Penitence or Deliverance? The Priest and Three Ridges

Posted by MikeVW on

The Three Ridges area is the Massanutten Hike for new members. The 15 mile loop very nearly defeated me on my inaugural DC UL outing in 2010 (although back then it was known as DC Backpacking Overnight Adventures), and it showed its cruelty on a revisit in the spring of 2011 with some brutal wind and cold. But this time I felt prepared to handle the challenges the hike might pose, and even tacked on an extra eleven miles for good measure. I was excited for the chance to revisit some old favorite spots, and take in the new sights of the Priest, Spy Rock, and Crabtree Falls. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally check this area off my bucket list.

I set off from Vienna with Logan, Octavia, Shayne, and Phil. We had a chance to chat with the Via Ferrata crew, as well as the Dolly Sods team (Karan even tried to poach some of my members for his trip!) before heading out, proving the versatility of the North Lot Kiss and Ride for trip outings. Gen, JD, and Trisha would meet us at the trailhead, and with only a short shuttle to arrange, we would be able to hit the trail before it got too late.

After a winding drive along Route 56 (note to self: approach from the east next time), we arrived at an empty parking lot to clear skies and the lingering smell of rain. I found it a little odd that the rest of the group hadn't arrived yet given their closer proximity to the trailhead, but the five of us began to unload and suit up for the hike to the campsite. We eventually managed to rendezvous to head out (JD's van was apparently quite comfortable for riding out a storm, so the rest of the group had been at Crabtree), and began our ascent a little after 10PM. The evening hike was fairly gradual, and we reached camp without incident. In another bit of good fortune, the campsites were deserted (it was a hiker highway this weekend, and camping at Maupin would have been crazy), so we spread out and slept with the sound of water nearby.

Saturday dawned bright and clear, and had the feeling of perfect weather. Given the propensity of rain to seek me out, I was a little perplexed, but I rode the good weather high all the way to Chimney Rocks. Trail talk was quite interesting, from Gen's unicycle ride across the Great Divide to JD's alleged sexual escapades with certain members of a hospital's staff (I walked into that conversation at the most interesting time). We ran into a few hikers (standard DC UL pitch delivered), and ambled over to the best view in VA. It was glorious soaking in the sun at the summit of Three Ridges, and we managed to arrive at the overlook of Hanging Rock just before the hordes of day hikers arrived.

We picked up the pace heading down to the Maupin Field shelter, but lost JD after he received errant directions from a German hiker (though according to the day hikers we passed, he was miles ahead of us). Thrown off by the news we'd received, Gen offered to head up the AT again, but then JD showed up! Reunited, we began to walk down the Mau-Har trail, and even felt some deja vu as we ran into hikers we had passed earlier in the day heading the opposite direction. The group spread out again, and while we eventually met up at the intersection of the AT, JD was nowhere to be found. I knew he could be self-sufficient, so made the decision to carry on with the hope that he'd meet up with us again later.

We wound back up at the cars a little before 4PM, and I took stock of the situation. Everyone seemed good to go on, and while it might mean a late end to the day, we all agreed to press for the summit. The Priest quickly proceeded to live up to its perceived difficulty (we received many slack jawed looks when we explained we were doing both the Priest and Three Ridges in one day), and the elevation gain reminded me of long days and relentless ascents on the Massanuttens. It was upon a stop at an overlook that I pulled out my phone, and, after checking for signal, received the following text from JD:

'I'm ok, but lost the Mau Har Trail and bushwhacked a long way. Found a road with a house and the owner is half blind and wants me to have some local apple brandy. Says his son will run me out to my car when he arrives. Can you say Deliverance?'

I sent him some updates from our end, and now assured that he was not being stalked by mountain men, proceeded to make my way up to the summit. Gen, Logan, and I arrived to the shouts and squawks of some very happy (and drunk) dayhikers who had spent a good part of their afternoon hitting golf balls off the summit of the Priest. While they were very helpful in gathering wood for a fire, they were less charitable in sharing the beer they had brought (it was Busch Lite, but we would have happily drank it). We got camp set up and began to watch the sunset. Octavia arrived a little later, and Trisha came up to camp just after nightfall.

It was then that she had the bad news that Phil and Shayne didn't seem likely to make the summit. Trisha had pushed and cheered for them for as long as she had been able, but the day and the final climb were just a bit too much for them to surmount. After assessing our options, Gen and I decided to head back down the trail with the hope of finding them. Phil pulled up to camp just as we were about to head out, and gave us an update on Shayne's condition (dehydration) and location (near the overlook). Gen and I descended, and came upon Shayne's impromptu camp. He had pitched his hammock, and seemed to recover well after receiving some water and crackers. We set up nearby, and got some much needed rest after a long day.

Gen and I were up to catch the sunrise, and had breakfast out on the overlook. I had told the rest of the group to join us since I didn't want us to end up in two different places, so we chatted with the occasional day and thru-hiker as we waited for them to descend. Gen and I also undertook the quest to find Shayne's sleeping bag after it slipped out of his hands and careened over the side of the overlook (If you hunt through the photo, you might *just* be able to see it!). I spied it from the ridge, and Gen got it safely back to Shayne. Soon after, the rest of the group joined us, we descended to the cars, grabbed the shuttle vehicle (and just missed JD who had been looking for us up on the ridge), and headed over to Devil's Backbone. A celebratory beer was most welcome all around.

I will say that I think this route is the hardest 'LM' trip we have on the books, and was really appreciative of the support I had to get everyone off the trail safely. I'll be finishing this one in its entirety before the year is out, so start training now if you want to take part!