Over the years Roanoke 7 Summits has become a popular hiking tradition in the region. The beginner-friendly program encourages locals to get outdoors, get active, and explore some of the Roanoke region’s most beautiful peaks.
In just seven weeks, participants trek along 34 miles of trail and climb more than 9,100 ft of elevation to enjoy views atop the following peaks: Mill Mountain, Read Mountain, Poor Mountain, Sharp Top Mountain, Dragon’s Tooth, Tinker Cliffs, and McAfee Knob. Although the hikers have seven weeks to scale all seven mountains, local endurance athletes and outdoor enthusiasts alike have continued to push their limits.
It all started with a group of friends who met at Roanoke’s climbing gym. They read about the challenge in PLAY Magazine and wanted to see if they could complete all seven hikes in a single weekend…
SEVEN Peaks, ONE Weekend (2016)
Last October, Gina Huffman, Neil Strickland, Kristi Schipull, and Katelyn Quinley (below) hiked all seven peaks in a weekend. They started with a hike up Poor Mountain on Friday night. Saturday was a big day: they hiked up Tinker Cliffs and along the Appalachian Trail straight through to McAfee Knob, before making their way to the Dragon’s Tooth peak. On Sunday, they set out well before dawn and did a sunrise hike up Sharp Top. They finished the challenge with two of the easiest and shortest hikes: Read Mountain and Mill Mountain.
SEVEN PEAKS, ONE DAY (2016)
Weeks later, Andrew Dunlap and Gordon Wadsworth, two professional cyclists who live in Roanoke, successfully tackled the Roanoke 7 Summits challenge in a single day. They were the first people to complete all seven hikes that quickly.
SEVEN PEAKS, ONE DAY (2017)
This year, it took Brian Walters, Josh Gilbert, and John Robinson 11 hours and 44 minutes to hike all seven peaks, including 3 hours and 47 minutes of drive time. To learn more about their trek, visit this blog post on Mountain Junkies.
7 Peaks, ONE DAY, PLUS 152 miles of cycling! (2017)
Then, earlier this week, two pro female endurance athletes set an impressive new Roanoke 7 Summits record. Lauren Cantwell and Carla Williams not only hiked all of the peaks in a day, but they also rode their bikes between each trailhead!
Their journey started just before 7 a.m. on Monday with a ride from the base of Mill Mountain out to Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve, where they completed the first hike. From there, they tackled McAfee Knob, Dragon’s Tooth, and Tinker Cliffs. Next came the long ride out to Sharp Top after a full day of riding and hiking. The sun set just as they passed through Daleville, and they had to ride all the way to Bedford and back in the dark.
“We were anticipating the bike section from Tinker to Sharp Top to be a big turning point in fatigue,” commented Cantwell. “The long climb up 43 and on to Peaks of Otter was tough, but we kept our gears low and just kept spinning – and we still got the trailhead about 45 minutes sooner than we expected.”
William’s husband, Jeff Brown, brought them hot pizza, cocoa, and snacks before they hiked up Tinker Cliffs and Sharp Top to help them refuel, but the rest of their trip was unsupported.
Although the journey went smoothly overall, it wasn’t without a few hiccups. Overnight, the Roanoke Valley got very cold for riding and they needed to dodge deer on the Parkway. But, at the end of the day, the biggest barrier that impacted their time turned out to be something that Roanoke is ironically famous for: its trains.
“Around 4:35 a.m. during the final approach to Mill Mountain we encountered a train, which was just funny because we were so close to being done and were suddenly blocked,” added Cantwell. “It was moving slower than we’ve ever seen a train move, and then it stopped entirely.” After a few minutes, the train finally started moving again… backward. “We turned around and took an alternate route through downtown.”
By 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, the women had successfully finished hiking 34 miles and riding 117 miles after 22.5 hours of unrelenting cardio.
“Seven Peaks Seven Weeks is such a great idea and challenge for people of all abilities, and it’s been great to see multiple local endurance athletes use it as a way to push themselves, starting with Gordon and Andrew last year with the first completion of the seven peaks in one day.”