Old Rag & Shenandoah

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Old Rag & Shenandoah National Park - June 16-17, 2007

What a great weekend in Shenandoah National Park! This weekend's trip was to serve three purposes; one was to finally hike up Old Rag mountain, the second was to give our AT thru-hike presentation at the Big Meadows Campground amphitheater on Saturday night and the third was for me to record nature sounds for our soon-to-be-released AT thru-hike DVD. It turned out that the weekend held quite a bit more in store for us. We had heard that Old Rag, being the popular hiking venue that it is, gets very crowded later in the day, so we were on the trail by 6:45 a.m. to beat both the crowds and the heat. It has been awhile since we climbed anything this steep and we were feeling it. But, with The Long Trail coming up in August, we needed to get our mountain legs back into condition. It was a steady upward climb and then we reached the rock scramble area we had heard so much about. There were some sections that were reminiscent of Katahdin and, in one particularly narrow and wet upward scramble, Mom had to provide me with her hand as a foot hold so I could boost my way up. I, in turn, had to pull her up since there were no obvious foot holds and hand holds for folks of our height. It was easy for us to understand how, at times, there can be one hour backups as these choke points as hikers try to navigate them. Once reaching the summit we enjoyed a long lunch and the beautiful, though hazy, views. The rising humidity of the day was suffocating the peaks of the surrounding mountains like a wet blanket. The way down the mountain was in stark contrast to the trip up with a mild, meandering path that, ultimately, turned into a fire road that took us back to the parking lot. As we were driving away, past the overflow parking lot, we were thanking our lucky stars that had started our hike so early. Aside from the increasing heat and humidity, the parking lot, which holds around 200+ cars was full which meant that the trail itself had to be crowded like the Capital Beltway around DC. We drove back to the campground, after a stop at a local winery to taste and pick up a bottle of their personal finest and then lunch at the campground wayside. We also visited the newly renovated, and extremely informative, Visitor Center and took in a ranger talk on the wild cats and dogs of the Shenandoahs. In the evening, we were blessed to be able to make our AT thru-hike presentation at the campground amphitheater to a crowd of about 100+ people. The evening weather was beautiful, we had a had a great time and even had a skunk walk along the edge of the amphitheater, much to the delight of the kids in attendance. There were lots of questions and, once the talk was over, we stayed another 30+ minutes trying to answer everyone's questions. Obviously, we did not answer them all, because on Sunday morning, as we were checking out of the lodge, a gentleman approached me to ask how much it cost to thru-hike the AT. What we also found to be fun, was that a couple who had attended the talk and who discovered, quite by accident, that we were staying in a cabin right near them, approached us on Sunday morning wanting to take a photo with us. It was a bit weird being treated like celebrities but we enjoyed it. On Sunday we took a hike to Hawksbill Summit to see the new peregrine falcons that had been recently released in the park. The AT has been detoured through this section to keep hikers away from the nesting area. At the summit we met volunteer ranger John Malktin, who was there watching the falcons and making notes of their activities. He was extremely informative and Mom had a chance to take photos of the falcons while they warded off a crow that had mistakenly come into their airspace and I recorded the sounds of the falcons for our DVD. It was a memorable experience as we watched these majestic birds float on the thermals around the summit. Al in all, it was a wonderful weekend and made us look forward, even more, to hiking in Hawaii next week and to completing The Long Trail, from Vermont to Canada, in August.