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!