**Disclaimer, Patient 0 has done this hike at least once a month for the last several years and I am Mountain Pony. Your experience will vary.**
If you ask any mid-Atlantic resident they will tell you that if you can only do one hike in Shenandoah National Park it should be Old Rag Mountain. It’s not the highest point in the park (that would be Hawksbill) nor is it the longest trail in the park (that would be the Appalachian Trail), but it is the most iconic. Many moons ago Paul tried to get me to do Old Rag as it was his absolute favorite hike, but he scared me off with tails of the boulder field (details to come). It has only taken me nearly 20 years since then to actually go do Old Rag.
Some important items to note:
- DO NOT attempt to climb Old Rag on a weekend. It’s packed and you won’t enjoy it nearly as much.
- If you do not listen to #1 pack lots of patiences and GO EARLY.
- If you do not listen to #1 and #2; good luck.
- The boulder scramble is no joke. Do not attempt if you are out of shape (no round is not a shape) or if you have any vertigo issues. If you still want to get to the top take the fire road and avoid the boulder scramble.
- PACK WATER (and food).
Ok, now that we got the basics out of the way. Patient 0 and I went on a random Thursday and started up the trail at 0800. (See rule #1 and #2.) Oh my God it was HUMID like horribly rotten humid. Meh, we pushed forward. Drinking tons of water with electrolytes along the way. (My personal favorite is Tailwind, but your tastes may vary. Definitely pack something with electrolytes in it though you’ll need them!)
The first 3 miles of the trail are typical hiking. It’s beautiful and the smell of the mountain changes the further up you go. It took us 1:06 to do the first 3 miles. Then came the boulder scramble. The last mile took us over an hour to do. Yes, an hour to do a mile. There are lots of spots that were a tight squeeze. Definitely had to pull out some of my rock climbing skills. Patient 0 was telling me how much the trail had changed after the earthquake. EEP! The thought of being up there during an earthquake. Some of those rocks are handing on by a thread.
We got to the top in a record 2:05! The wind was blowing something fierce. While it felt good at first after a while my wet clothes started to get cold. I can only imagine what it’s like up there in the middle of winter. BRR! We had a snack, enjoyed the view, and then made our decision on how to go back down the mountain.
There are two ways to go up/down Old Rag. Either the boulder scramble way (which is how we went up) or the Saddle Trail (fire road). Given the fact that #ECSUT is a month away and there is a great deal of descent on that trail we decided that we would run down the mountain on the Saddle Trail. We hike the first mile down as it is granite steps and neither of us has a death wish. Once we hit the shelter (1.25 miles down from the summit) the trail became much more runnable.
The fire road is actually quite beautiful. For those not brave enough (or in shape enough) to do the boulder scramble it is still a beautiful hike. We almost had the entire mountain to ourselves only running into a couple of folks who were on their way to the top. We allowed gravity to do the major of the work allowing our legs to turn over. It was a welcomed respite from the up we did earlier in the morning.
We stopped for a minute or two at the creek at the base of the mountain dunking our hats and washing off our faces in the cool water. It felt absolutely decadent. As we made our final push to the car up the road came approximately 50 high schoolers (apparently the Bishop Iriton soccer team) heading up the mountain. Oh so glad we went early, plus the heat was getting ridiculous. Total time down the mountain (even with a potty stop, picture stop, and water stop) 1:25 minutes.
We then headed to Griffith Tavern a few miles up the road for a well deserved burger and GLUTEN FREE pie!!! After 9 miles and 1700 calories burned, you bet that I ordered pie!