To find the time to write trip reports, I've been packing my laptop and writing the reports while driving home from trips. It's an efficient way to pass the time after running out of conversation topics. This time, I ended up doing the driving both ways, so the trip report is going to be shorter.
Prior to starting the trip, B~~~ saw a post to the RoanokeATC Facebook page that made us hesitate:
"OVERCROWDING ON VIRGINIA'S TRIPLE CROWN - McAfee Knob, Dragon's Tooth, Tinker Cliffs. If you are thinking about hiking one of these destinations on a Saturday - and especially if you are thinking about camping on a SATURDAY night - think again. Here are the numbers from LAST SATURDAY: Our volunteer and paid ridgerunners counted the following numbers on the Triple Crown section:
McAfee Knob - 415 hikers (200 backpackers)
Dragon's Tooth - 299 hikers (20 backpackers)
Tinker Cliffs - 129 hikers (45 backpackers)"
After a little bit of debate, we decided to press on with the trip and take our chances. We met up at 7:45 at Vienna metro and started the drive. I-81 seems to get slow in a number of places, so it was 12:30 by the time we hit the trailhead, despite an estimate from Google that the driving time was 3:20. Even subtracting out our Sheetz stop, we still spent a solid four hours driving. I-81 was slightly better coming back.
There were other cars in the parking lot for Mcafee knob, but it's a large lot so wasn't full as it was so late at night. It was full when we returned on Sunday and people were parking on the shoulder of the road.
We hiked one mile to the first shelter and found that a group had camped by it, but hadn't occupied the shelter itself, so we unrolled our sleeping bags and slept there from 1:30am - 5:30am. We hit the trail at 5:50 am, which was after the other group had already left for Mcafee knob. At the knob, there were probably 40 people watching the sunrise. We continued to see day hikers and other backpackers until we past the trailhead for the Andy Lane trail. For the 11 miles from there until the Dragon's Tooth parking lot mainly on North Mountain trail, we didn't see a single other person.
Originally, we planned to camp at the "Singed Socks" campsite on North Mountain trail, which is about 20 mi into the loop. We got there an hour and a half before sunset and took a break. After some discussion, we decided that we would prefer to get further around the loop by hiking on into the dark on Saturday night, so that we could get back earlier on Sunday. So we continued on down the trail another 5-6 miles until we got to "Lost Spectacles gap" which where Dragon's Tooth trail meets the AT.
We got back on the trail on Sunday at 6:30 am and did the rock scramble to Dragon's Tooth in the dark. As things go, it wasn't even my first rock scramble in the dark with DC UL. At Dragon's Tooth, we were joined by some trail runners, day hikers and Southbound thru hikers for the sunrise. We were back to the car around noon, had a quick lunch at Billy's Barn restaurant and drove back to Vienna metro arriving just before 6 pm.
Overall, the weather was awesome for this time of year and the trip went well.