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Appalachian Trail Hiker Dies After Falling from McAfee Knob

Paul “Grandmaster” Classen suffered severe injuries in plunge; cause of incident still unclear.

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An Appalachian Trail hiker passed away this week after sustaining injuries in a fall from an iconic lookout in Virginia.

Paul “Grandmaster” Classen, a 23-year-old hiker from the Netherlands, fell 50 feet from the cliff on Sunday. Rescue crews, including all-terrain vehicles, several police officers, and 30 fire and rescue personnel, responded to the incident at 6 a.m. By 7 a.m., emergency workers had reached Classen, and begun carrying him to an ATV through steep and rocky terrain. Classen would later die of his injuries at the hospital.

While the cause of the fall is still unclear, a Facebook post from Robyn Urdaibay, a member of Classen’s trail family who witnessed the incident, said that it appears Classen “passed out.”

“He spontaneously slumped forwards and fell,” she wrote. “He was totally well, just chilling eating breakfast.”

Urdaibay, who wrote that she was speaking with permission from Classen’s family, called him the most lively, empathetic, personable, fun and goofy guy you could ever meet.”

McAfee Knob is among the most photographed locations along the Appalachian Trail due to the sharp cliffs that overlook the valley. It’s a tradition for hikers to snap photographs at the edge of the cliffs. According to Urdaibay, however, Classen was neither dangling his legs over the cliff nor posing for a photo. 

Brian Clingenpeel, community outreach coordinator of Roanoke County Fire and Rescue told WDBJ7  “I can’t exactly speak to the cause, we weren’t there when it happened, we just found him at the bottom. When our paramedics got there, they were reporting that he had a stable airway but was in serious condition.”

In 2018, a similar incident took place on McAfee Knob after Greg Marr Sr., a man in his 60s, fell from the cliff’s edge. Marr died of his injuries about a week later.

After the rescue, officials reminded hikers that a fall from the cliff could result in devastating consequences, and encouraged them to stay clear of the edge. Community members can share photos or stories they have about Classen by sending them to his family at Stories.grandmaster@gmail.com


From 2022