Saturday marked my third weekend outing in a row at The Priest and Three Ridges. I have something of a crush on the area and its trails, I confess. The morning began like many others: an early, uneasy rouse, followed by a packing of the car and coffee to go. As the summer solstice nears morning light arrives earlier by the day. Driving south on Route 29 from Charlottesville at 5:30am the sun seemed well into the sky. Then, shortly after 6:00 as I neared Route 56 West, suddently they came into view: first The Priest, then Three Ridges.
Route 56 is an easy road to find but a difficult road to drive without distraction. The Tye River for one is a beautiful flowing mass of water, draining east from the westerly peaks, churning over a bed of rocks and boulders, helping to make all things green and vibrant in the valley below. 56 follows the Tye as it weaves through the valley. Farms offer another distraction on both sides of 56. They're beautiful both in their pastoral setting and in their conventionalities that define the area. In addition, I find witnessing a farmer labor a field very peaceful and sometimes actually worth watching. The Priest and Three Ridges mountains command the most attention while driving west on 56. Their size, their contour, even their color- which constantly changes by the week or with the smallest tweak of sunlight- adds greatly to their prowess. I am nothing if not fixated on them, particularly The Priest, as I inch closer on 56 to the nearby Appalachian Trail (AT) trailhead.
|West on 56. The distant highpoint is The Priest.
|Stopping in the road to admire The Priest.
|More Priest. It's coming better into view.
|Back to The Priest.
|Long shuttered one-room area schoolhouse located 1.5 miles from the trailhead on the right side.
|At the trailhead entrance of Three Ridges, a suspension bridge spanning the Tye. Notice the white AT hash marking.
|A view of the bridge from the Tye roughly 20 feet below. Hard to believe the Tye crested higher than the bridge in 1969 during Hurricane Camille.
Once the picture taking was done it was time to run. Only this time I was back on 56 for a 20 minute out and back warm up. I admit, with only three weeks remaining until Western after this weekend I came to run hard and the AT leads directly up in either direction. A warm up would help get the blood flowing as I began the climb up Three Ridges. That it did. The climbing felt smooth. Not a smooth as I hope climbing will feel in three weeks, once rested, but pretty darn smooth, or smooth enough, considering this weekend ended five weeks in a row of 100+ miles and loads of vertical.
Like last weekend and the one before that, I ran my usual- up the AT to Three Ridges, down to the Mau Har, back to the AT, back to the car lot, then up and down The Priest. Two weeks ago I ran this loop pretty well and fairly hard at times. Last weekend it was hot and our group more casual. It was nice stopping at the overlooks. Especially the one facing west on The Priest summit, which offers spectacular, practically unmolested natural mountainous views to the west. This time, like I said, I came to run hard and so that it was I did. Only this time from the top of The Priest I ran down the other side, hooked left at the shelter sign (the Bradley Mongold way), ran the rocky descent to the actual shelter, tapped it’s wall (adding a ¼ mile or so from the sign to the shelter and back), then returned to 56. For those geeky enough to care, here are the splits:
- :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.
GPS details here. 22.5 rocky miles and just shy of 7,800 feet of vertical. The Priest and Three Ridges. Have some.
Running down The Priest from the meadow I killed it in 27 minutes. Not exactly a Clark Zealand/Josh Cox effort (25/26 minutes!) but a respectable time nonetheless. And along the way down who did I see running up, looking fresh as a daisy? None other than my partner-in-crime from two weeks prior, Dr. Dave Hryvniak. Dave and his wife were en route to Blacksburg for the weekend- taking the slow, scenic way- and decided to break up the trip with a Priest assault. We blasted right by one another. “There you are!,” Dave yelled laughing, appearing out of no where as I coursed a bend in the trail. He must have seen my car in the lot down the mountain. “See you at the bottom,” I spit out in between heavy breaths. Once down I hit 56 again for a five mile cool down to round out the morning at 30 miles. Back at the car lot I caught up with Dave. He ran up The Priest to the shelter sign in 45 minutes (insane!), then turned around and burned it back down in 35.
As I mentioned to Dave after the run, this was my fifth run at The Priest and Three Ridges though in some ways my least fulfilling. I realized then and there this is because it was the first time I ran here by myself. Most often I run alone and am content to do so; however, for many reasons the memories of running here with others feels more meaningful. The trails, the terrain, the sights this area has to offer, even the drive out, is best shared in the company of others I decided. I enjoyed the day’s hard effort but for now, with the books on Western training all but closed and an official FKT under my belt (for whatever it’s worth...), for the foreseeable future I only hope to return to The Priest and Three Ridges with others and to run at a more casual pace. Five times and there is still much to see and explore on this circuit. Plus, there are many other nearby sections of trails to link up and explore.