Appalachian Trail to McAfee Knob – 11/18/11 - 7 Miles Round Trip
Most of you know that my husband Jim and I are Virginia Tech alums, as are two of our children and many of my relatives (I am a Virginia native and Jim got there from New Jersey as soon as he could). Since graduation many moons ago we return regularly to Blacksburg for football games. Every trip to Tech is a homecoming for us as many college friends gather to tailgate, celebrate and cheer for the Hokies. Who knew back in those good old days that any of us would ever amount to anything? And yet we survived, thrived and continue to come back to touch the old Hokie stone.
One particular game in November 2011 was played for TV on a Thursday night (we won) and a group of us planned to make a long weekend of it. Our friend Dave arranged for a condo at Wintergreen Resort farther up the road and a limo winery tour in the Shenandoah Valley for Saturday. But what to do on Friday? Dave asked me if I knew of any good hikes.
I thought you’d never ask.
The Appalachian Trail passes just north of Hokie territory and I set my sights on McAfee Knob, one of the most photo- graphed spots on the AT. At the trailhead parking on Route 311 I got a starting photo of the gang: from left, Jim, Dan, Dave, Colin and Cheri. (I have pictures of us 30 years younger but may be incriminating.)
The AT crosses 311 and immediately begins climbing Catawba Mountain, a wake-up call to my hiking buddies after a late night game. We stopped near the top to check out an information kiosk and rearrange clothing (how did this late fall day get so hot all of a sudden?). After the climb the trail rolls gently until the final push up to the Knob.
An industrious Boy Scout Eagle project produced cool bridges over some steep areas, all numbered. I think there were 7.
Less than a mile in, we checked out John Springs Shelter
A piped spring near John Springs Shelter
I know I’ve hiked in plenty of rain, but the vast majority of my hiking memories conjure up days like this one, with a cloudless, beautiful blue sky etched with bare gray branches and leaves crunching underfoot. Walking past a white AT blaze, I wonder how many of these I will pass in my lifetime?
We crossed a fire road that the AT parallels and began the final long push up the mountain. Rocks became boulders, some big as cars, and the path became steeper. Then the sign and spur trail for McAfee Knob appeared – the main event.
I’ve seen many photos of hikers dangling from the edge and I knew just where to position myself on the ledge called the Anvil. When you’re standing on this spot it seems very solid and broad and you don’t think about whether it can just…break off or something…
Got to do all the poses while I’m here
The high point of the nearest ridge (just above my feet) is Tinker Cliffs, which the AT also passes over on its northbound journey to Maine.
A little yoga moment
We roamed around the top of the Knob, which is quite broad, then sat down for lunch, watching other hikers arrive and gasp at the incredible view.
A last look
On the return hike our group got spread out a bit and I had the opportunity to walk alone for a while, something I always treasure. Sometimes I think about stuff, but most often I just look and listen and breathe and enjoy what’s right in front of me.
Checking out the Catawba Mountain Shelter, about halfway back down
The all-important privy at Catawba Mountain Shelter
Gaining elevation is hard on the lungs but losing elevation can be hard on the knees, so the return hike seemed a little long to my non-hiking friends. We were glad to get back to the cars and head down the road to a good meal and our weekend getaway.
Have you ever thought about what would be the perfect fantasy day/weekend for you, all the things and people combined that make you happy? This weekend came very close for me: Hokies home football game, college friends hiking on the AT, an all-day limo winery tour singing along with Springsteen on the Ipod. I am truly blessed.
It’s something unpredictable, but then again is right
I hope you had the time of your life. ~Green Day
Let us endeavor to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry. ~Mark Twain