By Tim Gardner
Tragedy struck on Saturday, April 17 as a hiker died following a long fall from a rock formation in the Linville Gorge Wilderness area, proclaimed by the United States Forest Service for having the deepest and most rugged terrain of any such gorge in the Eastern United States.
Linville 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 it.
A man and his son were hiking the Babel Tower trailhead of the Linville Gorge when the man, who appeared to be in his late 50s, apparently decided to climb part of Babel Tower without using any ropes for safety.
Various Burke County Emergency Management (EMS) personnel arrived around 12:30 p.m. after hiking themselves more than a mile to the incident location where they found the victim. The male was declared dead there by emergency workers.
Burke County EMS Captain Brad Browning said it is believed the victim fell about 40 to 60 feet and that he had not originally intended to climb the rock formation when he and his son set off to hike the trail.
The victim was recovered with help from the North Carolina Helo-Aquatic Rescue Team.
The incident is currently under investigation by the United State Forest Service. The victim’s name has not been released by authorities.
Babel Tower is a popular destination in the Linville Gorge Wilderness area and is one of the most heavily used official trails on the western side of the gorge. It is a massive rock pinnacle rising past 400 feet in height above a giant horseshoe curve in the river.
The Linville Gorge Wilderness is the third largest wilderness area in North Carolina (behind Shining Rock Wilderness and Joyce-Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness) and one of only two wilderness gorges in the Southern United States (along with Bald River Gorge Wilderness in Tennessee). Maintained by the United States Forest Service, the Linville Gorge Wilderness area comprises 11,786 acres around the Linville River, and is situated inside the Pisgah National Forest. The river is so far below the area’s ridge, making hiking in and out of the Gorge is challenging and enjoyable for those who like serious hiking.
Popular tourist attractions in or near the wilderness include: Linville Falls, a waterfall fed by the river and free to the public; Wiseman’s View, a rock outcrop near the center of the gorge that gives an excellent view of the interior of the gorge; and Linville Caverns, a privately maintained cave attraction accessible by automobile from U.S. Route 221.