I just want to preface this by letting my readers know that this was a post that was shared onto my old blog that I no longer have so sorry if you have already read it! However, it was a popular story and I figured I would go ahead and transfer my old travel posts on this new blog. With the winter blues infecting many of my peers, why not start planning fun spring adventures?
It has been a goal of mine to accomplish a day-long hike. I’ve always liked to hike, but usually only go in 2 to 3-hour increments. Inspired by a book I read called A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, I decided I wanted to get out and accomplish a challenging hike that I could be proud of.
My mountain of choice was Old Rag in the Shenandoah National Park. Old Rag is an hour and a half south of Washington, D.C. and reaches a staggering 3,300 feet at its summit. The trail is 9 miles long with scenic views and an intense rock scramble. Officials recommend that you should plan about 7 hours for the hike.
As I was reading all of this information online and preparing myself, I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I was ecstatic to test out my rock-climbing skills and take in some magnificent views.
My journey began at the start of the trail where I was greeted by a decrepit sign displaying casual warnings about bears and the VERY STRENUOUS hike I was about to endure. I kind of just laughed it off. I mean, how hard could this hike really be considering its popularity?
It turns out – pretty hard. Two minutes into the hike and I was already drenched in sweat and panting like a dog thanks to the intense Labor Day heat. I remember thinking, “Oh lord help me. What am I getting into? Am I really going to be able to survive this for 7 hours?”
However, my doubts were eased as I started getting into the groove of the hike. I was marching up the steep trek, feeling more confident than before when I clumsily tripped. Smooth.
It was not a light fall and I completely ate shit, so to speak. Both my knees had plunged into two pointy rocks and they began to swell immediately. My right knee was especially in a lot of pain. After much debate and trying to walk it off, my friend and I had to make the defeating decision to turn back. There was just no way I could scale rocks and walk all day with my knee in this condition.
Thankfully, my knee healed within a few days and we decided that we would take on the mountain again. It may have actually been some type of blessing to go back later because the weather was expected to cool down and it wouldn’t be as busy of a weekend. So, the following Sunday, my friend and I loaded up our packs and headed to the mountains yet again.
This time around, everything seemed to move at a faster pace. We swiftly walked the mile-long stretch from the parking lot to the trail, blew past the information sign about bears, and effortlessly marched the first 2 miles of the trail with sheer determination – we were making it to the top of this hill, damnit.
We glided up the trail as if we were professionals and made it to the rock-climbing portion within an hour. This is where the real fun began. Instead of a flat trail bed with little rocks jutting out here and there, we stood in front immeasurable, looming boulders.
The rock climbing was no joke, and I quickly understood why the trail was labeled as VERY STRENUOUS. We had to shimmy in between massive boulders as the disturbing image of them crashing down on us delightfully fired through our heads, make sure our balance was even so that we didn’t plummet down to doom, analyze the rocks before making a decision on the safest way to scale them, and actively look for little, blue trail markers to ensure we wouldn’t get lost.
Overall, it was pure insanity and I loved every bit of it.
After a couple of adrenaline-infused and exhausting hours of jumping around rocks like some kind of Patagonia-sponsored adventurers, we were finally at the summit. On the way up there were plenty of fantastic views that we rested at, but nothing compared to the summit. It was 360 degrees of pure, lush landscape. There were hundreds of endless rolling mountains occasionally broken with valleys of meadows and farmland below. It felt like we were sitting on top of a wispy cloud; it was truly dream-like. We ate our packed lunches, drank a bit of cheap wine, and soaked it all in. Once the weather got a little too chilly for us to bear, we began our descent down.
Luckily, the second half of the trail wasn’t nearly as grueling as the first. In fact, it was more like a pleasant stroll. However, I found myself filled with even more excitement than the first part. About 2 miles to the finish I felt my heart come to a stop as I glanced to the right and saw a black bear. Now, I know black bears are typically skittish and docile, but you still can’t help being a tad bit frightened at the thought of having your flesh torn apart for a hot meal. I froze. Although I was semi-enchanted by seeing a bear in-person for the first time, I was still calculating my escape in case things took a turn for the worse. After about 30 seconds I realized that standing still and watching was probably the worst idea in the world, so we quickly moved on. Phew.
We finished the hike with exciting talks about what we just saw and our dinner plans. It was about 5 when we reached the car. We started the hike at 12:30 p.m. and were pretty proud we finished in less than 5 hours. We had such an incredible day and agreed that we needed to get outdoors like this more often.
I fully endorse taking a trek up Old Rag. If you are in good shape, the rock scramble presents a euphoric challenge that will make you feel like a pro adventurer. If risking your life on rocks sounds like a nightmare from hell, then you can reach the summit from the Fire Road Trail (the easy one we came down on). Either way you decide to travel, you will be glad you did when you see those majestic views. I believe that being out in nature is one of the best medicines for the soul, and challenging yourself to reach new heights changes your perspective of the world around you – literally and metaphorically.