We arrived at Calloway Gap at the ridge top after meeting only one other group. We took the intersecting Grandfather Trail across the peaks to Alpine Meadow, Attic Window Peak, down the Chute to the top of McCrae Peak.
This was an ambitious trip. It was not a killer - I have done more than this route several times. My personal record is to make this same hike, plus go past McCrae Peak to the Swinging Bridge, and all the way back to the original parking lot, in one day. But it was a taxing trip, so we hiked fairly hard. We traversed about 8 trail miles, gained 2,100 feet net altitude, and gained-and-lost another 1,000 feet altitude along the way between the peaks. The trail is well marked and clean, but has many steep sections with cable holds, ladders and lots of rocks. There were a few sections of mud. We skirted a few cliff areas with exposure to wind and a possible (but unlikely) long fall.
We ate our packed lunches on the top of McCrae peak. Then after a brief exploration of a little portion of the trail ahead to the swinging bridge (which we did not complete) we headed back the way we came to the NC-105 parking lot.
The weather was as warm and calm as I have ever seen it on the mountain. The air was not crystal clear, but was amply sunny with great views. We were rewarded with glorious, somewhat-rare 360 degree views of most of northwestern NC and parts of TN and VA.
The camaraderie was fun. Everybody was a strong hiker and we finished in great time. We were further rewarded with a day outdoors, a semi-wilderness experience, a great physical workout, beautiful mountain scenery and the satisfaction of doing one of the most strenuous day hikes (in my opinion) east of Colorado!
After the hike we were able to go into Boone for sandwiches and multiple beers, and still drive home in full daylight.