Backpacking the Linville Gorge

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For my 26th birthday this year, we decided to re-acquaint ourselves with nature and take on the Linville Gorge in western NC. Chad and I started stocking up on camping gear in July and did not stop until October (we could stock REI at this point.) We got everything from water purifiers to bear bells and even a camping knife that could double as a spear if need be. We were set. We even called the District Ranger (828) 652-2144 to make sure that we did not need a permit and also to let them know we were going to be there. Chad had programmed the GPS with the 7 mile hike we ambitiously mapped out and I had the old-fashioned map just in case. Here are some things we packed with us that came in handy and might come in handy for you as you embark on your Linville adventure:

* A handheld GPS is a MUST (as you will read later in this post) ours was pretty basic and worked like a charm.

* A waterproof map of where you are hiking. The GPS was terrific but the map saved us on more times than we’d like to admit.

* A water purifier – we used the Katydin and it successfully filtered water and it tasted just fine (and there were no side effects)

* Insect repellent

* If you bring your pup, a bear bell and a pack is great for their food.

* Odorless bags to keep the bears away.

* An excellent camera, because it is absolutely beautiful.

We had no idea what we were getting into. We started off on a pretty well marked trail, it was apparent that it got a lot of traffic and Moses was doing a good job of keeping up.

At some point, we took a wrong turn and ended up and the bottom of a ledge that we should have been on top of with no trail in front… or behind us. I am typically a level-headed person but the anxiety of being lost in the middle of the “grand canyon of the east” got the best of me.

Using the GPS, we backtracked and made it to the top of the ledge which was absolutely beautiful and well worth the trek. Our adventure was far from over. We did our best to find the next trail and we ended up rock-jumping down the side of a massive cliff for at least an hour. Moe fell a couple times and I am pretty positive that his backpack saved his ribs at one point. We were doing pretty well – the forest was absolutely gorgeous and there were tiny waterfalls and rock climbing spots all over the place. The GPS said we were on the right track but I couldn’t shake the fact that we hadn’t actually been on a “trail” for several hours. Bushwhacking would be putting it lightly. We finally found a clearing with multiple cairns all over the place so we knew people had been there before and were marking the trail. We found a cozy spot, filtered some water for us and the dog and took a minute to re-assess the situation. By that time it was about 3pm and we knew that we weren’t going to make it to our final destination before sunset. We decided to start looking for a fire ring where we could set up camp. It was then that we realized that Moses had managed to cover himself in some type of poo and he was just as happy as can be. He didn’t seem to mind at all and he probably loved it but he smelled like death and I kept thinking about how awesome it was going to be, sharing a tent with my poo-covered dog. We had passed piles of bear poo along the way and I wasn’t sure whether Moe would attract or repel the bears but we made it out of the gorge sans bear attack. It was probably the bell.

Our massive packs were getting the best of us and our legs felt like jelly for the last hour or so of our hike. Despite hiking all spring and running all summer, we were not ready for this. Next time, we’ll do the stair-master with our packs on… that should do the trick.

We got turned around a couple times and had to backtrack but some angel from heaven had marked a trail with blue string so we followed it and the GPS as best we could. I am pretty sure that Chad could tell that my heart was going to beat out of my chest because of my nerves. I hate anxiety and I hate being nervous but I could not control it. This makes me sound like a huge wimp but I almost cried a time or two and I had to just sit, take a couple deep breaths and relax for a second. Around 4pm we found a place to sit and calm my nerves and when we got up to keep trekking, we realized that we were only about 10 feet from the perfect campsite.

We quickly set up the tent, filtered tons of water and made a bag of dehydrated chicken and rice for our snack. It was the most amazing chicken and rice I have ever had. Chad set up a tarp for some shelter and we set up a a fire in the fire ring.

There was even a small creek beside us and Moses made it his bathtub (thank God!) and most of the poo had washed right off.

I will never forget the feeling that came over me when I finally had a chance to get in the tent and lay down on my sleeping bag. I was so relieved. I was safe and hidden from nature for a short span of time and it was fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, I love nature and I absolutely loved this adventure we were on but I breathed a little easier and my heart didn’t race as fast while I was in that tent.

While Moe explored the area, Chad and I made more food and determined that dehydrated beef stroganoff is horrible… to the beef’s defense, I think I put too much water in the bag before it was ready. I was a freak about our odor-proof plastic bags and I made sure that everything was sealed tightly and Chad put everything in a big bag that he hung from a nearby tree so that the bears wouldn’t be attracted to our campsite.

Around 5pm, before the sun had even set, we were in bed. Without hesitation, Chad was out within 5 minutes. I was able to fall asleep for a couple hours until Moe started growling at every little thing. We were in the middle of the woods and he was growling at every chirp, tree branch and random sound he heard. This is what woke me up and I immediately came to the conclusion that Moe was growling at a bear or axe-murderer that might be near our tent. I laid there with my poo-dog and sleeping husband and every single scary movie that I had ever seen had crossed my mind. All of those x-files episodes came back mixed in with scenes from Lost and I was beside myself with horrible “what-if’s.” Even the silhouette of the trees in the moonlight across our tent was freaking me out. I finally manned-up and fell asleep for a few hours before the sun came up and it was time to light another fire. We survived.

Instant coffee saved the morning. We filtered and boiled a ton of water from the creek and made some dehydrated eggs and bacon.

The first few bites were amazing but it did not take long for the aftertaste to kick in and it just didn’t work out for either of us.

We decided to eat our remaining clif-bars instead to give us enough energy to get back to the car. We broke down camp and used the GPS and map to determine how to get back to the car. We knew we would not be going back the same way so we figured out that the trail we were looking for was on the other side of our creek.

We were so happy to finally be on a well-traveled trail and on our way home that we could barely contain it.

Even Moe was pumped. The trail took us to the road and we took the road for a couple miles until we spotted our car. I think the last time I was that happy was my wedding day.

Here are some tips from one “tenderfoot” to another:

* DO NOT OVER PACK!! I certainly did, we used half of the food we thought we would need and could have used that space in my pack for other things.

* Make sure you have a high quality sleeping mat, this is one thing you should splurge on and REI has great ones that are affordable.

* Hit the gym before you take on this challenge (especially the stair-master)

* Bring instant coffee even if you don’t drink coffee, Starbucks just came out with some fabulous ones.

* Again with the camera – you will be mad if you forget one because the Linville Gorge is just crazy beautiful.

* An excellent hiking partner.

* Don’t forget the most important part of your trip, leave no trace or even better, leave a negative trace! Remember to follow park guidelines and leave with the same amount that you came in with… or more.

* Lastly, tell family members and friends where you are going and what trails you plan on taking so they know where to look in the even that something happens. You can never be too safe.

We figured out that we had made it about half way through our hike so we are going to go back and pick up where we left off next spring. It was such an amazing experience and Chad is THE BEST hiking partner ever. Moses got the best deep-cleaning he had ever had and then slept for the next 5 days and we still have not unpacked our backpacks. Yuck, I know. Thanks for the adventure Linville Gorge!

Original Article by Samantha can be found at: http://www.theskinnypants.com/linville-gorge-adventure