Today, my son John and I enjoyed an invigorating hike up Old Rag, a very popular day-hike near Shenandoah National Park (SNP) in Virginia. Interestingly, it is also the most dangerous hike in SNP. The reason this trail is so popular, and at the same time dangerous, is that it features a long rock-scramble section near the top that requires hikers to climb, squeeze, jump, contort, or otherwise manipulate their bodies to navigate through massive granite boulders and rock formations that form the top of this ancient mountain.
The last time I attempted this hike was back in December 2017 with my brother Ron as part of our preparation for our Everest Base Camp trek… Unfortunately, but in the interest of safety, we had to turn-around near the beginning of the rock-scramble since every boulder was glazed over with a thin sheet of ice, making what is normally challenging and fun, extremely risky and dangerous.
So… fast forwarding 8 months to a balmy 75-80 degree day with the typical Virginia summertime humidity, the experience was entirely different. John and I set out at 9 a.m. from a parking lot that was already near capacity, so from the outset we knew we would be encountering a lot of other hikers on the trail. The hike itself is roughly 9 miles long, with a 3.5 mile ascent up the Old Rag Trail, thru the rock-scramble section to the top, followed by a 5.2 mile hike down the backside along a combination of trail and fire road.
Along the way we met a couple who was preparing for an August trip to Tanzania to trek to the summit of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The training for that trek is similar to what we did for Everest Base Camp, so I shared my experience, answered their questions, and offered some suggestions before we parted ways.
Also along the trail, another group was asking if anyone had duct tape, which is something I actually carry in my pack ever since I had one of my boots fall apart on a previous hike. Well, it turned out that a fellow hiker was in the middle of her own double boot tread failure, so John and I stopped to triage the situation and conduct a emergency double tread adhesion procedure. I am happy to report the “patient” survived and was immediately able to resume her hiking activities!
While we were making the repair, John struck up a conversation with the group who turned out to be teachers from Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties in Maryland. This was an interesting coincidence since John will be starting his own teaching career with the city of Baltimore next month. John got some great advice and encouraging words from this friendly group.
Then we were off on our quest to conquer Old Rag and simply enjoy catching up with each other. For those interested in seeing what some of the rock section looks like in real-time, take a look at this video link:
- “A Taste of the Old Rag Rock Scramble” (3:06)