Life returns slowly to Shortoff Mountain after fire

Topping out at just over 3,000 feet, its height alone does not make Shortoff Mountain one of the most famous peaks in all of Western North Carolina. It is also a destination for hikers, rock climbers, campers and lovers of wilderness adventure.

Instead, Shortoff draws its fame from two outstanding physical features. One is its location at the southern end of Linville Gorge, the federally-protected wilderness area that is home to some of the most rugged landscapes in all of the Eastern United States. The second is the towering, dizzying, vertigo-inducing cliff face where the eastern side of Linville Gorge abruptly ends.

Normally, April is the month in which spring, and its accompanying greenery, creeps up the slopes of Shortoff. This year, however, the greenery and the wildflowers and the mountain laurel will have a far more difficult return to the lushness of spring. In mid-March a wildfire, believed to have been started by a lightning strike, burned more than 6,000 acres on the mountain and its lower slopes.

Twenty years ago, a hiker making his way to the summit of Shortoff was surrounded by the lush forests that are a hallmark of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Now, a trek to the top is through a landscape almost lunar in its sense of barren desolation.

So, should hikers and nature lovers avoid Shortoff and the rugged trails leading to its summit? Absolutely not. For even in the desolation, the charred trees, and the blackened ground, there is a raw, powerful beauty.

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