Tag Archives: Old Rag Mountain

Old Rag Mountain June 2015

Heading up the rock scramble.
Heading up the rock scramble.

I wanted to get out of the house for a while and decided to hike up Old Rag. I think the last time I did this was a few years ago with my brother and Matt. I know it is rather fare up the mountain but once you get to the top the views totally make it worth the effort getting there. Even though it was still technically spring, the day was going to be hot and I should have left earlier but I didn’t. I think I got to the parking lot around 9:30 and I could tell it was already to late.

The trail for the most part is tree covered and provides excellent shade. Not until you get to the rock scramble and the summit are you exposed to the sun. The short walk from the parking lot to the trail head was a precursor to what was to come. It was hot and the humidity was almost unbearable. Getting up the mountain taking the rock scramble I had to stop about a dozen times for breaks. I am not as young or in shape as I once was and the mountain kicked my ass.

old_rag_june_2015-12The air was sweet with strawberries and other fruits near the base of the mountain. It changed as I head up the mountain. Already hot in the sun however the shade is nice and cool. Humidity not yet that bad in the shade, excellent breeze through the trees in these lower elevations. Sound of stream or river to the right. Birds chirping to the early morning sun rise. I had forgotten what it was like to be out in the woods, surrounded by nature. The tranquility out here is great. Even though this is a well travel hike I still managed to find myself alone most of the time.

At least when I took breaks further up the mountain I got some great views. Once you get above the tree line the views are amazing. I would take breaks on rock out cropping and soak up the view, trying to stay in the shade as much as possible. One thing that is tricky this far up the mountain is following the trail. There are markers but at one point I found myself lost. I squeezed through a narrow passageway to a rock ledge and realized I was on the wrong path. Across a ravine I could see the trail markers. Here I decided to take another break and watch the other hikers as they made their way up the mountain.


Finally getting to the summit it was a bit crowded. I found a nice spot to relax overlooking the valley and ate my lunch. I wish I could have stayed longer but if I wanted to make it home at a reasonable hour I needed to get going. It must have taken me 4 hours to get to the top. On the way down I decided to complete the loop and took the fire road. It is a longer trip but I was exhausted and didn’t want to do the rock scramble back down.

A baby pine tree with a new pine cone that is growing on the summit.  There isn't as much flora as in lower elevations but even up here, life clings on.
A baby pine tree with a new pine cone that is growing on the summit. There isn’t as much flora as in lower elevations but even up here, life clings on.

A little over halfway down the mountain I ran out of water. The two litters I had went quickly and I wish I had brought a bottle with me. I managed to trudge along down the winding fire road back to the parking lot. I had a bottle of water stashed in my car, it was hot as crap but I almost finished the 1-litter of water I was so thirsty. I also made it back just in time as I could see storm clouds rolling in from the south east.

I drove home for the most part in the rain. My legs where tired and I was still thirsty but it was a good hike up Old Rag. Finally sitting in my car it made me realize how out of shape I really am. I would like to think I will work out more to be better prepared but that wont happen. I am still make it up the mountain and glad I can. The views from the top are great and worth all the blood and sweet.



Old Rag Mountain January 2012

us at the summit

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I called my brother on New Years Eve to shoot the shit for a while, lets be honest, it was a drunk call.  One of the many things we talked about was getting together to do some hiking.  With his future wife pregnant, she is not able to hike like they use to.  He knows I love to hike so we made a pact to get out and do a hike before the end of the month.  We talked to Matt and he was in for a hike too.

I suggested Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park which is a popular hike in the park.  It is a great hike to the top of a 3291′ mountain with great panoramic views of the surrounding valleys.  As you near the top you have to scramble across open rocks, down crevasses, and squeeze between cracks.  It is a challenge but certainly fun and I thought both Stephen and Matt would enjoy the experience.

We meet at Stephen’s place and got an early start for the short drive out to Sperryville and the outskirts of the park.  When we arrived I was surprised to see the parking lot pretty full for a day that was not going to reach above freezing.  We got there about 11am and headed out for the trail.

view down to the valley

The first 3/4 miles is just going from the parking lot to the park boundary.  By the time we made this small trek, Stephen and Matt already needed a break for food and water.  This was pretty much how the afternoon went, we would make some gains but take a break.  We commented frequently on all the people that started after we did and passed us on the way up the trail.  I remember this hike being difficult but not impossible.  This just goes to show how out of shape we all are.  We talked like old men, how are joints and muscles ached or old injuries coming back to haunt us.  I am the oldest and am only 33, a shame we are already talking like this.

As we made it up the mountain, things improved a little.  The trail went from being steep rocky switchbacks to not so steep rocky crawling.  The three cover opened up a little which allowed us to see the summit and that gave us encouragement to get to the top and eat lunch.  Stephen kept wanting to eat early but I kept telling him “we are almost there.”  Up this far there was permanent snow on the ground, it wasn’t much but it was there.  The temperature certainly dropped a few degrees at this elevation, down from the balmy 32 degrees when we started.  We were working so hard and dressed appropriately that the chill didn’t bother us much at all.  It was funny, one of of the rock outcroppings we stopped at over looked and got a different perspective on where we started our journey.  It was way down there, we probably climbed 2,000 feet by this point.

rock scramble towards the summit of the mountain
the rock scramble towards the summit

When we reached the summit it was pretty full with people enjoying a break and the panoramic view of the valley.  We tried to find a covered spot to escape the bitter wind but on the open rocks, it was rather difficult.  By now all the heat we built up walking up the mountain was gone and things started to get rather cold.  Soon after lunch we headed down the mountain and continued the loop back to the car.

Going down the mountain along the fire road I think is a little easier, it is longer, but there are much fewer rocks and the fire road is not to steep.  Just like going up the mountain, we got a different perspective on the summit.  From the fire road we could clearly see the summit and how high it really was.  We stopped at the Byrd’s Nest and Old Rag shelters for our mandatory breaks.  Matt and Stephen got their first look at a pit toilet at the Old Rag shelter and that experience was pretty funny.  I don’t know how they would do camping at False Cape State Park as you will only find pit toilets.

As we neared the end of the hike everyone was rather tired and the sun was setting fast.  The temperature dropped what seemed a degree or two every 15 minutes as the sun set behind the mountains and we lost day light.  A few stragglers like our self were the only ones left on the mountain by the time we reached the parking lot.  The ride back was not very long, but it certainly was quite as we were all to tired and soar to even talk.

After dropping everyone off I quickly drove home to shower and meet Nancy at Pan Vino in Lorton for a birthday dinner my dad and Pat were throwing.  I was pretty zoned out all night as I was to tired to do anything and Nancy could see it on my face.  The food was good and I couldn’t get enough water.

It was a great hike and I am looking forward to doing some more hiking with Stephen and Matt.  Both are eager to get outside and explore nature.  I am pretty certain the next time we hike it won’t be such a strenuous hike up a 3300′ mountain.  Two days later and I still feeling a little stiff in these old bones.  Maybe next time we will do one of the shorter waterfall hikes in the Shenandoah or maybe I will take them to Prince William Forest for a hike.

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Old Rag Mountain December 2008

summit of Old Rag
summit of Old Rag

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So it’s the weekend after Christmas and the weather outside was perfect.  The sun was shinning, no rain in the forecast, and the temperatures was in the low 60’s.  What a perfect opportunity to get one last hike in before the end of the year and one last use out of my 2008 National Park Pass.  So I packed my hiking bag and headed out to my local stomping ground, Old Rag Mountain, for a day hike.

I was able to arrive at the overflow lot around 10am.  By this time all the early morning fog had burned off, but the trail was still very muddy.  For several days it had rained on and off.  I could deal with the muddy trail, that’s what hiking boots are for.  What I was concerned about was the wet rocks.  I didn’t think there would be any ice since the temperatures had not fallen below freezing for almost a week.  Nevertheless it would still be a dicey hike up the mountain.

On my way up I quickly shed my light jacket I was wearing, never having to put it back on.  The temperatures quickly rose and the wind never became a problem.  At one point on the trail up there was a noticeable temperature change.  The wind was blowing hard down the mountain and was about 15 degrees warmer.  If I stepped back just 10′ it got cooler again, very bizarre.

fellow hikers
fellow hikers

After a short hike in the mud it was time for the rock scramble to the summit.  I was a little worried about slick rocks, this is not a place you want to slip and fall.  You could literally fall off the mountain to a not so soft landing.  But the chance of death certainly added to the thrill of climbing up the mountain this time.  With a more perraless hike I got a few more cuts and my camera took a few good knocks from slipping.  But never once did I completely loose my balance.  I even lost a lens cap at one point crawling around the rocks.  Fortunately when I was about to leave the summit a guys comes walking up with it in hand.  I couldn’t thank that guy enough for finding it and returning it.

When I reached the summit this time there were a lot of people, so finding some solitude would be pretty hard this time around.  I am starting to think I have to come up in a rain or snow storm for no one to be here.  Thankfully there were far fewer people this time around and I could find a spot to rest and eat lunch.  I took a spot on the rocks facing towards Robertson Mountain which I hiked just a few weeks earlier.  For what it was it was a peaceful lunch on a perfect day for hiking.  I spent a long time at the summit exploring and taking as many pictures as I could.  This was my first opportunity to use my 75-300mm lens on this mountain.  Even though the scenery was the same, I was getting a completely different perspective with my new lens.

rotten tree
rotten tree

I spent enough time on the summit so I headed down the fire road back to the parking lot.  I love this part of the hike.  It might be longer this way back to the car, but certainly easier.  There are no rocks to climb over or squeeze through and the grade is very manageable.  Certainly easier on my knees going this way.  I also like the walk through the forest once you have reached the valley.  You are surrounded by a ton of trees that just envelope you in nature, even more so in summer and fall.

Once I got back to my truck it was off to home.  A short drive back with a stop at the grocery store for dinner that night and my day was complete.  I love hiking that section of the Shenandoah, it’s just beautiful.

Old Rag Mountain November 2008

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I decided early November to hike Old Rag Mountain again.  The last time I did this it was summer and much hotter.  When I was finished the mountain totally kicked my ass.  I promised myself I would come back another time and do the full circuit hike of the mountain.  The cool weather of fall was reason enough to try the hike again.


I was hoping to get another shot at the fall colors but the closer I got to the park the fewer leaves I saw.  I was hiking another trail earlier in fall and got a pretty good show.  If I had waited another week or two the trees would have been at peak.  If I couldn’t get the color at least I got cooler temperatures.  This time around it was about 50 degrees in the mountain.  Not all that bad in the grand scheme of things, but up there it was pretty windy and that made things pretty cold.

I got an early start that day but I still arrived about 10:30 in the morning.  I knew I needed about 4 hours to do the whole circuit so I wanted to get started early.  With the days getting shorter it was even more important to get hiking early.  So when I arrived I didn’t expect to see many people.  Very much like the first time I hiked the trail.  However this time when I arrived the parking lot was filled to capacity, a ranger had to direct cars to there spot.

This time around the hike up the mountain was not nearly as bad.  This time around I knew what I was getting into and was more prepared for the hike.  With the cooler temperatures it made things much more comfortable and I sweated out less fluids.  Getting up the mountain took no time at all.  When I did make it to the summit you could see clear across several valleys.  Most of the trees were bare except for small grooves of maple trees and their bright yellow leaves.

hiking trail in fall
hiking trail in fall

After a few minutes at the summit, and with light fading fast it was time to hike down the mountain.  This time I would take the fire road.  It was a more steady slop and easier surface to walk down.  Even though it was longer it was still faster than hiking down the mountain via the previous path.  This way takes you down a perfect path in the forest, eventually meeting up with a creek flowing down to the parking lot.

Another thing that was strange this time around was the amount of people.  Even with the lot packed I never thought I would see so many people walking the trail.  There was rarely a moment when I was alone on the trial.  Mostly that happened on the way up the mountain.  At one point everyone was actually stopped on the trail.  There were probably 20 people in front of me waiting to get past one particular rock climb.

At the summit is were i saw the most people, just sprawled across several large rock groupings.  It was a great place to take a break and have some food.  The back drop while you ate lunch was spectacular.  It made me wonder what it would look like in the middle of winter with some snow on the ground.  Not only would the valley appear to have a wool blanket covering everything up, it would probably be a very deserted place that time of year.

It is a great place to hike and I look forward to the next time I can get out there.

summit of Old Rag
summit of Old Rag