Three Ridges: October 22 – 24, 2010

For this trip, The Woodsboys decided it was time to take a break from going west for awhile, and headed south to explore the glorious rolling ridges of “Ol Virginny.”We picked out a popular loop hike, near Charlottesville, that makes use of the eleven mile stretch of the AT over Three Ridges, and the 4.5 mile Mau-Har Trail.  Three Ridges is reknown for being one of the harder day hikes in the state, being 14.5 miles in length and with an elevation gain well over 1,000 feet, but in classic Woodsboy fashion we spliced it into a decent weekend workout.  In Robert’s stead, new Woodsboy, Ryan Kulpchella, joined Andrew, Steven, and Matt.

Andrew, Matt, and Steven entering Three Ridges

Night falls on Reeds Gap

Due to school, work, and other obligations, The Woodsboys arrived in waves on Friday night to the trailhead at Reed’s Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Andrew arrived at 4:30 and noticed the full parking lot.  He called ahead to Steven and Ryan, who were about two hours out, and worked out a way for them to find the trail if Andrew started up the mountain to claim a good campsite.  We were aiming for a small, dry, campsite .8 miles away on the ridge of Meadow Mountain, and with the crowds it was bound to get snagged.  Steven requested that Andrew leave his car unlocked to retrieve their food, and mark the beggining of the trail, in case they had to find their way in the dark.  He did so, and started the ascent.  Steven and Ryan rolled in about three hours later after a brief turn around on the BRP and rifled through their gear since night had already fallen.  On their way to the start of the hike a loner in the parking lot spotted them and lisped, “It’s gonna be a chilly night…” and gently turned his head away from them.  Confused and creeped out, they started on their way.  Since Matt was still in route, Steven and Ryan left glowing ties on tree branches to help him find his way in the dark.  When the two of them found Andrew, he had already started a fire and had already turned away multiple groups of hikers from the campsite.  We gathered some primo wood from a recently downed tree and awaited Matt’s arrival.  Matt showed up at about 11pm and returned all of Steven’s glow ties that had been left for him.  For dinner we all cooked turkey burgers with cheddar cheese and had some of Steven’s famous campfire cous cous on the side.  Apparently, Steven and Ryan had bought some paper that you could burn to make the fire look multi-colored, so we did that before heading to bed.

Waking up on saturday morning...

On Saturday we rose at about 7:30 AM (Steven shouting “daylight in swamp!”) and gathered up camp to head out for the day.  The plan was to put in about 11 miles, and end at the campsite on Campbell Creek.  The weather on this hike was nothing short of phenomenal: fall foliage was at its peak, temps in the low 70’s, sunny – not a cloud in the sky, and a soft breeze.  We traversed the ridge of Meadow Mountain for about a half mile before descending to the Maupin Field shelter at the intersection of the Mau-Har Trail, this would be where we would loop back at the end.  On the way down, Steven and I came up with a cool concept called “The Backpacking Mafia,” about a ruthless group of hikers that take over all the best backcountry sites in a specific region, and demand horrifying things for usage of such sites.  We joked about how the “chilly night guy” could possibly be part of that scenario.  After a short, but steep, climb over Bee Mountain we entered the Three Ridges Wilderness, and started along the base of the mountain for about a mile.  The trail weaved to the northwest before starting the first of many climbs.  The trek made a hairpin turn to the north at the first of multiple fantastic vistas, this one giving us a un-obstructed view of The Priest.

Views of The Priest

We pressed on, steadily climbing, until we reached the summit of Three Ridges, huffing and puffing.  The trail ran along the ridge of a half mile or so before starting a long, aching, descent of 14 or 15 switchbacks, before we landed on a narrow ridge and headed south towards our lunch spot – chimney rock.  Perched on a small outpost above the ridge, this vista achieved 270 degree views of the eastern Blue Ridge, and the clear weather made all of it seem almost unreal.

Views from Chimney Rock

After lunch we skirted the ridge for a mile more before another grueling descent down a steep set of rocky switchbacks.  Along the way, a very famished looking dog found us and tramped along our side for about two miles.  It didn’t seem to have a clear motive other than wandering along the trail with us, and their wasn’t an owner in sight.  We thought maybe it would eventually turn around, but it didn’t.  Matt joked that maybe this dog has been wandering around out here for months, moving from hiker to hiker, scoring food and staying alive.  We found a group of girl hikers who took pity on the dog, and agreed to let it follow them back up the mountain in search for the owner, and that was that.

Getting camp ready at Campbell Creek

We paused for a water break near Harper’s Shelter before starting our final steep climb up to the intersection with the blue blazed Mau-Har trail.  At this point, the AT continues to the southwest, while MH heads north.  There were two sets of killer ascents via switchbacks before we made our final descent to campbell creek, where we found a top notch streamside camping area.  It was 3:30 and we had done 11 miles of hiking, so we had time to spare.  We took a gander down to the waterfall and threw sticks over the edge, then went about gathering wood.  Even after we gathered wood it was only 5pm, so we hung the bear line…now it was 5:15.  This was definitely the earliest we had ever finished all the pre-camp chores (even put up our tents.)  So we enjoyed the cool evening air and had a nice camp cocktail hour with instant coffee and tea to kill the time until it was firemaking time.  When night fell, Steven cooked Tuna Mac, and we each ate our own box of mac.  Ryan serenaded us with his mad harmonica skills, and we burned some more color paper for ambience.  We slept that night without our rain flys on – perfect camping weather.

Steven and Ryan heading off on the final stretch...

On Sunday we rose early to see Matt off, who was leaving to get back to school, and the rest of us hung out at camp and cooked breakfast.  The 3 and a half miles back to the car weren’t as easy as we expected.  The first part climbed steepily out of the valley around Campbell Creek, before heading up a series of switchbacks that brought us back to Maupin Shelter.  There was a huge group of boy scouts blocking the trail right around here, and we couldn’t get by them to save our life.  Most were wearing headphones and wouldn’t hear when we said, “coming up on your left!”  Eventually, the trail found the ridge that was home to our first night’s campsite, and we descended back to Reed’s Gap where we had parked our car.  The post hike feast was at Blue Moon Diner in Charlottesville, where we ate back all the calories we burned off.

More Pictures:

Matt starts the trek on Day 2

Evening on Meadow Mountain

Steven and Andrew consult the map

Steven and Matt lunch at Chimney Rock

Campbell Creek

Water source near Harper's Shelter

Looking south along Three Ridges



~ by thewoodsboys on July 29, 2011.

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