Some days, as they say, are better than others. This one, with temps in the low 40s, might have started off as one of the not-so-good ones, but from the surprisingly full lot at the high point on 311, it turned out to be full of little joys, lots of people and as fun a walk on this trail section as we've ever had.
The people: With no football game in Blacksburg, it appeared that a significant portion of the student body headed down Blacksburg Road to 311 and up to the McAfee lot. Tech garb dominated the trail nearly as much as it does at a football game. And at the Catawba Shelter area, there were more than a dozen tents pitched, in a vague echo of tailgating. At one point near the top, we crossed a set of maybe 30 student-looking people with one professor-looking person.
Up on top, with The Day Hiker's little thermometer reading 40 degrees, the breeze was much less than usual, and the bright sun trumped both the wind and the cold as the long stretch of rock formation hosted perhaps a dozen hiking parties at any one time during the hour-plus we were on it. We took pictures of people and people took pictures of us.
Our spot for lunch was around the turn a little, pretty much out of the reach of the usual west breeze and with views down toward Roanoke, across to the Peaks of Otter and back up the Catawba Valley. Maybe it was the sharp air that made the conversation seem more so than usual too, and those balls of blueberry chocolate even more delicious than usual.
The way back down was marked with many more crossings of young people on the way up, although below the forest road, which The Day Hiker eschewed from her lead position in favor of the real trail, things thinned out considerably. The parking lot, at 4:30 or so on the last day of Daylight Savings Time, was even fuller than when we'd started out, soon after midday.
Appalachian Trail to McAfee Knob and back. 7.4 miles.
How to get there: Va 311 out of Salem to the top of the mountain and the parking lot.
Hike, November 6, 2010