Three Ridges is a classic. Hard but you're rewarded with great views. While I've done Three Ridges, I still hadn't done the Priest. Michael still had Three Ridges on his to-do list. A plan was formed!
We opted to route the trip differently to make it a one nighter, starting at Crabtree and approaching the Priest from that side of the AT. We would then descend to 56, and head to Harpers Creek Shelter for the evening. The Three Ridges loop would be our task for Sunday. Unfortunately, Michael came down sick on Friday evening. Food poisoning or a nasty 24 hour bug, we're still not sure, but it was clear that backpacking was off the table for him. I headed out, feeling guilty about leaving him behind.
The Vienna lot was hopping with groups getting ready for a day of hiking or other outdoor explorations. We gathered off to the side, consolidated cars, and then began the drive south. By the time we arrived at Crabtree, after stationing a car at the Three Ridges lot for the end, there were no spaces to be found for parking. We gave it 15 minutes to see if two spots would open up, and I came up with a plan b route if needed. Michele secured one spot by asking a motorcycling couple to park on the grass. We weren't positioned to grab the next spot that opened up, but a couple from Michigan offered us their spot. Victory!
We started by climbing Crabtree Falls. While the water was low, the views were still great. Danielle took the lead, and we established a rally spot by the overlook and then by the intersection with the road. It was a nice day for hiking. Warm but a cool breeze would come through as needed. We made the turn onto the AT, and then stopped for lunch at a nice campsite by the shelter. Now for our descent! We made our way down to the Tye River. I had stashed some beer and wine in the car as a little bit of trail magic for us to carry into the shelter. While Harpers Creek was busy, we managed to find a nice campsite for our crew. I managed to set up my new hammock, although the tarp flummoxed me a bit. At least rain wasn't in the forecast!
Dinner. A nice fire. Bed. I had a great night's sleep in my hammock, even sleeping through the hikers that apparently paraded through our site at 1 a.m. The howling dogs, however, got my attention around 5. Everyone was up and moving around 6, and we hit the trail by 7:15. Then, we climbed. I managed to get bit by some sort of bug (my guess is a spider) right before the first overlook. My leg promptly started to swell so Michele brought out her Thai Benadryl cream. I popped a Benadryl for the swelling and then an Ibuprofen for the pain. Eventually, it felt better. We crested Three Ridges and then rallied again by the Maupin shelter, passing a group of SOBO thru-hikers on the way. The water source by the shelter was dry so we elected to head down the MauHar Trail to a better spot along the creek. We also got adopted for a brief stretch by a hunting dog (we believe), who apparently was making it a goal to meet everyone on the trail. One last climb awaited us before the happy descent back to the cars. We ran into the thru- hikers again. They turned down the beer I offered since they still had to climb the Priest (!). Since it was later in the day, we opted to skip the brewery and head home.
All in all, a good trip. I'm also pleased with the route, although I wonder if this was a bit harder. The usual way is to do two nights, hiking into Harpers on Friday, doing Three Ridges and the Priest on Saturday, and then doing Spy Rock and Crabtree on Sunday. All the climbing is compressed into one day, making for one tough day. This route spread out the climbs, but you didn't really have a recovery day--but, as Danielle pointed out, you get views both days. Needless to say, this is a tough weekend with a lot of climbing no matter how you split it. Kudos to everyone for a great weekend.