Thursday, November 7, 2013

Shenandoah Solo Day 3

Yesterday I finished off my solo trip to SNP with a bang by climbing Old Rag Mountain by my lonesome.  Old Rag stands a modest 3,291 feet but it is unique among all the mountains in SNP in that it is a stand-alone mountain as opposed to a mountain top along the Blue Ridge.  The Old Rag curcuit is the most popular climb in all of Shenandoah with some 100,000 people doing it each year.  The big highlight is a fairly treacherous 1.2-mile Grade 3 rock scramble along the summit ridge up to the summit.  (A Grade 3 rock scramble btw is climbing where the use of your hands is required to climb--not merely for balance.  Usually protection is not required and falls are not always fatal.  If protection is necessary and falls are usually fatal then its considered Grade IV).

I arrived at the parking lot around 7:15 and saw just two other cars there and no people.  I was off carrying my daypack (a lot of tight squeezes on this scramble).  It was overcast and somewhat ominous looking as I left at 7:30 but it progressively brightened into a beautiful day as I climbed.  It was also quite a bit milder than the prior two days and I mostly climbed in a wool t-shirt.  The ascent to the ridge was realtively easy and very pleasant.  I was covering a mile every 30 minutes or so.

I was a bit concerned with how wet everything was.  With the weather change there was a lot of condensation and as I was on the western side of the ridge it was shielded from both the sun and the wind--I was worried about slippery rock surfaces during the scramble.  Finbally, around mile 3 I hit the bottom of the scramble and my fears proved to be well-founded.  Here is a pic of the first pitch:

This is about 20 feet high with very slippery rocks.  At first I tried the rocks and readily slipped which was quite alarming.  I was finally able to angle up the right side with only a bit of concern at the top.  After this, I sat down for a couple of minutes and seriously considered turning around.  You're really suppossed to do this as part of a group--in part because some sections benefit from teamwork but also in case of a fall.  I decided after a few moments of reflection to push on but to try to minimize relying on purchase on the slippery rock surfaces.

Here is another early pitch--closer to 30 feet in height that I was able to scale by working the left side:

This was difficult, strenuous climbing and while I was worried about my safety, I found it absorbing and exhilarating.  From time to time the exposed ridge provided stunning views:

At one point, the blue arrow marking the scramble path pointed straight down.  When I peered over the edge I saw I had to wedge myself down about a 15-foot drop.  I literally said out loud: "Really?"  It was easier than it looks:

The rocks along the route were pretty amazing:

After about 40 minutes or so I hit the crux of the scramble.  This is a relatively sheer face about 7 feet high with no available means to wedge.  It took me a while but I solved it by placing my left boot in that crack at the bottom left and reaching up and grabbing the top of the face with my hands.  I then pulled myself up and was able to swing my right knee and lower leg up and over the ridge at its lower section on the right.  With a burst of effort I was able to move my center of mass up onto the ridge.  I was panting heavily after this move!

Another cool rock on the way up:

After a very strenous 90 minutes I made the summit.  I passed a couple climbing together on the way up but they were mving slowly so I spent 15 minutes or so eating a snack on the summit all by myself.  It was very rewarding!  The weather was perfect--about 60 degrees and very sunny.  Fantastic views!

I went down the easier back way to complete the circuit and passed close to 20 people on their way up.  Towards the bottom of the fire road you hike out at the end, I passed through an incredible grove of white oaks--stunning:

So, the total round-trip took 5:08 and covered 9.4-miles. With a total gross elevation gain of 3,203 feet.  I had both my fastest and slowest miles of the three days on this hike: 18:13 and 73:26.  The latter was mile 4 during the bulk of the scramble.  In that mile I had 1,299 up feet and 565 down feet, which means the AVERAGE gradient was over 35 degrees during that mile.

Here are the Garmin details:

For the three days my totals were: 35.2 miles and 10,580 gross elevation gain of 19:03.  As Anders used to say: "Money in the bank"!

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