Mark and Norma at McAfee Knob on September 6, 2009


Virginia Triple Crown 2009

Last updated September 9, 2009



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three

My second favorite holiday is Labor Day with my favorite being Memorial Day. One welcomes the beginning of summer while the other marks the end. Both are ideal for spending time outdoors.

Norma and I decided to spend our coveted Labor Day weekend backpacking with Mike J. of the Howard County Sierra Club. We were joined by Barbara (Sparky), Pam (Gadget Girl), Chuck, Mike B. and Vicky (Jack and Jill), Dottie, Mark, and John...all folks with whom I've backpacked in the past...and who I hope to backpack with in the future.

It would be a weekend to explore new places, see familiar faces, and clear my mind.

Day One, Saturday, September 5, 2009

The route Mike chose was taken from from 50 Hikes in Southern Virginia by Leonard Adkins. It is a three day backpacking trip that takes one through the Virginia Triple Crown. The Triple Crown means many things but in this context, it is a section of the Appalachian Trail that leads one past three prominent and stunning overlooks.

After a 4 hour and 20 minute drive from Hyattsville, Norma and I met the group at the Andy Layne trailhead, about 8.4 miles west of the intersection of Roanoke Road (route 220) and Catawba Road (route 779) on Catawba Road in Troutville, Virginia 24175. The dirt parking lot on the southeast side of the road holds about 8 vehicles and has somewhat of a steep dropoff.

From here, we car shuttled about 11 miles to the Dragon's Tooth trailhead on route 311.

It was a short and easy half mile walk to the campsite. We set up our gear, hung our food, then set off to explore the famous Dragon's Tooth with much lighter packs.

Never before have I seen so many young people on the trail. We saw several large groups of local college students out enjoying their first or second weekend of the new semester. Seeing their fresh faces made me feel old.

I enjoyed walking the trail and talking to Chuck about his numerous hiking adventures.

We hiked northeast on the Dragon's Tooth Trail for 1.5 miles. The trail merged with the Appalachian Trail for a mile. Then the two split and Dragon's Tooth Trail continued northeast, taking us to the peak at 2842 feet above sea level.

Seeing Dragon's Tooth, it was obvious how it got its name. There is a prominent rock that sticks up like a three story high tooth. Pam, Norma, and I climbed to the very top where we had 360 degree views of the area. See photos one, two, three, and four.

Our route back took us southwest on the Appalachian Trail then south on the 0.4 mile Boy Scout Trail.

On the way back, we stopped to pose for a group photo and see how much weight an old log could support (photo five).

Back at the campsite, I sawed firewood with my brand new Gerber Sportsmans Saw. Its sharp, aggressive teeth cut through 6 inch diameter logs easily and quickly.

The only water near the campsite was from a few muddy puddles in a dry stream bed. I was hesitant to trust my 14 year old water filter on such stagnant water. Dottie was just as unwilling so that night, she and Mark walked back to their car, drove to the nearest store, and bought 4 gallons of drinking water. Our saviours!

Four gallons may not sound like much for 11 people but our numbers would be significantly smaller tomorrow. Our leader cracked a rib or two prior to the hike. He originally throught he'd be fine but it ended up really bothering him that day. While he was able to complete our 5 mile and 1500 foot elevation gain Dragon's Tooth hike, he did not feel he could safely lead us on the other two days. I've caught some punches and kicks to the ribs so can imagine how he felt. I admire the fact that he was able to lead us on our short day hike.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called for clear skies and no chance of rain while called for a 30% chance of isolated thunderstorms. My respect for NOAA dropped significantly that night as we were poured upon. I also lost some respect for my REI Quarter Dome T2 Tent which let water in at the rain fly vent.

During the night, we heard several wild dogs barking.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Two, Sunday, September 6, 2009

The rain ceased during the night but the day remained humid and somewhat overcast.

Mike J., Mike B., Vicky, John, and Chuck bid farewell. They packed out the multitude of trash (mostly beer cans) that littered our campsite when we arrived.

Dottie and Mark took charge, filling Mike J.'s role as trip leader. Their years of backpacking experience made me comfortable in Mike's absence.

By 0900, those of us remaining were trekking out on the Appalachian Trail.

Barb was the fast one of our bunch. Perhaps her trail name should be changed from Sparky to Speedy.

Our hearty six climbed up and down ladders to get into and out of cow pastures. We passed a shallow, muddy, cowpie filled stream. Yet another place not suitable for obtaining drinking water. But it was refreshing to get out from under the trees and walk in the open areas. See photo one.

Norma and I saw a fallen wasp nest and a bright green caterpillar. Someone saw a walking stick but unfortunately, it was not us. Several large mushrooms were seen too.

Along the trail were log books where hikers could report conditions and sights. A few people reported seeing a rattlesnake but sadly, we missed it. Norma wrote cheerful salutations (photo two).

My last backpacking trip was almost a year ago, on October 25-27, 2008. While I stay in reasonable shape by kayaking, swimming, jogging, and lifting weights, I was finding myself no longer conditioned for backpacking. Use it or lose it.

Somewhere around mile 9, we came to a good source of water. Here, we filled up all our water bottles which were now mostly empty. No need for filtering here. The water trickled straight from a PVC pipe attached to a spring.

Near the end of our hike, we stopped at McAfee Knob, said to be the finest Appalachian Trail view in all of Virginia. Mark pointed out the route for tomorrow (photo three), a ridgeline that would lead us back to the Andy Lane Trailhead (photo four).

We stopped for the night at Campbell Shelter. There was a spring but it was dry so it was good that we filled up all our water bottles when we did. Many of Mike's trips involve stopping for the night near a source of water where we can refill our canteens, rinse off, and if we're really lucky, go for a swim. After walking 11.44 miles and climbing about 3000 feet in warm, humid weather, Norma and I were quite sticky. I would have paid big money that night for a shower and a cold Diet Pepsi.

At the shelter, we met Ruth A. This 72 year old woman has been section hiking the Appalachian Trail for quite awhile. I'm sure her positive attitude will keep her hiking for several years to come.

The campsite had an outhouse with a resident mouse.

I got a good number of mosquito bites that night and the previous one though they were nothing like the Maine mosquitos.

I sawed more firewood and got a fire going but by 2030, most of us had retired for the evening.

I heard an owl during the night.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Three, Monday, Labor Day, September 7, 2009

We awoke to a cloudy morning. No rain during the night so our tent was nice and dry.

I found a beautifully symmetrical flower at our campsite. See photo one.

By 0830, we were back to hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

We passed several rocky areas that made it feel like we were walking through ancient ruins. See photos two, three, and four.

In the distance, we saw Carvin Cove Reservoir. See photo five.

Today's hike was much easier than yesterday's. The terrain was easier, the distance shorter, and perhaps most importantly, we had the psychological incentive of knowing we would be going home to a hot meal and a cool shower.

The 6 of us walked along Tinker Cliffs (photo six) and caught several nice but hazy views.

At Scorched Earth Gap, we caught the Andy Layne Trail which took us 3.1 miles back to our original meeting place.

Along the way, we passed by our second good source of drinking water, Catawba Creek. See photo seven. A nice little bridge kept us from having to do a stream crossing (photo eight). While we would have loved such a creek on our first or second day, our trip was now almost over so we didn't bother to refill.

Norma spotted a 6 inch long, 1 inch diameter hickory horned devil caterpillar (photo nine). This alien-looking creature eventually turns into a royal walnut moth which bears little resemblance. This was definitely our big find for the trip and a nice way to end it.

After 8.4 miles and about 1500 feet of elevation gain, our weekend backpacking trip of the Virginia Triple Crown was over.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

My Labor Day weekend was a good one. I backpacked almost 25 miles with about 6000 feet of elevation gain. I saw some great views and some interesting critters. I spoke to good people I haven't seen for months. I even managed to clear my mind...somewhat.

Norma and I began our long drive home, but not until I found a small local store that sold cold Diet Pepsi on tap. Soda never tasted so good.