By Tim Gardner
A 23-person church group that had gone hiking got lost last Saturday in Linville Gorge near the Linville Falls Community.
The Linville Falls Community includes sections in Avery, Burke and McDowell counties.
Linville Central Rescue Squad joined the region’s Mountain Rescue Team and the Burke County Emergency Management to evacuate the lost group.
According to officials with Linville Central Rescue Squad, the group had become separated and two members were able to hike out and call for help. Burke County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responded around 7:30 p.m. and the Linville Rescue Squad and Mountain Rescue Team 1, which serves northwestern North Carolina, were called in to provide assistance with the search at approximately 10:30 p.m.
Linville Central Rescue Squad has volunteers from departments from across the High Country, including Watauga County Rescue Squad, Banner Elk Fire Department, Crossnore Fire Department and Linville Fire Department. Members of the Banner Elk and Linville fire departments as well as members of the parks service aided with the rescue of the church group.
None of the hikers were injured, but were reportedly cold and hungry by the late night when help arrived. All the hikers were able to hike out.
The Linville Gorge Wilderness is located entirely in the mountains of Western North Carolina. It’s part of the Pisgah National Forest. The gorge is formed by the Jonas Ridge on the east and Linville Mountain on the west and is bisected by the Linville River which drops 2,000 feet into the valleys below. The terrain is steep and rugged with numerous rock formations. It is covered by dense hardwood/pine forest and a wide variety of smaller trees and other plants. Recreation opportunities include hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, fishing and hunting.
With record numbers of visitors to the North Carolina High Country and to Grandfather Mountain this year, officials at Linville Central Rescue Squad noted that it has broken records for the number of calls to which it has responded.
Rescue Squad and other medical professionals stress that preparedness is all-important before and during any hiking activities. In the case of the church group, which had gotten turned around at the bottom of the Linville Gorge, daytime temperatures dropped to the 40s and 30s during the evening, and the group members were not reportedly attired with jackets and other warm clothing.
When rescuers reached the church group by the river, they immediately set up a fire, warmed the hikers and gave them some food.