The Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs are known as the Virginia Triple Crown. The Tooth was yesterday, and the Knob and the Cliffs awaited me today. Unfortunately it also awaited hundreds of day hikers.
I wanted to get up extra early to make sure I had a jump on the day and that I could make Daleville before dark. But it was really cold last night and all I could muster was 6:00 a.m. wake up. I also fell for the headlights coming up the trail trick again. I thought I spotted a hiker climbing up the switchbacks to the top of the ridge where I was camped. But they seemed far enough away that I wasn’t going to wait for them this time. About the time I was getting my shoes on I realized it was headlights from cars in the valley below and not hikers. Oops.
I don’t know exactly what the temperature was but it was definitely in the 30s and probably the coldest night yet. I wore my leggings and fleece on top of my long sleeve shirt to start the day. I didn’t get rolling till right at 7:00 a.m. but I still needed my headlamp for about 15 minutes.
About 15 minutes after putting my headlamp away I came across a campfire burning right in the middle of the trail high up top the ridge amongst some rocks. The fire was burning pretty well but I couldn’t find anybody around. I called out looking for the campers but nobody responded. I’ve been realized that someone had abandoned this campfire still blazing. Jackasses. There was trash all around so I threw the trash in the main part of the fire which looked pretty secure and pushed the burning pieces together. Anything that was not burning I moved out of the way and anything that was barely burning I pulled out and tried to knock the embers off. I had less than a half a liter of water and had several miles to go to get any so I couldn’t afford to try to put it out with my water. I would have needed two or three liters to put this thing dead out anyway. I did the best I could and moved on.
By this time I was getting warm so I took my fleece off. With my gloves on I was actually pretty good temperature wise. The ridge that I was walking now was very narrow and very rocky so I’m very fortunate to have stopped where I did to camp. If I had gone any further I would have had to go at least three more miles to find a place to be able to camp. And I’m glad I didn’t night hike until 11:00 p.m.
By the time I got down to the parking area for McAfee Knob I was amazed to see that the lot was completely full, actually over full with some cars blocking in other cars. There was another parking lot down the road and people were walking single file up from that lot as well. Today was going to be a busy day on McAfee Knob.
The knob itself is 4 mi from the parking area. The trail was thick with hikers and it took right at 2 hours or maybe just a little less to get up to the knob. I passed probably 50 or 60 people on the way up. I also passed probably 20 dogs, some of them barking hysterically and fighting. When I got up to the knob there were about a hundred people there. Early on the hike from the parking lot I met a guy coming down who said he camped up there and that at sunrise nearly 300 people were crowded on the rocks. 100 is definitely better than 300 but it’s still a lot of people. People were lining up to take pictures on this famous rock. It is the most photographed location on the Appalachian Trail.
On the way up there was a group of hikers that was taking a group selfie and after they had taken it I jumped in and said take one more so they did. The same group was on top of the knob now and one of them was donning a dinosaur suit and was inflating it. Oh yes, I must get a picture with the dinosaur and I did.
Once the AT passed the knob the trail got much much quieter. But I was surprised to see that I was still having people pass in the opposite direction every two or three minutes. These people must be doing the Triple Crown and must have just come from Tinker Cliffs where I was headed.
I finally made it to Tinker Cliffs about 1:45. Perfect timing for third lunch. Yes I said third lunch. While eating on the rocks I met a hiker that was doing the Triple Crown and she explained the route to me. They use a different ridge and can actually make a circle and loop together all three of the landmarks. Another hiker approached that I had passed earlier was also hiking northward. He was finishing his last section to finish the AT and was going to the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. He was only planning on going 10 mi for the day. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was planning 20 plus.
From Tinker Cliffs it’s right at 10 miles into town and leaving at 2:00 would make it right at 7:00 when I should get to town. This is right at the limit of how late I wanted to hike. I headed on and the trail, once it dropped off the ridge, got much easier. It was graded well and not too rocky and didn’t go up and down too much. In the middle of this stretch I’m at another southbounder and we chatted a while. He mentioned that the ridge just before Daleville was pretty rocky. This was not good news because it could potentially push me past seven.
I made sure to drink and snack enough and had another coffee to make sure I kept my energy up. About 4 mi from Daleville it did get quite rocky and I slowed down quite a bit. But luckily with the easy trail I had gained about 30 minutes, so with this slow down I should still be able to get there by 7:00. As luck would have it I did end up getting to town at 6:45. Yay me.
I also did another experiment throughout the day with my heart rate monitor. Early in the day on high effort climb I did record high 130s for a heart rate. This is exactly what I would expect. But after lunch I was only recording 120s. And by 6:00 p.m. again 102 was about the highest I recorded even though I felt like I was hiking just as hard and I was definitely breathing just as hard. I guess I’m just flat out tired and when you’re tired you can only go so fast. The data doesn’t lie.
Highway 220 was very busy and it took me several minutes to be able to cross. My hotel was only a couple buildings down from the trail. It’s the same one I stayed at 10 years ago. When I got there it was way nicer than I remembered. They have definitely upgraded since then. It’s a Super 8 by Wyndham.
I got checked in and showered quickly because now it was approaching 8:00 and I needed to get dinner. Instead of trying a half a mile to the barbecue joint I ate at the Mexican restaurant right out in front of the hotel. I ate there 10 years ago as well and it was delicious this time as well as the last time.
Back at the hotel I started laundry. While the laundry was going I started planning out the next resupply for the next week. I don’t want to carry 7 days worth of food but the options in the middle are not great. Buena Vista is the best option at about 4 days but it’s 10 miles off trail and will require hitchhiking, finding a cab company, trying Uber or Lyft, or hoping I can find the number of a shuttle. I have not had good luck with Uber this trip and I doubt hitchhiking will work during COVID, and I don’t think there are any taxis in Buena Vista. So I think I’m down to shuttle drivers. I will pack for 4 days of food and pray that I can get the Buena Vista easily. There is a Food Lion there.
Speaking of Food Lion, that is one thing I was not able to do tonight. It was well after 10:00 before my laundry finished and even though the grocery is open till 11:00 I just don’t feel like walking around in the cold and dark a half a mile down the road to go grocery shopping. Grocery shopping will have to wait until tomorrow.