A trip through the infamous Bonas Defeat Gorge has been sitting at or near the top of my 'Must-Do-Hikes' List for quite some time now. Its not that far from my house (perhaps 20 minutes) and the would-be route isn't all that long (say, 5-ish miles). What had kept me away thus far was Bonus Defeat's fearsome reputation. Speak of Bonas with hikers in the know and the tone often gets hushed and tinged with a bit of anxiety/excitement. The gorge itself is located just to the north of Lake Toxaway and is formed by the Tuckasegee River as it drains from the dammed Tanasee Creek Lake above. At around 500-feet in depth Bonas isn't a monster gorge but it is, regardless, still generally acknowledged to be home to some of the roughest terrain in the area, if not the entire region. Also, did I mention there's no official trail through it? Any would-be explorers to Bonas need to be comfortable with bushwhacking, wading rivers, and scrambling over and around boulders the size of small houses. Sound like fun? Yeah...I thought so too!!
It's no secret that much of the time I undertake my hiking adventures solo. I know, I know its always safer to have a partner...but I really cherish the solitude of going off in the woods on my own, left to my own decisions and skill to complete whatever plan I have come up with that day. Over the years I have become quite comfortable with solo hiking. I feel my wilderness knowledge is such that, given a crises in the woods, I would in most cases be able to extricate myself from the situation or survive until help arrived. Even so, there are places I WILL NOT GO...usually in places that involve high accident risks combined with remoteness that would prevent help from arriving, if it ever did. Needless to say, Bonas Defeat Gorge qualifies on both accounts. So, in March of this year, I went on a little recon hike to see if the gorge did indeed live up to all the hype. You can see an album of this 'recon' hike by clicking here. In short yes, yes it did. I made it about half way through the gorge on that day before good sense forced me to accept that attempting a full traverse solo just wasn't a wise decision. I reluctantly admitted defeat. Luckily for me I didn't have to wait long for a return journey. A group of intrepid fellow hikers from the area had also been itching for a chance at traversing Bonus Defeat so, a short two months after my first crack at it, I found myself once again facing down the gorge.
The plan was a simple one on paper. With the benefit of multiple vehicles the traverse could be done in a point-to-point fashion. So, we stashed half of them at a small lot along the shore of Tanasee Creek Lake on Highway 281 and piled in the rest to drive down to our starting point at nearby Grays Ridge. From the access point on Grays Ridge we would enter the gorge from below (as I had done two months prior), pick our way up through Bonus Defeat in a choose-your-own-adventure-type fashion, and hopefully emerge at the highway again somewhere above the Tanasee Creek Lake Dam. I'm pleased to say things went quite smoothly. With the benefit of having two Bonus Defeat 'veterans' along and the confidence of safety-in-numbers we picked our way up through Bonus Defeat's maze of Jurassic-sized boulders, potholes, and cascades with little trouble. It was, in short, one of the most fantastically beautiful and unique adventures I've ever had the good fortune of experiencing in the Southern Appalachians. So, come on along with me and experience the infamous Bonus Defeat Gorge. It's a place quite unlike any other...ENJOY!!!
Mileage Hiked: 4.7 miles Hike Duration: 6:00
Trailhead Temp: 50'F Trail Traffic: None!
Min. Elevation: 2,550' Max. Elevation: 3,220'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,315' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 280'