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As I began contemplating the writing of this guide, I was drawn in two conflicting directions:      on one hand, Old Rag is a great climbing resource that belongs to the climbing community and should be shared, while on the other it is a place where one can climb on flawless granite in complete solitude. This was a difficult decision, but in the end, no one person or small group can “own” a resource in a National Park. The mountain will continue to defend itself from crowds with a 1 hour 45 minute drive from the nearest real population centers, a 1 hour 30 minute up-hill approach hike plus sometimes significant bushwhacking, and all of the elements of its mountain location. The adventurous and the fit will find wonderful climbing far from the crowds. What is critical is that we share Old Rag in a manner that will neither degrade the resource or the enjoyment that others get from it. Please walk softly.

Old Rag as hiking resource is enormously popular, with over 100,000 visitors logged each year. The 4.5 mile Ridge Trail offers a challenging hike through wonderfully rocky terrain, including some physical scrambling through a mile of boulders, some house sized. It is reported to be the most popular hike in the Shenandoah National Park, and on nice weekends, it shows. Short delays are to be expected as inexperienced hikers balk at some of the scrambling. However, the trail is very well developed, and few hikers wander more than a few yards from the path. The flanks of the mountain are quite steep and well protected with underbrush. In the fall of 2000 a significant brush fire enveloped most of the mountain, but the brush quickly spring back, energized by fresh nutrients in the ash.

Old Rag as a climbing resource offers the finest and practically only granite climbing area between New Hampshire and North Carolina. Perhaps this statement will not impress the western climber, for all of Old Rag’s climbing would fit into a small portion of Middle Cathedral Rock in Yosemite.           However, beauty inheres in many qualities other than grandeur. For texture, hardness and subtlety of feature, Old Rag granite compares favorably with that of Joshua Tree. The rock is even better, and the routes similarly varied, from friction to splitter cracks to simply weird. For the adventurer, however, there is the great pleasure of solving puzzles, over coming intricate entanglements, and uncovering deeply hidden mysteries seemingly set by a subtle intelligence, yet provided by the randomness of nature. Old Rag offers this pleasure in abundance; a climb here often feels like a first ascent, due to the hidden and remote nature of many of the crags. Some climbers get no pleasure from the experience of the approach and the puzzles the mountain provides; they find an indolent joy in belaying from the bumper of their cars at Joshua Tree, only interested in the puzzles of the climb. I can sympathize with this, for I am no stranger to the lust for more rock, and to hell with all else; but then again, when I have threaded the maze at Old Rag and stand before a climb seeing no trace of humanity and having no reason to believe this place has been visited this year, I am seized by a sense of owning the world, my life, and my freedom. Yeah, it’s only an illusion… but it works for some of us!

The reason this gem is so little used is the combination of a lengthy approach and the vexing difficulty of locating the good climbs. The first-time visitor must either team up with an experienced hand, or expect to spend hours looking for climbs and getting in only a pitch or two. It is my hope that this guide will allow climbers to experience some of the finest granite anywhere, enjoy a fine hike getting there, and get in a fair number of challenging routes, so as to be certain of feeling tired but satisfied at the day’s end. Enjoy the adventure!

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