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[at-l] Dayhiking the Laurel Fork Gorge - and a bit of history...

Redhead - boy, do I the hike for you!!!!

Laurel Fork Gorge Loop - Park at Dennis Cove, or Kincora Hostel.  Hike the
AT north to the top of the rock stairs that descend to the falls.  Here you
make a decision - whether you want to hike up or down the stairs - I
recommend hiking up the stairs.  So, continue on in the direction you were
going.  This is the official high water blue blaze route, and you are
actually hiking on an old narrow guage railbed, so staying on the blue-blaze
is not difficult.  You will hike to the Laurel Fork Shelter.  You can turn
left and go a few hundred feet and get to the AT, then turn left to the
falls, then hike up the stairs, then turn right and head back to your car.
Or, continue straight at the shelter - actually continuing on the old
railbed.  This blue blaze route was carved out after the flood of Jan '98
that took out the foot bridges.  This is an un-maintained, rugged,
exhilerating little blue blaze.  I hiked it last November.  Watch your step.
When you reach the AT, don't go up, go down.  You will see the river and
bridges down the steep slope to your left.  When the trail reaches the level
of the river, it takes a u-turn and follows the river up-stream, crossing
the two new bridges that were built last summer.  Continue to the falls -
climb the stairs - follow the trail back to the car.  Short loop - about 4
miles.  Long loop - about 6 or 7 miles.  Very scenic, great spots for lunch,
waterfall is spectacular, generally cool on a hot day...

If you want to hike down the stairs (real knee buster), reverse the above...

A little history -

The Laurel Fork River flooded in January of '98.  It took out the center
portion of the award winning footbridge above the falls, and completely took
out the two footbridges downstream from the falls.  The flood was so severe
that it wreaked havoc to the town of Roan Mountain TN, where two people
died.  For the '98 hiking season, the upper bridge was patched up, but many
hikers had severe problems navigating the often swollen river downstream
from the falls.  Hiking the AT in the gorge was very dangerous.  Something
had to be done - and to make a long story short - a blue blaze that
completely by-passed the gorge was quickly built.  It follows the long route
as described above.  This route was used until April '99, when the two
downstream bridges were replaced.  The two new bridges are higher above the
river, and much more sturdy, than the previous bridges.  In order to get the
materials for the bridges on-site, a temporary roadway was cut through the
gorge from the town of Hampton.  Then a four-member mule team was used to
dolly/drag the materials in.  The AT in the gorge had not been maintained
for nearly a year-and-a-half, so after the bridges were in, a large crew of
volunteers (mostly hikers as I understand) spent a full week clearing the
trail.  Baltimore Jack was among this crew and may wish to tell us of his
experiences.  I was fortunate enough to be part of a smaller crew that went
in after the major work was done.  We painted some new blazes, cleaned up
leftover blowdowns, obliterated much of the roadway that had been cut into
the gorge, and built a ramp up to one of the bridges...



I am wanting to do a day hike with a friend ( a non-hiking friend in okay
shape) this weekend.  I'd prefer a) that it work out as a loop so we only
need one car and b) that at some point it include the AT and c) it not be
strenuous for a newbie.

I'd also prefer it to be between Iron Mountain Gap and Damascus.   Anyone
any brilliant ideas? :)  Water would be nice too (i.e. a nice stream to sit
by for lunch, for example :)).

Thanks in advance (and let me know if there's no such animal . . . )

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