Want more solitude than the Dragon’s Tooth/McAfee Knob/Tinker Cliffs corridor on the Appalachian Trail? Just on the other side of the Catawba Valley, the NORTH MOUNTAIN TRAIL in  Jefferson National Forest offers about 12 miles of hiking and camping with far less traffic. The downsides: you may encounter a few mountain bikers, there are no water sources after the first mile, and there are very few views when the leaves are on the trees.  But this moderately difficult hike offers great views when the leaves are down – between November and late April or early May.  Plan a one-night backpack or allow at least 6 to 7 hours for a day hike. You can position cars at each end (Andy Layne/Tinker Cliffs trailhead and Dragon’s Tooth trailhead.)

The Hiking Upward website offers an excellent map and a detailed description, although the mileages differ slightly from those provided on Forest Service signage. The Forest Service map  is geared to people entering from the next valley west but it does include a description of the Catawba Trail that begins near the Andy Layne Trail parking lot. The entire North Mountain hike has excellent signage.

HISTORY. On March 1, 1978, problems with some local landowners forced the relocation of the Appalachian Trail away from McAfee Knob and on to North Mountain on the other side of the Catawba Valley in the Jefferson National Forest. This situation did not last long. On January 24, 1982  Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club volunteers Siegfried Kolmstetter, Charles Parry, Andy Layne, Mac McDaniel and Larry Wood brushed out the first mile of the new trail back to McAfee Knob. Although the AT is no longer there, North Mountain remains an outstanding hike, especially between November and April, when the leaves are down and the views most expansive.

adkins-ma-cover-photoReview by Tom Johnson, Potomac Appalachian Trail Club

“Don’t know much about history,” a refrain in that old popular song, never registered with Leonard Adkins. His interest in history goes back decades, and he is anxious to introduce it to you.  Because Appalachian Trail hikers walk through history every day, Len wants to show them the history of this, history’s greatest volunteer project.

Len Adkins is a five-time thru-hiker (his email, “habitualhiker,” should give you a clue to his lifestyle), who has put together a five-volume history of the Appalachian Trail.  (A sixth volume, on Maine, was written independently by Dave Field.  So there are really six volumes that cover the entire trail.  The series is Along the Appalachian Trail, is published by Arcadia Publishing along with the cooperation of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.)  His series is now complete with the newest book, on Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  If you don’t yet know the history of this remarkable trail, you can learn from Len.  He brings the trail to life through photographs, accompanied by captions that place each photo in its historical context.   The movie-star looks of Warner Hall, the penetrating stare of Eddie Stone, the group portrait of the “Four Foolish Females” from Georgia, or the New England “Three Musketeers,” bring the history to life.  Ever try climbing Blood Mountain from Neel Gap in a three-piece suit or an ankle-length coat?  Did you ever see an early backpack that looks like a peach basket?  Did you ever have the chance to meet legendary ATC staff member Jean Cashin in Harpers Ferry?  You can see long-forgotten scenes like the old Sinking Creek covered bridge, or Appalachian families in the 1930s staring out in wonder at those crazy hikers passing through.  Passing beside the Smithsonian rare animal research center (official title:  Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute) in Northern Virginia, you see the admonition that “violators will be eaten.”  (The sign was stolen years ago.)

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