Basically, the question was as follows. About 5 miles from the end of the route, there is a choice to be made. After a difficult riverside trail featuring much bushwhacking / getting lost, the trail splits. One path continues down the river, only to peter out about a mile from our goal. The other path is clearly marked, but heads 1500 vertical feet straight up the side of the gorge before descending back to the finish. Which path would you take? These maps illustrate the problem.
Here's the route of our run:
The area in question is highlighted at the lower left. Now take a look at this map of the area:
Notice that the trail along the river (Trail 7) ends before reaching the Mountains to Sea Trail (Trail 14) at the bottom of the map. The Linville Gorge Trail is the very trail that had been so difficult to follow, and now it looks like it ended completely. Tristan argued that it would be easier to follow this trail, then navigate along the river for the final mile. I said it made more sense to take the Pinch-off trail (Trail 21) up to the highway (actually a gravel road) which connected directly with Mountains to Sea (Trail 14). In the end, we went my way, but for two years Tristan insisted he was right.
So now, two years later, we were going to do the entire route again, but this time we'd take Tristan's route no matter what, then decide whose plan was better. This time, the plan was to hike in two miles to a camp on Shortoff Mountain Friday night, run the entire 22-mile loop without backpacks on Saturday, camp again Saturday night, then hike out Sunday morning.
As before, I picked up our permits Friday morning, but this year I took the opportunity to get in a shakeout run near Linville Falls. It was a perfect day for a run, and the falls were gorgeous:
Then I drove to the other end of the gorge and hiked up to save a campsite for the group. This year there would be five of us: Me, Tristan, Jeff, Sam, and Jon. We stayed in a beautiful spot with views of the gorge, and Jon even carried up cold beers for us to drink by the fire!
|Jon and Jeff enjoy their beers Friday evening|
|I get a selfie while Jeff takes a more traditional shot of the gorge|
|Yep, it's scenic up here!|
|Sam is *not* standing on a rock. Nosiree, he's really that tall!|
The next 5 miles were the same challenging navigation experiment I remembered from last year. Jeff and I stuck together while Jon and Sam bounded ahead. The miles passed slowly as it the trail was rocky and barely runnable at all, when we could find it.
Finally we arrived at the point where the Pinch-in Trail split off from the Linville Gorge Trail. I told Jeff that I was planning on staying on the Gorge trail but it was possible that there would be bushwhacking. He said he didn't have a map so he had to stay with me. Off we went!
Amazingly, as soon as we started down this route, the trail improved, and was once again quite runnable. At some point, according to my map, the trail was going to peter out, but for now it looked great. After a mile or so we caught up with Tristan, who was grinning from ear to ear.
"So what do you think about this trail, Dave?" He asked.
"So far, it looks like you're right," I said.
"But we haven't gotten to the part where the trail disappears yet, remember?"
We pressed on, but Tristan grew more confident with every step that his route was the best. But then, suddenly we were off trail again. Tristan had an advanced GPS with maps, and said we needed to ford the river to pick up a different trail that wasn't on my paper map. My plan was to stick with Tristan, so I said "sure," and we waded across. We wandered around the woods for a few minutes, and I began to wonder if this was the part where we would start to regret this decision. But then we found the trail again, and all was well for another couple miles, until we had to ford the river again.
This was a pretty difficult crossing, and Jeff caught a great photo of me stumbling across:
Once we were across, however, the trail was easy to find, and it was flat double-track. There was no doubting that Tristan's route was easier, even with the two extra fords.
Soon we hooked back up with the Mountains to Sea Trail and climbed back up to our campsite, where Jon had another beer for each of us and I was able to create a burrito feast for the group.
As we sat enjoying our beers, the burritos, and the view, Tristan asked "So Dave, when are you going to apologize?"
"Apologize?" I said. "I agree that you were right, but now you want an apology?"
"Yes, Yes I do."
I certainly wasn't going to accommodate this request. What was he going to ask for next? But Tristan persisted in demanding an apology.
Now I think I know what we're going to debate for the next two years!
Below is the GPS of our epic run!