Linville gorge wilderness sunset
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Linville Gorge Wilderness Overnight Trip

Happy Thursday Everyone! I used this past Labor Day weekend for friends and camping. Both of which were very necessary. On Saturday morning my best friend came into town and we got to catch up until around 10 am on Sunday when she headed out to stay with a different friend over in Durham.

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I had packed my backpacks the day before and was really to head out an hour later. At least I thought I was. I went to double check that I had my food for the next 24 hours and for whatever reason I just couldn’t find it anywhere in my pack. I spent the next 20 minutes tearing my room apart only to check the top compartment of my backpack one more time, and of course that’s exactly where it was; hidden under my hat and gloves (I always keep a pair in there just in case it’s cold at the summit). After finding my food I wrote down my itinerary on the kitchen whiteboard for my roommate, downloaded the trail maps and directions and got in my car.

With everything in check I made a quick stop at REI and Harris Teeter to pick up an overnight meal, some instant coffee, and a couple of other things. I completely spaced on the fact that REI was having their Labor Day sale and ended up leaving with a little more than I intended to, but honestly that’s actually pretty standard, and the reason I try not to go to REI unless I absolutely have to! Anyone else have this problem?

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My plan was to hike Table Rock and then Hawksbill, camp up there overnight and pack out in the morning and head to Linville Gorge to see the falls before I headed back to Charlotte to get ready for the week. I’ve wanted to do these hikes for a while, but they’re really short, so I haven’t felt like I could justify driving 4 hours round trip for a hike that was going to take me literally less than an hour. Camping overnight and picking 2 mountains within five miles of each other was the perfect solution for me.

I decided I was going to do an overnight last week, did a quick google search and planned it out. What I didn’t consider is how I was going to feel about it. As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to feel like I’m capable of everything, so the idea of backpacking alone didn’t faze me. After all, I’ve backpacked with friends before (LINK) so why would this be all that different? On my drive over though I realized that I was feeling really nervous. I didn’t think I would, and it was odd having to admit to myself that even though I was excited I was also apprehensive. What if I wasn’t good enough to handle this. Or worse, what if I was boring and 24 hours completely by myself made me realize that?

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I got to the Table Rock trail head around 3 and headed straight up. While this was the shorted hike I did, it was also the more technical. When I had read that it was best used from May to September I could see why. While it’s only 1 mile to the summit about 35% of this climb is rock, making it the perfect candidate for an icy climb come winter.

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I got to the top about 20 minutes later and was greeted with such an insanely breathtaking view what I just found myself saying out loud to no one in particular “Holy shit… I can’t believe I live here.” I uttered this phrase probably 16 more times over the course of the next 12 hours, because half a year ago I was still living in Vermont feeling like my life had been on pause since I had graduated in May and just desperately wanting to feel like I was moving forwards.

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Now I hike and backpack, take myself on adventures, and live 8 states south of home in a state that’s starting to feel like home itself. What I didn’t know if that this was pretty much the only time I was going to be alone on my entire adventure because from here I just started meeting everyone. There was a woman and her son trying to get a selfie so I offered to take their picture. They were so sweet and kindly returned the favor which was great because I typically get my photos by propping my phone against my backpack and then screen-shoting a time lapse I record. It’s not a great system, but it’s what I’m working with (anyone have any tripod recommendations?)

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We chatted for a while and then I went to walk around the rest of the summit and explore. When I headed towards the other side of the summit I noticed that there was a cool breeze settling over the mountain as well as a storm heading our way. I had been wary from the beginning because on my way up I could hear thunder in the distance, but forecasts had said partly cloudy, and I was already there. While the storm was pretty far off I didn’t want to push my luck and stay on Table Rock too long because I still had to get up Hawksbill and set up camp before sunset and now potentially before the rain blew through.

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When I went to head down I realized that I had taken a wrong turn. There was a guy sitting below and I called out to him to ask if this was the way down.

“… it’s a way down.” He responded while I realized that he was a climber and thusly not wrong in his assessment, but that it wasn’t the way I would be taking. “You’re welcome to come sit and enjoy the view if you want!” he said. I told him I was apprehensive about the rain and he said that he didn’t think it would get here for a while, if at all. I sat with him and we chatted while his friend on the other end of the rope climbed up.

When he got to the top we continued to chat and ended up descending the mountain together. They were really nice guys and told me all about how they were from Ohio and just visiting for the long weekend because they heard the climbing out here was great. When we got to the trailhead we said our goodbyes and I hopped into my car to get to the Hawksbill trailhead. It was around 6:30 at this point, which meant that I had an hour and a half to get to my new trail, summit, and set up camp before sunset at 8:00.

I forgot that even though I only had to drive a couple of miles the road was so gravely and filled with near constant twists and turns that it took my much longer than a regular drive would have been. As well, I felt car sick. I can only think of 3 times in my life off the top of my head that I’ve been carsick, so if you’re prone to it make sure that you plan accordingly!

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I knew I was doing two different hikes, so I packed a day pack for my first, and my overnight pack for Hawksbill. When I got to the parking area I swapped out packs and hit the trail. Usually I like to hike without music and really be in my thoughts, but with the time crunch I was looking at I needed a little kick to keep me moving, so I plugged in and absolutely hauled ass up the mountain.

I ended up summiting with plenty of time to spare and found a little clearing with a tent already set up and a boy across the way setting up his hammock.

“Hey! Is this the camping area?” I called out. The boys told me that this was one of them, and that there was another one a little way off, but that there was a group of about 6 people already set up there. I asked them if they wouldn’t mind if I pitched my tent with them and they kindly told me I was more than welcome to do so.

“So, are you camping with anyone else?” Corey- one of the guys- questioned. When I told them it was just me I got the same response I had been getting all day when asked if I was alone. Some general shock and possibly a little bit of awe. I’m not totally sure if it’s because I’m female, still relatively young, or what, but I was consistently met with shock when I told people that I was alone.

Here’s the thing though, hiking alone has never really felt scary to me. I’m prepared, and here’s how:

  • I leave an itinerary of where I’ll be and an ETA of when I’ll be contacting my roommates, family, and friends
  • I download trail maps ahead of time, so I always know where I am
  • I bring a charging pack for my phone just in case
  • I’m honestly so much more likely to be abducted on the streets than I am in the mountains
  • I carry pepper spray and a knife with me on my hip belt at all times (this is for my dad’s peace of mind more than mine)
  • The trails I hike are popular, moderately trafficked trails

So when you break it down into that many factors going for me there’s just nothing to worry about. At some point I’d like to get wilderness first aid certified; but even without that I’m always on moderately trafficked trails. More so, I genuinely believe that the people who head out the hike and camp are all out there for the same reason. We want to get out there to connect with ourselves, others, and nature. At the end of it all I believe that we’re all just searching for connection; getting into the mountains is a good way to do it.

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After camp was set up I went to go watch the sunset by myself. I took some photos and tried to capture what I was seeing, but there was no way I was ever going to accurately capture what I was seeing, so I put my phone away and just sat in the moment. Sitting quietly with the sun setting and the panoramic view of the mountains around me made me feel so incredibly comfortable. Getting to sit in the moment and seeing the sun go down while all of a sudden, the noise of the nocturnal animals came to life almost as if a switch had quite literally been flipped.

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As I was getting hungry for dinner I saw a light start flickering from a mountain across the gorge. Of the little Morse code, I know I could tell that it wasn’t SOS, but that was all I knew.

I remembered Corey telling me he and Jacob were in the military, so I scrambled up the rocks to find them and see if they knew what the message was.

When I got to them they asked me if I knew what was being said, unfortunately, we never did figure out what the message was. It did Segway into us joking about the light belonging to some guy who had gotten lost in the woods and just made his life there. And that the light was really just a lantern he was moving a blanket in front of really quickly. Typing it out doesn’t do it justice, but we riffed on this for around half an hour.

I made dinner with my Jetboil while we sat on the rocks and chatted. Once the sun was completely gone we headed back to camp from the rock outcrop about 100 feet from where we were set up. Dinner consisted of a veggie chili I had picked up from REI with some turkey jerky mixed in. It tasted good, and I liked that the turkey kind of rehydrated when I mixed it in, but I can’t say that I would recommend this specific brand. I’ll do a review at some point and a little more research on the brand before I write it off, but this really upset my stomach and I felt like I was bloated but also with some almost stabbing pains going on, so that kind of put a damper on things.

We built a fire and just sat around talking. I was really pleasantly surprised to see the starts peeking out from the clouds sometime around 9 pm so I laid back and looked at them while we chatted. I think the cool thing about talking to relative strangers is that you can talk about anything from your guilty pleasure cartoons from childhood to whether or not you would go back and change your education choices. There’s a vulnerability there, because the chances that those conversations will go anywhere is little to none.

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At around 11 I decided to call it a night and headed into my tent after we agreed to wake up a little before sunrise and find a spot to watch it.

I actually slept really well, and only woke up once around 4 maybe? Either way I got a pretty great night’s sleep and I’m glad I bought the pillow last minute, because it really made a difference!

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I officially woke up at 6:30, half an hour before my alarm was set to go off. I threw my headlamp and boots on and then headed out to scope out a spot to watch the sun rise. I found the perfect one with a complete 360 degree view. After finding it I headed back to camp to wake the boys so we could head over together.

We settled in about 20 minutes before sunrise and every minute just felt more and more spectacular. I set up the jetboil to make some coffee to warm up with while we waited.

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There must have been a photoshoot or a wedding the night before, because we found a bouquet of flowers left behind on the summit. I love that idea and I can only imagine how beautiful it must have been!

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A couple more people filtered in as the sun was rising and we all enjoyed the view together.

Sunrise was indescribable, and you could see for miles in every direction. Sitting and laughing and sharing it with everyone else felt like we got to be a part of something amazing together.

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I don’t feel the need to revisit a lot of hikes, but this is one I’ll definitely be bringing people back to.

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After sunrise we headed back to camp to start breaking things down and make breakfast.

I love warm food while on the trail and the oats were awesome!

Easy Trail Oatmeal:

  • ¼ cup steel cut oats
  • 1 small handful of walnuts
  • 1 small handful of raisins (for sweetness)
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • A ton of cinnamon!

I put everything in a bag and added it to water until it was cooked! And Voila, easy, filling breakfast!

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While I was taking a picture of my breakfast I realized the full extent of how incredibly match-y all of my gear is right down to the cap and color of my water bottle. I found this pretty funny, as my water bottle lid was originally green, but Nalgene sent me this colored cap as a replacement when mine melted in the dishwasher a couple months back.

I didn’t set out to be this coordinated, but over time it would appear that almost all of my gear is green, teal, and grey. Does all of your gear match? If so did you plan it that way or did it just sort of happen?

I had read in reviews that my tent has a problem with condensation in the rainfly, but I hadn’t experienced that until I got back to my tent.

I didn’t get water on me all night, and it definitely didn’t rain, but the guys and I all noticed that our rainflies were borderline drenched. I think it had to do with how humid it’s been here and the fluctuating temperatures on the mountain, because this is the first I’ve encountered it with my tent, and we all had different gear!

The guys helped me hang my rain fly up to dry and then I made some oatmeal so I could eat it while I took apart camp.

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