Monday, December 7, 2009

Old Rag Mountain in the Snow

Today we hiked Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.  It snowed all day yesterday, so we were hoping to get some good pictures on the mountain.  We were not disappointed. I've included a lot of pictures, so they are below the jump.

We arrived early enough to get a parking spot in the upper parking lot.  On the drive from Silver Spring, we decided not to hike up the Ridge Trail and through the boulder scramble.  It had rained before it started snowing, so there was a layer of ice under everything.  The boulder scramble would have been more adventure than we were looking for.  We hiked up the back way, up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road to Post Office Junction and then up the Saddle Trail to the summit and returned the same way - a nice nine mile hike.

The Hughes River was running high from the rain and the melting snow, forcing us to use the high water bridges.   The lower part of the Fire Road was not entirely snow covered.  Once we got to the steel bridge over the Hughes, the road became completely covered in snow.  The snow was about five to six inches deep on the road between Post Office Junction and Old Rag Shelter.  Since this section is fairly steep, we debated the merits of YakTrax and other traction devices.  There were bootprints in the snow with the telltale pattern of YakTrax on them.  Up on the saddle trail, we started seeing large icicles on rocks. 

Near Byrd's Nest Shelter, we started hitting snow drifts.  The snow was much drier up high and had blown into drifts, some of which were over our knees.  Luckily, a few other people had broken the trail before us, doing all of the hard work for our (and others') benefit.  We had lunch at the shelter before walking the last half-mile to the summit. Once on the summit, we spent about 45 minutes taking pictures.  Snow on Old Rag is a rare occasion worth capturing. 

In the sun on the summit, it was probably close to 40 degrees Farenheit - warm enough that I did not need my stocking cap.  On the way down, as soon as we got low enough for the sun to be behind the ridge, the temperature dropped precipitously.  A lot of the snow on the fire road had melted, but was re-freezing as the sun was going down. We arrived back at the car around 3:30 and saw the car of a fellow Old Rag Mountain Stewards volunteer in the parking lot.

We were somewhat surprised by the number of people we saw on the summit.  It certainly was not as crowded as a busy fall day, but there were probably 25 people on the summit, most of whom came over the boulder scramble.  Many of them were dressed rather optimistically for the conditions.  One person was wearing gym shorts!  Hopefully no one had to spend the night out. I used to have a theory that the winter crowd on Old Rag was generally more prepared than the spring and fall crowd, but this trip might have proved me wrong.
Old Rag from the northeast

High water bridge over the Hughes River on the Weakley Hollow Fire Road

Small fall on the Hughes River

Fire road above the junction with Robertson Mountain trail

Old Rag Mountain Shelter

Icicles on the Saddle Trail

Saddle Trail near the summit
Looking northeast from the summit
Looking towards Hawksbill from the summit
Just below the summit on the Ridge Trail


  1. what gorgeous pics!! You must be getting to know that mountain like the back of your hand.

  2. Great blog. I am really glad you got these pictures. It was getting dark when I might have gotten these and snow pictures are so much better in bright sunshine. Those drifts and the wind sculpted snow were pretty cool just below Byrds Nest. Sorry our paths did not cross.