Hiking Old Rag Mountain - October 2015

My long time friend Amit got me into hiking back in 2013, and I immediately took to it. Loved the fresh air, loved the change of scenery, and a great workout! We had wanted to hike Old Rag Mountain since 2013, and he'd wanted to hike it since as early as 2011. It's one of the most popular hikes in the entire mid-Atlantic region, and also one of the most strenuous and spectacular. It peaks at 3291 feet, has a total elevation gain of 2500 feet from parking lot to peak, and includes nearly a mile of rock scrambling to get to the top. It's an extremely challenging hike, but worth it for all of the spectacular views. 

Last year came and went, and we just never got around to setting a date, but it was just as well. Having done this hike now, I can tell you with certainty that my body simply wouldn't have been able to make it even last year, as it just hadn't healed and recovered enough yet from all that it had been through. I had still been dealing with daily muscle fatigue and weakness issues, and struggled to get through each and every day. These were after-effects of the chemotherapy that I had gone through back in 2011 while fighting testicular cancer, and the extensive nerve damage that resulted. It's only because of my relentless focus on exercise over the past few years, in particular running, that my body has finally made the full recovery that it has and then some, and that I was able to do this hike.

Even today, having done this hike while in the best shape of my life, I struggled. The biggest challenge for me besides trying to figure out how to fit my 6'3" carcass through some challenging portions of the rock scrambling, was the fact that I was just plain out of breathe starting around 2500 feet. Your body is used to all of the oxygen down around 800 feet where you start from, but the air gets noticeably thinner as you climb. I had to pause for a few minutes at several points just to catch my breathe, but we finally made it! We started from the lower parking lot at 8:15am, and hit the summit at 11:45am, three and a half hours. That included plenty of stops for photos and selfies, so all in all we made pretty good time. Total hike time was five and a half hours.

A whole mountain view of Old Rag, from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

It turns out that the smartest thing we did, per the advice of hikers on the Facebook Shenandoah National Park Hikers group, was to just take a day off and go during the week. Not only was the weather absolutely perfect, but the trail was clear! There was always a group a ways ahead of us, and another somewhat behind us, but not once did it ever feel crowded, which allowed us to just take in the mountain, and the spectacular fall foliage and scenery.

This is what Old Rag looked like that weekend!!!!!!!!!!!

Image via John Geracimos ,  Shenandoah National Park Hikers Group

Image via John Geracimos, Shenandoah National Park Hikers Group


So yeah... It was totally worth it to take a day off during the week, especially during peak times like this.

Camera Gear: While I'd have loved to have saved the weight and brought my much smaller and lighter Nikon AW1 cameras, these have fallen out of favor with me for landscape type photos like these. They work exceptionally well for the action and rugged/waterproof photography for which they're designed, but the little 1" sensor just lacks the acuity needed to grab fine details. I've heard you can get better results if you shoot in RAW and this and that, but I'd rather just use a more suitable tool. The other critical issue with the Nikon 1 system cameras is that the flash performance is extremely poor. 1/60s flash sync outdoors is useless, and the flash just doesn't have the power needed. In midday sun with deep shadows on people's faces, you need effective fill flash to get nice looking people photos. So what did I bring?

I brought my new Canon 7D Mark II, along with an extremely lightweight EF-S 10-18mm ultra-wide lens, and then my 24-105mm f/4L IS lens for wide-normal to telephoto shots. I had to switch lenses a lot, way more than I would have preferred, but the combination of the great image quality and powerful and effective fill flash just with the little pop-up flash, made it worth lugging all the way up this mountain. I've had trouble getting accurate focus with the EF-S 10-18mm lens, but was sure to use AI-Focus and the Single Point autofocus mode this time, not wanting to mess up these photos, and didn't have any issues. Just my usual out-of-camera JPEGs with Auto Enhancing in Apple's Aperture. That's how I roll.

I used my trusty ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag, which is always my bag of choice. It's literally travelled the world with me, and now it's also climbed mountains! It's just big enough to carry what you need, never gets in your way, and the rugged build of the bag along with tons of padding came in handy on the trail. 

Very pleased, and I hope you enjoy the photos. 

To learn more about hiking and how to get started, check out The Foolproof Guide to Hiking for Beginners by my friends at MyOpenCountry.

View the Old Rag Gallery page directly at the link.

Old Rag Mountain Gallery page