Why I Hated Hiking Old Rag

If you live in Virginia and you mention that you like hiking, someone will suggest climbing Old Rag.

It’s about the best hike Virginia has to offer, and I will give it this: The climb took some effort and at times left me breathless.

“Some say it’s even the best hike in the mid-Atlantic region,” reads this blog. (In fairness, hiking with kids must require a lot of caveats – although I was less reluctant to bow down to the many mighty parents hauling both kids and dogs up 14ers in Colorado.)

I climbed this badly-named “mountain” one October day while I was in the middle of a nasty fight with the guy I was dating. He was ignoring my phone calls; I was angry; my stomach was in knots. In other words, I was motivated to climb away from my problems.

I drove 2 and a half hours from Washington, D.C., to get there so the stakes were pretty high — I was dedicating the day to the activity.

Because I was alone, I took the Berry Hollow trailhead, which avoids some of the bouldering of the traditional route. When I got to the trailhead, it was completely deserted. (This never happens in Colorado. I don’t care what day of the week it is, there is always someone hiking. The trailheads are so busy some trails now offer shuttles.)

The trail signs were a little confusing and seemed to contradict the map. (I recommend following the posted map.)

It was a hot day and the climb didn’t get any cooler, because this is Virginia and you’re starting below sea level.

Here are my recommendations for making hiking bearable in Virginia:

  • Insect-proof everything. (This is something I didn’t know about until I left Colorado.) I have Permethrin in a spray bottle that I used on my hiking pants and Camelbak pack, plus insect-treated socks and a buff for my head.
  • Pants and long-sleeved shirt made of breathable fabric.
  • Bring a lot of water to replace the sweat.

For this hike, I also recommend real hiking boots. For most hikes in Virginia, you can get away with any form of athletic shoe.

This hike was strenuous enough to get my mind off my problems and my hand off my phone, so points for that. My boyfriend and I worked things out later that evening, but I spent most of the day thinking about breaking up with him.

There was a false summit with a pretty decent view.

False summit

I was pretty tired — and a little embarrassed to be tired, to be honest — by the point I got to the false summit, and at that point a pair of older hikers warned me to watch out for the swarm of bugs higher up. But I kept going, of course, because I have never climbed a mountain and not made the summit (what would be the point?).

This is the first time the strategy has not paid off.

Old Rag’s summit is 3,284 feet and there is no view. 

The summit

Unimpressed.

I came, I saw, I turned around and climbed back down again. I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich down at the false summit instead and tried to ignore the sweat and the bugs and the fact I’d spent an entire day on this.

The climb down was not as fast as I would have liked because of the stretch of loose rocks (this hike is 5.4 miles and took me about 2 hours to go up). My car was still the only one in the parking lot and the drive home felt very long.

There’s a small town near Old Rag but it didn’t have any obvious places to stop for food or any type of liquid reward after the hike.

I might be comparing Old Rag to my ideal version of hiking, but it’s a version that exists. In Colorado, here’s what our summits look like:

I tried. This is yet another reason why I hate hiking in Virginia.