AT Hiker Who Fell from McAfee Knob Has Died, Authorities Confirm

Roanoke County Fire and Rescue confirmed today that a hiker who fell 50 feet from Virginia’s McAfee Knob on Sunday died from his injuries at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. The hiker has been identified as 23-year-old Paul Classen of the Netherlands, known in the long-distance hiking community by the trail name Grandmaster.

Robyn Urdaibay, a fellow AT hiker and a member of Classen’s tramily, said in a Facebook post that Classen wasn’t posing for a photo or even standing on the rocky promontory for which McAfee Knob is famous when he fell. “He spontaneously slumped forwards and fell. He was totally well, just chilling eating breakfast. We think he must have passed out, but we don’t know why and will never know for sure,” Urdaibay wrote.

“He was our friend, and the most lively, empathetic, personable, fun and goofy guy you could ever meet,” she continued.

Jimmy Moore, 55, of Roanoke told the Roanoke Times that he met and spoke with Classen briefly on Saturday. According to Moore, Classen was planning to hike into the town of Daleville on Sunday and head to Washington, D.C. to fly home. Moore also claimed on Facebook that Classen may have been planning to return and thru-hike the entire AT.

In a post dated December 29th, 2022 on the Appalachian Trail Hikers 2022 Facebook page, Classen said he was planning to spend two months on the AT after finishing his Bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology and taking a gap year to work with drug addicts and underprivileged children with the Salvation Army. “I have never walked that long and certainly not that far from home, in any case I am very excited to do it and to meet you all on the path,” he wrote at the time.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) also released a statement in response to the tragedy. “All of us at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy express our deepest condolences to Paul’s family and friends,” wrote Sandy Marra, President and CEO of the ATC. “We have witnessed an outpouring of sympathies and support from the greater A.T. hiking community, a reminder of the close connections the Trail creates even between those who have not met directly. We hope that such sympathies offer a degree of comfort to all those grieving his loss. We also express our sincere thanks to the rescue teams who assisted in the rescue operation.”

Featured image via Roanoke County Fire and Rescue.

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Comments 1

  • Cynthia Behr : Jun 16th

    Hey Kelly, Good job on the article and such a tragic story. Check the error in the date Dec of 2022. It happens. I’m a writer. I get it.

    Sounds like Grandmaster might have had some kind of cerebral or vascular event – so unexpected and tragic for such a healthy young man, having the time of his life, with a vision and a heart to help others. I will try to always remember Paul “Grandmaster” Classen. My son’s name was Paul. I’m writing a book about the AT. I don’t think I’ll include his story but possibly would like to memorialize him. When I hiked a section in 2013, I hiked with Lucky 10 who died of a heart attack, in his tent at the base of Mt. Moosilauke. He was in his 60’s with daughters my and E Minor’s age. I can’t find any info on him anymore and I’d like to keep his memory alive as well. We had hiked together for about 2 weeks from Upper Goose Pond. E Minor and I had taken a nero and he got a day ahead of us. By that point we were hiking with Coach and another hiker. We got off the trail at the road crossing just before Moosilauke because I found out that my former boyfriend but still very, very good friend died of an adverse reaction to radiation while undergoing treatment for leukemia. It’s been 9 years. I still miss him. He was supposed to hike the trail with me but chickened out.

    I was wondering if you have any info on Lucky 10 or any other deaths on the AT near Moosilauke?


    Cynthia Behr


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