Old Rag is one of our all time favorite hiking destinations. The beauty of the mountain and it’s proximity to the Washington DC metro means that about a million other folks agree. After a week of fighting through traffic around the beltway, and a need to get a natural recharge, queuing up for a rock scramble is not the kind of ambiance that refreshes. Fortunately we have discovered that most people tend towards a lemming complex so it’s easy to come when they don’t. It’s a win on many levels. Not only do you get to enjoy the solitude of nature, you also get a very different experience than the norm. This story recounts one such example….
The Story Begins
Anticipation mounts as we make the last right turn and begin to wind along the creek towards the base of the mountain. The last bit of country lane squeezes into a narrow ribbon of patchwork asphalt as we weave upward through a tunnel of hardwoods. The radio fades in and out as the clock ticks forward to 2:30 am. Then, finally, we arrive.
Turning off the van plunges us into inky silence. I open the door, step into the frigid night, and am seized by a shiver. As my eyes adjust to the darkness I begin to survey this place. The parking lot consists of a small patch of gravel bounded by boulders and crowding forest. Above, the sky is blanketed with intense flecks of luminescence, sharp points of light in the crisp air.
Although beautiful, the stars do not provide enough light to prepare our start. Out come the head lamps as we pack our loads. Water and food, clothing and sleeping bags, all stuffed into ruck sacks and strapped on. Then, off we go.
On the Trail
What follows is two hours of drudge. Pick’n ’em up and put’em down. After becoming numb my mind begins to wander. I notice the tiny glimmer of light that orbits each individual and allows them to move forward with out stumbling – one step, another step, and then another.
As we move along the trail two groups coalesce. My half of the party is ahead and above on a switchback, the others are behind and below. It is surreal to look down from this distance. The expanse of dark forest swallowing three spots of clustered light. Seeing the illuminated circles sliding along the path, perception of time suspended yet temporally connected, and in isolated silence.
On we go past the incline, big mac, the spring, and finally to the no camping overlook. Not that there is anything to see, it is still pitch black. A quick snack and within minutes we are on the rocks, shortly after: the lunch spot. With a fully exposed east/south-east view we decide that this is the best place to meet the sun. We pull out our sleeping bags and settle in to wait for the world to turn. As we gaze into the heavens we are treated to shooting stars from the Leonid meteor shower. God’s handiwork is a marvel beyond words.
Finally, the event we have come to see. Ever so gently there is a shift from impenetrable darkness to blue black. Then a rift of ever deepening color appears across the eastern sky. Within minutes there is a thin river of lava glowing orange from north to south as the suns’ rays slide under the distant clouds. As the light advances, orange and red spreads, until finally, the great ball makes it’s appearance. Shortly after peeking through the clouds the colors fade into subdued morning light.
Time to eat! Following the hike and the cold, servings of piping hot oatmeal and cocoa never tasted so good. Add a bagel or two slathered in peanut butter – perfect mountain cuisine!
On to the top. From here it’s all rock scramble to the summit. We drop down through the crack, cross the saddle, up past the whale, climb the split, and scramble up the stairs. The strenuous motion drives off any remaining cold and restores circulation. At the summit we climb up the top boulder and savor the delight of being at the peak.
Originally Published Jun 2011 on Squidoo, later moved to HubPages now here… The events recounted are from 2006