Southwest Ridge Route -- 2,100'

Russell Creek Cave & Suzy's Knob

Suzy’s Knob and Russell Creek Cave are not two destinations likely to pop up on a search for hikes in the Linville Gorge area. This is in part due to the fact that they are not actually within the Gorge but rather lie just east of it but, mostly, their anonymity is thanks to the lack of a trail system leading to them…as is the case with many of the Gorges most special places. Suzy’s Knob in fact is nothing more than a minor bump along a satellite ridge which extends south from the eastern rim of Linville Gorge. Paralleling the much higher Shortoff Mountain ridge, located just to the west, Suzy’s Knob is separated from said mountain by a deep gorge created by neighboring branches of a small but energetic stream known as Russell Creek. With elevations barely topping 2,000-feet one might not expect much in the way of scenery from this little knob but, “thanks" to major wildfires in the last decade, much of the upper slopes of the ridge where Suzy’s Knob is located have been severely denuded of trees. Only scattered stands of young pine populate the upper elevations allowing for sweeping, nearly 360-degree, panoramic views normally reserved for much higher peaks. It’s certainly a destination worth visiting in its own right…but why stop there…

Cutting along the west side of the ridge is the eastern branch of Russell Creek, where the second highlight of this trek is located. Russell Creek Cave is another all-but-unknown wonder of the Linville Gorge area. It’s a place I hesitate to share details of how to get to for fear it might be spoiled by those insensitive to preserving its unspoiled nature. Here, high up the eastern branch of Russell Creek, is a true cavern…not just an overhanging “rockhouse” as is more commonly found in the area…cut into a towering cliff face of jagged rock. Perhaps twenty feet deep and double that in width, the interior of the cave is fairly spacious and contains some absolutely fantastic geologic sights. Countless thin layers of slanted rock comprise the walls and ceiling of the cave. It’s incredible to contemplate the forces and time it must have taken to create such a place. If that wasn’t enough the tiny branch of Russell Creek which flows alongside creates a beautiful little cascade, fronted by a crystal-clear pool, as it is forced to make a sharp turn around the northern wall of the cave. The solitude and majesty of the Russell Creek Cave cannot be understated. It is a place worthy of respect and one that I hope remains in its presently wild and unspoiled state indefinitely.

Now normally this is where I’d break into a long, detailed, sometimes rambling description of the route I had used to find this most recent hiking destination. I’m sorry to disappoint but that’s not going to happen this time. It’s not often that I’m purposefully vague in sharing the locations of my hikes but, with this particular one, I feel required to do so. No doubt you’ll look through the album, see the pictures, and immediately want to go discover this spot for yourself. I can’t blame you. The fact is, however, unless you have extensive experience in off-trail navigation, traversing rugged terrain particularly of the Linville Gorge variety, and are in decent shape you really have no business attempting this trek. In addition, this is also an area which is in the early recovery stage from recent wildfire which makes the landscape particularly sensitive to excessive human disturbance.  I therefore don’t want to make these locations too easy to find. In fact, if you do go it’d be better off for the health of the environment if you DIDN’T retrace my steps exactly but rather plotted your own unique route. You’ll notice I have, however, included maps of the route which should allow one to figure out a starting point and give a general overview of the area. It will still take a bit of research on your part, though, to figure out where you’re going which I feel is the minimum obstacle that could be put in place in vetting those with a desire to visit. Again, I’m sorry if that disappoints some of you but I hope you can appreciate the necessity of keeping certain places under-the-radar, so-to-speak. That said I invite you now to come along with as I, and my intrepid hiking partner and guide Ashley, make the trek to the spectacular Suzy’s Knob and Russell Creek Cave. This isn’t one for everybody…so just sit back and enjoy the warmth and brier-free environs of your desk as you come along with us. As always…I hope you ENJOY!!

Route Type:  Bushwhack Loop     

Difficulty:  EXTREME (due to terrain & almost complete bushwhack(Petzoldt Rating:  7.50 )

Hike Length:  4.9 miles                   Hike Duration:  5:00

Trailhead Temp:  35'F                     Trail Traffic:  NONE!!

Min. Elevation:  1,280'                      Max. Elevation:  2,140'

Total Vertical Gain:  1,200'              Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  245'

***A special shout out needs to be given on this one to my partner Ashley, who's knowledge from previous visits to the area was invaluable in making this a much more trouble-free experience than it inevitably would have been had I made the visit on my own.  Thank you! ***

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