Hikers who love steep climbs and stunning views live for these moments: standing astride a boulder outcrop, mountain scenery stretching to the horizon, and far below, tucked in a valley, the orchard. Smiling, I reach into my pack for another apple. It's a moment all the more delicious for having worked so hard to achieve it.
Halfway up the Three Ridges portion of the Appalachian Trail in George Washington National Forest, we rested at a rocky crease called Harpers Creek, which faces a forested wall of granite. "We're climbing that?" my partner muttered. I answered with a smile, and we plugged along to Chimney Rock, the last in a series of eye-filling outcrops on the ridge's southern flank. Eventually we made it up the long switchbacks to the three-pronged ridge's crest. Five miles, 5 hours, and 3,000 vertical feet from our starting point at the Tye River south fork, we camped, silhouetted by an inky black sky, farmhouse lights twinkling below.
Returning on the Mau-Har Trail the next day, we ducked into small hollows thick with rhododendrons and tarried in frigid wading pools under Campbell Creek's many trickling falls. All told, we'd made a 13 1/2-mile hike, but it felt like a million miles, and we felt like a million bucks.
Where: 180 miles from Washington, DC. Three Ridges trailhead is south of Charlottesville on VA 56, about 10 miles west of US 29.
Maps:PATC Map No. 12 ($5, Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, 703-242-0693) contains the best topo information.
Trail Info: Glenwood/ Pedlar Ranger Districts, (540) 291-2188.