Hawksbill-Ledge Trail Loop (12-3-17)
Hawksbill Mountain is the northernmost of three peaks which rise like giant stone sentinels from the east rim of Linville Gorge. Deriving its name from the sharp, slanted ledges which stand out like beaks from its summit, Hawksbill commands some of the most awe-inspiring views of the Gorge one can find. The summit rises to a respectable elevation of just over 4,000-feet and is accessible by a well-traveled but steep path which leads 1.5-miles up from a frequently busy parking area along Table Rock Road. Up to this point, the official trail was the only way I had ever visited Hawksbill. Little did I know there was another route to the summit, one that requires a great deal more energy along with offering precious rugged solitude. This route is known as the Ledge Trail and is one of Linville Gorge's many unofficial paths, created by climbers and hikers looking to discover new and remote lesser-known corners of the gorge. As such there is no trailhead for the Ledge Trail and you likely won't find it printed on most trail maps you'll find. Though the path is easily followed you have to know where to look if you want to find it, so a good GPS is required for this particular trek. That, or maybe contact a friend (as I had to) to point you in the right direction.
The Ledge Trail begins off Table Rock Road about a half-mile south of the official Hawksbill parking area. The path enters the woods in a very unassuming manner...like I've said, if you don't know where to look you probably would never see it. From the road it heads towards the lip of the gorge on a fairly level grade and, for the most part, is easy to follow. Along the way the trail crosses a couple of old slide areas where rocks tumbling from the cliffs above now rest among the trees on the slopes below. Just before turning to start to climb the mountain the path also passes by a nice open ledge with views into the middle of the gorge. Past this ledge the character of the trail changes dramatically. As it turns to assault the peak form the west it becomes exceedingly steep and rugged. Though there are no views it's still a spectacular climb as the path follows the base of the towering multi-colored cliffs which comprise Hawksbill's western face. In many places the trail is faint as you scramble up, over, and around massive fallen boulders. It's spectacularly rugged. The climb along the cliffs continues for about a half mile until the point where the Ledge Trail begins to circle around the north side of the summit emerging onto the Hawksbill Trail less than a quarter mile from the top. At that point it was a quick climb to the summit where I soaked in all the amazingly scenic eye-candy Hawksbill has to offer. It's a mountain I will never tire of visiting, as I'm sure you'll understand as you browse the album.
From the summit I would simply descend via the familiar Hawksbill Trail back to Table Rock Road and finish up with a half-mile road walk to where I started. Overall, this was one of the more spectacular hikes I have ever undertaken at Linville Gorge...and if you've perused any of my other albums you'll know what high praise that is. It's not an altogether long hike but the ruggedness of it will have your legs feeling like they've traveled much more than the three miles they have, believe me. So, without further adieu I present to you an ascent of Hawksbill Mountain like few people get to see. This is a tough one so make sure you tie your boots tight and don't forget to hydrate. Also, as always....ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.908563, -81.879728
Route Type: Loop Difficulty: HARD
Mileage Hiked: 3.2 miles Hike Duration: 2:20
Trailhead Temp: 50'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people (all on Hawksbill Trail)
Min. Elevation: 3,080' Max. Elevation: 4,020'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,100' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 344'
Trails Used (blaze color): Hawksbill (unblazed), Ledge (unblazed)