OLD RAG MOUNTAIN
Old Rag Mountain is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Shenandoah National Park. It draws thousands of visitors each year. Unlike most of the mountains in the Blue Ridge, it stands alone as an outlying mountain rather than as part of a continuous chain. The scenic ridge trail along the mountain's rocky crest provides for an invigorating excursion enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts of all ages, during all seasons of the year.
The earth's surface is in a slowly evolving, continuous state of motion. Great mountain ranges are thrust up as ragged, rocky peaks and then slowly erode to gentle, rolling hills. These processes are described by the theory of PLATE TECTONICS, which studies the movement of the earth's cool, rigid crust over the hot and fluid rock of the earth's interior. All of the earth's surface rocks ultimately have their origin in tectonic processes. The history of Old Rag Mountain is only one of uncountable stories of plate tectonics, reaching back over a billion years into the past.
Old Rag Mountain is underlain by granite rock. The granite formed over one billion years ago during a mountain-building event known to geologists as the Grenville Orogeny. During the Grenville Orogeny, ancient continents collided and pushed up the rocks between them to form the Grenville Mountains (This same type of tectonic process is creating the Himalaya Mountains today, as India and Asia slowly collide with one another and push up the crust between them into great mountains.)
Deep within the ancient Grenville Mountain range, the pressure and temperature were great enough to melt the rock in places, forming magma. This molten rock slowly ascended through fractures and crystallized deep within the earth's crust as granite. Millions of years after formation of the rock, uplift and erosion of overlying rocks of the Grenville mountain range may have exposed parts of the Old Rag Granite at the surface.
About 600 million years ago repeated eruptions of lava eventually covered the earth's surface, including the Old Rag Granite, with thick layers of volcanic rock. Following the volcanism, the entire area became submerged under the ancient "Iapetus Ocean", and the Old Rag Granite was buried under thousands of feet of ocean sediments. About 300 million years ago, another mountain-building event took place called the Allegheny Orogeny. During this orogeny, the Appalachian Mountains were formed when parts of the present-day continents of North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, India, Australia, and Antarctica slowly collided over tens of millions of years forming the super-continent "Pangaea". As the continents collided, the crust was pushed up into the ancient Appalachian Mountains which may have been as tall as the Rocky Mountains, Alps or Himalayas are today. It took as long as 300 million years for uplift and erosion to eventually expose the Old Rag Granite at the earth's surface as we see it today.
Distance: 7 mile round trip
Elevation Gain: 2200 ft
Elevation at Summit: 3291 ft
Hike Time: 5-8 hours
Difficulty: Very Strenuous
Highlights: Mile long rock scramble and vistas
Wildlife: Deer, foxes, black bears, skunks, and bobcats
Old Rag Trail Map(pdf, 310 kb)
Your day begins with an easy hike on a wide trail through dense forest. At these lower levels you are most likely to see wildlife. As the path steepens, the hike becomes a climb through the woods with numerous switchbacks and large boulders. After about 1½ miles the forest gives way to the rock scramble and plenty of wonderful views. From here to the summit you will go over, through, and under boulders on the Ridge Trail. You will climb through caves, between fissures, around balancing rocks, and up a natural staircase. Once at the summit the view is spectacular and panoramic. This is a perfect place for a meal, and to rest up for the descent.
You can choose to return the way you came or to continue on the loop trail. If you continue on, it’s about a mile longer, but takes about the same amount of time. There is a fairly quick and easy descent followed by a walk along the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.
LEAVE NO TRACE: Pack out all trash and do not disturb, damage, or remove wildlife, plants, rocks, or historical artifacts. There is an old adage: Make sure the candy you bring in supplies you with enough energy to carry the wrapper out.
SAFETY: Be prepared. Take plenty of water and wear shoes appropriate for a rugged hike. Bring food and expect to be hungry by the time you reach the summit. Stay on the trail. Allow enough time to complete your hike before dark. This hike is extremely strenuous. Do it for the hike, consider the cache as a bonus.
This cache should only be sought by seasoned hikers. Safety comes first!
To claim the cache you must e-mail me the answer to 2 questions, and of course take a photo of you and your GPS either at the summit or showing one of the many unique features on the mountain. If you log it you must be in a photo!
1. As you approach the summit you will see a sign. On it are several mileages.
Question: How far is it to the Weakley Hollow Fire Road?
2. On the lower levels of the trails there are many large boulders. These boulders move down the mountain at an imperceptibly slow rate. Think about and send a sentence or two for the following question. Give it a try. All answers are accepted.
Question: What are the forces involved in this movement?
3. In your log please share with us your favorite all time hike, other than Old Rag, of course.