Monday, April 22, 2013

I have had the worst writer's block when trying to summarize my last few hikes. I take as much pride in the writing as I do the photography involved in the blog, so to say I am frustrated, may be an understatement. Yesterday, I took a hike that I have been meaning to get around to for 33 years. The rocky cliffs on top of Clinch Mountain near Gate City have always caught my eye and with a tour guide like Daniel Barnette, the time was right.
Ewing Chapel at the base of Clinch Mountain.
Amber's face after realizing there is no trail. Cash has the same face.
This was a "mild" section of trail
The long brutal grade.

There isn't a real trail and I don't know if it is on private property or not, all that Daniel would tell me was once we got in the woods, he could get me to the top of those boulders. The first part of the hike was a bushwhack as we pushed up the mountain with his girlfriend and my wife's gripes as our background music. Across a small stream, I saw the logging road that we took to the top of a sharp ridge. The ridge had a really narrow spine and dropped off steeply on either side. Daniel spent a minute looking around and said "we need to go up here" We left the logging road up a rutted bank and into the woods. The forest was open so we continued up the hill at a decent pace considering the terrain. Daniel told us that we were entering a difficult section of trail and that it would get better at the top. The long incline took my will to hike at about the halfway point. My legs were burning and my lungs were on fire from gasping for air. Amber and Keisha struggled too and fell behind, but Daniel kept us motivated and promised, in the end, it would all be worth it. At the top of the long grade the mountain rounded off gently. My excitement of having it behind me was quickly soured with the realization that we were going to be hiking downhill for a short period before climbing at a near vertical rise for the final push of trail. I have hiked in seven states, extreme conditions, and I have to tell you, that climb is unmatched.
The cliff climb and the natural staircase.
Weber City on the left and Gate City on the right.
The first Food City I worked at.
Amber and Cash looking over Weber City.

As I stumbled up to the base of the cliffs on the mountain, I could look back across the opening in the canopy and see all of Gate City and further than I had ever thought possible. Daniel was resting with Keisha at their base and I cheered Amber on to join us. We all rested in the shade of the cliffs and I started realizing we were in for some more difficult climbing. A natural rock staircase helped us up the first portion of the cliff before we had to scale across a narrow path to a steeper climb up and back to our left toward the summit. As the faint path winds toward the top, the first large rock juts out of the mountain and I hugged it thinking of how many years I have stared at the very spot from the base of the mountain. I could see that we were already above Bays Mountain and Daniel encouraged us to keep going that the best was yet to come. As we walked along the edge of the cliff Daniel vanished over the side of the mountain and stepped out onto a large flat rock that I recognized from all previous photos I had seen. The views were great and it was a perfect resting spot being shaded by a few trees. A small cave was off to our right and Daniel and I took turns looking down into the darkness. He said there was another rock he had not found on previous hikes and left us to rest and regroup.
Daniel and Keisha checking out Gate City.
The large flat rock that most people mistake for the top.
Daniel entering the cave.
The true summit of Clinch Mountain.
Surreal view of Gate City.

After about ten minutes he came back and said he had found an even better spot and tried to convince us to go. The girls weren't too thrilled with this development but after I got up they decided they would join us as well. We climbed once again and after about ten minutes I saw a large object that looked like a cloud through the trees. The large cloud turned out to be a boulder that was balanced out over the cliff at a sharp angle. The views from here were truly worth the struggle. I could see mountains that I knew were in North Carolina as well as the faint outline of the Smokies in the distance. It had turned out to be a perfect day for photos and optimal views with the slight cloud cover.
Daniel in thought.
pretty big lizard on the mountain.
First ridge on the horizon is Bays Mountain.

As we packed up from photos and one last snack, the sense of accomplishment that I felt was overwhelming. It is a struggle to the top of Clinch Mountain, but some things worthwhile in life are just that. Enjoy the photos, this one was a one and done hike and I won't be back. Until next time, happy trails!
Coming down the cliff.

The cliffs near the summit.

Daniel on the other end of a hollow log.

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