Sunday, January 13, 2013

January weather typically doesn't give you gifts like today. The forecast was for 70 and sunny and I wasn't going to waste it looking out the window. I usually visit waterfalls on cloudy days because my pictures turn out better but when the weather took a turn for the better I ditched my orginal plan of hiking into the Linville Gorge and exploring the area downstream from the falls. I had read that it was some of the most rugged terrain in the east and it peaked my interest. During my research of the Linville area I happend across two nearby peaks that looked fantastic.
Approaching the edge of the gorge
Table Rock and the Linville River

Table Rock Mountain is easily seen from the Balds of Roan Mountain and I've always wondered if it could be summited based on it's unique shape. Hawksbill Mountain neighbors Table Rock and has wonderful views of Table Rock, Linville Gorge, The Chimneys, and Grandfather Mountain. I planned on hiking to the summit of Hawksbill first and then traveling the two miles to the summit trail for Table Rock. I hit the road early Saturday traveling through Roan Mountain across the North Carolina line into the towns of Elk Park and Newland. I followed 181 toward Morganton and found the turn for Gingercake Road and headed up the mountain. The road steadily winds upward and goes through the super rich neighborhood Gingercake subdivision literally built into the cliffs. At the end of  the subdivision the road turns to dirt and enters the national forest. North Carolina must have a budget shortfall because there were no gravel at all and the wet weather the few days before had the road in horrible shape! I was terrified as the truck slipped and slided along the cliff side road but was determined not to turn back. I made it to the parking lot after three terrifying miles and found two older gentelmen unloading camping gear from their van. I asked if I was in the right place and told them my plan, One of the two said "I hate to break the news to you but Table Rock is gated this time of year because the road gets in rough shape." I said, " The road I just came in was NOT in rough shape?" They laughed and welcomed me to North Carolina in the winter. I grabbed my camera  and crossed the road and found the sign indicating the Hawksbill Trail. One of the guys yelled as I started up, "You better take water because it's straight up." I held up my Gatorade bottle and said "Thanks, you guys are full of good news." The trail climbed steadily and switched back several times in the first half mile. About half way the trail becomes really rocky and turns up the mountain at an ever steeper incline. The final two tenths of a mile gain just under 500ft of elevation before summiting! It really winded me, I had to sit down at the top before settling in taking photos. My resting spot was one of the finest camping locations in all the mountains. To my left Table Rock and the Linville Gorge were in full view and to my right was the rocky summit of Hawksbill Mountain.
nearing Hawksbill Summit
Grandfather Mountain (center right)
looking down th gorge and the Roan highlands in the distance

I started down the trail toward Table Rock scrambling across boulders and small shrubs. I eventually found a drop off the side of the gorge with a large flat rock to scoot out on into the heavens for pictures of Table Rock and the Linville River roaring below. I waited here for a while because of the clouds but the sun eventually peeked out and I got the shots I wanted. From there I climbed to the summit of Hawksbill, the mountain comes to a jagged abrupt end, with large flat rocks protruding in different directions, it literally is the definition of ruggedness. I was more fond of this area than the lower end of the trail, and along the cliffs edge Grandfather Mountain could be seen in the distance as well as more fantastic views of the Linville Gorge.
Long way down beyond the rocks
underneath one of the rocks of Hawksbill.

I honestly don't know how this area has remained a secret to me for so long, it is one of the finest spots from mountain views...anywhere. I can't wait until later this year when the forest road to Table Rock reopens and I will have access to the summit there and the Chimneys trail along the gorge. Until then enjoy the pictures, and happy trails.
looking back toward Table Rock
Final view from Hawksbill

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