Elevation 3291 Ft.

Living as we do only about 30 minutes from the Shenandoah National Park, it's become something of a family tradition to hike parts of it from time to time. When visitors arrive from out of town, a trip up White Oak Canyon or a climb up to the cliffs at Little Stony Man is often in order, but there's one hike I've done only with two groups: fellow Woodberryites (either students or faculty or both) and family members.  That's the hike up Old Rag Mountain.

Old Rag juts out eastward from the SNP, far enough away from Skyline Drive that it doesn't attract gobs of motor tourists, but it draws hikers like flies to honey because of its spectacular views (from a bare-granite summit) and its challenging Ridge Trail rock scramble. The Ridge Trail comes in from the north, up a series of switchbacks through the forest, until it emerges onto the granite at the mountain's eastern end; then it's time to get your arms and hands and back involved, because the scramble will require you to use them all if you intend to reach the summit. It's a bracing climb, and fun as hell, but it's not short, and it's not easy. I think I must have climbed the mountain at least once a year since the spring of '96, and all but one of those climbs were up the Ridge Trail.

With the family, things have been less frequent. Kelly and I attempted the Ridge Trail one fall day in about 1998, but we had to turn around a quarter-mile or so from the summit in order to pick up the boys from school. Because of the sheer necessity of strength, stamina, and reach, I didn't even attempt to take the boys up for some years. Ian and I took a father-son trip in the fall of 2003, but due to scheduling and equipment issues, I didn't manage to make the climb with Dixon until 2008. I guess that counts as a family tradition.

But as the clock ticks down toward the end of one phase of our family life, Kelly has been urging us to act on that tradition one more time. In June or so, she started pushing for us to take a family hike up Old Rag. I think Ian might have been willing to try the Ridge Trail again, but Dixon was a bit less enthusiastic about that option:

Dixon Old Rag 2009.jpg
Yes, he's a charter member of the National Sarcasm Society (Motto: "Like We Need Your Support.")

Luckily, there's an alternative: the Saddle Trail up from Berry Hollow, which doesn't have quite the spectacular valley views or athletic challenges of the Ridge Trail, but is also less of a total-body workout and slightly less of a climb (only about 1500 feet of elevation change, as opposed to the Ridge Trail's 2200.)

With Kelly's work schedule leaving her free on Friday, we packed up the car with sandwiches and trail mix from Yoder's Country Market and headed out into the sun. The high at home had been predicted to be 82, and it's usually about ten degrees cooler atop the Blue Ridge, but since both the fire road up from the Berry Hollow parking lot and the Saddle Trail itself wind through the shade, we knew we'd be comfortable no matter what. We left the parking lot at 1:30 and started up the road, but at the intersection of road and trail, Kel and Dixon decided it was time to lighten their packs by a sandwichload:

July & August 2009 035.jpg
Refreshed, we headed uphill, seeing relatively few creatures of interest other than the odd millipede and a handful of vultures overhead, the latter no doubt intrigued by our leisurely pace. We took the occasional water break and stopped for an overlook or two, but for the most part we kept at the hike steadily for about two hours and forty-five minutes, finally emerging onto the bare rock of the summit, where Ian and I powered down our sandwiches and Ian decided to take a little rest:
Ian Old Rag 2009.jpg

But there we all were at 3291 feet, the four of us, for the last time before Ian heads off to college. Maybe it can't really be a tradition if you've never done it together before, but at least there was a fellow hiker at the top to snap a photo and perhaps turn it into one.

Family Portrait Old Rag.jpgAnd maybe we'll be up there again before too much longer, a little older, a little wiser, but together again.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 9, 2009 2:13 PM.

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