It was a set to be a warm late August day in Shenandoah as we packed for a 3 hour trip across the state to get to what the east coast calls "mountains." Waking up before the sun does on a Saturday may seem out of the ordinary but for the modern adventurer, sleep will only be assured upon death. We rendevoused with Charlene's friend, Maritza, and her sister who was in town that weekend. We piled into Charlene's Subaru and after getting our clichè Washingtonian Starbucks fix, the crew merged onto I-64 where we would follow for the next 2 hours. Camber had to stay back while one of our neighbors would be taking him out during the day to give him attention. We were unable to bring him along due to the rules at the trail, and we soon figured out why that was the case.
Taking our exit off 64, we headed north, deeper into the Appalachians. Following the GPS, we passed our destination in order to have the road curve back towards it later. I looked over towards the ridge and spotted the granite crag where we would be in a few hours. Pulling into the parking lot at around 0845, we seemed to beat most of the rush. You see, Old Rag is one of Virginia's most popular and most difficult hikes. Being just an hour north of UVA and college kids with nothing to do when there's no class, it gets busy on the weekends. We parked our vehicle and, through the magic of active-duty military, we used our national parks pass to gain free access to the trail. After grabbing our packs and using the only toilet around, we were off to start our adventure.
The trek began along a paved road. We passed houses and other structures. After a few miles the dirt trail appeared and we turned towards it. This trail led us into the forest with a gradual incline which let us know we were headed the right way, up. Passing some stairs that had been place in the trail by curators, I caught my first glimpse at what this hike offered, big boulders of granite. This isn't the nice, smooth countertop granite. This granite is like real rough sandpaper mixed with shards of glass. While researching the hike, like I do with most destinations, I gathered that it is a good idea to bring gloves and one touch of that granite made me happy I brought my Patrol Incident Gear FDT-Alpha gloves that also allowed touchscreen use so I could take the photos you see here.
After about a mile more, we ventured upon the reason why dogs are not allowed on the trail. Before our eyes laid the first rock scramble along with a line of people struggling to make it up. I took a second and analyzed the path that most of the folks were trying to take and seeing what caused them to have a hard time. I stayed near the back of our group, both to get photos of them climbing the obstacles and to be there in case someone slipped. When my turn came, I made it up with relative ease thanks to my hand protection and the sturdiness of my Salewa Firetail Evo Mid boots. Another essential piece of gear that I was functionally testing was the Rig Light Backcountry pants from Beyond Clothing, the first run was offered in Orion Design Group's Lupus camo. Made of Tweave Durastretch with 6 pockets including two low-profile cargo pockets and internal kneepad pockets for which I carried Crye Precision AirFlex kneepads, these US made technical pants gave me all the protection and stretch mobility I needed.
After the first rock scramble, we were hungry for more. Luckily, the line of people led us to just that. By this time, the temperature was probably pushing around 83 F and here I am watching a man climb in denim jeans. I can only imagine how hot and restricted he must feel which gives me a reason to tell you, the reader, that it is important to dress appropriately for your adventure. Just as you wouldn't run a 5k in jeans, you shouldn't climb 2 miles of rocks in them either. Just behind us waiting in line was a group of about 8 boys with a couple men. They looked like a boy scout troop and their ages were around 11 or 12. After my group got to the top of the scramble, we sat down, took a breather and enjoyed the sights. We had ascended a couple hundred feet by now and the view was amazing. After having some snacks and deciding to carry on, I caught ear of the boys helping one of their own. He was having a rough time and was brought to tears by what I assume was the difficulty of the climb. This struck me as quite symbolic. These boys were just a little ways from the top yet this one wanted to give up because he went through a rough part. His friends were very encouraging and were picking him up and telling him that they were almost there. That boy was experiencing a microcosm of life, we have rough times and want to give up even though we made it through. What we often don't know is that an amazing view is right around the corner if we would hold on for a little longer and that is why it is important to have good friends and family to help carry you through, knowing you would do it for them too. I smiled when I saw them work together and not leave anyone behind because that is quickly becoming a lost quality among today's youth.
Upon reaching the summit, we were greeted with the balancing rock. After a few photos with that, we dodged other people's photos as we explored what the rock scrambles had guarded. Seeing for miles and miles afforded views of the endless peaks and rolls of the Appalachians covered in their blue skin. Charlene and Maritza with blatant lack of self-preservation decided to climb the giant boulders that didn't have a specific way up. Suffering from hypertension at this point but also happy to see my wife make the most of every moment, I took their photo after they conquered these giant rocks. After some more photos and taking it all in, we continued onward.
The way down the other side proved slightly tricky considering we had to navigate rock scrambles, only with gravity gaining a grave advantage this time. Maintaining balance and sliding down rocks to solid ground, my group methodically worked our way down. After losing the crowd, we took a path that we though was the right way. Emerging on the other side of some trees, I found a sheer cliff face with granite slabs tilted downward. Inferring that this isn't the path, I took the opportunity to be adventurous and moved along the slabs with an amazing view the whole way. We reached the trail again and found a way bigger granite slab where we stopped for a few minutes. Off in the distance, on another ridge, there was another rock just balancing there. We got up and moved again this time back onto a normal dirt trail, leaving the granite boulders behind.
The last leg back to the parking lot was easy but after 6 miles of hiking already done, including 3 miles of climbing, nothing was as easy as it should be. Together limping and laughing about our great day and even better hike, we pushed all the way back to the parking lot and to the comfortable leather seats of the Subaru. Blasting the AC because the temperature had reached closer to 90 F, we tried to cool down and relax as our journey home began. Passing through the college town of Charlottesville, we stopped by a great burger place for some juicy burgers and beer, just like we do with almost every hike or backpacking trip. I'm sure we were quite the sight in the midst of college kids. This ragtag looking group of 4 dirty people, one of them in camouflage pants, but we didn't care because life is no fun when you worry what others think.
All in all, on that 80-90 degree August day, we hiked 6 miles and climbed 3. The sunburns and sore legs didn't take away from the fun we had and the memories we made.
This is why we do it. This is why we adventure.
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