McAfee Knob, Jefferson National Forest, Virginia (Feb/26/2023)
McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed features on the Appalachian Trail, with an overhanging perch that offers great views of the Virginia countryside. I first visited this iconic spot in the summer of 2018, during the time Hurricane Michael was roaming the east coast. It was raining and all I managed to see was the inside of a cloud. It was a pretty disappointing experience. Yesterday, in gorgeously sunny conditions, I finally managed a return trip.
I left Richmond, Virginia, at 2:30am. The nearly three hour drive was quite stressful due to thick fog. However, I broke out of it at the McAfee Knob trailhead, which removed my fear of another viewless hike. I was on the trail at 5:35am. After the first 0.3mi the Appalachian Trail jogs right, and angles uphill along the side of the mountain, with quite a few ups and downs. A alternate route stays atop the ridge on a fire road. I took the latter, which is 0.3-0.5mi shorter, and makes for faster travel due to the better surface and more consistent gradient. I rejoined the Appalachian trail for the final 1.3mi, which was also when I switched off my headlamp. I was hoping to get to the top by sunrise, and just made it, 1hr 20min after having left the car.
For a super popular place, I was surprised and delighted to have it all to myself. Sunlight was beginning to spill over into the Catawba Valley laid out before me. The fog I'd faced on the drive still swathed the valley floor. The town of Roanoke was almost completely swaddled by the thick blanket. It was all pretty magical, and I finally saw for myself what all the hoopla was about.
After a leisurely 1.75hrs, I headed back to the car. For my return I took the Appalachian Trail option, making for a bit of a loop hike.