AT Day 045: Monday May 22,  2023

Mile 698 + 23 miles / 37 km

Total Distance Hiked: 721 miles / 1160 km

Camp – Dragons Tooth – Lost Spectacles Gap – Rawies Nest – VA Route 624 – VA Route 785 – Catawba Creek – VA Route 311 – Johns Spring Shelter – Catawba Mountain Shelter – McAfee Knob – Campbell Shelter – Tinker Cliffs – Lambert Meadows Campsite

A: 5435 ft / 1658 m  D: 5390 ft /1644 m

We had a grand plan to hike Virginias Triple Crown in one day. The triple crown is the jewel in Virginias section of the AT. It is a series of rocky outcrops and ledges stretching over 20 miles and offering some of the best views in Virginia. Closest to where we camped was the Dragons Tooth, followed by McAfees Knob and then the Tinker Cliffs. It was going to be a long day so we made an early start. 

All night some animal made a sound like a car alarm slowly running out battery.  It was too loud and persistent to be a bird or a frog.  The sound stopped around 4.30 am when both Hammer and I were well and truly  awake. 

We broke camp and were on our way around 6am. Jason, whom we met last night, convinced us that there were no campsites once you reach the ridge top on the way to the Dragons Tooth. We suspected that there would be and our plan last night, before meeting him, was to hike up to the ridge and camp. But we figure he is a local, he knows best. 

It was somewhat annoying to get to the ridgtop this morning and see a brilliant sunrise and then find around at least 10 unofficial campsites spread over a mile, mile and half on the way to the Dragons Tooth. Anyhow,  lesson learnt. We had a beautiful morning hiking the ridge towards the Tooth. Several stands of the pink lady orchids, some well past their prime,  were a bonus find here. The trail traversed big sandstone slabs and outcrops which made for slow going in this section.

We reached the Dragons Tooth around 8am and were surprised to find no one there. The Tooth is a huge vertical sandstone slab which is reached on a  half mile side trail off the AT. 

We stopped for breakfast and Hammer went to the top of the Tooth but didn’t want to risk raising his full 6’3″ frame on such a narrow platform. As for me, I was just happy to see it and had no impulse to climb it. Happy to admire it’s grand scale from below. As we were leaving the first of the day hikers arrived. 

Once we were off the side trail and rejoined the AT,  the descent was really quiet slow going and I definitely needed my  hands to scoot down narrow the rocky ledges.  

We slowly inched our way down. As we were heading down we passed quite a few day hikers coming up from the trailhead carpark. Our timing could not have been better. We had it to ourselves for about half an hour before anyone else arrived.


Once the AT parted from the carpark trailhead we were again on our own and on smooth trail underfoot. The sun was shining and temperature was perfect. Wonderful hiking conditions. 

We filtered water at the stream by the road   crossing and weighed down by an extra 2kg each,  we headed up numerous switchbacks that joined to a series of grassy meadows. The first of the meadows was a cattle grazing pasture and so we were constantly dodging fresh cow patties. It was warm being out of the green tunnel and in the full glare of the almost midday sun. It was a delight to re-enter the cool of the woods as we started to ascent the next ridge  – Sawtooth ridge. Just before starting up we had a great view back of the Dragon Tooth cliffs behind us. 

The morning was a constant hum of either highway traffic on the way to the Tooth and later of a chainsaw as we ascended the ridge where we stopped for lunch. 

Lunch over it was time to get serious about getting to the most visited and the most photographed  of the three features,  McAfee’s Knob. We pushed hard  to get to the trailhead carpark and from there it was a 3.5 mile ascent to the Knob. On the way down we met a southbound hikers who told us that the most amazing trail magic in the carpark was ahead. This was all we needed to hear. Hammer found another gear and at around 2pm we exited the woods to find a large group of hikers gathered at one end. We were welcomed and offered a hikers dream of trail magic. We met the hosts,  who were a group of friends who hiked the trail last year and sadly lost one of their trail family to a tragic accident on McAfee’s Knob. All my emotions were on the surface and I almost cried when I heard this. They were all so young and were doing what they loved. It seemed so cruel and unfair.   Such a tragic loss affects us all as hikers who share a common bond.  His friends were hosting a day of trail magic today to honour and remember their friend – the Grandmaster.


We were fed and watered and sent off with a care package of treats. It was hard to leave but we still had many miles to go. I again almost burst into tears as we thanked the hosts and were on our way for the 3.5 mile ascent to McAfee’s Knob.  Some people on trail try and time their visit to the Knob to coincide with the morning sunrise. We were not so organized. We made the top at around 4pm and met up with a trail family of six hikers who left the trailhead carpark as we arrived. 

The views were simply breathtaking. It felt like all of Virginia was at our feet down below. I can see why it is one of the most visited sites. I’d hate to be here on a weekend. I can just imagine the visitor numbers. We had an early dinner and a toast to the memory of the Grandmaster. It was nice to chat to a few of the other hikers. They all seem so nice. 

As much as it would have been nice to stay and watch the sun get low on the horizon we had one more site in the triple crown.  A long meander  up and down through the woods before we reached the Tinkers Cliffs. A series a solid rock ledges with spectacular valley views.

The sun was dipping low and we left, following the edge of the cliffs before starting the descent towards Lambers Meadow Campsite. We had run out of water and it was such a relief to make it to the  campsite around 8pm. Hammer filtered water and I put up the Big Agnes Hilton. What a day, what a rollercoaster of emotions,  what memories. Exhausted we fell asleep as soon as the tent was zipped.