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Old 04-18-2017, 09:38 PM   #1
DSettahr
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Some photos from Old Rag, Shenandoah National Park

Took a day hike up Old Rag in SNP recently to see what all of the fuss was about. I did a 15+ mile hike, ascending via Nicholson Hollow and returning to the trailhead by way of Old Rag. Nicholson Hollow isn't actually part of the normal Old Rag loop but I wanted to check that area out as well. Nicholson Hollow is a nice area with some decent campsites that appear to get moderate levels of use.

After reaching the head of Nicholson Hollow, I descended along the fire road on the ridge, reaching the summit of Old Rag shortly before dusk. I lucked out and had the summit entirely to myself, a pleasant surprise given that there were probably 100+ cars at the trailhead when I started out (according to some online sources, as many as 900 hikers have been counted on Old Rag in a single day!).

I have to say, Old Rag definitely lived up to the hype. The peak has a significant prominence that makes it easy to spot from miles away as you drive towards the parking lot. The views from the summit were spectacular, and the hike along the ridge east of the summit was a rugged challenge on par with the likes of the cables on Gothics, the Saddleback Cliffs, or even the Trap Dike. Over, around, and even under massive granite boulders and through eroded basalt dikes for more than a mile, all while enjoying non stop views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and the hills and plains of the Piedmont to the east.

In fact, Old Rag reminded me not at all of the wooded summits or even the balds of the central Appalachians, but of the Adirondacks. Even the geology was more in line with what one would expect of the High Peaks than the Blue Ridge Mountains. The panoramic views especially were typical of those one expects from the more popular High Peaks, and completely unlike much of the rest of the mountains of VA (where any views are often manufactured).

Unfortunately, the parallels didn't end there... as with the High Peaks, there was an extensive rehabilitation effort being undertaken on the summit to stem soil erosion and devegetation from wayward hikers. Old Rag isn't high enough to have a sensitive alpine ecosystem, but the high levels of use concentrated on the summit have nevertheless resulted in some pretty significant impacts. String fencing and signs asking hikers to stay out of revegetation areas reminded me And there was human waste everywhere. I counted at least 50 piles of toilet paper on or near the summit.

In short, Old Rag is basically the Cascade and Porter of the Shenandoahs. A spectacular hike with amazing views that is unfortunately getting loved to death.

Photos coming in a post to follow...
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Old 04-18-2017, 09:40 PM   #2
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Old 04-18-2017, 11:56 PM   #3
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Very nice pics. Some of those panoramas are especially gorgeous.
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Old 04-19-2017, 07:05 AM   #4
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Great pics! There are so many beautiful places in this country.
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Old 04-19-2017, 12:55 PM   #5
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Awesome pics. I am thinking of stopping and checking out Old Rag in a couple of weeks. Just out of curiosity, are the sites in Nicholson Hollow easy to locate? Also, which day of the week did you visit, and do you think it would be reasonable to assume I would be able to nab a site on a Friday afternoon, in a couple of weeks?
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Old 04-19-2017, 09:43 PM   #6
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There's nothing super close to the trailhead. The parking area is the better part of a mile down the road (the older, smaller parking area at the end of the road was closed down a few years ago). The Nicholson Hollow trail splits off of the road before the road ends actually (be sure to look for the cement sign post typical of the posts used to mark trail junctions in SNP). Even once you're on a proper trail, there's still some distance of private property to traverse before camping is legal.

I remember seeing a few small, OK sites maybe about a 30 minute hike from the parking area. The best sites, though, were upstream of the junction with the Corbin Mountain Trail (this junction is 1.3 miles from the trailhead and ~1.8 miles from the parking area). If you take the Corbin Mountain Trail across Hughes River and then immediately turn right off the trail, there's a nice site on the creek there. Also, if you stay on the Nicholson Hollow Trail, there's a number of nice sites along the next 0.4 mile stretch to the junction with the Hot Mountain-Short Mountain Trail. The area here is flat and I saw at least 4-5 well developed, nice sites on the right side of the trail. A couple of the sites closer to the Hot Mountain-Short Mountain Trail were in a pleasant stand of pines.

I think this early in the season you shouldn't have any difficulty getting a site in the area on a Friday afternoon. I was there on a Sunday, I did not see any of the sites occupied but I did pass 1 or 2 overnight groups that were on their way out.

I would advise hiking the Old Rag loop clockwise. The rock scramble is lots of ups and downs in either direction, but if you go in this direction, there's more ups than downs so it's a little bit easier overall. Definitely bring a pair of shoes with good grip on rock, as there's a number of sections of the rock scramble that pretty much demand careful foot placement and even edging and smearing at times to proceed (and to not fall).

I'm not sure how familiar you are with SNP, but a few regulations to be aware of just in case:
  • Campfires are prohibited in the backcountry of SNP.
  • You need a permit to camp overnight in the backcountry. There is a self-issuing permit station at the Old Rag parking area. (Also, bring cash- there's a fee to park at the Old Rag parking area as well.)
  • Camping is prohibited above 2,800 feet on Old Rag itself to minimize the impacts to the summit area. The two shelters on the peak are also day use only. If you wanted to camp closer to Old Rag, it wouldn't be hard to find legal camping near Post Office Junction (the junction of fire roads west of the peak). I don't think there's any water anywhere near Post Office Junction, though.
  • Dogs are prohibited on Old Rag.
I hope this helps!
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Old 04-19-2017, 09:49 PM   #7
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Oh, and if you're planning to climb it on Saturday and it's anything close to a nice day, I would avoid the summit of Old Rag between about 10 am and 5 pm if you don't want to share it with hordes of other hikers.
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Old 04-20-2017, 11:22 AM   #8
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Thanks for all of the info. I'll be flying down to Fla. and driving back up, so I am still assessing the logistics of making a camping trip happen (possibly shipping my pack, sleeping bag and tent down before I go). I have a hotel booked, just in case. Doing some research on Old Rag, it seems as though there are lots of cautionary tales out there of people having to be rescued. Hearing this makes me a little apprehensive, as I will be going solo, but I do like a good challenge. Is there anything that you've done in the Catskills that would compare to the scrambling that I would be encountering here?
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Old 04-20-2017, 09:13 PM   #9
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The rock scramble is tricky, and it's definitely a place you'll want to tread slowly and deliberately, but with a willingness to move carefully I wouldn't worry too much about it. It's sort of like if you took 15 of the Cornell Cracks, spread them out over the better part of a mile, flipped some of them around so that you were descending them rather than ascending them, and threw a bunch of boulders to climb around and under along the way for good measure. There's no part on the scramble where you're directly exposed to a major, precipitous drop, although big drops are never far away so it can feel like it at times. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely places on the rock scramble where a misplaced foot could easily result in a fall far enough to cause a broken leg or arm, but I suspect that the majority of the accidents on Old Rag are from people doing stupid things close to the edge of an actual cliff or from those engaged in rock climbing.

Like I said, bring a good pair of shoes with good grip. I'd also avoid the rock scramble if it's raining. If you go on a nice weekend day, though, you certainly won't be anything close to alone on the peak.

Do you have plans to stop anywhere else on the drive back up from FL?
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Old 04-21-2017, 06:49 AM   #10
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Thanks again for taking the time to comment. I'm pretty much going straight from Florida to Culpeper, VA, where I'll be staying for a couple of nights. It's about a 13.5 hr drive. I was planning on looking into a short hike (maybe an hour or two) that would allow me to get out and stretch my legs. I am looking at Uwharrie National Forest. If you have any recommendations, they would be much appreciated.

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Old 04-23-2017, 09:15 PM   #11
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Uwharrie is OK. Nothing particularly interesting (unless you're a geology buff, the "mountains," or what's left of them, are some of the oldest in the world), but some nice pleasant hiking nonetheless through hardwood forests and occasional pine plantations. You could easily hike in the loop in the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness in a single day without much difficulty, or turn it into a very easy backpacking trip if you're looking for a place to spend the night. There's some nice campsites along the Hannah's Creek Trail as well as on the upper reaches of Robbins Branch. The area gets low to moderate levels of use (although when I was there, my solitude was interrupted by a police SWAT team doing a training exercise).

I've not hiked there, but I've heard that the Uwharrie Trail/Dutchman's Creek area is nice. There are some longer backpacking opportunities on those trails, I believe. A quick google search reveals that the two trails together form an 18 mile figure-eight loop.

If you were to swing further inland, the mountains of north GA/western NC/eastern TN have a ton of options. There's the Smokies and the AT, of course, but the surrounding National Forests also have a lot to offer. North Georgia has some nice hiking and backpacking in the Cohutta Wilderness. South of GSMNP, the old growth tulip poplars in the Joyce Kilmer area are massive, and the combined Joyce Kilmer and Citico Creek Wilderness Areas cover a sizeable area (even by Adirondack standards) and offer a ton of backpacking opportunities. And to the east, NC has both the Black Mountain Range (including Mt. Mitchell, the highest point in the US east of the Mississippi) and Linville Gorge. Linville Gorge in particular is about as rugged and spectacularly scenic as anything the east coast has to offer.

A quick warning, though- many backcountry areas in the Appalachians from Shenandoah southwards have been hit pretty hard by the hemlock woolly adelgid. Go prepared to see a lot of devastation in some areas, whole swaths of forest that were once dense hemlock stands are now nothing but dead trees strewn across the landscape. It's particularly saddening in mountainous areas where the hemlocks provided important shade for maintaining trout habitat.

Alternatively, on the coast there is the Neusiok Trail in the Croatan National Forest. Like Uwharrie, it's OK, nothing singularly interesting, but pleasant hiking through coastal pine barrens. The long leaf pine that grows there is pretty neat- it's very depending on fire for reproduction, and the evidence of regular wildfire is readily apparent throughout the forests. There's a few easily accessible backcountry shelters on the trail that don't get a huge amount of use.

One place I wanted to get to the last time I was down south but never found the time was Congaree National Park in SC. There is some backpacking/backcountry there, nothing too extensive, but the area sounds pretty neat nonetheless.
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