Trip Report: 20 The Hard Way

So, I’ll start with a confession.  I’d never done the Priest and the Three Ridges section of the AT before.  I know that seems mildly shocking.  Everybody talks about these sections.  DC UL has done many trips involving them.  I’ve even thought that maybe they were missing chapters in my backpacking book.  Heck, I’ve even done the Cole Mountain / Mt. Pleasant loop multiple times.  But somehow I’ve always had other things to do.  The classic Three Ridges trip looks rather too short for me, and I’ve never been that keen on AT sections as weekend trips.

But, so, anyway, this seemed like a good trip for me to do, post-Switzerland.  Get in a really big day, help coin some new veteran members, see some Virginia sights I hadn’t seen before, see how this section links up.

So, Friday, 9/7, I drove to Wiggins Spring Road / Hog Camp Gap to meet Claudio.  Google Maps did one of its odder things to me.  The GPS took me on a different route that ended in a little rural graveyard at sunset, the GPS screaming, “Turn left!”  There was nowhere to turn.  Ah well, I scented out the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), and then it was easy.  I got up Wiggins Spring Road (maybe it’s been worked on?) easily enough in my VW GTI.  Claudio was there.  A group had celebrated a couple’s engagement on Cole Mountain and were coming down just after dark.  We drank a beer in the parking lot, then took Claudio’s truck back up to Reed’s Gap on the BRP.  We weren’t there for long before everyone else showed up.  The Vienna group consisted of Shane, Jen, Reza, Murph, Wolverine, Logan, and Brian Crowe.  The walk SOBO to Maupin Field Shelter was easy enough, though I suffered a catastrophic equipment failure.  My whisky flask had fallen out in one of the cars!!  Disaster.  Jen gave me a long look.  We vowed to press on.

We reached camp by 11pm, and I think most people were asleep before midnight.  The night was dry and I roused everyone Saturday morning at 7am for trail time at 8am.  As we climbed the Three Ridges, I think we convinced ourselves that the predicted deluge wouldn’t happen.  It was hazy, hot, and humid.  We soon passed the Harpers Creek Shelter and began the long downward hike to the Tye River.  The Priest towered over us.  I crossed the river in the middle of the pack, with Logan, Wolverine, Claudio, and Reza ahead of me, and Jen, Brian Crowe, Murph, and Shane behind.  I took a long break in the parking lot at 56.  Murph caught up with me.  He joked that this was like one of the workouts where you get everyone exhausted and then the real work out begins.

Soon, we were climbing the long (4.5mi, roughly 3k foot) climb of the Priest.  Switzerland served me well, really, and I enjoyed the long climb, well, until it started raining cats and dogs.  When I reached the summit, the trail was ankle deep in water and the views were of the inside of clouds of rain.  Bah, I sad down on a rock in the rain and had a snack.  The rain pretended to stop but then decided it would keep going.  Chafing ensued.

The last seven miles Saturday were easier, but my climbing muscles were a little fatigued.  Claudio caught me eating salami on a log, my umbrella propped over my head.  I was having a moment.  Where was Spy Rock?  I told Claudio that mission number one was preventing Body Glide from washing off my undercarriage.  We laughed and walked on.  Spy Rock was a mere 200 yards farther.  The rain kept coming.  I reached the Deeley Woodworth Shelter at about 6:30pm.  Everyone was there by 8pm.  So that was a 21 mile day with 7,000 feet of gain and 5,000 feet of loss.  Respectable.

It rained and rained.  Shane entered a fetal position in the shelter.  A brownie incident took place.  I’m sure the people sleeping in the shelter were glad that we nine were not.  I got my hammock set up despite the very inclement conditions and was warm and dry inside … until about 3am.  The rain had been coming down with monsoon-like force and water was, I guess, jumping my hammock line and trickling down my leg to my posterior.  Very unpleasant.  I actually managed to sleep like that till 5:45am, when I had enough.  I woke up, struck, and managed to convey to most everybody—shouting over the rain—that the drivers should start while the riders should wait an extra two hours.  See, with only my car at the end, we had an incomplete shuttle situation.  Less than ideal.  People might as well wait in their shelters at camp than at the trailhead.

Despite the ongoing rain, I enjoyed the rolling morning stroll through the cloudy and wet Blue Ridge.  Switzerland, Nepal, and all that is great, but I think I feel happiest and at home in the Appalachians.  The trail went up, the trail went down.  The rain eased, finally.  Tar Jacket Ridge and the meadows leading to Wiggins Spring Road were especially beautiful.

Shane, Reza, and I reached my car first.  We drove up to Reeds Gap, picked up their two cars, drove back, picked up everyone else, and then drove back to Reeds Gap one final time.  Not ideal, but we got it done.  (Let us praise complete shuttles, however.)  We assembled for beer and a meal at a strangely run brewery in Waynesboro (Seven Arrows).  The Ravens were clobbering the Bills.  And it was all over except the return trip.

Congratulations to everyone for completing this challenging weekend that was made much more challenging by the weather.  Nine started and nine finished, which is all I can ask for.  Splits were 2/21/8 for 31 total, with about 10,000K of gain.  We had a fun group overall, but special shout out to Murph and Reza who got their veteran member status “the hard way” for sure.  Also, I still have not seen the views from Priest, Spyrock, or Three Ridges.  Sigh.

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