Saturday, December 14, 2013

Post Fire Trip to the Gorge

I've been trying to find a day lately to go check out the Table Rock area to get a scope of the fire damage, but every recent weekend opportunity has fallen through.  So I decided to take a half day at work today and head on up there finally.  I began my run/hike/scramble at Sitting Bear TH and marched up the Ridge trail over to Hawksbill to catch my first good glimpse of the effected area.  It was a great way to start off an great trip with crystal clear views today.  Things didn't look too bad from Hawksbill, so I headed down Ledge for the first time to connect into Spence.  Wow, what a trail Ledge is WooHoo  Finding my way down was fairly easy, although a pesky root ripped a part of my shoe and I had to slide on my butt down a steep leafy section of the trail.  Man what a fun rock hopping adventure that was.  I was obviously slowed up by the terrain but I didn't mind, it was beautiful.  I did worry about getting impaled by an icicle though Chuckle.  The trail was well marked through the rock draws with a couple of flags and cairns.  I found Ledge-Spence Connector very easily and it was well flagged all the way to Spence.    

Hitting Spence I finally saw evidence of the fire.   I had really been concerned on the condition of LTR trail, so I headed that way to check it out.  The trail seemed in great condition all the way up and like Darkbryd has pointed out in some of his trips near there, the fire looks to have taken more of the shape of a controlled burn through this area.  Most hardwoods seemed unaffected and had little to no scaring from the fire.  The rhodo was burned up pretty well though and smaller sapling trees probably won't stand much of a chance.  I do predict a green spring for this section.  After I checked out some of the views on LTR, I made my way to the Chimneys.  This is where things really looked bad.  Some sections of the trail are scorched on both sides as you walk along.  Things more or less stayed the same with some patchy scorched sections as you followed the MST south.  

Once I began the decent down to Chimney Gap, things got a lot worse.  I figured if the fire reached that patch of young pines along the trail, it stood little chance of survival and I was correct.  This was the worst affected area by far.  Many of the pines are now just black silhouettes on the hill side.  This is a bummer, because those trees were just getting tall enough to provide some good shade on that decent.  That climb out of the gap is going to be hot again this summer.  Once at Chimney Gap, I hopped onto the fire rd that runs along the base of the Chimney's to return to the Table Rock summit rd.  This was also another new trail for me today.  From Chimney Gap to Blue Rock Rd it has recently been regraded as a fire line by the FS.  It was successful all the way to that point, but not after.  The rd lacked maintenance from this point on and the fire burned on both sides.  Along this stretch I had originally planned to get water out of one of the creeks it crosses, but didn't originally think about the fire affecting it's quality so I had to refrain and ran out of water by the time I got to the gate.  I didn't have too much longer to go and hoped that some folks at the parking area might have some to spare.

I trotted up the pavement to the parking area and no luck.  I'd be fine for a few more miles so I headed on up to check out the views and damage on Table Rock.  Luckily, I bumped into some gracious climbers and they lent me some of there water as I was marching up the climb.  Very thankful for those two.  The summit trail had a good amount of ice on it and the burn did not look too bad through here at all.  I got some great shots of the sun setting over the Blacks from the summit and then headed down the MST back to FS210.  The MST on the way down looked very much like LTR so it should recover quite well.  I finally hit the road and it was nice to finally follow some easy terrain back to the car a couple miles up.  It was a great trip and I'm glad I finally got out there survey the damage for myself.

Trail Status on route followed:
Jonas Ridge - good
Hawksbill - good
Ledge - good, a bit leafy
Ledge/Spence Connector - good, flagged well
LTR - good
MST heading south to Chimney Gap- good, lots of fire damage through here, but trail tread is clear
Fire Rd - good for 1/2, a few blowdowns on the second half nearing gate
Table Rock Summit - good, icy
MST north - good

Trip stats:
Miles - ~16
Time - 4hs10min
Gain - 4800 ft

Shoe carnage from Ledge Trail
Fire scorched earth along MST approaching Chimneys
MST heading down towards Chimney Gap
Sunset over the Blacks from Table Rock

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