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  1. #1
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    Default How Three Ridges Wilderness Got in My Head and Messed with Me for Four Years

    It was July 13, 2020. Covid was dominating the news but not my thoughts since I was in the trail in Virginia for my annual section hike. One hot afternoon I reached the little concrete bridge across the North Fork of the Holston River. Exhausted, I took off my pack and lay down on the shaded and comparatively cool concrete bridge. Then a bedraggled, southbound LASHer arrived. He had long salt and pepper hair and beard, was a bit younger than I was, and was starved for conversation and company. He sat down and we began the old AT tradition of exchanging information about the trail. I had just done the stretch from I-81 at Atkins northbound. He was southbound from Harpers Ferry.

    He had lots of information, but it was his tale of the Three Ridges Wilderness, just north of Priest Mountain, that got in my head and stayed. His tales were of ridiculous steepness and rock ledges and gardens. Most of all, he said, the trail had closed in, choked with undergrowth. Going down was bad, he told me, but going up would be so much worse. Of the places he had been, it was the hardest and worst.

    Three Ridges was still several hundred miles and several years away, at that point, but it got in my head. His description was in my mind and simmered as I got closer each year.

    I thought I might reach the Ridges in 2022, when I began my section hike at Four Pines near Catawba. But I bailed out at the James River bridge after five nights and some cold rain. I was ready to go home. Three Ridges was still about 55 miles north, so I don't believe its proximity played any subconscious role in my decision. I was just wanted to go home.

    I should have reached Three Ridges in 2023. I planned to. I expected to. The modest background intimidation level increased after I began my section hike at the James River. The climbs up Rocky Row and Bluff Mountain were sustained and pretty steep, though I handled them well. The climb through the Brown Fork Gorge and then up Cole Mountain seemed tougher and longer. And a weird thing happened. I couldn't eat. The thought of eating made me nauseous day after day, even though I was sleeping well and handling the steep climbs. By the time I reached The Priest Shelter on the fourth day, I was out of gas. That day, I only nibbled on a Wheat Thin or two. I'd had little more than that for two days before. I needed to eat but couldn't make myself. Water was all I wanted. Fortunately, there was plenty of that (and the spring at the Priest Shelter has to be about the best source I've ever seen).

    On the afternoon of the fourth day, I made the long descent from the Priest to the Tye River valley. It began raining. My morale was low, probably because of a lack of nourishment, but partly too because I knew that Three Ridges began on the other side of the Tye River. When I reached the highway by the river, a shuttle driver was on the way to pick up another backpacker. I decided to bail out. I wanted to go home more than I wanted to climb Three Ridges.

    In May of this year, I'll return to the Tye River. This time there's no avoiding Three Ridges. I'm ready (I think). At least I'll have eaten normally leading up to the long-awaited day. And I plan to have a small celebration at the top, because that place has been in my head for four long years.

    I've heard no tales about points north sufficiently menacing to get in my head. I know about the Rollercoaster and the rocks of Pennsylvania and the Whites. I don't ever expect to reach the latter, because my pace is too slow, limited by the things I have to plan around to make my year expedition. But I'm looking forward to not having something in my head the next few years, as I continue north to Harpers Ferry and the Mason-Dixon area.

    Do me a favor if you've read this far: don't tell me about horrible places a few score or hundred miles north of Three Ridges. I don't want to live with your thoughts for the next few years.

  2. #2

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    I think you'll enjoy Three Ridges when you finally get there this year! You've certainly earned it.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Roper View Post
    It was July 13, 2020. Covid was dominating the news but not my thoughts since I was in the trail in Virginia for my annual section hike. One hot afternoon I reached the little concrete bridge across the North Fork of the Holston River. Exhausted, I took off my pack and lay down on the shaded and comparatively cool concrete bridge. Then a bedraggled, southbound LASHer arrived. He had long salt and pepper hair and beard, was a bit younger than I was, and was starved for conversation and company. He sat down and we began the old AT tradition of exchanging information about the trail. I had just done the stretch from I-81 at Atkins northbound. He was southbound from Harpers Ferry.

    He had lots of information, but it was his tale of the Three Ridges Wilderness, just north of Priest Mountain, that got in my head and stayed. His tales were of ridiculous steepness and rock ledges and gardens. Most of all, he said, the trail had closed in, choked with undergrowth. Going down was bad, he told me, but going up would be so much worse. Of the places he had been, it was the hardest and worst.

    Three Ridges was still several hundred miles and several years away, at that point, but it got in my head. His description was in my mind and simmered as I got closer each year.

    I thought I might reach the Ridges in 2022, when I began my section hike at Four Pines near Catawba. But I bailed out at the James River bridge after five nights and some cold rain. I was ready to go home. Three Ridges was still about 55 miles north, so I don't believe its proximity played any subconscious role in my decision. I was just wanted to go home.

    I should have reached Three Ridges in 2023. I planned to. I expected to. The modest background intimidation level increased after I began my section hike at the James River. The climbs up Rocky Row and Bluff Mountain were sustained and pretty steep, though I handled them well. The climb through the Brown Fork Gorge and then up Cole Mountain seemed tougher and longer. And a weird thing happened. I couldn't eat. The thought of eating made me nauseous day after day, even though I was sleeping well and handling the steep climbs. By the time I reached The Priest Shelter on the fourth day, I was out of gas. That day, I only nibbled on a Wheat Thin or two. I'd had little more than that for two days before. I needed to eat but couldn't make myself. Water was all I wanted. Fortunately, there was plenty of that (and the spring at the Priest Shelter has to be about the best source I've ever seen).

    On the afternoon of the fourth day, I made the long descent from the Priest to the Tye River valley. It began raining. My morale was low, probably because of a lack of nourishment, but partly too because I knew that Three Ridges began on the other side of the Tye River. When I reached the highway by the river, a shuttle driver was on the way to pick up another backpacker. I decided to bail out. I wanted to go home more than I wanted to climb Three Ridges.

    In May of this year, I'll return to the Tye River. This time there's no avoiding Three Ridges. I'm ready (I think). At least I'll have eaten normally leading up to the long-awaited day. And I plan to have a small celebration at the top, because that place has been in my head for four long years.

    I've heard no tales about points north sufficiently menacing to get in my head. I know about the Rollercoaster and the rocks of Pennsylvania and the Whites. I don't ever expect to reach the latter, because my pace is too slow, limited by the things I have to plan around to make my year expedition. But I'm looking forward to not having something in my head the next few years, as I continue north to Harpers Ferry and the Mason-Dixon area.

    Do me a favor if you've read this far: don't tell me about horrible places a few score or hundred miles north of Three Ridges. I don't want to live with your thoughts for the next few years.
    IMHO the Southbounder must have been dealing with some other difficult issues that that he attached to the descent of Three Ridges.It's been a few years, but have done that climb twice. I think you've already done several climbs of equal or greater difficulty. Honestly don't recall anything remarkable about it. Yeah, it's a long sustained climb, but nothing like coming north out the NOC, for instance.
    Have fun, enjoy the ride!!

  4. #4

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    I seent my only AT rattler on the 3 ridges summit, circa 17'
    Trail Miles: 4,980.5
    AT Map 1: Complete 2013-2021
    Sheltowee Trace: Complete 2020-2023
    Pinhoti Trail: Complete 2023-2024
    Foothills Trail: 47.9
    AT Map 2: 279.4
    BMT: 52.7
    CDT: 85.4

  5. #5

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    Not sure why people do that, but really, ignore it all. I had a very adamant section hiker once tell me that the "climb" up Albert Mtn wasn't worth the effort - we should just take the road around. !?what?!

    I like to take the trail as it appears in front of me - preconceived notions aren't going to change it. Just follow the blazes and know that it will be YOUR experience. One person's trash is another's treasure! I LIKED [most of!] the rocks of PA!

    Going in May you won't have the Three Ridges experience I had. It was mid-late September. I walked into a National Geographic/Planet Earth-esque mating convention of stickbugs. There were hundreds on and all along the edges of the trail. On the ground, on the brush along the trail edge, just everywhere! Females were all chubby with eggs, males all brightly colored. Thats what I remember of the Three Ridges! Enjoy your hike!

  6. #6

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    What’s tough and menacing to one is completely easy and reasonable to another. It’s all subjective!!

  7. #7

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    Coming SOBO, yeah t was a bit of a haul up. But rewards you with a great winding ridge walk for a couple miles. I did it summer of ‘21 and didn’t notice the vegetation being remarkable. In fact it sort of opened up at the top. Coming NOBO the climbs up from Fontana and up from Hughes Gap to Roan are much tougher.

  8. #8
    Registered User LittleRock's Avatar
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    What others said - if you've done the 800 miles south of Three Ridges, it ain't nothing special. A long climb that's steep in a few places. The view from Hanging Rock north of the summit is spectacular on a nice day.

    I had similar fears about northern PA (particularly the climb out of Lehigh Gap) and the Whites after hearing from other hikers. Both turned out to be overblown - they were hard, but not terrifying. HYOH, and don't let the fear mongers get in your head!

  9. #9
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    I've enjoyed all of your comments. They're encouraging, informative, polite, and no horrible tales of what lies further on.

    Spweaking of Hughes Gap to Roan summit, I had built up similar feelings about that based upon a book written by Jan Curran for his hike in the late 1980s. His account of that climb was memorable. But by the time I got there in 2014 or 2015, the climb had been re-routed, adding switchbacks. That made it much easier, and it didn't seem like a really tough one.

    Two years ago, the climbs up Kelly Knob/Apple Orchard Mountain and, the next morning, High Cock Knob were memorably difficult.

  10. #10

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    Good old High Cock—great Farout comments on that one!

  11. #11
    Registered User Wheezy's Avatar
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    09-30-2015
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    Creedmoor, North Carolina
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    I did the the Mau-Har and AT loop in Three Ridges a couple of years ago. Got home and couldn't figure out why my legs were so sore having only done 14 miles. Plotted it in CalTopo and it turns out it had the most elevation gain/loss of any weekend hike I'd ever done. It's a beautiful area though and well worth the effort.

  12. #12

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    I did that Mau Hard loop clockwise on day one, spent the night at the shelter and did the same loop counterclockwise the next day. It was awesome!
    Quote Originally Posted by Wheezy View Post
    I did the the Mau-Har and AT loop in Three Ridges a couple of years ago. Got home and couldn't figure out why my legs were so sore having only done 14 miles. Plotted it in CalTopo and it turns out it had the most elevation gain/loss of any weekend hike I'd ever done. It's a beautiful area though and well worth the effort.

  13. #13

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