Taking on McAfee Knob

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I know I just got finished saying “never hike alone,” but hear me out!  Around the time Boo turned a year old (and had already been camping and hiking all over the east coast), I was getting ready to head back to school as a full-time teacher and part-time Master’s student.  After spending every moment of the summer months with my sweet little girl, I was devastated to trade her in for 150 teenagers.  I was determined to spend the weekends making up for this devastation.  That’s when I came across this article about Morgan Brechler.  This woman takes her daughter on adventures (by herself) every weekend!  I was inspired.

Now growing up, my parents had drilled into my head that I should never go hiking alone.  If you get injured, there is nobody to seek help or provide assistance.  There is also the concern of wildlife.  One person alone is less likely to scare off wildlife (although this can be a good thing, too).  And finally, it seems as though there are an awful lot of unsavory sorts of people out and about these days.  All of this is important and should not be taken lightly, but my husband works weekends and I have yet to find a local hiking crew.  So…stay home, be scared of the world, and miss out on adventure?  Or take a risk?

I decided to take a risk.  I spend a lot of time researching before I choose a hike.  I am hiking solo, not particularly in shape, and carrying a toddler.  I need hikes that are relatively easy, do not include rock scrambles, and are quite popular.  My theory here is that I may be hiking by myself, but I’m not actually hiking alone.  Get it?  I don’t know…I guess it makes sense to me.  Lucky for me, I live near Virginia Tech and those students are always hitting the trails!

DSC01007So how did we end up on McAfee Knob?  This is not a particularly difficult hike by itself, but it is supposed to lead to the most photographed spot on the entire Appalachian Trail (It has a 270-degree view).  Must be worth it, right?  I was in a desperate need to reset my adventure-o-meter and a good look-off works every time.  I was super excited to take on the challenge!

Boo and I packed a bunch of warm clothes (It was November after all!), a lunch, and we hit the road.  Our hiking gear lives in the trunk of my car – for easy getaways just like this one.  It was a long 20 minute drive to the trail head – No kidding…I live 20 minutes from this apparently gorgeous panoramic view and I had never made the trip?!

DSC01016We decided to take the fire trail to ease the trek a bit. (Read: We missed the turn off for the Appalachian Trail because it was covered in leaves and I am terrible with directions.  Whatever.)  Turns out the fire trail has some pretty awesome rock formations – Remember, half of this trip is for the Boo and looking at cool stuff like this is definitely a perk for her!

Somehow, we made it to the look-off and it was absolutely gorgeous!  1,010% worth it!  (Yes, I am a math teacher.  I’ll use impossible percentages for emphasis purposes if I want!)

“Most photographed spot” means “covered in people” – which, in turn, means lots of people around to take a picture of the solo hiker and her papoose!  Yay!

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We could sit at home waiting for Husband…or we could experience this.

Alright, so now we get to the part about how I didn’t think through the whole baby-on-a-cliff thing.  I had been trekking uphill, by myself, with 30 pounds of baby and gear on my back.  I was in need of a rest from the pack…but that pack was a toddler without fears of heights or steep drop-offs.  There was no way I was taking that pack off anywhere near the cliff.  Sooo…we spent about 5 minutes actually enjoying the fruits of our labor before backtracking to find a safe, flat area to take a break.

DSC01009This safe, flat area was actually covered in bear warnings, but here’s a little info about bears around here.  In southwest Virginia, we have black bears.  Of course they are wild animals, but they are typically happy to mind their own existence as long as you mind yours.  So the 30+ people just up the trail?  Yeah, that bear is not interested.  Not to mention, these bears are actually quite noisy stomping through the underbrush.  Under a watchful eye, I felt pretty secure in allowing Boo a little time to explore.

The trek down was largely uneventful until about mile 6.  At this point we both hit a wall.  I was exhausted and Boo was tired of sitting.  Unfortunately, we still had a little more than a mile and a half left.  DSC00999This is part of that whole “if you walk in, you have to walk back out” business I was talking about in my Hiking Tips Post.  I was by myself and unless Boo and I were going to live out the rest of our days on the fire trail to McAfee Knob (which really doesn’t sound all that displeasing), I was going to have to walk us out.  One foot in front of the other, working through sheer exhaustion and taking frequent breaks for the (now fussy) toddler, we finally made it out – just before dusk.  Whew!

Now, what did I learn from that trip…

  1. DSC00991Distance – Neither Boo or myself were ready to take on quite that distance with a baby in a carrier 100% of the time.  I am thinking about trying some sort of toddler climbing harness, so I can tether her to me just in case she decides to walk a little too close to the edge (we were walking on a ridge with drops on either side).  Until I find a solution, Boo and I will be choosing flatter or shorter hikes.  {Edit:  I found a solution!  You can read about it here!}
  2. Temperature – While it did not seem too cold, it was definitely too cold for an immobile toddler.  I have now purchased warmer layering clothes for her (performance long underwear and wool socks), but diaper changes are definitely an issue.  Stripping a baby down to her delicates in colder weather was not something I thought about before leaving.  This is another vote for shorter hikes while she is still in diapers.  Although taking a bathroom break in the woods still requires a bare bottom…
  3. Timing – While researching this hike, people talk about completing it in less than 4 hours.  We finished it in about 6.  We left the parking lot around 10, so I thought we had plenty of time, but just like everything else, hiking with a toddler just takes longer.  They require more stops and longer stops.  We were dangerously close to hiking in the dark, which would definitely be less than desirable.  (Although there are plenty of people who enjoy the view from McAfee at night.)

Anyhow, we did it!  I am extremely proud of our accomplishment, but we will not be taking on a solo hike that intense again until she is a little older, I think.  It was nice to feel hardcore for a moment in time.

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