December 2, 2014
The leaves may be off the trees in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean it’s too cold for camping! We packed and readied our equipment in less than an hour, and at noon we were off, driving the three and a half hours to Linville Gorge, nearing the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina. While my fiance is an experienced camper, this would only be my third camping trip. Ever. For a self-described naturalist and environmentalist, I have spent precious few hours actually sleeping outside. Though I am perfectly comfortable hiking, wading, mudding, bushwhacking, or tramping through the woods, most of my experiences have ended with four walls and some kind of bed to sleep on. When I had camped, it was surrounded by other people camping, definitely far from true “wilderness.”
Our destination in Linville Gorge was definitely wilderness. We lost cellphone reception as we entered the dirt road leading to the hiking paths. Multiple pull-offs indicated trails, but we passed most of them. Pulling into a small lot, there was only one other car, whose inhabitants we never saw. As we began the descent down the trail, the trees gave way and I could see the mountains that surrounded us, as well as the steep incline.
When I say steep, I mean steep. Though the trail was only a mile long, it took nearly forty-five minutes to carefully pick our way down the narrow route, which was covered in leaves and dotted with rocks and boulders. Though climbing down was nerve-wracking – especially because I have never hiked with a pack before – the views were tremendous. One side of the ridge was dominated by the skeletons of hemlock trees, victims of the woolly adelgid invasion.
With a sigh of relief, I finally stepped onto flat ground. However, our camping site lay in the center of a ring of rhododendron shrubs, which, though beautiful, was also on the other side of the river. Crossing gingerly – I in rubber boots and Brian barefoot – we eased our way across, narrowly avoiding a few slips and slides that would have landed us and all our gear right in the water. As I was carrying my camera equipment, a wet plunge would have been particularly disastrous. After quickly setting up our campsite, we split off into our own activities, me with my cameras, Brian with his fly-fishing rods.
Though it was cold, we had a beautiful night at the bottom of that gorge. The stars were bright, the wind was calm, and we had the place all to ourselves. I’m looking forward to more camping opportunities in the future!