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A group of us have been wanting to go backpacking, so we went to Linville Gorge a month ago with some good friends.

The trailhead warned us that due to the really rough terrain, we should plan on only making one mile per hour. It also warned us that the Linville Gorge Wilderness area had one of the highest search and rescue rates in the country. We laughed and set out into the gorge.

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Just look at those fresh-faced innocent young things.

 

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The views were utterly phenomenal (photos above for proof), and we had a grand time climbing down into the gorge. Our goal was to make it six miles to a really cool cave campsite across the river. We ran into a few problems with that goal:1. The trail was more like a vague suggestion where maybe some people had gone before us, or maybe a couple deer had just trampled things down a bit. We lost the trail at one point (or maybe two points) and spent quite a while scrambling over boulders trying to find it again.

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Actual photo of trail-hunting above.

2. One mile per hour was unfortunately pretty accurate. The terrain was incredibly rough and steep. Also, see point #1.

P10700223. While Ross and I have camping equipment, we do not really have backpacking equipment because we’re cheap. (Backpacking equipment is 3x more expensive but 3x lighter than regular gear.) Our backpacking expert friends had ultralight packs that weighed around 15 pounds apiece. Ross and I had ginormous packs that weighed well over 30 pounds apiece. Go figure, this was really hard to manage on a steep trail. See point #2.

4. Due to our slow pace, we reached the point where we had to cross the river just before it began to get dark.

5. There are no bridges across the river, and the water had risen considerably since our friends had crossed there before. We debated trying to ford it (waist-deep and moving fast) but we were all so exhausted, and it was so dark (see #4) that we decided to go back and camp at the next campsite we found.

We set up in a tiny, rocky campsite in pitch darkness, ate like ravening wolves, and spent a difficult night trying to sleep. The only flat space to pitch our tent was somewhat slanted downhill, and in the night one of our sleeping pads sprang a leak. That ground was mighty hard. We weren’t cold, though! Thank goodness, we had bought a much better sleeping double sleeping bag for this trip, so we were at least warm.

In the morning, we discovered that we had camped right across from Cathedral Falls without knowing it! We knew rain was coming at some point that day, though, so we moved to a better camp site not too far away and set up camp again.

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Making a giant brunch.

We thought we might go for a day hike after lunch, but alas, it started to pour. And it continued to do so for the next 14 hours without a break. We huddled in our tents and actually had a rather lovely afternoon reading and talking and napping. We emerged to cook dinner and um, go deeper into the woods to take care of business (which is seriously no fun in the dark and the pouring rain, let me tell you). I have fond memories of sliding down a hillside in the mud, precious toilet paper clutched tightly in one hand.

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So. Much. Rain.

At that point we realized that the constant rain had created a serious water problem under our tent. The floor of our tent looked like a water bed. Not too much had gotten in (good little tent), but it was only a matter of time with that much water. So, again in the pitch darkness, Ross and I dug a series of trenches around the tent to divert the water around us and dragged our sodden, tired carcasses into our tent at last. Oh, how it rained. Remarkably, we stayed pretty dry, and we had patched the sleeping pad so we slept quite well. If we HAD actually crossed the river on that first night, though, we would have never made it back across. Yes, hello, Search and Rescue?

In the morning, we wrung out our wet clothes and packed up. We planned another 6-7 mile hike out of the gorge. It was much, much harder climbing out than it was coming down, and it was cold. As in, it snowed during the last hour and a half of our climb. The last ascent was absolutely insane, and I was seriously beginning to doubt whether I could make it when we found the road at last! We drove down the mountain to enjoy hot food, running water, and actual toilets (possibly my favorite part) at a Chinese buffet that wasn’t too discriminating (we looked pretty rough by that point).

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The “after” photo.

That would be a great place to end the story, but sadly, there is more. We had all dutifully filtered the water we drank from the river, but I alone had washed my face in the river one morning. Apparently this was a TERRIBLE IDEA. I got giardia from the water, which is basically dysentery, and everything in my body did its very best to migrate outside my body via one orifice or another. I did not know it was possible to vomit that much. I wanted to die for two days and was sick on and off for another week or so.

But wait, there’s more! Just a week ago, we got a card in the mail that said, “Found this on the Pinchin Trail in Linville Gorge. Figured you might like it back!” Ross’ driver’s license was inside the envelope. Ross has countless wonderful qualities, but being observant isn’t usually one of them, so he hadn’t even noticed that he had lost it. What are the odds?? We were in the middle of absolutely nowhere! I’m amazed anyone saw it–we barely saw any other humans during the whole trip.

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Totally worth the dysentery, though.
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