Surrounded by dense canopy, overwhelming Catawba rhododendron, and a thick layer of humidity, we pushed ourselves along the trail. (Calling it a trail is generous, especially in the summer or early fall when the lush mountain growth overtakes what you hope is the path.)
According to the map, it was just one or two or maybe three more miles until Bull Hole — a swimming hole at a lulled spot along the Linville River. Hikers coming the opposite direction proved incapable of accurately estimating the distance we had until relief. That’s the thing about hiking in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area: there are almost no markers, guides, or precisely-noted distances to the places you’re trying to get to.
The last time we came to Linville Gorge we didn’t make it to Bull Hole. We tried ourselves with the shortest and most daunting trail in the wilderness area called Pinch-In. The official map says the trail is 1.1 miles (we didn’t verify) and has nearly 1,800 feet of elevation change over that distance. If you’ve ever gone down 1,800 feet over a mile, you probably know how much harder it is to go the other way.
Hearts racing. Chests pounding. Sweat dripping. The emotional roller coaster of feeling up to this challenge in one moment and then questioning every decision that led you to this point in another. That’s another thing about hiking in the Linville Gorge Wilderness area: You get used to those feelings of hope, despair, courage, and stubborness. And it’s exactly why you’re here.
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. — John Muir
Linville Gorge and Shining Rock were the first two wildlife areas designated in North Carolina with the passage of the Wildlife Act of 1964.
According to the Forest Service, a wilderness distinction seeks to maintain a tract of land to “retain its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation.” The designation allows for hiking, camping, hunting and fishing, but it disallows the use of vehicles, including mountain bikes.
The beauty of Linville Gorge is its raw beauty. Hikers, visitors, and campers come and go, and the natural ebbs and flows of nature continue. There are no man-made artifices, ornaments, or preparations. It’s nothing like life inside the city.
I go to the woods for respite and clarity. To hike the hills and feel alive. To sleep in complete darkness with nature’s soundtrack. To find contentment, friendship, and rest. To feel humbled by my smallness and appreciative of daily conveniences.
I’ll see you again soon in the wilderness.