Our first destination was Shenandoah National Park, about 75 miles southwest of DC. To be honest, if there was a ladder of U.S. National Parks, Shenandoah’s rung wouldn’t be above the halfway point. Essentially, the Shenandoah National Park is a quaint spot preserving a stretch of the Appalachians, and the only notable thing about it is the 105-mile Skyline Drive. In the fall after the foliage turns, they say the view from the Drive is absolutely glorious. Orange, yellow, dark red, the leaves form a natural kaleidoscope. But in the spring, the mountains everywhere sprout their bushy leaves a static green color, making each mountain on the Appalachian range another ‘piece off the assembly line.’
So why go there now, in May? To hike up Old Rag Mountain, Kevin suggested. To this, Scott said, “An eight-mile trek roundtrip for a 3,300-foot peak? The view from the top won’t be worth the effort.” And he was right, the view was relatively unspectacular, consisting of mostly the ‘static green’ colored mountains as previously described.
But Kevin countered, “Old Rag’s got Class III rock scrambles, it’s gonna be sick mountain climbing near the top.” And he was right, as well. So we all went, figuring that it’d be a good warm up for the (much) taller mountains we’d face down the road.
Old Rag started out as a mud-slash-rock trail winding through the heavily forested base of the mountain. It went on like this for a time, during which me and Scott were making fun of Kevin, putting the pressure on him. Then suddenly, we emerged from the tree line– it was like the mountain gods from above opened up their arms and showered us with mountain-climbing bliss.
What I experienced that day could only be described as Nature’s Playground. The trail transformed into a jungle gym of sorts. We had to dive under five-ton boulders, sidle up narrow rock walls, climb up granite steps, slip into nearly-invisible openings, side-step small streams, and swing over rocks using nearby small trees. I was finally introduced to Class III rock scrambling.
Basking in Nature’s Playground
You know the kind of introduction where an old geezer steps on a basketball court and the youngsters laugh, but when he steps off, the kids say “Damn, the old man can play”? I stepped down from the mountain saying “Damn, Old Rag was fun.”
Me and Scott, who’d ragged on Kevin for taking us to Old Rag (pun intended) swallowed our pride and gave Kevin a few pats on his ass, sparking the kind of smile that showed relief.
Kevin, sitting at the edge of the world.
On the Peak of Old Rag
*NOTE: Scott was reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and came across a small passage which said that Chris McCandless, the protagonist that died in Alaska after turning his back on society, used to go and climb Old Rag every year with his father. McCandless is sort of a thematic hero on this trip, and it was inspiring to find we’d scaled the same mountain as he did.*