Monday, May 6, 2013

Old Rag

In January 2001 I decided to hike Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park. This was one of the 1st hikes I attempted in the park, since I’d just moved to the DC area in August of 2000. I was woefully unprepared for this hike. There is a 1.3 mile long rock scramble and it was more than I could handle. Not only that, but it was January and it was icy. Luckily for me a nice guy named Larry was hiking that day and he offered to let me “follow” him, and it was only because he helped me that I made it to the summit and down the the other side. I swore I was never going up there again, it just wasn’t my type of hike.

Back in January I drove past Old Rag on my way to and from a hike in Whiteoak Canyon and I started thinking. I’ve had a bunch of other hiking experiences involving rock scrambling – Maine, the Adirondacks, and I’ve recently lost about 70 lbs and have a whole different body.  I suddenly thought that not only was Old Rag in my league, but I might actually like it.  I decided to gather some friends to come with and hike Old Rag to celebrate my 38th birthday. 

Turned out that it was just my friend Harmony, my dad, and I, but that was just perfect!  We all met up Friday night at Big Meadows Campground Friday night! Harmony drove down from Ithaca, NY and my parents drove in from Williamsburg. 

In an effort to not have to sit in traffic for hours trying to get through Gainesville, I took a new route out to the park.  I stayed on 66 to the 2nd Marshall exit and took 647 (Crest Hill Road) south till it connected with 522 and took that to 211.  It was a great drive!  647 is definitely a back road – it’s very narrow and twisty, but there’s no traffic and there are great views of the mountains!  It’s my new “go to” route to get to Big Meadows from school.  I just need to figure out what I did right after I got off 66 that took me down the wrong road and led to a quick jaunt down a dirt road to connect to 647!

I arrived at the campground a little before 6 and Harmony pulled in about an hour later.  We had a yummy lasagna dinner! Mom had made the lasagna at home and we just had to re-heat it.  We ended up having to use my microwave because their generator wasn’t working!  After dinner dad made a campfire but the wood was very sparky and the fire wasn’t very warm, so we all got cold and gave up on campfire sitting and went to bed. 

It was a very cold night – lower 30s!  I mostly stayed warm in my sleeping back and two layers of long underwear!  Saturday morning was foggy and cold!  We were up early to get to the trailhead before the parking lot filled up (Old Rag is very popular).  We departed the campground at 7 am and made our way back down Skyline Drive to 211 and into Sperryville to get to the Old Rag Parking area.  The Ranger had told me it would take about 2 hours, but really it only took about an hour.  When we arrived there was still plenty of parking!  1st goal: Achieved!

It was cloudy, cold, and looked like it was going to rain.  I was hopeful that the clouds would lift.  At the campground it looked like the sun was trying to break through, but at the base of Old Rag, not so much. 

Mostly Sunny???

Even the Ranger wasn’t sure the clouds would break up!

We headed up the road, carrying more fleece and raingear than I ever thought I’d need in May!  The parking lot is .8 of mile from the trailhead so the 1st part is a road walk.  It’s a pretty road walk, but it’s still a road walk.  Soon though, we were at the official trailhead!

Here we go!

Up we go!

The 1st mile and a half are normal trail.  Just regular rocks and dirt and switchbacks.  There were lots of rocks in the woods and plenty of trillium!


Trillium & Fern


As we gained elevation the views started and the sun started peaking out!

We gained enough elevation for some views!  Sun is breaking though!

Soon we came to the rock scramble portion of the hike……


Dad, shimmying himself throughDad navigating the 1st rock obstacle!

The last 1.3 miles to the summit was like Mother Nature’s jungle gym!  We went over, under and through all kinds of obstacles.  Some were easy – hopping from one rock to the next, or sitting and sliding down a rock face.  Others were more challenging and you had to use your hands to pull you up and over or take off your pack.  In all cases the rocks were big and you had to take your time!  In many places all the hikers helped each other and there as a definite sense of teamwork.  This was the part of the hike that made me cry 12 years ago, now though, I totally loved it!  It all kinda blurs together, but a few spots stand out…

There was a spot where you had to get up and over a big tall rock and the rock was in a crevice and there was a wall on one side.  The man in front of us slipped trying to get his leg over the rock, luckily he was holding on and he didn’t fall, but it scared Dad and I when we saw it.  Dad went next and he just climbed right over. 

This was one of the more challening spots!  There's a rock over dad's left shoulder you had to get up over!  He was graceful about.  I was not!In the picture you can see the rock that is just over Dad’s left shoulder – that’s the rock you had to get over.  There was really no room on the right because of the wall.  It was my turn and I was thinking about the guy who slipped and how easy Dad made it look, but when I got up there the rock was only up to my chin! I wasn’t sure how I was going to clear it.  Somehow I got my chest up on the rock and was laying on my stomach “Superman” style.  I wasn’t sure where I was going from there.  I started walking my legs along the wall and somehow got them all the way up and over.  It was not graceful, or pretty, but it was effective!

There was one spot that made me want to wet my pants.  You had to step across a small crack in the rock and there wasn’t much space on the other side.  You had to step up and reach for the handhold and commit to your movement before your hand was on the rock.  It wasn’t a large step.  Even if you slipped, you weren’t gonna fall far.  The rock was grippy…   But it was still a leap of faith since you had no point of contact for a few seconds! When we got up there a guy was trying to get across and he was not having fun.  He stood there and 2nd guessed himself and hemmed and hawed about going for a few minutes before he just did it.  As soon as he got to the other side he said “that wasn’t hard!”  We discussed how this hike is more mental than physical and he headed off.  Now it was Dad’s turn.  He ended up taking off his pack and only hesitated a bit.  When it was my turn I just didn’t think about it.  I just stepped onto the rock and reached out to get the handhold when it was close and it was easy, I was however surprised by my stomach dropping into my knees, just like it might on a roller coaster, when I made it across!

I’m not sure Dad and Harmony enjoyed the rock scramble as much as I did (I admit the 1st time I was up there, I hated it was passion so the fact that they made it through without tears is very impressive!), but we all made it to the summit with minimal bloodshed and just a few bruises.

Me on the summit (not sure my dad could have taken a worse pic if he tried, but it's the only one I've got!)Me on the summit!

We hung out on the summit for about 30 minutes, eating lunch and taking pictures!  Another group came up and sat near us (Old Rag is very popular and it was crowded at the top!) and one of the gals said something about it being a great place to spend your birthday and I asked her if it was her birthday…her birthday was May 3!  We were both hiking Old Rag to celebrate! :-) 

(BTW: I took TONS of pictures of the views and the rocks and stuff, I’m not posting them all here but if you click HERE you can go to my album on Google+ and see them all!)

One of the perks of Old Rag vs Mountains in the Adirondacks is that it’s a loop hike and you go down via a “regular” trail and a fire road.  It’s a long way down – 5.2 miles, but it’s NOT back over the rocks!  We broke up the trip down with stops at both Byrd’s Nest #1 Day Use Shelter and Old Rag Day Use Shelter for snacks and bathroom breaks, but mostly it was just straight walking and chatting – on a long downhill like that you really need your friends to chat with! I’d remembered getting some great views of Old Rag from the Weakly Hollow Fire Road last time I was there and was looking forward to that, until I realized that the leaves are out now.  Boo.  I’ll have to walk up the fire road in January and get a picture of the mountain from there!

As you can see from the summit picture, the clouds broke up and we were blessed with crystal clear views all around!  I don’t remember the views from my hike 12 years ago, I think that’s how stressful it was for me because the views are quite impressive!  The temperature never warmed up much making it perfect hiking weather!

Spring is coming late to the Shenandoah Mountains!  In the valley the leaves are out on the trees, however as you climb (and descend) you travel through all stages of spring – yellow green leaves, tiny leaves, buds, no leaves at all! It was very cool! 

Robertson Mountain and the advancement of springThis picture is from the trip down and it’s looking at Robertson Mountain and it captures the stages of spring!

When we arrived at the parking lot Harmony was heading to Woodbridge and Dad and I were heading back up to Big Meadows!   When we were on the summit of Old Rag we could see some overlooks on Skyline Drive so on our way back Dad and I stopped at them all to get the view from there and see if we could see hikers on the summit (we couldn’t). 

When we arrived back at the campground we ate dinner, took a quick walk around the campground (you’d think I would have walked enough but I wanted to get my fitbit to 30,000 steps!), and hunkered down for another cold night!

Sunday morning I had a chance to practice for winter camping and figure out how to stay warm and entertained in the RV!  It’s actually kinda nice sitting in there with the curtains open so I can see and the furnace running!  Once the fog burned off Dad and I hiked up Hawksbill (the highest point in the park) and got a little turned around trying to get down – he had one plan, I had another, and we talked to someone who told us how to go but it wasn’t either of our plans! It all worked out, we just walked almost 4 miles rather than 2.  

I headed out later than I intended but still made it to Wegmans and home to unload and do some of the chores before I fell over from exhaustion!


A weekend trip wouldn’t be complete without a few RV issues. 


At 4:30 AM on Saturday morning (30 minutes before my alarm was going to go off…grrr…) I woke up and an alarm in the RV was going off.  I knew it wasn’t the LP or the smoke detector so it took me a minute.  It was the fridge.  It was saying “no flame” meaning that it had tried to ignite the propane but failed.  hmmm…  It’s never happened that the flame went out, or didn’t ignite randomly.  It was very windy and I figured the wind did it and turned the fridge off. I turned on the hot water heater and that was fine so I figured it was a fridge issue rather than a propane issue. 

I turned the fridge back on when I got up and it was fine all day Saturday.  I turned it off before bed on Saturday night so it wouldn’t wake me up if it had a problem. Sunday morning through, it went off again.  I brought some food over from Mom and Dad’s coach and then left again for 5 mins and when I came back the fridge was beeping.  hmmm….

I am glad that I don’t have the fridge set to “auto” because then, in the absence of propane it would have switched to battery and drained the battery before I realized it!

My theory is that maybe it had something to do with the cold? 

LP Detector

I didn’t go back to sleep and finally turned the furnace on to warm things up so I could get dressed.  I ran the furnace for about 45 minutes and then got up to shave and get dressed.  I was in the shower, shaving my legs, when the LP detector began to wail.  WTF.  I hadn’t had the water on long, but the RV was closed up.  I opened the vent and the door and the alarm continued. I wrapped a towel around myself and headed out to open the back door.  I was standing in the RV, wearing only a towel, it was 33* outside at 5:45 am waiting for the LP detector to shut up.  After it was quiet, I closed the coach up and continued with my shave and got dressed with not further issues.  The LP detector goes off when I shower on Saturday mornings when I’m with Mom and Dad.  I can’t find any other pattern to it. 

House (coach) Battery

I noticed Saturday evening that the battery was a 1/3 so I ran the generator for almost an hour.  By Sun morning it was back down to 1/3?  I’ve never had to run the generator for a 2 night dry camping trip so I was confused by why it drained so fast.  I’m wondering if it wasn’t running the furnace?  I hope so…I’ll be sad if the battery is already losing it’s umph and needs to be replaced!

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