Conquering Virginia’s Triple Crown

Wandering through the woods with my life on my back had thus far been such an adventure, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

Well, maybe one thing. Not having access to soap had certainly been to blame for whatever illness I had contracted last week. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can only offer so much in the way of disease prevention, and that was what we used daily on trail. So when Cookie asked me if last night’s trail magic burritos made me sick too, I instantly knew I had given him whatever multi-day intestinal havoc I had been struck with. He informed me he had spent the entire night ridding his stomach of those burritos, but that he felt okay enough to hike on for the day.

We had a high mile day planned, but after about two hours it became painfully obvious we would not make those miles. Cookie was pouring sweat and stopping every few minutes for a break. I didn’t want to leave him behind; he had stuck with me the day I hiked sick, despite the complaining and negative disposition. Understandably, he told me he was struggling to hike through the heat of the early afternoon. I encouraged him to make it to the next closest shelter, Sarver Hollow shelter. I told him we could stop there for an extended break. He agreed, under the premise that he would take a midday nap and we would hike on once it cooled off.

After about two hours at the shelter, and a nice afternoon snooze for the both of us, we hiked further along the ridge. I tried my damnedest to keep pushing fluids on Cookie throughout the day. We hit a sign designating the Eastern Continental Divide, and I thought about how strange it is to mark the land based on directionality of water flow.

Eastern Continental Divide sign.

We finally descended off the ridge we had been on for most of the day. At the bottom, we had to ford Craig Creek. The bridge there was still intact, but had been deemed unsafe for hikers to cross. At camp that night we ran into some hikers we hadn’t seen in a while: OG, Ellie, Big T, and Pig-pen. I was incredibly happy to see OG again, since I had been told he was dealing with an injury.

Virginia’s Hiking Gems

The next morning I was reeling with excitement. We were entering the “Virginia Triple Crown” area–a popular loop trail in Virginia that follows the AT past Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee’s Knob, and Tinker Cliffs. I had read about these places during my research, but had only seen pictures of McAfee’s Knob. Dragon’s Tooth was our first Triple Crown stop, and I had no clue what to expect. I checked in with Cookie, who said he was feeling about the same and would do as many miles as he could manage.

The miles in the beginning of our day weren’t too bad. We hit Dragon’s Tooth—a huge rock that slightly resembles a large tooth—in the early afternoon. We took a short break there, then began a descent that I can only describe as my personal hell. Coming off of Dragon’s Tooth, we were scaling down large, flat rock faces. These rocks had thin, spiny layers poking out where I was able to fit some of my foot. The step downs were massive and the rocks were worn smooth and covered in loose dirt, making them incredibly slippery. Several times I had to toss my trekking poles down the trail so I had use of both hands. This navigational nightmare seemed to go on forever, and my knees were begging for a break. Then, finally, we hit normal trail again.

It really does resemble the tooth of a dragon, doesn’t it?

The weather had recently taken a weird turn, and our days were suddenly hot and dry. We were finding water sources in Virginia to be hit or miss, which wasn’t ideal considering Cookie’s condition. He struggled more that day than the day before, and the lack of water was a big part of that. After Dragon’s Tooth, he looked pretty rough, and decided he wanted to sit for a while in some shade. I, on the other hand, wanted to walk off trail to a convenience store coming up at our next road crossing. Cookie and I agreed to part ways for a while and meet back up at a water source a mile after the road crossing. I pushed on ahead of him, hoping he would feel better after some rest.

Sometimes, gas station “cuisine” feels like fine dining.

The road walk to the convenience store was absolutely nerve wracking. There was barely a shoulder, so I resorted to walking in the road and stepping aside when I heard a car approaching. It was worth it, though, when I arrived at the store and saw how well stocked it was. This place was hiker trash heaven! I grabbed a slice of pizza, some Gatorade, some pretzels, a PopTart, and a Slim Jim. I sat at a picnic table in front of the store and out of the sun to eat (or in this case, inhale) my snacks.

When I got back to the trail, I was feeling invigorated. My hope was that Cookie was feeling better as well. I had purchased an extra Gatorade for him, as well as some pretzels, hoping I could get some food in his stomach. He hadn’t been eating much, which was almost certainly contributing to his low energy. However, when I made it to our meeting place, he was nowhere in sight. I nervously looked around, then checked the time. Surely he wasn’t behind me? I wondered, in a state of slight panic, if he had passed out. I decided perhaps he kept pushing in order to get ahead of me.

I walked on down the trail and tried to decide where to camp. If I pushed on to the shelter before McAfee’s Knob, I could possibly make it up there for sunrise. This would be an iconic photo opportunity, but I had no one with me to take the photo. Plus, we were supposed to get rain starting around 5am, which I figured would ruin the beauty of the sunrise. I ran into OG and Pig-pen on my way to the shelter. They informed me of their plan to get sunrise photos, and suddenly I was faced with a choice: hope for a painted sky in the early hours of the morning or stick around and wait for my sick friend. I felt slightly obligated to make sure he was alright, especially since I had effectively been patient zero. Eventually, Cookie texted me that he had stopped for a long break and was feeling better. We camped at different shelters that night and met back up in the morning.

Turns out, the sunrise was actually gorgeous that morning…

Rainy Day Photo Op

We were heading into Daleville that day for a resupply, but had to finish out the Triple Crown section first. This included McAfee’s Knob—arguably the trail’s most famous spot—and Tinker Cliffs. I was excited to get a photo at McAfee’s, regardless of the position of the sun. It rained most of the morning and into the early afternoon, but we made it up there before fog overtook our view. I felt like I was on top of the world for a moment, got my picture, and hiked on through the rain.

Selfie on McAfee’s Knob.

The climb up to Tinker Cliffs was uncharacteristically difficult. Virginia had been relatively “easy” compared to the monstrous climbing in the first few hundred miles of the trail. Or perhaps those arduous miles had gifted me my trail legs and Virginia wasn’t easy hiking at all. Nevertheless, I managed to make it to the top where I was rewarded with beautiful views of mountain mist rolling across the valleys below. The next bit of trail walked along these exposed ledges, which was a beautiful treat.

Once we hit the town of Daleville, my mood improved. The rain had cleared up a few hours before, and we arrived relatively early considering the amount of miles we had hiked to get there. We checked into our room at the Super 8, showered, and walked across the parking lot to a Mexican restaurant. Several other hikers joined us for dinner that evening, and we all waited impatiently for our food to arrive. The service at this restaurant was subpar at best. As a dirty hiker living in the woods, my standards are decently low; however, I was only given half of my fajita meal (no beans, rice, or fixings) and still charged full price. OG had to ask for his drink several times, and was brought an entirely incorrect food order. Overall, the food was delicious but the experience ranked incredibly low for me.

Those hikers love their Mexican restaurants.

A town is only as good as its packable food options.

The next day we got a much later start than usual. We were only planning to do about 10 miles out of town, since the last few days had been such a push. Cookie seemed to be feeling better, but his appetite wasn’t back to normal yet. We got lunch from Bojangles—a family meal, of course—and ate a disappointingly small amount of food. We decided to pack out the rest of our chicken and biscuits and set foot on trail around 2pm. Eating our Bojangles at camp that night was amazing, and we decided on fried chicken as the top food to pack out of town.

The next morning we passed OG, who was packing up at a shelter. His family had come out to do a section with him, and they were heading back to their car that afternoon. I filtered a couple bottles of water for OG’s wife, Honey Stinger, and talked to his son’s girlfriend about her experience hiking out of Daleville. We then told OG where we would be camping and moved on.

Cookie’s appetite had finally returned, and with a vengeance. We stopped off at Bobblets Gap shelter to make a large meal for lunch, where we met a very eccentric section hiker. He was sporting a large, dirty, ripped external frame pack. A few cooking pans were hanging from the back of the pack, and heavy looking clothes were spilling out from the ripped opening. He told us he was hiking south, but didn’t really have a destination. Then he asked me where the next shelter was. He didn’t carry a phone so he would just walk until he found another shelter. We later nicknamed him “Wanderer Guy,” because he hadn’t told us his name.

A view from the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the trail crosses over.

After fueling up with our midday meal, we decided to push a couple miles beyond our planned campsite. OG met up with us and we all camped alongside a creek, about a half mile before a shelter. The sound of water rushing over the rocky creek bed was like a gentle lullaby for us worn out hikers. We had a big climb waiting for us that next day, so we were all asleep fairly early that night.

Virginia’s Not-Gems: The First Long Climb

The journey up Apple Orchard Mountain was certainly a long one. Our morning was about 9 miles of nearly continuous ascent. The day was cool, which was nice for mitigating sweat but not ideal for breaks. We ended up pushing all the way to the top with only one break in the middle to refill our water bottles. I hiked past OG and Cookie. I had recently discovered if I was angry enough about a climb I could increase my hiking speed significantly to get said anger-inducing climb over with quicker. I sat at the top of Apple Orchard, next to what appeared to be some type of weather observatory, and ate some snacks until my friends caught up.

The strange observatory thing on top of Apple Orchard Mountain.

The three of us stopped off at Thunder Hill shelter to have some lunch. We introduced OG to the wonders of what he called “linner,” meaning lunch-dinner. We all cooked up a hearty meal and chilled out for a while. It had rained a bit the night before, so we draped our tents and footprints out over tree branches in the warm sunlight. The wind was strong that day, so I had to readjust my footprint quite often. But when we packed up and left, my gear had all dried.

OG, Cookie, and I finished our day at a campsite about 8 miles out from where we would get shuttled into Glasgow. The tent spots we chose were right along a deer run, and the deer seemed displeased that night to be sharing their space with hikers. We heard them walking around through the brush around dusk. In the morning, when I got up to retrieve my bear bag, I came face to face with a deer. I’m not sure who startled who more, and we both leapt up in shock.

That 8 miles into Glasgow was a breeze. The last few miles along the James River were beautiful and fairly flat. We hit the parking lot slightly early, and we all pulled out our sit pads and relaxed in the sun. We had arranged for a shuttle down to the only hostel in the town of Glasgow: Stanimal’s. We were about 15 minutes ahead of the shuttle driver, which was just enough time for us to look at pictures of the food we would soon be eating and work up a huge appetite.

Long footbridge over the James River.

Small Town Oasis

My stay at Stanimal’s was very laid back, which is ideal for a night in town. I would still rate Laughing Heart as a better hostel, but I liked the small, chill vibes of Stanimal’s. Spotter, one of the guys who worked at the hostel, drove us down the road to the town’s only restaurant so we could gorge on calorie dense Italian cuisine. I ordered a steak hoagie and sweet potato fries, inhaled them quickly, and went across the street to do my resupply at the Dollar General. I picked up some standard gourmet hiker snacks, and walked back to the hostel to get a shower.

Somewhat of a typical hiker resupply.

Later that evening, we headed back to the Italian restaurant—Scotto’s Pizza—and ordered round two of greasy, carb-filled goodness. I wolfed down a plate of chicken Alfredo, accompanied by the best garlic bread I had ever tasted. For such a small town, this restaurant truly felt like a hidden gem. It gave generous portions to us starving hikers at a very fair price.

Back at the hostel, we all sat around and talked for an hour or two. Kamikaze, Pig-pen, and some other hikers I hadn’t met before had all come in for the night. The hostel was at full capacity, but since it only slept about 10 people it didn’t feel too suffocating. Spotter and Jeopardy, the guy who manned the hostel, joined us on the porch that evening. Even so, we went to bed early, knowing the climb out of Glasgow would be merciless. Sleeping in the bunk room was calm, and even though the jail-style mattresses left something to be desired, I slept incredibly well that night. This had been a wonderful small town experience.

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Comments 2

  • StoneCold : Apr 26th

    New Hampshire and Southern Maine are like the descent down Dragons Tooth on steroids. Attack these sections during good weather if you can!

  • thetentman : Apr 26th

    Nicely done. Thank you. Good luck.


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