Total Mileage: 13.79 Miles
Total Time: 8hrs 28min
Elevation Gain: 810 Feet
Max Elevation: 3899 Feet
Total Climb: 2,284 Feet (228 Floors)
Pack Weight: Approx 12lbs
Temperature: 55 Degrees F
Total Calories Burned: 2555
February 8th, 2019
I woke up at an Airbnb in Lynchburg, VA at 5:15, showered and spent some time stretching. The basement of a family’s home Airbnb was adequate, though from the outside the house did not look like much. The ad on the app said it was located in a neighborhood that was heavily sought after. In my opinion, the area was sketchy at best. No photos of the outside of the home were in the advertisement, after checking in, I do not believe that was by accident. The basement was excellent, however, and the family did a great job of making the place hospitable.
At 6:15 I left Lynchburg to head back to Reid’s Gap to begin my Three Ridges/Mau Har loop. I intended to arrive just after sunrise to give myself enough time to make the loop. I am glad I did because this trail loop took every bit of 8 hours with a few breaks.
After a stop at a gas station to buy snacks for the trip and a bathroom break, I arrived at the Reid’s Gap parking lot at 8:15 and started my hike.
Taking the AT south, the trail lead me through a short grassy patch before punching me in the face with a half mile of stone staircases that seemed to stretch on for eternity, but I knew that with around 12 miles to go, usually, the toughest part of any hike/workout is the first couple of miles/reps until the body gets the message that it is time to do work.
After climbing the first of the seemingly endless climbs on the hike, I found the trail flattens out for about a mile, this part of the hike was filled with deadfall trees and nice views of the mountains to my right and to my left. And then another climb.
A welcomed descent brought me down to the Harper’s Creek shelter, where the Mau Har Trail met the AT. I decided to hike the loop clockwise, not due to any advice, just my intuition. Intuition on this hike would eventually end up being one of my most valuable tools.
Continuing up the trail, and I do mean UP, the trail led through tunnels of leafy brush (one day I will learn the names of the local flora and fauna). During this walk, I began feeling slightly vulnerable because the abundant brush blocked my view of any possible predators sneaking up on me, the “Bear Country” sign back at the shelter did not make me feel any better about not being the top of the food chain, even knowing it was winter and most of these large mammals were likely hibernating. I kept a constant watch on my six. And I climbed, and climbed, and climbed up more endless stone stairways.
The trail leveled out slightly to give me just a little break from mountain climbing but added the challenge of softball and larger sized stones that kept my footing in check. This is ankle rolling territory. I became super thankful for my poles, which probably saved my life multiple times over the past two days.
At about 3 miles in, I found a good place to stop and eat a Quest bar. I stood on top of a large boulder which was located on the side of the mountain with nothing but rocky paths leading to it and away. After a short break, my feet hit the stone path again, ankles twisting and turning on rocks. Thankfully, I have always had strong ankles from skateboarding as a kid. I did, however, learn that I should probably invest in some hightop hiking shoes. My low top Keens were no match for this terrain.
Shortly after my break, I found a small stream perfect for a water refill (If I had needed one), if I had known this was going to be there, I might have packed less water in and filled here to limit my pack weight. I was carrying about a 12lb pack though, and the weight of the water made little difference. My 48 ounces of water lasted me the full loop, as I am typically a camel and the weather was sub 55 degrees. If it had been warmer, I could see myself going to 3-4 times the water I brought with me, but water sources on the trail seemed abundant enough to facilitate the need, as long as long as a hiker was diligent at refilling totally at every water source.
At this point, I should say I should have researched this hike better, and trusted other hikers on their experience. I typically don’t believe people when they say something is difficult, because I tend to think of most people as couch surfers. What I failed to take into account is that couch surfers don’t rate the trails, experienced hikers do, and the DIFFICULT distinction is given to this loop probably could be changed to INSANE if there were such a distinction.
And so I climbed. And I climbed. And climbed some more.
Around mile 6, I found a good place to stop and eat lunch. I brought with me jerky, cheese, and trail mix. I consumed a meager 550 calories before jumping back on the trail. Very shortly after, I found the main overlook of the hike: a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge and mountain ridges as far as the eye could see. I filmed and took pictures here for about 10 minutes before getting back on the trail.
After the overlook, I trekked across the top of the mountain and began having my first problems with inadequate blazing on the trail. The lack of trail marking would plague me the rest of the 7-8 miles down the mountain and up the next. Intuition, luck, and prayer kept me on the trail. Many times I found myself questioning my sanity and the miles of climbing up and down began to wear on my body. I think of myself as very fit. I ruck, hike, bike, sprint, lift weights, do 100s of squats on leg days, and have been known to do up to 1000 pushups on chest day. This hike slapped me in the face and mocked my fitness level. About 7 miles deep, my cell battery dropped to 25%, and with no signal, I couldn’t remember if I told anyone exactly where I would be hiking that day. I also slack packed, leaving my hammock camping gear in the truck. Both could have been significant failures on my part, had the sun gone down on me out there, I rolled an ankle, hurt myself, or I’d gotten lost. I read later on AllTrails, how often people do get lost on Three Ridges. It appears the lack of blazes haunts everyone. Some of the blazes I found that helped me find my way were 12 feet in the air, as they had grown with the tree, and then been covered with fungi.
Finding my way down the mountain seemed impossible. Many times I was not sure if I was still on the AT or making up my own trail as I went along. At one point I found myself at what seemed to be a dead end, as I cursed the trail, I heard movement to my left. Two very healthy looking deer had joined me about 40 feet away as If to tell me everything would be alright. This isn’t the first time deer have gotten me through low points. This seems to be a common theme in my life, living in the country deer are always around, but I can remember multiple times where I have needed some encouragement and found 5-10 deer, eating in my field. They tend to bring me some peace.
I kept going in the direction I was going, down the mountain and when I finally saw a white blaze, I stopped and touched it saying “Thank you blaze,” a ritual that I would keep the rest of the hike.
The trail sent me across multiple boulder fields that made me feel like I was mountaineering more than merely hiking anymore. Think about those mountain goats standing on impossible inclines thousand of feet above the ground below, that was me. Many times, I asked myself “What insane person created this trail?” The only thing that kept me going was the thought that I would soon I would reach the Mau Har Trail and the hike back would be so much easier. I had no idea how wrong that thought was, but that blissful ignorance kept me moving.
Finally, I reached the bottom of the mountain and the first waterfall. Shortly after I found signs to the Maupin Field Shelter and the Mau Har Trail (which someone had changed to the Mau HarD trail on all the signage).
I followed the Mau Har down, down, down, treacherous ankle rolling rocks until I finally reached the waterfalls that the trail parallels – and the Mau Har sent me climbing back UP. As I climbed the trail next to the falls, I questioned my sanity and the person who created this trail’s sanity. This hike up the falls was just short of mountain climbing and involves some ridiculously dangerous rock climbing that one mess up or slip on a wet rock could send a hiker tumbling hundreds of feet onto the rocky falls. The trail up the falls did not seem to end.
My phone had died. The sun was going down. My camping gear was in the truck. Around mile 11 I began feeling lightheaded. At 11.5 miles I was dizzy. Mile 12 I was hearing voices and having to take breaks every 25 feet as I climbed back up another mountain at inclines so steep I felt like I was climbing up an endless playground slide. After reading the hike was 12.8 miles and finding myself still hiking at 13.5, I was both happy knowing I was soon going to be back to the truck and slightly annoyed that the reported distance was off.
But I finished it. I am proud to say that I did. I have no regrets. I love setting a goal and enduring the necessary suffering until it’s achieved. This was the most challenging thing I have ever done in 24 hour period.
10 things I will take away from this hike:
1. Always tell someone the exact trails you will be hiking before leaving.
2. Have a way to charge your phone or have extra batteries to make sure you have a way to call for help if needed.
3. Couch surfers do not rate trails. Difficult may equal insane. Don’t plan to do a 10+ mile hike in a day that is rated difficult. Split it up.
4. Never slack-pack. Have everything you need to camp out if you get lost, hurt, or the sun goes down.
5. Bring at least 100-200 calories of per mile of the planned hike.
6. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. My goal was rain, snow, or shine to hike these trails. Snow and ice would have made this extremely dangerous.
7. Research these trails better. There are so many resources online now, and you no longer have to rely only on books or trail guides.
8. Hightop hiking boots might be a better choice.
9. Trekking poles are crucial.
10. Do more stair training. Lots more stair training.