Saturday, May 31, 2014

It Remains the Same Astonishing View, 20 Years Later

Your favorite editr shooting a video with a tiny camera from McAfee's Knob.
Pretty yellow wildflowers.
Early-season blackberries

Your choice: Appalachian Trail (left), fire trail (right).
Left turn off the fire trail.
McAfee's Knob presents two distinct challenges, depending on how you choose to hike it. I chose easy up, hard down today.

From the parking lot at the top of Catawba Mountain on Virginia 311, you have to make the choice: Appalachian Trail all the way to the top or fire trail for the first 2.5 miles, then a 1.6-mile hike to the knob. The difference is enormous.

The fire-trail/AT route is as easy as a city greenway walk, except for the last few hundred yards, which are steep. The alternative all-AT route is as difficult as hikes get on the Appalachian Trail, I'd venture. The all-AT route is slightly longer, but immeasurably more difficult, tricky, dangerous, steep, rocky and wearing on these old legs.

It has been more than 20 years since I've walked to the Knob and, frankly, on the way up I was wondering what happened to the trail. I remembered it being at least slightly difficult and it wasn't. I talked to another hiker on the way up--a guy 35 years younger than me--and he remembered the hike from his college days as being much steeper and harder.
My son Evan and me 25 years ago on the point.

On the way down, I decided to do the AT route--against my better judgement. It pushed me to my physical limit and there was as much uphill on this downhill run as there was going up in the first place. It's almost unfair to have to go up coming down.

BUT, there's that view. The view we all know, have all seen thousands of times in photos, the view that never changes, never gets old, always takes my breath when I walk out of the woods and into the sunlight. It is simply astonishing, no matter the time of day, year or your life.

Hike the trail. If you're in very good shape and are sure-footed, take the AT route. If not, walk the fire road. It doesn't make any difference how you get there. Just go.

(Brand new Virginia Tech grad Chris Driscoll took the photo of me. I made the stupid error of climbing all the way to the top with a camera battery in my Canon that was nearly exhausted. I got five pix on the top before the battery died,  and I really appreciate Chris for taking four of them.)

1 comment:

  1. As I recall, the last segment of the trail, essentially from the upper shelter to the top, was re-routed a few years ago. The new route is MUCH easier, especially around the power line cut. When I come down, I usually take the fire road all the way down from the top. It's a unique and seldom used stretch from the boulder field to the AT/ fire road junction. Also, on the power cut at the top of the mountain, there is the coolest white rock. You can see it from I-581.