I hope you don’t think I’m complaining when I write about rocky trails, bad weather, and big climbs. I love being out here on the trail, and I am very appreciative to have this opportunity to thru-hike the A.T. But I also want to paint a real picture of what this hike is like, and not glamorize the trail. Today, it was brutal.
The day started out great with a breathtaking view of the sunrise from my tent. Scar and I had breakfast, and then I packed up and left early because I knew there were some big climbs today, and I didn’t want Scar to get too far ahead. After a couple of miles of easy ups and downs, I started the 800 foot climb of the Priest. This climb was really well graded and turned out to be much easier than I expected.
When I arrived at the Priest Shelter located at the summit, Bear Slayer and Yogi were still there, packing up to start their day. They were planning to hike the Mau-Har blue blaze trail to bypass the big climb for the day, and asked me if I planned to do the same. I told them that I had heard that is was a beautiful blue blaze, with a lot of waterfalls, but that I was hiking the A.T. the old fashion way. Later in the day, I would come to question that decision.
All of the shelters on the trail have a journal book. Usually this is a spiral-bound composition book that is placed in the shelter in a gallon Ziploc bag. The journal is designed to keep a record of hikers passing through, and other hikers read them to keep track of who is ahead of them on the trail. The journal at the Priest Shelter is unique, however, because hikers use the journal to confess their sins. I took a picture of a couple of pages of the journal, but after closer examination, I decided that some of the confessions were not suitable for this blog. It was very amusing.
There was a nice view from the Priest, but my joy was quickly squelched when I started to descend. The trail down the backside of the priest was like falling off the mountain over a big pile of rocks. It took forever to get down that mountain, and that really put a crimp in the time that I had allotted for today’s long miles.
Finally, I reached the bottom at the Tye River, that is crossed by another really cool suspension bridge. Scar joined me after a short time, and we decided to have lunch there. While we were eating, a couple of stray dogs showed up that looked like a pair out of a Disney homeward bound movie. One of the dogs was some sort of brown Labrador mix, and the other dog was so matted that I didn’t know what it was. They kept their distance, with tails wagging, and watched each other’s backs, as they took turns going down to the river to get a drink. When they were finished filling up on water, they just wandered off the way they came. It was so cute.
After lunch, Scar and I took off to begin the 3,000 foot climb of Three Ridges Mountain. Remember, Virginia is flatter and easier. The temperature was already in the 90’s, so I knew this was not going to be fun. After climbing the first thousand feet, I sent Scar a text message telling him that I did not sign up to start the trail on March 6th so that I could climb mountains in the middle of May with temperatures in the 90’s, and that I was stopping at the Harpers Creek Shelter until it cooled off a little.
I arrived at the shelter at 2:30 pm and laid my sweat soaked clothing in the sun to dry. Even my wallet was soaking wet. Shortly, Don’t Know Don’t Care and Orange arrived planning to spend the night at the shelter. I chatted with them for a while, ate my dinner, drank water, and relaxed until 5:30 pm, when I decided that it had cooled down enough to attempt the rest of the climb.
Scar had sent me a text earlier stating that the remainder of the climb was like climbing through a landslide, and as I continued, I realized that his description was pretty accurate. It took me nearly three hours to get to the summit of Three Ridges Mountain, and I got there just as the sun was starting to set. On a positive note, the sunset was gorgeous, but now I was going to have to continue on in the dark. So I put on my headlamp and started down the backside of the mountain.
I’ve never hiked at night before, and now that I have tried it, I’m not a fan. Your cone of vision is just too small, and you lose a lot of depth perception so the going was really slow. I have seen a lot of centipedes on the trail, but at night, they seem to come out in droves.
After a couple of miles, I decided that I had had enough and started looking for a place to camp. Coming up, there was a little bump in the trail called Bee Mountain, and it has been my experience that these places always have a little unofficial campsite on the top. Luckily, this was no exception. So, when I saw the remnants of a fire ring, I pulled off the trail, found a flat spot and set up my tent. I’m now planning to get a really early start because I have some miles to make up.