Monday, October 8, 2012

Old Rag: Back on the Mountain

It has been a whole six months since our last hike on Old Rag and nearly a year since we've been out with Old Rag Mountain Stewards (ORMS).  The leaves are just starting to turn on the mountain, meaning the busiest time on the mountain here, with thousands of people coming out to see the turning leaves.  Yesterday, however, the rainy, cloudy, chilly weather kept most people away.  When we arrived, there were just a few cars in the parking lot.  One of the local dogs was there, trying to convince the few hikers that he was starving (he didn't make a convincing case).

We started out the day by hiking up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.  Since there were few people on the mountain, we soon veered off trail* to explore some of the valley.  The valleys and hillsides in the park are filled with evidence of the farming settlements that existed before Shenandoah National Park was established.  Some of the evidence, including lots of stone fences, can be seen easily along the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.  We followed a couple of old road beds up, into the forest.  We tried to stick to the roadbeds where we could, but often the underbrush was too thick.  We climbed over blowdowns, pushed through thickets of mountain laurel, and got scratched up by thorny greenbrier vines.  We found a couple of old springs with stone walls built into the hillside around them and other evidence of the old farms that once existed in the hollows.

We probably wandered a mile or two before deciding we should return to the fire road and continue on our way up to the summit of Old Rag.  We had an uneventful walk up the fire road and the Saddle Trail, passing only a few people on their way down from the summit.  The summit itself was cold, a little windy and completely socked in.  On our way down, we stopped and made hot chocolate at Byrd's Nest Shelter.  It was a nice, warm treat after most of a day wandering in the cold.  We made it back to the car just as darkness fell.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Following an old road bed.  This was one of the clear spots.  A short ways uphill, it was covered in blowdowns.
A fallen maple leaf.
The beginnings of fall on a small creek.
Puffballs growing in the leaf litter.
Stereum ostrea (False Turkey Tail fungus) on a downed log.
Goodyera pubescens (Rattlesnake Plantain).
Part of a rusted old tub.
Symphyotrichum sp. (Asters).  I have found Asters difficult to tell apart.  Not only are there a lot of species in the mid-Atlantic, but some of them also hybridize, making it even more difficult to correctly identify them.
Sympyotrichum cordifolium (Heart Leaf Aster).
 A pretty little red mushroom.
 The view of Robertson Mountain and the clouds from the Saddle Trail.
The beginning of the Saddle Trail near Old Rag Shelter.
Can I be friends with your sandwich? (photo taken by Michael)

*It takes considerably longer to travel the same distance while hiking cross-country versus hiking on a trail.  Getting disoriented when meandering in an out of hollows is easier than it seems.  It is critical to have a map and compass and the skills to use them.


  1. While I had a great time in Woodlands Texas north of Houston I did miss getting on Old Rag. Your post helped with my withdrawal. Bob Look

  2. Interesting to hear of your off-trail rambles in the area. Have you seen the PATC publication, now out of print I believe, which guides one to 18 old cabin sites in that area?