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Though most of the climbing history of Old Rag Mountain is relatively recent, the human history goes back much farther. By 1800 the area was populated by mountaineers, mostly squatting on large parcels belonging to absentee landowners. Mining for copper and logging removed most of the virgin timber from all but the most rugged slopes and canyons by the mid 1800’s. About that time George Pollack took and interest in a large parcel stretching from Stony Man Mountain to White Oak Canyon, and brought to together an early resort known as Skyland. Mr. Pollack lobbied the Congress hard for the establishment of a park to protect the area, and as a result the Shenandoah National Park was created. Beginning with Skyland in the early 1930’s, the government purchased farmland, large undeveloped parcels, and private homes. Some accepted the settlement offers from the government peacefully; some had to be led away in handcuffs, with no desire to leave the only home they had ever known. Many were only squatting, but honestly believed they owned the land; some scoundrel had taken their money and created a worthless deed. Other simply ignored the difference. To prevent the reoccupation of the structures and to accelerate the transition of these areas to wilderness, most of the structures were burned or demolished. If you bushwhack in the right places along the Weakley Hollow Road, you can find the remains of the town of Old Rag, including no less than 18 structures or their remains. These include the Post Office/General Store, a school, a church, and the homes of many families, some dating back to the 1780s. The Post Office sat at the 4-way corner of the Weakley Hollow Road, the Berry Hollow Road, the Old Rag Road, and the Saddle Trail, the current concrete signpost being in roughly the upper corner of the building. Little more remains of this mountain town that some pictures and a few piles of rubble. Excellent histories of the Park and Old Rag can be found in "Shenandoah Secrets" and "The 18 Cabins of Old Rag - A Bushwhackers Guide", both available through the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) web site at

Some of the earliest recreational visits to the mountain were groups of tourists guided from the nearby Skyland Resort. The Skyland resort predates the park, beginning operation in 1894 initially as tent camping area accessible only by horse, later as a more developed area with cabins, a lodge, and a crude dirt road. Trips were guided from that camp to many of the local sites, including White Oak Canyon and Old Rag. The hike to Old Rag would include the White Oak Canyon Trail and an earlier version of the Saddle Trail. Typically the guests were spared the burden of carrying packs by local mountain men employed by the lodge. Like modern luxury trekking trips in the Himalayas, all of the mundane work, camp setting, and meal preparation was handled by the porters. Not exactly roughing it, and a very different experience from a climber’s simple expectations!

Climbing in the Park began in the 1930's, with visits from local climbers practicing for trips to the west. An interesting account of a visit by local climber Gus Gambs in 1933 can be found at Though the experience is not one of modern technical climbing, in the winter in the absence of trails or much route knowledge, there is no doubt in my mind that it was both a full-body workout and an adventure. Remember also that the Ridge Trail did not exist. It was cut early the next year by volunteers from the PATC. Visits continued by PATC members on and off with some older pins and rusty bolts marking their efforts. Most of these early visits centered on the Summit Area and the PATC Wall. A rebirth in activity began in the 1970s, marked by the free ascent of Strawberry Fields, as classic a granite hand crack as can be found. Through the 1980s the efforts continued, with routes as hard as The The, a 5.13a/b finger crack on the Bushwhack Crag and as strange as Tooth’n’Nail (5.9-), requiring the star drill to be held in the leader's teeth while hand drilling a key bolt! The majority of the routes seem to fall in the 5.9 to 5.11c range, perhaps because the nature of the rock gives up passage in that range of difficulty, and perhaps because that is the level at which many of us dedicated climbers toil. However, there is something for everyone, and many possible routes are not listed, simply because they are not known, or haven’t been found. Explore!

1 comment:

  1. Old Rag is a lady, but a lady that will kill you if you are careless--