Old Rag Mountain - Nethers, Virginia

August 22, 2015

Written by Paul van Valkenburgh

Old Rag! The rock scramble! There is good reason that this hike is the most popular one in the Shenandoah. First off, there is a 3/4 mile section of rocks that is this amazing maze. Then, this maze is along the ridge with beautiful views East to the Valley and West to the Skyline Drive area of Shenandoah. Finally the ridge leads you to the summit with 360 views of the area. There really is no other place like it. If you like rock scrambles and gorgeous views, you will love Old Rag.

Keep in mind that this hike is so popular that they had to build a different parking area to accommodate more cars. So, the hike is now 2 miles longer than it used to be because you have to hike up and past the old trailhead. Also, because there are several spots along the rock scramble that are 'one at a time', queues can develop. So, starting early and avoiding weekends is the best bet to avoid this start and stop waiting.

Debbie, Sheri and I arrived at about 8AM and with bags packed (and our $10 parking fee paid), we headed up. There is no water on the way so you want to bring lots. But keep in mind that if you are thinner (referring to your pack!), it may be easier to make it through some of the obstacles. If not, you may have to take your pack off several times to make it through as we did.

Getting ready for Old Rag!

From the actual trailhead (meaning, the old trailhead), the hike is a 6.8 mile loop. Most people take the loop clockwise. This gives you the rock scramble on the way up to the summit. Going in this direction, the way down ends up on a long mountain road. This report will describe the hike in that clockwise direction.

Past the trailhead, the first couple of miles are what you would consider normal trails..... a good uphill pitch and good switchbacks to move you up the mountain. You begin to see overlooks to the West (right) and East and begin to see some rock slabs you can walk onto. Yep, you are approaching the rock scramble!!

The first overlook gives a nice view of the valley looking East

The first Westerly view towards the Skyline Drive area of Shenandoah National Park

Another Westerly view

First Overlook Looking East - Old Rag Mountain - Nethers, VA

The Views Get Better - Old Rag Mountain - Nethers, VA

The rock scramble is so neat! Most of the time the blue blazes lead you through the best way to go but occasionally it can be tricky.

There are all sorts of mini-obstacles and challenges. One of the first is where you have to climb down into a crevasse, then traverse, then climb out. Note: (as in this first section), there IS exposure on this mountain. So, one must hike with caution and make sure to follow the proper blazes.

Ups, Downs, Cracks, Ledges, Bouldering...lots of rocks, lots of variety. One really neat place there is a rock staircase you maneuver up. Then after that there is a little cave the trail passes through. Another fun area has an uphill through a skinny crack area. This was one of the most challenging obstacles as you had to position yourself sideways through the crack and then shimmy up where the footholds aren't that great. I wouldn't say it's dangerous as you can't really fall because 1) you are stuck in a crack and 2) there will inevitable be people right behind you who would spot you. But still this is definitely where one of the bottlenecks can develop.

It's a giant maze of rocks! Like an amusement park if you like rock scrambles

More rocks

Sheri at the rock staircase

More rocks - Hmmmmm ...not sure how this one doesn't fall??

Apparently I have been holding up this rock since 1973!!  Man, can somebody bring me a sandwich!!

A giant rock? Yes. Clearly... How? Why? Unknown

Another puzzling rock formation

Lots of neat rocks everywhere!

The Steps On The Rock Scramble - Old Rag Mountain - Nethers, VA

Going Through The Cave - Old Rag Mountain - Nethers, VA

Challenging Rock Section on The Scramble - Old Rag Mountain - Nethers, VA

More Beautiful Views - Old Rag Mountain - Nethers, VA

The Crab Manuever - Old Rag Mountain - Nethers, VA

On and on, you make your way to the summit. There a quite a few false summits that really get you. And the first time up, it is longer than you might think. So, once you start scrambling, be prepared to be up there a while. Most literature describes the hike as 'strenuous'. I guess so, but stopping and starting is what makes it so lengthy (timewise) which adds to the strenuousness in my opinion. But there are plenty of young kids and older people up there. You wouldn't want to be out of shape to try this, but you don't need to be a triathalete either!

The summit is so gorgeous. You can see in all directions. And there is plenty of room to relax at the top, find a perch, have some food, and soak up the views. It can be windy up on top though as you are in the wide open. And again, watch for sketchy areas. Many people have been hurt on this mountain! But with caution, it's nothing but pure pleasure.

Cool rock formation near the summit

The Summit - Old Rag Mountain - Nethers, VA

Having a good time at the summit

Made some new friends at the summit

When you have 360 degree views, then of course, you take the 360 degree panorama shot!

Looking back down the rock scramble from near the summit

As I mentioned, the road on the way down is long where by the time you get to the upper trailhead you are like 'alright, I'm ready for this to be over', but you still have to walk the mile down the road to the lower trailhead. It's so worth it though. On the way home, all you will be able to think of is how proud you are of yourself that you made it!!

Hope this has been enjoyable and / or helpful to anyone reading it!!


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