Old Rag Hike

In March of 2017, my family took an impromptu vacation to visit our friends, Dan & Kelly, and their kids, in Ruckersville, Virginia.  We had a trip to Washington D.C. planned later in the week, but I wanted to get out into the woods somewhere.  I had seen a documentary about “Virginia’s hardest and most dangerous hike – Old Rag Mountain” and looked it up on Google.   Much to my delight, the mountain was only thirty minutes north of where Dan & Kelly lived.  All members of both families loaded up and made our way to Old Rag.

When we got to the trailhead inside Shenandoah National Park, the ranger warned us against attempting the climb in snowy or icy conditions.  It had snowed the previous week and it still looked white at the higher elevations.  We decided to go for it.

At the foot of the mountain someone had erected the uncovered frame of a pop-up canopy tent and adorned it with multi-colored rags, reminiscent of the Tibetan prayer flags at the base of Mount Everest which honored fallen climbers.  Hopefully that wasn’t a bad omen of things to come.


We began our ascent and just when we started to see snow collecting on the ground, we passed two young, sporty college-aged guys coming down the mountain.  They said, “You’d have to be crazy to climb that!”  Of course, we kept going.

The highlight of Old Rag and the reason why people aren’t supposed to hike it in wet or icy conditions is on account of a mile-long rock scramble which apparently makes young, sporty guys run in terror.  No Google image can accurately convey the level of insanity of this particular rock scramble.


The next three-plus hours were a frigid blur of big rocks, small rocks, cold rocks, and narrow squeezes through rocks.  More than once, I simply stood staring at a rock face saying, “Are you kidding me? I’m supposed to climb that?”  I didn’t know my body could contort into the shapes it needed to contort into to get up, around, through and down this granite jungle gym.  On a positive note, the kids were having a splendid time, even the ones who were not ‘outdoorsy’.


There were at least two false summits on the way to Old Rag, but we finally made it to the top of the 3,291 foot summit.  We stayed there for a while as the kids had a snowball fight.



Our final tally was about ten miles on some of the most difficult terrain I’ve ever experienced.  A large part of the hike back to the parking lot was a monotonous road walk.  The kids got to see a baby skunk crossing the road.  I arrived back a little before the rest, so I got to play shuttle driver for the rest of the group.


We were all exhausted, but happy.  I was glad I got to experience this treasure of nature with my entire family.  It was a good memory.  As I drove away, I looked back at the craggy mountain we had just climbed and was proud of all of us.  My birth state of Virginia continued to impress me.

If you are ever in Central Virginia, make Old Rag Mountain a must-see destination!


My Top 10 Favorite Hiking Songs


Music has always been an important part of my life.  As I’m hiking, I usually have a playlist of songs going through my mind (which has something to do with the rhythm of my steps).  When I’m not on the trail and I hear certain songs, they transport me back to the trail.  Sometimes it’s a lyric, sometimes it’s a melody. There are dozens of this type of song, but here is a list of my ten favorite ones.  I hope you enjoy them too.

10.  “Lewis and Clark” – Tommy Emmanuel

Tommy Emmanuel

This is my only instrumental selection on the list.  Even though there are many instrumental pieces that take me to the trail, this one actually makes me feel like I’m with Lewis and Clark on their expedition out West.  Beautiful.

9.  “The Cave” – Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons

It was difficult to choose just one Mumford and Sons song.  “Wilder Mind” and “I Will Wait” also feel like the outdoors to me.  The first time I said my trail name out loud to someone, it seemed to take on a life of it’s own.  “I’ll find strength in pain, and . . . I’ll know my name as it’s called again.”

8.  “Mountain Sound” – Of Monsters and Men

Of Monsters and Men

This is a relatively new entry to my list and musically, it doesn’t seem to belong, but at the heart of the song lies a vivid picture of bounding wildly up a mountain, through the Colorado woods.  “Through the woods we ran, deep into the mountain sound.”

7.  “Country Road” – James Taylor

James Taylor

OK, I admit, I don’t like a road walk during my hike any more than any other hiker does, but when I hear this song, I imagine I’m walking on a dirt road and the road is running alongside farms and pastures in Virginia on the way to the next adventure.  “Carolina on My Mind” is way up on the list as well.

6.  “Destination” – Nickel Creek

Nickel Creek

Again, my dilemma is, which Nickel Creek song to choose?  “Out of the Woods” would be appropriate.  “Pastures New”?  Yes and yes.  But every day at about dinnertime, after hiking ten or so miles, I find myself thinking, “I’ve gotta make a destination”.

5.  “The Long Way Home” – Norah Jones

Norah Jones

When this song comes on, I’m taken to the backroads of Georgia and North Carolina which usually end up being the longest way possible to get anywhere.  “I love you pretty baby, but I always take the long way home.”

4.  “Ends of the Earth” – Lord Huron

Lord Huron

I’m glad someone turned me on to Lord Huron.  Their music is consistently outdoorsy. “There’s a mountain no man has mounted, I’m gonna stand on the peak.”  This guy has to be a hiker, right?  “To the ends of the earth, would you follow me?  There’s a world that was meant for us to see” – like every single National Park!  These guys get it.  Thank you, Lord Huron.  (P.S. You can also hear the song in the movie ‘Walk in the Woods’.)

3.  “Walk Unafraid” – First Aid Kit

Wild Soundtrack

I know this is a cover of an R.E.M. song, so R.E.M. fans, please don’t be upset with me, but there is something about modern bluegrass artists from Norway (or Sweden or something) doing this song for the ‘Wild’ soundtrack that works.  “I’ll trip, fall, pick myself up, and walk unafraid.”  Yep, I’ve done that a couple of times.

2.  “The Longer I Run” – Peter Bradley Adams

Peter Bradley Adams

If you’ve never heard the album ‘Leavetaking’ by Peter Bradley Adams, and you call yourself a hiker, I encourage you to stop what you’re doing and listen to it NOW!  He ought to be named the official bard of the Appalachian Trail.  I can’t say enough about EVERY song on the album (“Always”, “Song for Viola”, “Ohio”).  “If I wander until I die, may I know whose hand I’m in.”

1.  “Rise” – Eddie Vedder (or, more accurately, the entire ‘Into the Wild’ soundtrack)

Into the Wild

I had to just close my eyes and point to pick a song off of this album.  Every single one is incredible.  “Rise” says, “Gonna rise up and find my direction magnetically”, which I think is awesome.  “Society”, “Hard Sun”, “No Ceiling”, and “Tuolumne” could just as easily be in the number one spot.  My only complaint is that this album is so short!  I just put it on repeat and listen to it for hours.

Well, these are my favorite songs that transport me back to the trail in my mind.  I’m sure you have some of your own.  I’d love to hear them.  If you want to follow my entire hiking playlist, it is on Spotify and is called ‘Nickel Creek Style’.

AT Smokies Trip – November 2016

I know that’s not a metal pot?!?

I planned an impromptu hiking trip to the Smokies for the first week of November. There were seven who wanted to go, so we were able to squeeze into one van. It’s always more fun when everyone is in one vehicle.  The group consisted of myself, ‘Navo’, two of my children, Jackson ‘Eagle-Eye’ & Delaney ‘Chipper’, Ian ‘Tracker’, John ‘Postal’, Christian ‘Half-Mac’, Chris ‘Smokin’ Ace’ and newbie Nicole. We were on the lookout for a trail name for Nicole and new ones for Ian and Jackson (because they didn’t like theirs).

It was a cold weekend, which I was happy about.   We couldn’t all get reservations at the same place, so the plan was to park at Newfound Gap, hike up the AT, half the group go on to Mount LeConte, and my son and I would continue on the AT to a shelter further up the trail.  Then we would meet up the next day.

Jackson on Charlie’s Bunion

We all had a cold night in our respective shelters.  There were both day-hikers and thru-hikers.  The next day we hoofed it back to Charlie’s Bunion where we met the rest of our group. It was like someone kicked over an ant hill. People were everywhere. The hikers in our group all said the hike from Mount LeConte was worse than the hike to Mount LeConte.

Our sleeping arrangement the first night.

Everyone was amazed by the incredible views we continually had. One reason I love hiking is because I get to go places that I can’t go in a vehicle. I get satisfaction from knowing that my legs carried me to this amazing piece of God’s creation that I wouldn’t be able to see any other way.

View of the valley we’re about to walk down into.

We strayed off the AT and descended into a gap where the Horace Kephart Shelter rested. Side trails are sometimes not well-maintained like the AT is, and this one was no exception. We tried to figure out if this was a trail or a drainage ditch or both. When we finally arrived at the bottom we were greeted by one of the nicest shelters we had ever stayed at, situated right next to a raging creek.

Chipper contemplating the woods.

Another note about side trails: There are usually no elevation profiles to be found. The next day we made our way up the Sweat Heifer Trail (I felt like a sweaty heifer) back to the AT which was about a four mile up. We were all beat up by the time we reached the AT. Can you say, 1/2 a mile per hour?

Breaks are always a good idea.

We covered the 1.7 miles back down to the parking lot in record time. Nicole was bestowed the trail name ‘Tweety’ because of her random melodic whistling. On the way home, we drove through a lot of smoke. We found out later that large swaths of forests of North Carolina and Tennessee were on fire, eventually destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of woods and many homes.

‘Sweat Heifer’ was an appropriate name for that trail.

Walking with God – Little Grand Canyon

Usually nothing out of the ordinary happens – not so today.

It’s been a hot summer!  It seems like they keep getting hotter and hotter, so I hoped that by the end of September the temperature would be tolerable for our first Walking with God hike of the semester.  It was just barely tolerable.  We had three newbies to the group – Jeremy, Cherie and Jason – in addition to my wife, Jen, and son, Brody.  I always enjoy sharing my favorite trail loops with new hikers. Usually, though, nothing out of the ordinary happens.  Not so today.  Trail maintainers were out in force on the UWF bike trails.  We let them know how much we appreciated their hard work.  There were lots of dogs on the trail too.  Brody was minding his own business when a black snake darted out of the woods and through his legs.  Then a little further down, Jason spotted a small snake wrapped around a tree branch.  I had never seen so much wildlife in one outing.  We then made our way to one of my favorite spots in Pensacola – the Little Grand Canyon (which is really just a big clay ditch that erodes more every time it rains).  People throw their old TVs into it and sometimes even clean dead animal carcasses there.  We ended with 3.1 miles which is always nice because we feel good for having completed a 5K without meaning to. Cold fronts are on their way, so next time should be much nicer.