way out.  Also be prepared to rock scramble and trail blaze across a very course rocky mountainside.  Still the views are worth every scratch.  

The combination of the hot day and the steepness of the scramble made the hike back to the MST less than enjoyable but thankfully it was not a very long climb.  Getting back to the MST, we found a shady campsite and took our protein bar lunch.  And of course...took some more pictures.

The hike out allowed me to catch some views that I missed on the way in.  I have photographed Table Rock Mountain from every angle and this part of the MST offers the very best views of the Grande Dame of the Gorge.

We also got another glimpse of God's Cairn. And three Falcons buzzed us a couple of times providing a real treat.  There are still many side trails I would like to hike and views that I have not seen along the MST through the Chimneys but it was hot and we were tired so we called it a day

The hike is a great 4.5 miler with a view worth the hike at every turn.  If you don't venture to the North Carolina Wall it is an easy hike...adding the trip down the Mossy Monster makes it a bit more challenging but the views are worth every scratch.

 Rating the hike is easy....access via Table Rock Parking Lot is a 9....we even saw a bear cub on the way up!....the MST is a 9 but the Mossy Monster and the lack of trail on the NC Wall is a 7....

The views are 10....not any better in the Gorge...the effort to view is about right if you venture to the Wall...the Chimneys are an easy hike for great views....overall a solid 9 hike....

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