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August 14 - Old Rag (Shenandoah)

I woke at 6:00 which was incredibly surprising seeing as I haven’t been sleeping much at all. I think I needed it though. Oddly, much of the campground was still asleep. And I enjoyed some chilly air and mountain views completely alone and in silence. I packed up my truck with the exception of my bike, tent, and sleeping gear and headed to the Old Rag Mountain trailhead. I was unsure if I was feeling up for it, but I knew I would regret not going.. and I felt stronger after so much sleep. Sometimes I need a big push like that to kick myself into healthier habits.. and seeing as I had so much planned for the rest of the trip I needed to at least convince myself I was in shape.

The drive down from Loft Mountain was so beautiful and also incredibly quiet. 

The trailhead was busier than I expected, I heard reports of it being pretty grueling so I was surprised to see so many folks there and for many of them to appear inexperienced. Everyone is welcome to hike, it was just surprising. 

Sort of thrown off by the casual nature of the crowd I wasn’t exactly sure what to pack - plus all of my gear was sort of a jumbled mess. I threw some essentials in a pack and knew I just had to tough out somewhere between 7-10 miles and that I clearly wasn’t going to be alone which was sort of a relief.

There was a bit of a walk on a paved road to the trailhead which allowed me to sort of feel my legs and get back into the mindset I long since forgot. Once I reached the trailhead I picked up the pace to a run and found myself flying up the trail. It felt great, and I felt strong.. knowing full well that once the switchbacks ended that I’d get a reality check. But for now I was enjoying it.

The trail was moderate in technicality for the first few miles. Some switchbacks (which are a rare occurrence for me) with loose gravel, dry riverbeds, and more roots than anything. I climbed it pretty quickly but found myself power hiking once the dirt gave way to bare stone.

The trail seemed to climb and climb and increase in technicality every foot. I reached what felt like a summit only to realize that the trail did not stop, it just turned into exactly what it is famous for.. incredible scrambling.

At this point I found myself behind 3 older dudes who were currently doing an 18 mile loop connecting various fire roads along with the Old Rag loop. Ultimately I was thankful for them as I am not sure I would’ve found my way to the summit without them. I didn’t see some markers because I just thought there was no way a trail would be that precarious or require that much actual rock climbing.. and yet it did.

For the next 3 or so miles my pace slowed to a crawl as I squeezed between boulders, under ledges, and tested my Akasha’s smearing capabilities. This pace allowed for some conversation with them which I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope to be as adventurous and as downright fast as they are when I am older.

When we reached the summit, they took a break and I decided to push on (a shower, thorough cleanup of my truck, and some mental recalibration seemed more appealing than soaking in some views). The other side of the summit was a 5+ mile trail which was a bit daunting as I had really beat myself up getting to the summit and the trail up was so gnarly (and amazing!). But, to my surprise and sort of my disappointment, the other side was mostly a gravel carpet of fire roads. Ultimately, I think its nice to have two options for folks who may not want or are not capable of the shorter more treacherous trail, but knowing such, I probably would’ve gone back the way I came for adventure’s sake.

 

I reached the trailhead in an all out sprint as 2 hours approached on my watch and I convinced myself it was vital to get under 2. Sometimes I needed those arbitrary goals to get myself moving though. Alas I missed it just by a hair.

The run can be found here.

When I finished, I threw my sandals on and hopped back in the truck. I found a Sheetz along the drive back where I set up shop to edit some photos and take advantage of having cell service to let some folks know I was doing well. 

After, I drove back to Loft Mountain and took a shower, a thorough clean of the truck, made a backpackers meal, and fell asleep around 21:00 (I was ready at 18:00 but knew that would make me wake much too early).