Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hiking up Table Rock

Top of Table Rock a video by TheTurducken on Flickr.
As promised, here is the story of our hike up Table Rock.

Table Rock is a flat-topped mountain on the opposite side of the gorge where we were staying. There is only one bridge across the gorge; at some seasons, it's crossable in other places, but the water was still too high for us to try. That wasn't a big deal, though, as the bridge starts the Spence Ridge Trail, which affords relatively easy access to Table Rock.

We started off by packing up and moving camp less than a mile north. After setting up, we put our much lighter packs on and went further north on the Linville Gorge trail until we reached the bridge that starts Spence Ridge. The Linville Gorge trail, by the way, was by far the worst-maintained trail we encountered, even though it had been worked on only a few months ago. This didn't make going up and down along the shore any easier. By contrast, the Spence Ridge trail was wide and smooth - albeit seriously uphill.

We had to hike out of the gorge in order to reach Table Rock, some 1800 feet. Once we were close to the top, we would be faced with a choice; continue on Spence Ridge, hit the Mountains-to-Sea trail, and then access Table Rock via a final, short, access trail. Or we could take the much more challenging Little Table Rock trail to that same access trail. We did not plan to do the latter.

However, the terrible signage in the gorge proved to be our undoing. We reached a three-way junction where the only sign indicated the trail we had just come from was Spence Ridge (or "S Ridge," a poor abbreviation). We concluded therefore that the left fork would take us to the Chimneys, while the right would lead to Table Rock. We began to wonder what was going on when we reached first one junction and then a second that didn't seem to correspond to our maps - not that any of the three different ones we had agreed. There are an unfortunate number of "unofficial" trails in the area, and we had no way to tell what the trails we encountered were.

It became clear, finally, that we had ended up on the Little Table Rock trail, with all its unnecessary elevation gain and loss. We were beat by the time we reached the top of the mountain.

On the way down, we turned off the access trail onto the Mountains-to-Sea trail, which was clearly marked, and it dumped us out at the top of the Spence Ridge trail. We finally found where we had gone wrong. Remember the "S Ridge" sign? Spence Ridge actually continued as a left turn, while the right went to Little Table Rock. The sign is therefore only useful for folks coming from the top, not from those coming up.

Still, Table Rock was worth it, as you can see from the video.

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