Shortoff Mountain marks the dramatic southern extremity of Linville Gorge. It's precipitous cliffs rise over 2,000' above where the wild Linville River finally makes its escape from the mountains into the Piedmont. Despite its diminutive elevation (for the mountains anyway) Shortoff Mountain has a reputation in hiking circles as commanding perhaps the most scenic views in the entire Gorge. As a well-traveled hiker of Linville Gorge I had already seen some pretty spectacular locations so I was eager to see if Shortoff would live up to the hype.
Precipitous cliffs and spectacular views aside, Shortoff Mountain also has one other unique aspect to it. Some may call it an unfortunate aspect. Back in 2000 a severe drought was gripping the region and in the spring a huge wildfire swept through much of Linville Gorge. Over 4,000-acres in size it was the most severe wildfire the Gorge had seen in 50 years. Unfortunately for the natural communities of Shortoff Mountain, it would be far less time until the next catastrophe. Similar dry conditions sparked fires once again in 2007 and a massive wildfire (this one burning over 5,000-acres) swept over Shortoff, burning again what had been devastated only seven years earlier. Because the forest had had so little time to recover this second fire did longer-lasting damage to the landscape. It's intensity burned away every living plant and even the top layer of soil (also called duff). What remained once the flames died was a mountain devoid of vegetation and much of the rich soil that vegetation needed to re-grow. Therefore, the Shortoff Mountain I found this day had recovered very little despite the passage of eight years. Charred stumps and trunks are everywhere and for much of the hike living plant life is restricted to grasses and widely-scattered young pines. It was fascinating. And the views? Well, suffice to say Shortoff's reputation for beauty is well-deserved. Come on along and see for yourself...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.824051, -81.889310
Hike Length: 4.5 miles Hike Duration: 2:30
Trailhead Temp: 45'F
Min. Elevation: 1,760' Max. Elevation: 3,000'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,300' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 473' (ascent)