Get our free newsletter
1. Took nap today.
2. Rode bike to Wilson Building through “wintry mix” yesterday.
3. Climbed mountain by my lonesome. To wit:
I took a quick post-holiday vacay last week, departing for sunny southwest Florida last Wednesday, returning on Monday. I did not plan on returning to work until this Wednesday, leaving Tuesday gloriously free to be wasted in any manner I so chose.
I chose to climb a mountain.
I chose to climb Old Rag Mountain in the middle Shenandoahs, a popular day hike for outdoorsy and quasi-outdoorsy types in these parts. I’ve climbed it three times before; twice in the summery months, once in the hellishly crowded “fall colors” season—-and always on weekends. Never have I gone when I wasn’t sharing the mountain not only with my own climbing party, but also about a couple of hundred other REI-clad weekend-trekker types. Not that I’m complaining; it’s always a hell of a lot of fun.
Anyway, I thought I’d go on a January Tuesday, thinking that the crowds would be essentially nil, and I could save the mile-long hike up from the auxiliary parking lot up to the trailhead. Well, I was right. There was one other car in the lot, and I ran into those folks coming down less than five minutes from the trailhead. Alone the rest of the way.
Couple of things I should have taken note of:
1. I missed the Gainesville US-29 exit off I-66 due to construction and promptly ran into a blizzard. That might have been an omen. It also meant I didn’t hit the trail until nearly 1 p.m., leaving me about four hours to finish the 7-mile loop before sunset.
2. I chose to climb in some well-worn New Balance running shoes. They provide wonderful traction on the dry granitoids and gneisses of the Blue Ridge, but I failed to anticipate that the rocks might actually be covered in ice and/or snow. In January.
3. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going. Only sign I was dead on the mountain would have been the blue Taurus left in the parking lot.
For those unaware, the best part of climbing Old Rag is the milelong rock scramble along the mountain ridge to the summit. (Scramble apparently being technical language for “cool rocks that even idiots like me can climb.” Wikipedia informs me the mountain is also known for its “splitter cracks, dihedrals, and crystal pinching slabs.”) Long story short, on Tuesday, I’m not so much scrambling as slipping and sliding like hell.
At one point, with my sneaks repeatedly failing to get purchase, I slipped and fell down a rock face about thrice, each time my mind flashing to films such as Touching the Void, The Eiger Sanction, and, yes, Cliffhanger, along with the words “ARREST! ARREST! ARREST!” Luckily the friction of high-grade cotton fleece on my belly was enough to keep me from certain maiming and likely death.
The next challenge came near the summit, where there’s a squeeze I’ve always had a bit of trouble with, but always made it through. I sort of forgot about it until I actually got there, and then I realized I got through all those other times because someone could push my ass up from behind. Took me a good 10 minutes before I figured that one out. I’m still not sure how I got past it. Dunno if I could do it again if I needed to.
And I’m not even going to talk about all the spots where a footslip would have left me with broken bones and no way of getting off a freezing mountaintop buffetted by 30-mile-an-hour winds that I’d climbed wearing one (1) cotton T-shirt, one (1) long-sleeve T-shirt, one (1) hooded sweatshirt, one (1) pair sweatpants, one (1) pair not-exactly-windproof running pants, and one (1) Chicago Bears knit cap.
But a day of solitude and views like this almost make death on Virginia’s 34th-tallest mountain worth it:
Moral of the story: Do climb Old Rag in cold weather, but please bring a friend.