Three Ridges Loop and the Priest 22.5M - Tyro, Virginia
Vertical Gain:  7800'  

April 14, 2016

This run is regarded by many as the ultimate hill workout for big western hundreds like
Wasatch or Hardrock. Elevations range from 930 feet at the trailhead along the Tye River
to 4,063 feet at the Priest’s summit, with a lung-burning climb and quad-burning descent
of over 3000 feet in a mere four miles. I needed some sharpening on my climbing skills
on my transit to New York, so stopped just south of Charlottesville to climb the iconic
Priest to get a blessing from the mountains while taking on one very tough trail running

Arriving at the trailhead midday after a four-hour drive up from home, I set out at 12:30
on my ascent of the Three Ridges, following switchbacks through a plateau for the first
two miles until reaching a col where the AT intersects the Mau-Har Trail.  Progress was 
good, having no difficulty maintaining a 4 mph tempo from the outset.  The trail to this
point was mild by technical standards.  Legs were fresh and strong from the last couple
road runs I had made during the week before.  The following four miles to the summit of
the ridge were much more technical with long sections of rocky outcroppings to cross and 
increased grade toward the top.  All systems were good as I patiently rolled from peak
to peak from one ridge to the next.

After six miles of climbing I was still only an hour and 45 minutes into my venture.  The
following three miles down to where I branched off on the Mau-Har Trail were comfortable
as well, reaching mile 9 by 2 and a half hours.  The Mau-Har Trail proved to be more
challenging than I had imagined.  It started off gently enough with long sweeping switch-
backs into a steep watershed.  At first there were no rocks to contend with.  Reaching
the stream, the trail became the technical trail from hell with steep angular rocky
impediments at every step.  My pace slowed to a walk, which I had not needed to do 
much of in the climbing portion.  Needless to say it took over an hour to descend the
three miles back to the Appalachian Trail, from which the last two miles back to the car
were clear sailing.

The Mau-Har Trail had taken me to task, beating me up and leaving me a bit dehydrated,
even though temperatures stayed in the forties and fifties under pure sunshine all 
afternoon.  There were a surprising number of people backpacking for a Thursday, but
no one else was running this classic trail runner's route.  I passed by a hiker on the
Mau-Har who had seen me running with friends on the AT just ten days before when we
descended into Harper's Ferry in WV.  That was quite amusing and serendipidous, 
especially since he was not a through hiker.

After refueling at the car, the time was 4:30 when I headed south on the most 
challenging test of the day - the quick 3000-foot climb up the Priest.  My legs and lungs
were good, just a little worn from the rocks of Mau-Har.  Putting the pedal down I ran
most of the way up to the top, back and forth on countless switchbacks as the sun was
setting, casting long shadows across the gorgeous landscape.  Temperatures were
dropping back toward the thirties making evening breezes feel that much more brisk.
Donning a windbreaker before summiting, I paused to enjoy the views before turning
back to the car at the top a few minutes after 6 p.m.

The climb had more bite than I realized on my run-up, causing me to exercise caution on
weary legs on my descent.  It was surprising that it took me as long to get back down as
it took to climb, finishing the day's adventure right at about 7 hours for the 23-mile
run/hike.  The Priest and Three Ridges is an awesome training route for tough trail runs.
I enjoyed every step of it, even the hard parts.  The early spring flowers were a welcome
greeting after winter's retreat.  This was the right time of year to chase this challenge
as the trail must be snaky with all of the rocks when things warm up.  Even though it was
mid April the mosquitoes were already taking to wing and developing attack strategies.
I would like to come back, but it will be awhile.

So with weary legs and voracious appetite I chowed down and crashed right there at the
trailhead for the night before heading north to engage the next challenge.  The 37 degrees
in the morning felt good, but I was glad it was spring and would soon be warming up.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The run consists of a 14 mile loop of the Appalachian Trail and Mau-Har Trail, which takes you up and over Three Ridges. This is followed by a 9 mile out-and-back up the Priest, whose ascent gains a quad-burning 3,000 feet in just 4 miles. Climbs like this are rare indeed in Virginia. From the trailhead off of Route 56, take the white-blazed Appalachian Trail (AT) north across the road and across the Tye River, and begin the ascent up Three Ridges. In 2.0 miles, come to the intersection with the Mau-Har Trail (you will return on this trail). Stay on the AT, and enjoy several spectacular views of the Priest before reaching the summit of Three Ridges (3,790 feet) at mile 5.9. Continue on the AT for 2.8 miles, descending to the Mau-Har Trail near Maupin Field Shelter. Take a left onto the blue-blazed Mau-Har Trail for 3.3 miles before intersecting the AT. Take a right on the white-blazed AT and descend 2.0 miles back to your car. This first loop is 14 miles.The finale is the 3,000 foot ascent of the Priest. Take the white-blazed AT south and climb for the next 4.0 miles before reaching the summit plateau. The turnaround is the turnoff to Priest Shelter.

View of the Priest from the Three Ridges Wilderness

The Priest Summit

FKT Run Details VHTRC
:19:52 from the AT trail map board to AT/Mau Har intersection.
:46:15 (1:06:07) to Three Ridges summit.
:22:42 (1:28:49) to Mau Har intersection. Refilled water bottle at the spring here and took a scratch shortly after.
:32:54 (2:01:43) back to Mau Har/AT intersection.
:12:11 (2:13:54) back at the car lot/trail map board.
:01:16 (2:15:10) switched out bottles and back on the AT, up The Priest.
1:02:35 (3:17:45) tippidy-tapped the shelter wall. I lost a chunk of time on the climb. Running up a mountain on un-fresh legs is challenging, to say the least. Excuses, excuses...
:35:23 (3:53:10 finish) Priest re-summit and down to the AT trail map board. FKT reset. Running hard down a mountain on un-fresh legs is much more doable.