I signed up for this meetup group trip early last week. There had been 12 people including myself signed up for it. On Thursday Jim Newman had mentioned that he may have to bail and that I would have to over-see the trip, as I am an assistant organizer for the Washington Backpackers Meetup Group. Jim also talked to another guy on the trip, and he seemed ill prepared and not really wanting to be apart of the group mentality, so fortunately he didn't come.
All ten people going were to meet at the Centreville Virginia Park and Ride. I got there about 30 minutes early, talked to Jim a few times on the phone, and the others began trickling in. First Steve with Damien and Ally riding with him, then Melissa (rhymes with monster) and Ming, Darwin and his two malamut dogs, Vessie carrying a bunch of equipment Jim and meet with her earlier to loan to the group, and last Jasen and Gary.We hurriedly went through the massive amount of equipment Jim had sent, and after polling everyone for equipment everyone owned, it was apparently that all involved were adept at backpacking and had the correct gear. We ended up grabbing a small wire grill, a 4 person 4 season 12 lb tent, and a bow saw. We ended up putting everyone in 4 cars and caravaning down route 29 towards our destination for 3 hours.
Three Ridges is situated very close to Wintergreen Ski Resort. We wound up the mountain and parked beyond the resort close to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We headed out from the parking lot at 10:30pm. After a few minutes searching for the Appalachian Trail we headed up, the trail quickly ascending a ridge steeply. We made it to the top and by earlier consensus we decided to head off the ridge to the shelter campsite rather than stay on the ridge for the night. After 1.6 miles we arrived at an empty Maupin Field Shelter. All of us quickly throwing out our sleeping gear on the floor of the shelter, with only Melissa and Ming opting to set up their tent. We started a small campfire and talked for awhile. One by one heading to the sleeping bag after passing around a bottle of whiskey.
The night was chilly, probably down in to the teens. I neglected to change socks and my feet were chilled off and on all night. Other than that I slept decently.
I woke up after most everyone else was already out of their bags. I hopped up and packed most of my gear. I ate cold oatmeal and grabbed a bit of coffee from Darwin. I pulled out my food for the day and put it in my pockets so it would unfreeze from my body heat. Melissa and Ming were the last two up and packed. All of us antsy to be off. We had decided the night before to head south on the AT to the Harpers Creek shelter with all our gear, rather than setting up a base camp, and making a loop coming back up the Mau Hurr blue blaze trail.
Steve, Ally, and Vessie were to share Jim's tent, but after feeling the weight they decided to leave it at the shelter and hope that the next shelter was also empty. Steve brought a bivy so he was good to go either way.
We started the journey, heading up a thousand feet to the apex of the Three Ridges, the elevation gain sneaking up on us. The views down into the valleys east and west opening up in front of us. When stopping the wind quickly chilled us, and got us motivated to keep moving, the hills giving us warmth. Gary began having some leg cramps and Vessie gave him some leg cramp medication that seemed to help for awhile, until the cramps moved to other parts of his body. The conversation was lively, much more so when going down hills. We ate while hiking so didn't stop for an extended lunch. My feet were very cold to begin with, but after a mile of hiking, intense pins and needles shot through them and the circulation and feeling returned.
After 8 miles, the last mile down 2000 feet, we arrived at Harpers Creek shelter. The shelter was full of Boy Scouts. Steve went and chatted with them and they lent a tent to the girls to use for the evening since they occupied the shelter.
We all went about setting up our tents. I brought the one-man Sprite. There was plenty of space to set up camp down a ways from the shelter, over the hill from the Scouts. We all broke out food and dined a late lunch that continued until we made dinner. Everyone was very generous with the food they brought, everyone shared chicken and vegetables and sausage and coffee and liquor and anything else we had. Camp life was good! Soon a blazing fire and a huge stack of firewood was situated. The light began to fade from the sky after pumping water and cooking and all the other camp chores. After dark we began passing around flasks and wine. Everything was quickly consumed and we sat around the fire chatting listening to some quiet music. At about 10 or 10:30 we all got sleepy and headed to the tents, full and happy.
The night was much warmer, I think a combination of warmer temperature from a slightly lower elevation, and being in a tent made for a much more comfortable evening. I slept fairly well, but woke up every time I needed to roll over, my hip hurting from sleeping on one side or the other.
Everyone rolled out of their tents generally the same time. We cooked breakfast, Darwin relight the fire to make some coffee. We all packed quickly and continued conversations from the evening before. Gary had been very sore the previous evening and continued to be hurting. He was worried he wouldn't be able to make it back to the cars, so his exit strategy was to head to route 56 and have someone come and pick him up from the all down hill trail. I said that I would go with him so he would not be alone in case anything happened.
We all saddled up and headed up a hill for a 1/2 mile to the intersection with the Mau Hurr Trail. At the top of the hill Gary decided to stay with the group, as the trail distance to 56 and back to the cars was similar, if one being up hill and the other being down. At the top of this first climb, my heart beating happily in my chest, the soreness of the night before vanished and the coffee coursing through me, I was absolutely giddy, I couldn't help but smile, I couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing at that moment.
The trail wound down around the side of a ridge then climbed 500 feet up switch backs, a very difficult hike, all of us overheating and thankfully stopping for a few minutes. The trail continued up for a bit before dropping down to a creek with astounding waterfalls and a campsite. Following the creek was a very difficult climb, rock scrambling and just placing one foot in front of the other, we gained elevation quickly, headed back to the saddle where the Maupin shelter rested. Towards the top we came to a dead coyote, the skin and fur perfectly preserved, but the guts all missing. We speculated on causes of death, and why it was preserved as it was.
In a short time we crested the last of the steep hills and made our way back to the shelter. Jim's tent was still there, undisturbed. A large group of identical tents were setup close by, with no sign of the owners, apparently some group of Scouts had made this their base camp. The last 1.6 miles went quickly, a short uphill and a long down hill to the cars. We unloaded our gear, changed our clothes and headed to the brewery at the bottom of the hill for a late lunch and some more camaraderie. Melissa and Ming left after a brew with Vessie, the rest stayed for lunch. We all headed back towards Centreville and DC. I got home to Baltimore at 8pm.
The group was very good. Everyone was cool and got along. No one was ill prepared. Steve told expansive stories of the past and all his hobbies: pictures of trains, HAM radio, micro-brewing, he is an extremely smart guy and has a lot of good knowledge. Damien seems to be looking for something, he mentioned that the AT sounded very interesting to him, very nice guy and a strong hiker. Ally is very capable and explores the world a lot, every chance she gets, also she has nice eyes. Vessie is just getting over a divorce and is all about getting back into life and trying new things. Jasen and Gary are very good friends, Jasen is competent and is a strong hiker. Gary wants to get back into shape to hike Mount Rainer in the summer, he is very gregarious and I had lots of good conversation with him - he pushed through his cramping and did great on the trip. Mellisa and Ming kept to themselves, some, but when in the group were participated in great conversation, both are strong hikers and very kind people. Darwin brought his male and female malamut dogs, which are just the best behaved big fluffy dogs ever, the boy growls when he is getting pet in the right spot, Darwin is from Ecuador, a very nice guy. I really hope to hike with all these people again! The generosity and cohesiveness of the group made for good times.
Sour Patch Kid
Thanks to Gary for providing pictures, since I left my camera in Baltimore.