Appalachian Trail in VA Project – McAfee Knob & Tinker Cliffs – 6/8/13 – VA 311 to Lamberts Meadow Campsite – 10.7 miles
It has been called the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail: McAfee Knob. Some are thrilled by it, some are horrified. How close to the edge would you go?
Stephanie, one of my favorite buds from our Girl Scout leader days, is getting back into back- packing. She has lately come to realize that jobs and obligations will always fill in the spaces of life unless you fill them with what you love. So how about an overnight trip on one of the most iconic stretches of the AT through Virginia? Yes!
I booked a ride with Homer Witcher, well-known not just for his shuttle service based near Daleville, VA, but perhaps even more for his trail building and maintenance efforts and his whole family’s involvement in the AT. In 2002 Homer, age 60, and his wife, age 40, and their two children, ages 8 and 11, thru-hiked the AT as a family. Now 71, Homer still does half-marathon trail runs for fun and devotes himself to being an ambassador for the trail. I don’t think you’ll find a better one.
Need some more inspiration? Read about the Witcher family thru-hike here.
Well, Homer wasn’t available for us so he sent his son Ben to set us up for our overnight hike (that 8-year-old is now 19.) Currently a student at Virginia Tech, Ben takes after his dad in a rare combination of self-assurance plus humility, and is a ridiculously gifted athlete. He occasionally runs from his home in Daleville to the campus at VT for “practice.”
Back to Stephanie and me on the AT – here we go to McAfee Knob. I’ve been there once before (see photo above) and was very excited to be going again. I love showing these special places to friends!
Mountain laurel still had the star power with an explosion of blooms everywhere
Although it is a 7-mile out-and-back dayhike, the trail to McAfee Knob is not lonely on an early clear-blue-sky Saturday afternoon. Rarely were we out of eyesight or earshot of other hikers both coming and going. No chance of getting a solitary photo but we can still prove we were there, right?
Looking northeast from the Knob, the shadowy ridgeline at the center of the photo is the northbound AT that we will follow next
The prominent mountain in the center is Tinker Cliffs which we will pass over next on our way to tonight’s campsite
Just as Stephanie and I left McAfee Knob to churn out more miles, a large group of people arrived. I’d bet money there was a tour bus in the parking area.
A fern bank
Sometimes blazes lead you through tight spaces
And sometimes they require you to duck your head
Yeah, Stephanie, come on up here!
Our reward: standing on Tinker Cliffs, looking back at McAfee Knob in the center
I’ve heard other hikers say, and now I can agree, that Tinker Cliffs is even more amazing than McAfee Knob. It’s an extensive wall of sandstone, a half-mile-long walk along the cliff edge looking down into the Catawba Valley. The fact that an overnight or a long dayhike (18+ miles) is required to access Tinker Cliffs adds to the appeal. After the throngs of McAfee Knob, we shared the Cliffs with just three thru-hikers who had stopped to enjoy the late afternoon.
Stephanie looks very content
One more look
But we have a few more miles to go today, so continuing on…
From Tinker Cliffs we tiptoed down a one-mile, 1,000-foot descent, passing through Scorched Earth Gap. My A.T. Guide says, “Sources differ over the origin of this place name. One account says slash-and-burn agriculture may have been used here; another says it was the site of a scathing argument between maintainers.” Now it just looks like an open gap with an intersecting trail. Any other guesses?
We peeked into the Lamberts Meadow Shelter just to see who was in residence (half a dozen hikers) but did not plan to stay there. A green-and-yellow garter snake gave me a start by crossing the overgrown side trail near my toes. On Ben Witcher’s advice, we continued on another .3 miles down the trail to Lamberts Meadow Campsite. After all, Stephanie had carried her sleeping hammock and I had carried my tent all this way.
The campsites were spread along the edge of a stream. We’d had a late start and a long day and it was 7:30 p.m. when we arrived, so most of the sites were taken. One tent was pitched by itself in a large site and the owner’s food bag was half-heartedly strung in a tree near the other suitable tent spot. It appeared that the hiker had already crawled into bed for the night. Stephanie strung up her hammock, I pitched my little Lightheart tent, and we quickly treated water and cooked supper. In the waning light we hung up our food bags the right way, high up in a tree and tied up tight. It was the first time we had done that in some years and we congratulated ourselves on a job well done.
“Sleeping in a tent after a long day’s walk is one of (my) life’s greatest pleasures.” ~ Sharon McCarthy aka Smoky Scout