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Fat John Climbs up Old Rag Mountain

Posted Sept. 7, 2009 by John Woltman

This past Sunday (Sept 6th) my Mom suggested we go to Virginia and hike up Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.  What could possibly be wrong with getting outside and seeing a little nature?

Quite a lot, actually.  We left Pennsylvania around 5AM, and started our hike at 8:30.  Mom had told Jen and I not to wait for her if she fell behind, so we started off.  It was brutal.  There's about a 2,000 foot gain in elevation over 4 miles, and we took frequent breaks.  About a mile into it, we paused and waited for Mom.  When she caught up she explained she was getting blisters, but that she'd keep going.  On we went, into what became one of the most interesting hikes I've ever been on.

The big feature of the Old Rag trail is the mile and a half of "rock scramble."  In this section you are pulling yourself over boulders, climbing up steep rock-hewn staircases, and trying not to lose the trail of blazes painted on the rock.  The pay-off for our efforts was a beautiful, 360 degree view of the Shenandoah Valley.

Once we reached the top another problem became apparent: how do we get back down?  There are two ways down (three, really).  The first is to go back the way you came, across boulders and precipices.  The second is to follow the fire service road.  The third, and probably laziest way, is to leap off the cliff edge and hope for the best.  We opted for the "easy" fire service road, but by the end of it I wish I had picked option three.  The service road wasn't difficult but it was excruciatingly long.  But we survived, and treated ourselves to a nice dinner at Wegman's as a reward.  I would definitely recommend this hike, especially if you want something really different from most trails in the Pennsylvania/Maryland area.

There's more information available from the National Park Service, as well as a nice third-party trail guide.