Sunday, June 19, 2016

Virginia - Shenandoah National Park - Old Rag

Location of Parking on Google Maps: 38.570682, -78.286438

Virtual Map: Click Here.

The Hike

We finally hiked Old Rag, or at least half of Old Rag.  My wife and I started the hike from the lower parking lot at 4:30pm so we didn't reach the first overlook until 6:30pm and decided to hike back before it got dark.  We are planning to return and hike the whole circuit from the opposite direction.  We hiked this trail on June 19th, 2016.  The temperature was around 85 degrees.

Old rag is a combination of a steep switch-back hike with a rugged rock scramble at the peak of the mountain.  The view at the top is breath-taking and worth the effort.  This hike is not for the first-time hiker unless you are already in good shape.  The total elevation gain is around 2300 feet and the full circuit is over 9 miles.  We hiked about 3 and half miles up and back.

If you are a new hiker, don't hike this trail without taking water.  I would recommend that you plan this hike and purchase a water system like a Camel Back.  You can get cheap back-packs with water systems that hold about 2 liters of water.  I would also recommend you wear long pants on this hike since the rock scramble is hard on knees and legs.

The lower parking lot has chemical toilets and a small building that has a box of maps for the trail.  Here's what the lower parking lot looks like:

We had to walk about 0.8 miles up the road, which turns into a tiny access road about half-way:


This is the upper lot, which probably holds about a dozen carsJudging by the sign posted above, it appears that the upper lot is permanently closed to normal traffic:

The trail head starts at the end of the upper parking lot:

The trail starts out a little rocky but not too steep:

After a few minutes the trail starts to go up.  Then it turns into switchbacks.

Don't let these photos fool you, Old Rag is a busy hiking trail.  We started late and we only ran into a dozen or so groups of people who were returning and only a couple of people who were going up.  During the day on a weekend this trail is a bit crowded.

Some spots are very rocky, but this is not the rock scramble.  The rock scramble starts a couple miles into the hike.  So far, these pictures are only about a mile to a mile and a half.  

There are a lot of switch-backs, which makes this an interesting trail:

As you walk along the cliff, the view becomes more picturesque:

You'll notice the blue blazes that mark the trail (that blue square painted on the tree pictured above).  If you're new to hiking these markers are handy when you run into spots where the trail seems to disappear.  These blazes are painted onto trees or rocks.

Here comes another switch-back:

The switch-backs just keep coming:


Here's the point where the rock scramble starts.  There's a sign indicating that camping is prohibited above this altitude (which is 2,800 feet).

Of course the view is spectacular, just when you need to pay close attention to your footing.

Trees growing out of the rocks:

If you're afraid of heights, looking down is a bit scary:

This is where the rock scramble starts to get interesting.

This spot is tricky.  There is a large boulder that hangs over the stop where you have to crawl up.  My back-pack would not fit under there very well and the best way to do this is the walk into the crevice (in the shadow in front) and lay your back-pack on the ledge on the other side of the boulder.  Then climb up on the ledge and crawl under the boulder.

This part is difficult as well.  Michelle used the run method.  She ran up this rock to prevent slipping down.  I walked along the left side so I could get some grip with my hiking shoes in the sandy side.  The rock is just steep enough and a little slippery, so it's difficult to walk up or down.

After this, you'll turn the corner and it's a large rock plateau with an incredible view:

The trail continues on and there are more overlooks:

Michelle and I were looking for the trail.  We finally looked up and saw the blue blaze on that rock above Michelle's head:

You'll need to climb up on these large boulders, and the view is excellent:

This is the other side of the mountain:

Some spots are very narrow:

The rock scramble takes some creative hiking.  We had to walk on the sides of some of the boulders:


This is a tricky spot where you need to drop down into this gully and look for the blue arrows:

You'll need to climb up here and look down the channel to the left:

You'll see the down arrow where you need to go.  Michelle and I turned back at this point because it was already 6:30pm and we knew that we could not make the entire circuit before dark.  So we decided to do this hike on a later date when we could get an earlier start.

Next time we hike this trail, I plan to photograph some people (probably just us) navigating this section of the trail so you can see how it's done.