Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Table Rock, NC

It is hard to find inspiration in the midst of tragedy. 

On November 3, 2013 James and I and my soon to be father-in-law set out to hike Table Rock. We had a beautiful day and perfect cool fall hiking weather! 

We had planned to share a post all about Table Rock and its amazing hikes, breathtaking views and great camp sites. Table Rock always has been and always will be one of my favorite places in North Carolina. I climbed, repelled and camped here as a teenager and have enjoyed numerous hikes as picnics here as an adult. I have some great stories and some scary stories from my visits to this mountain all of which are some of my very favorite stories to tell.

Unfortunately nine days after our hike, on November 12th, the beautiful mountain was engulfed in wild fire. Our hearts have been broken. Officials anticipated complete containment as of yesterday. I have not heard the latest update but I do know that containment is near.The fire has burned about 2,600 acres over the course of the last 13 days. This is devastating.

Table Rock is located off of  FR-210. To get there you take Hwy 181 to Gingercake Road (about 4 miles south of the parkway/Hwy 181 intersection). Follow the road to the left through Gingercake Acres. You will drive several miles and follow signs to Table Rock Picnic Area to access the Summit Trail. Many of the trails between Sitting Bear, Hawksbill and Spence Ridge will also connect to Table Rock. Naturally now is not the best time to go as these trails have been closed due to fire. Once re-opened proceed with caution and be on the look out for falling limbs, trees and unstable ground.

The cause is of the fire is listed on InciWeb as Human.

This weighs heavily on my heart. I can’t help but wonder, was this accident or was this intentional? I cannot imagine the guilt and shame one must feel to know a preventable mistake resulted in such tragedy and I cannot begin to understand what might have compelled someone to be so horrible to have set this fire with a malicious purpose. Either way it is heartbreaking.

There is a person officials would like to speak with related to this fire. Please read this article and notify officials if you know this person or have any information.

Regrettably there is not much else we can do. We watch and listen as the fire spreads and the firefighters work to contain the fire and mitigate the damage. What we can do is remember the very simple message I am sure we all learned in school or scouts which is that “Only you can prevent forest fires!”

When camping our fire is necessary to keep us warm and help us prepare our meals, it also generally does a good job of keeping critters at bay.  Our camp fire is beautiful and one of the best parts about camping but we must acknowledge and accept that a camp fire is a huge responsibility! It is our job to keep a watchful eye on our fire and to properly extinguish it when we no longer have the need. The best method for putting out your fire is to follow these steps:

1. Allow the fire to burn all logs completely to ash.

2. Stir ashes and scrape any remaining embers off sticks. (Do not bury the fire, the fire can smolder and re-surface after you have left the site.) 

3. Pour water over all embers and ash, when the fire is out you should not hear any hissing or cracking.

4. As a general rule you should be able to touch the remains of the fire and feel no heat. If water is limited you can use soil to help extinguish but remember not to bury the fire. Stir in the water and/or soil until the remains and ground are cool to the touch and preferably wet.

The number one cause of forest fire is human accident or carelessness. Please, please, please put out your fire completely every time!

Throughout all the news feeds about this fire we have been so sad and sorry for all the animals who have lost their natural habitats. I have wondered about the animals and how they survive such a horrible event like this. I have learned that very few animals are actually killed in forest fires, thank God; most animals will recognize the danger and vacate the area. Generally they will begin moving back in to the area even before the smoke clears. The biggest threat to wildlife however is the loss of food and shelter. One careless act has resulted in all this. This breaks my heart.

I have also wondered how long it would take for this area to recover. I have read that the forest may take 20 years or more to begin the recovery process if the area is properly weeded and replanted. If not properly tended it could take as many as 100 years. Soil quality diminishes after a high-intensity fire for up to five years and erosion becomes a significant threat not allowing or supporting new growth and many of the scorched trees (particularly those with badly scorched crowns) will die within a few years. Luckily the Linville River is nearby; land near water will generally recover faster than other areas.

We have not yet traveled back to the Table Rock area to see what remains, I am not sure I want to. We want to remember it like this:

Majestic, magnificent and beautiful.

It is hard to find inspiration in the midst of tragedy but in this tragedy you can be inspired to learn more about forest fire prevention and consider making a donation to your local not for profit wilderness association, fire department or conservation society. They are much needed in times like these!


  1. Not to worry!

    The upper Linville Gorge area is fire-adapted. It will recover quickly! In fact, many of the trees you see growing on Table Rock *require* periodic fire to spread their seeds, reduce competition, and enrich the soil. If you look closely at the signs along the trail, you'll see this mentioned on them as well. I bet by this time next year, things will be growing so vigorously you'll hardly know there was even a fire here!

    In fact, this area has burned before - recently. And last time I hiked here, the only sign of it was the occasional charred limb tucked away near a rock that you really had to look for, and of course the wide-open views caused by the clearing of the undergrowth.

    Although out-of-control wildfires are not desirable for many reasons, regular, low- to moderate-intensity fire is almost essential to these forests. For that reason, the Forest Service was planning to deliberately burn almost as much acreage on the opposite side of the gorge on the same day this fire started. You should not write this hike off in any way, and I'm sure your next visit will be just as enjoyable!

    It would be prudent to wait until spring when things start to recover, though.

    Thanks for sharing your trip report and photos!

  2. Its easy to forget what an intense force that fire really is. This is a great reminder.


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