Ramble On

Friday, September 16, 2011

Old Rag Saddle Trail and Weekly Hollow: A 75 @ 75 Hike

Old Rag as seen from Skyline Drive.
When I set out on the “75 @ 75” project, I didn’t include the Old Rag hike on my list, even though it is one of the most popular moderately difficult hikes in Shenandoah National Park, and in the greater Mid-Atlantic region. That popularity is exactly the reason I kept it off the list; besides, I enjoy a weekly update on that beautiful trail from Bob Look’s blog (see the blog roll to the right for “Old Rag Patrols”) and I did the hike four years ago (check the label “old Rag”).

Still, hiking buddy Tom asked if I wouldn’t mind doing this one again with him, since he hadn’t done it before, and I thought we could make a go of it as long as we didn’t try it on the weekend. Tom had an August reservation for a campsite at Big Meadows that ran Thursday – Saturday, so we chose that Friday to make a go of the trail. It was a good choice, as we only encountered about a half dozen hiking parties coming our way on the trail.

(Time is running out for Tom, as it has for my other hiking buddy Chris: Tom and his wife are expecting twins in November, so this may have been our last hike together for a while; Chris and his wife had a son in July, so he won’t be able to join us for the time being either.)

My request was that we do the trail in reverse direction from how it is usually done. Both of us are desk jockeys and I wanted to be sure we had a great experience, especially since I had some trouble on the hike the first time. I figured that we could summit Old Rag as an accomplishment and not be disappointed if we had to turn back on the rock scramble.

Google Earth image of the hike.
Old Rag parking, about a mile from the old small lot, which is not used anymore.
Old Rag fits into the “75 @ 75” plan because of its length and elevation change: Heatwole has it as a 7.2 mile circuit with 2,380 feet of climbing. The out-and-back route we took along the Weekly Hollow and Old Rag Fire Roads and Saddle Trail is 4.2 miles each way, but adding the nearly one-mile trek from the parking area to the trailhead makes the hike about 10.3 miles, as I have tracked it in my logbook. The trusty Casio Pathfinder indicated that we had climbed 2,249 feet net – which was remarkably close to Heatwole’s calculation.

The hard cores among my readers are going to ask, “What’s so interesting about Old Rag if you leave out the rock scramble?” It’s a good question, and one I’ll answer by quoting from Heawole, specifically regarding the Weekly Hollow Road section:

“The former village of Old Rag was near here, and the Old Rag Post Office was at the road junction…Originally, the Park intended to preserve some or all of the mountaineer homes in this area. But maintenance proved too difficult, and the houses were torn down shortly after the end of World War II.”

Tom on a rock.

Me at the summit.
Heatwole notes that the road has been relocated a few feet, but as we were hiking with good light, you could plainly see the old road trace, and there were a few scattered stones around that appeared to have been shaped for use as building materials. Also, if you check out the Google Earth image, there is a little envelope icon at the location of the old post office...

So in addition to the summit, distance, and elevation, a final attraction of this version of Old Rag is the cultural reference of the area, before the Park was formed. That is definitely an item on the checklist for “75 @ 75” hikes.

Summit photo, with view and "buzzard baths."
I’ve got a few photos I took from the area around the summit of Old Rag, which is listed as 3,291 feet. The geology is very interesting, and there are resources that explain why the rock scramble was formed and help interpret why these large boulders occur at altitudes on top of the mountain. They are beautiful, and exceptional weather the day of our hike gave us some spectacular views.

Another view near the summit.
As we made our way back to parking, we encountered four men in military style boots carrying heavy packs on the trail – then I saw a pick-up with a crew cab in the lot with a Quantico sticker. For Marines looking for a training workout, this hike accommodates.

On a final note, Tom and I bookended the hike with a morning stop at Central Coffee Roasters in Sperryville and an evening stop at the little burger joint at the crossroads of US 211 and 522. The folks at the coffee shop were very cordial, and allowed me to park the car in their lot for the day so we could carpool down to the mountain – thanks and a tip of the hat!

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