CONLEY COVE TRAIL TO COTTONTAIL FALLS
|"Study how the water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks...everything-even mountains, rivers, plants and trees - should be your teacher" Morihei Ueshiba|
What makes for a perfect day? Well, for me and my Faithful Hiking Companion, any day in Linville Gorge! But on a warm Sunday afternoon in April, we ventured down the Conley Cove Trail on the western side of the Gorge to the Linville River. The scene was idyllic. Springtime in the Gorge is a special time. It is like nature waking from a long night's sleep.
Access to the Conley Cove Trail is off the Kistler Highway on the western side of the Gorge. It is the trail that connects to Rock Jock Trail. Rock Jock is a ridge trail full of wonderful views that I have profiled twice.
The Conley Cove Trail is a 1.5 mile switchback to the river. The trail guide says it is over a 1500 foot change in elevation from the trailhead to the river...at least so say my dogs!
Spring time allowed us to see the eastern ridge peaks, something that the foliage obscures in the summer. Both Table Rock Mountain and Hawksbill Mountain were nicely framed by the colorful spring new growth on the hardwood trees of mountainside. Scars from the 2012 fire makes both peaks much more rocky in appearance.
The trail leads to the wall of a large cliff, the face of which my Faithful Hiking Companion seems to think it looks like that of a man with chubby cheeks.
The many and varied flowers and blossoms we encountered made the Fat Bald White Guy and his Faithful Hiking Companion feel a need to bone up on our botany. The tree above we think is a mountain magnolia boasting blossoms that looked like Easter adornments.
Pink azaleas seemed to be everywhere we looked, each being faithfully attended to by busy honey bees, reminding us of our Creator's perfect plan to pollinate these varied flower blossoms.
A plant we first saw on Flat Top Mountain in the Peaks of Otter and then again at Elk Knob bears a memorable name....the Red Trillium is better known as a "Stinky Benjamin"
But the most impressive of the spring flowers were the Dwarf Crested Iris that seemed to line the trail like ruffles on a fancy carpet.
But the real feature of the hike is the Linville River. Unlike the rest of the gorge, the river never sleeps. It is always moving and always changing.
Our destination for the day was our swimming hole, Cottontail Falls. I believed it to be a half mile north from Conley Cove along the Linville Gorge Trail. But first I had to step out into the river and rest my dogs.
The river is alive and sitting on a rock in the middle of its flow is both therapeutic and humbling.
After a brief rest we began our trek north along the Linville Gorge trail seeking our famous swimming hole bearing the descriptive name associated with my most read blog post - Cottontail Falls. The falls are a double plume waterfall that feeds an acre sized pond.
The Linville Gorge Trail is very rocky and at many places is a rock scramble of sorts alternating in elevation from the riverside to as much as a 100 feet above the river. But even amidst the rocks the Dwarf Crested Iris still lined the pathway. After about a half mile we emerged on a small cliff and from that vantage point got our first glimpse in nearly four years of our favorite spot in the gorge - Cottontail Falls. http://fbwg-hiking.blogspot.com/2012/08/spence-ridge-cathedral-falls-linville.html
I scrambled ahead and learned as I remembered that there is no trail to the rocky beach on the banks of the swimming hole. Though I was willing to blaze a trail, I was prevented from doing so by the fact there were several young men who were swimming on the rim of the river pond. Plus I was worn out from the rock scramble too and wanted to conserve my strength for the 1500 foot climb out. Thus I joined my Faithful Hiking Companion on the small cliff and watched the young men dive in and out of the cold mountain river. BRRR!
The hour of the day getting late, we decided to return to Conley Cove and on the way I paused to take a look at a calm stretch of the river which provided a nice reflection of the Chimneys.
Returning to Conley Cove we spied a large log serving as a bench for a large fire pit. Wanting to eat our power bar snack, we decided to sit and ponder the rest of our hike. So surrounding by a blue field of Dwarf Crested Iris blossoms, we looked at the peak of Table Rock Mountain and measured our climb out by its elevation.
We began our trudge out reminding ourselves that it was only 1.5 miles and trying not to think about the 1500+ elevation change. During our many necessary stops to allow our hearts to slow, we again were greeted by spring blossoms of the Carolina Silver Bell, a tree I mistook for a Dogwood. I think.
We finished the trek out in 90 minutes, no worse for the wear. The switchbacks made the hike bearable. But it reminded me of the fact that the Fat Bald White Guy is 45lbs lighter this spring. I am not sure I could have hiked this trail last year at this time....isn't that something to brag about!
This is really a great hike. It is a well marked and maintained trail easily accessed off Kistler Highway - 9; the scenery is good but by Gorge standards not spectacular. Springtime allowed many mountain vistas not seen in the summer - 9; the effort to view ratio may be skewed negative as this is not an easy hike and the views are less than spectacular - 8; Overall grade is a 9.
I have been cautioned by a NC Park Ranger friend about the unnecessary construction of cairns on the trails. So I am curtailing my construction of them to limit the detraction by them of the natural scenery. But when I see one I am still going to add my stone along with my prayer of thanksgiving for the beautiful world in which we live. "Cairns mark our journey. When seen ahead of us on the trail, cairns point the way. And don't we all need something or someone to point the way for us now and then?... Leaving a stone on a cairn is a way to ensure our spirit remains after we're no longer on the trail. We live on after we're gone." Nancy Sporborg