Bradley's View

Bradley's View

Monday, April 15, 2013

Linville Gorge Marathon

      36 hours in the car was plenty.  We stretched our legs with an overnight stay at the Chateau du Hill, in Asheville.  The rain had followed us for the final 12 hours of our drive; Asheville received two inches.  We arrived in the darkness of both the clouds and the night.  When morning came, the greens were overwhelming.  The earth had bided it's time; the laughter of thunder had roared in it's face, the moon, on it's last waning leg, had disappeared from the sky at an early hour, passing it's domain to the rule of the unruly clouds, who lashed out at every uncovered inch of the earth with torrents of tears.  Hours of soaking had primed the earth and for every hour of light the green of it's glory shone, a stark contrast to the bleakness of the night before.  Trillium and Bloodroot burst forth, rearing their heads in communion with the sun, their annual tradition had arrived after a brief rain delay.  The dance of spring had begun.

       Our arrival to the east could scarcely have been more timely.  For one, in the past two days our home in the high-rockies has received two feet of snow.  This far along in April, I prefer the smells of spring.    Secondly, this past weekend marked the third annual running of the WNC Trailrunner's Linville Gorge Madness Marathon, which is where this story continues.

      The route, designed by Brandon, is one of the least contrived and most grueling marathons yet conceived in this country.  It runs about 27 miles and features some 9,500 ft of vertical gain.  It is hot, exceedingly beautiful, and doesn't run the same trail twice.

      An exchange that is telling of the course:
      Me:  Hey, can I see that map... Oh, I think I'm going on that trail.
      Guy With Map:  Probably not, no one really uses that trail, it's covered in fallen trees and drops quickly to the river...
      Me:  Yep, definitely the one.

      Anyways, we arrived at Table Rock Friday evening, pitched tents, burned sticks, and enjoyed beer with conversation.  It was great to share the evening and the run with people I hadn't seen in at least a year, and some others that were new to the WNC Trailrunner community.
The crew on Table Rock.  Photo: WNC Trailruners

Table Rock from it's namesake parking area.  Photo: WNC Trailrunners

    The Linville Gorge is the largest canyon east of the Mississippi; it was pretty wild to think that only a week before I had been in the depths of the Grand Canyon.  My intentions had been to hike the route with my backpacking gear and trekking poles.  It would be practical training, and I don't think I've run more than 9 miles in one outing since the Zion Traverse back in November(?!), but I was swayed towards running by a desire to share strides with great friends.
Photo: WNC Trailrunners

      At 8:30 we began the mile long hike up to the summit of Table Rock, snapped a photo, admired the sweeping panoramas, and then set off.  Little Table Rock Trail descended about 1,000 feet over the first mile.  The rhododendron rafters served as handholds as we skipped and swung our way down to the Spencer Ridge Trail, which clicked off the next 1,000 feet into the gullet of the gorge, where the Linville River sliced swiftly down to the lowcountry.

Table Rock in the distance.  Photo: WNC Trailrunners
      After following the river for a few miles, bobbing up and down it's banks and hearing it's rumble, we ascended the switchbacks to the western rim of the gorge and followed a jeep road for a couple of miles to where Melissa and Hannah had generously laid out a few gallons of water with which we could fill our bottles.
Gorge-ous.  Photo: WNC Trailrunners

      We pranced down Connelly Cove to the Rock Jock Trail, which is absolutely spectacular.  It isn't maintained and made for more of a steeplechase than a trail run.  For three miles we followed it along the canyon's rim before a steep climb brought us back to the main forest road.  Adam caught up at the aid stop before a three mile stretch of forest road and we busted out the 5k in about 20 minutes, which gave my three-month-taper quads a bit of punishment.  We relished in the view from the top of Pinnacle Mountain, then plummeted on another absurdly steep descent along the Mountains-To-Sea Trail to the river.

      On the trail we were greeted by the whirring hiss of a Cottonmouth.  It coiled itself, showed off its venomous fangs, and made wide it's throat urging us to pass quickly without any unnecessary molestation.  The MST then crossed the river, which rose to our waists.  The thirty yard crossing was incredibly refreshing, especially to my quads, which were feeling quite battered from the quick clip and heavy descents.

Linville River.  Photo: WNC Trailrunners

Black Mountains in the distance. Photo: WNC Trailrunners
      Dave and Brandon joined us for splashing in the river and we set off up Shortoff Mountain.  The trail up Shortoff was sensational, we had an incredible view of the terrain we'd covered and the Black Mountains and the South Mountains in the distance as we weaved our way through the mountainside that had been scorched by a wildfire in '97.  It felt like another world.  The climb was tough, but so were we.

      We added one to our party at the spring on Shortoff, refilled our bottles, and settled in for the final 6ish miles.  It was a sensational stretch of running.  The final 900 ft ascent to the Chimney's was awesome.  It hurt, but in a way that you can appreciate, if that makes sense... We weaved through the rock formations speckled with climbers, and made our way back to the parking lot after about 6 hours and 53 minutes out in the sun.  Laughter ensued.
Photo: WNC Trailrunners

Photo: WNC Trailrunners

      I really look forward to spending more time in the Linville Gorge area on my imminent backpacking adventure.  It's a truly special place, that I was glad to see so many people out enjoying on a beautiful Saturday.

      Thanks for reading, now go play outside!

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