Howlin’ at the Moon

By Posted on Nov 22 2010 | By

Warrenton Hikers Assault Old Rag Mountain at Night

For several days the weather forecast called for cloudy skies.  Even the afternoon of the event it was ominously predicted that clouds with patches of fog would envelop the trampers.  Not a bright idea to climb Old Rag Mountain in pitch darkness.

As the Sun Sets the Troops Assemble

But, as the cars unloaded at the trailhead parking lot and the hikers noisily assembled in anticipation of a brisk walk up the slopes, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Head’em up…move’em out.

Old Rag Mountain is located in Madison County, not far from Sperryville, Virginia. It is one of the most popular hikes in the Mid-Atlantic Region, with spectacular views in all directions from its regal crown of boulders.  It’s also a strenuous hike, especially if a frontal assault up the Ridge Trail is taken rather than the easier ascent up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.  Think jungle gym on steroids.

Take a quick guess which route we chose.

Our intrepid little band of fourteen hikers had been assembled by Jim Carson, an outdoor enthusiast, who over the last few years has built a loyal following of like-minded guys who love the mountains.  Sorry ladies, you’re going to have to form your own chapter; this crew is all testosterone wrapped in moisture wicking undergear.  Opening an incoming email from Trapper Carson is an anticipated moment.  Where is the dude taking us now?

As we began to climb the trail, the moon glowed like a huge orange ball on the eastern horizon, slowly fading to milky white as it climbed higher in the sky.  Flashlights were in sporadic use but not mandatory. “By the light of the silvery moon…” began to take on real meaning.

Jake & Jim Carson

Then it hit us.  The Wall.  Ascending Old Rag via the Ridge Trail for the first ninety minutes is typical of any Shenandoah National Park hike; a well traveled and easy walkup.  Then things begin to get interesting.  It starts innocently enough with a sharp angled boulder, twenty yards in length, which reminds you of scampering up your roof to inspect a flapping shingle.  Abruptly, the roof becomes two roofs jutting side-by-side vertically and you are trying to squeeze between them.  Hmmm…maybe I should take off my pack and throw it head of me.  This is tight territory.

The speedy pace of the early hike now slows to a grind.  Certain sections need to be taken by sitting on your posterior and scooting up the sheer rock face backwards.  Shouldn’t the park install handles here?  Not a chance, pal.  You are now in Old Rag country.  Buck it up.

My progress was slow but decent until the cramps kicked in.  Using all my strength to advance up and through narrow slits in the rocks my hamstrings started slowly murmuring, “What do you think you’re doing?”  Fortunately, my secret weapons kicked in: Jim and Andreas.  They alternately extended much needed hands to pull me up the steepest rocks.  Memo to file: stick these guys in my pack if I ever do this again.

Finally, after more grunting than is heard at a county fair hog chase, all fourteen hikers were topside and congratulating themselves.  Then a new phenomenon kicked in.  This place is cold!  With moisture dripping from every pore in our bodies and a stiff breeze blowing the frigid air around, damp clothing takes on a decidedly nasty feeling.  Lets’ get moving.

And so we did.  At a fast pace.  The backside saddle trail connects to the easy fire road descent and the last hour of the hike was a constant chatter of conversation. As the last hiker walked into the parking lot, smiles and photo flashes where popping up all over the place.  And clouds began to obscure our silver beacon in the sky.  Perfect timing.

The jaunt covered almost ten miles in about five hours.  Not bad in dim light over a rocky footpath.

Now for our reward. Where are we headed for the post hike libation?  Uh, this is Sunday night at 10pm deep in rural country.  Ain’t a place open that has a cold Corona for sale.

Oh well, next time we’ll do old Rag during the day.  Hurtin’ never felt so good.  We’ll be back.

Old Rag Mountain Vanquished

Categories : HAGARTY TALES