Big Lost Cove Cliffs and BEES!

Across from Grandfather Mountain and the town of Linville is a group of trails and areas called Lost Cove Cliffs. My husband and I have done the Little Lost Cove Cliffs trail often, as it has a decent view for sunset and sunrise, is a fairly quick hike of moderate intensity, and is neither crowded nor overgrown. A nice place to hang hammocks at the base of the highest rocks. We hadn’t bothered to investigate the other points.

So I was browsing the AllTrails app (check it – 250 some trails near me, living near the Linville Gorge is awesome!) and looking at the Lost Cove area and reviews and whatnot and decided that we should probably try Big Lost Cove Cliffs, neither of us had ever been there merely for the reason of hearing that Little Lost Cove was better. I didn’t realize until we got to the trailhead that it is much closer to our house, and has a little bit more parking access.

So naturally, I hummed and hawed for a while before jumping in to packing. This and that, should we, maybe not, I’m lazy, blah blah. No! I need a hike, it’s Saturday, we’ve got a babysitter, the weather is nice for what might be a limited time, let’s do it.

Scrape together some food stuffs, tortillas with grated Colby, pepperoni slices and black olives between them, wrapped in foil. (This turns out to be a bad choice, more on that later.) Simple foil pack cooking, won’t need pots and pans or a big fire.

So we set off and get to the parking area in less than a half hour, there’s only one car here, a early 00’s Suburu Outback with stickers, yea probably a hiker, no problem. We fit Duke with his pack and get ours on. Shawn is carrying a lot of water, I’m talking gallons, because we don’t know the water situation on the cliffs. It’s a short hike, but with 2 people and a dog it’s best to be prepared. Duke carries his own water in a dog pack, because he’s a very good boy.

The trail is pretty well maintained, aside from a couple spots where mountain bikes have worn it down into sandy ruts. There was only one short bicycle track I saw, meaning hopefully it’s been cracked down on because this is not a mountain biking trail.

It starts out hard and kind of rocky, but overall a very beautiful walk – occasionally opening up into clearings of older trees, and then closing in with tangled rhododendron and vines. Duke first, then Shawn, spots a pile of bear scat. I try not to let it bother me, reminding my anxiety that having a big dog is the best alarm system and then I laugh to myself about how skeptical my two year old had been when I’d told him that “Duke would protect him from bears” when we were camping. But it’s true. Just the smell of that lumbering goofball of a guard dog is a pretty good deterrent for a regular bear. (A side note, we actually had planned for The Chimneys this weekend, but decided against it due to numerous reports of a nuisance bear bothering campers, which is not a bear we want to mess with. Our reasoning being that there hadn’t been much report on any furry troublemakers on the Lost Cove side of the Gorge and we’d be less likely to get into a hairy situation. See what I did there?)

So we keep on up and up for a half mile or better, and then the trail flattens out to a nicely maintained dirt path. The dark yellow swatch blazes are easy to spot here, but any wrong turns you could make (there are at least three potential forks I noticed) have had logs or branches laid across them to indicate that is not the right way. The nice smooth walk continues for the entire middle section of the trail, then suddenly drops off just as sharply, taking you back down the tip of the ridge for another half mile. The air alternates between the dank sweet smell of dense rhodedendron forest and the unmistakably crisp feeling of cliffside winds.

It opens up into another clear area, drops down and then curves around two big trees. At this spot I hear some familiar noises. Teeth clacking, jowls flapping, scraping claws on dirt, yes these are the sounds of my dog in a bee fight. When he was a puppy, he found a yellow jacket nest with Shawn, and he has forever had a vendetta against all flying insects. So now when he stumbles into a nest of bees or wasps, he attacks them and you guessed it , that only makes it worse.

So I start backing up slowly, as we’re yelling at Duke not to incite the bees, and they get Shawn in the leg. Well, I keep backing up, because even though I’m a constant victim of sweat bee stings and ant bites, I haven’t been stung by a yellow jacket in twenty some years. Once again I’m lucky enough to avoid them, even with Duke leading them to me in his fear. We make a wide circle around the trees and I leave two pieces of wood crossed into an X in the trail to remind us when we come back to avoid the nest of vindictive yellow jerks.

We continue down and flat a little ways, then the trail curves slightly up and extends out into rocky cliffs overlooking Grandfather Mountain, Linn Cove viaduct, and at night, the lights of Linville. The sunset was rather dull, but the view was still phenomenal, and we had fun watching cars flash in and out of the trees way across the valley. Heading up Roseboro? No, 221? Well, it’s not the parkway, but that’s over there somewhere too. Maybe going to the country club? Fun to speculate. Google satellite view offers a bit of enlightenment, and also illustrates how far the Little Lost Cove Cliffs are from here.

After the sun dips below the mountain, we walk a few yards back down the trail and set up in an acceptable campsite. Clear ground and hammock trees, we search for a few stones to build a small fire ring. The fire is stubborn and requires hand sanitizer and team blowing, but once it warms up it stays burning nicely. We push the big pieces to the side and make a bed of coals in the middle for the foil-wrapped “pizza-dillas”, as I’ve affectionately nicknamed them.

When it’s nice and toasted and the cheese is melted I cut it with my little 3″ SOG knife and we dig in. It’s greasy and salty and delicious. We finish one off together while the other cooks. While we’re eating, a rogue yellow jacket shows up and starts attacking the pizza-dillas and Shawn’s head! These things are really rude, and apparently hold a grudge a long time. We serve him with insect corporal punishment and finish eating. After dinner we sit for a while and comment on the moon, so bright. Not yet full, but gives strong light even here through the canopy that was nearly pitch black before sunset.

We climb into our hammocks and beside a bit of anxiety about a bear coming into our camp searching for used tampons and leftover pizza-dillas, I fall asleep hard.

…Until about an hour before sunrise I wake up from bad stomach pain – sour, sour stomach. Eesh, too much pepperoni? I must be getting old, pepperoni and black olives never bothered me before, but I know the acidity and salt can be a problem for some people. I get up and find the bathroom, then hobble back to my hammock to try to go back to sleep. I doze briefly in and out before waking up in a start and thrashing out of sleeping bag and hammock to blow chunks all over the ground not six feet from where I had been fitfully sleeping. Ugh. Feeling horrible. Just, nauseas and sour. Can’t fathom coffee, no way, no, no cigarette, no please no. I try to console myself in my hammock but I’m quite miserable. Shawn comes back as the sun is just peeking over the mountains and shows me a photo of the sunrise he took on my phone from the overlook. Damn. It’s really good. Nice sunrise. Gahh. I psych myself up. I can’t ignore the opportunity to get mountaintop sunrise photos. Some of my favorites, and we haven’t been up a mountain in weeks, most of our hikes had been down to the river. So despite feeling like I had swallowed a meatball made of napalm, I dragged myself back up to the overlook and sat on the rocks taking photos.

It was easier to ignore how crap I felt with an eye to the viewfinder, but as soon as the colors faded, I tapped out and went back to my hammock. There was no way I was making that climb back up the trail in this condition. I needed water and sleep. Here’s me sticking my tongue out in feigned good cheer.

After another hour or so of healing, restful sleep, I awake feeling much more like a human being. Still the lingering weakness of stomach issues, and a pretty horrid taste in my mouth. I cleared that with a cup of Earl Grey tea and topped it with milky coffee and as much water as I could handle. We clean up our camp, dispersing the rocks and making sure the fire is completely cold. Simon and Garfunkel’s America provides our soundtrack blasting through my Spotify …”I said be careful, his bow tie is really a camera…” We start off back up the trail.

Oh, there’s my X I made in the trail to let us know there’s bees by that tree right there. Maybe if I just sneak by real fast…. I try to walk quickly by without seeming aggressive. At first I think I’m clear, then Duke starts whining and runs to me, I go to swat one off him and F#&K it’s on my knee, I pull my leggings up off of my leg to force it from its sting but it’s too late. It got me. It doesn’t hurt as bad as I expected, but it’s already annoying and I can feel the skin around it heating up and swelling immediately. Shawn finds his silver lining by having a chance to use his bite/sting patches he carries. Sort of a translucent synthetic skin, it seems to help the surface pain. We continue to climb.

My knee is hurting and I’m feeling pretty worn down after spilling most of my food, but I know that the more I delay, the longer it will be before I can get off it and let it stop swelling. So with the help of a little bag of nuts and couple squares of chocolate, I’m back in the saddle and not feeling too bad. Once the half mile climb is over, it’s nice and flat, then downhill to the car.

When we get to Whip and load up, Duke is already laid out and half asleep in the back seat, before I even get my seatbelt on. That’s how you walk a dog. We all go home, take benadryl and rest, satisfied with the adventure. Overall, a nice and beautiful hike, but I’m still not sure if it’s as good as Little Lost Cove Cliffs. But that might be because I threw up. Who knows? See y’all next week! 😀

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