Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Freezing, Windy, Beautiful Day on Old Rag

We just can't stay away.  Yesterday, we braved the wind and frigid temperatures to hike Old Rag with two good friends.  They have done a lot of hiking - one of them had hiked a lot in Shenandoah- but neither had ever hiked Old Rag.  It was 26 degrees when we left Silver Spring at 7:30 a.m., which isn't too bad.  And windy.  It was windy enough to blow our little car around on the way there. 

There were enough people who were also crazy enough to be out there that we had to park in the lower lot.  It was a very windy, cold walk up to the upper lot, but once we started up the ridge trail, we were sheltered from most of the wind.  The trail was covered in packed snow and a little ice here and there.  There were frost flowers blooming along the upper ridge trail.  Although it was very cold, the work of climbing the switchbacks kept us warm.  We stopped for lunch at the last good campsite before the rock scramble.  Given the temperature, we did not linger long.  We needed to keep moving to keep warm.

We expected the entire rock scramble to be blustery, cold misery (the good kind), but when we reached the first false summit, the sun came out and we were sheltered from the wind.  I would not say that it was warm, but we were able to stop long enough get a few pictures.  Much of the trail through the rock scramble was sheltered through the wind.  The packed snow actually made some parts much easier and teamwork made the rest work.  Most of the summit was protected from the wind, but past the boulders, looking towards the fire road, we could hear the wind angrily roaring through the rocks.  We all ventured out there briefly and quickly retreated. 

At Birds Nest Shelter, someone had built a fire and left it going.  We took advantage of it to warm up, but put it out before we left.  Dropping below the shelter, we went straight into the wind.  The Saddle Trail was much, much icier than the Ridge Trail.  The "slow is smooth and smooth is fast" philosophy got all of us down safely.  At Old Rag Shelter, we finally dropped out of the wind and the walk down the fire road was comparatively warm.  Our friends helped us spot three different species of woodpeckers (downy, hairy, and pileated) along the fire road. 

All in all, it was a great challenging day on the mountain since we were prepared for the cold and the snowy/icy conditions.  Some pictures:
Frost flowers on the Ridge Trail

View toward Etlan from the first false summit

An ice sheet near the Chute on the Ridge Trail

The S-Curve on the Ridge Trail near the summit

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