Today I was invited by an old friend from Saipan to tag along for a visit to Shenandoah National Park to hike up Old Rag Mountain. The trail is a nine-mile long one-way circuit up the side of a mountain, over a rock scramble, and back down the other side. We thought we could do it in three hours, and so we each brought a bottle of water and a tangerine.
Quick, can you identify the white oak, red oak, tulip polar, and sycamore leaves? Yeah, neither can I. Is that sassafras? The leaves were turning, and they were beautiful.
This is what I think of when I think of a forest. East Coast rules! The first section of the hike was through some forest along a well-worn trail that was not very steep. There wasn't much wildlife to be seen, but there were a lot of beautifully colored leaves.
One sad note to my life is that I am colorblind. I have this sneaky suspicion that I'm not seeing the whole picture when it comes to changing leaves. Oh well.
And I saw pine cones! It has been years since I've seen pine trees. Florida has pine trees, but Saipan doesn't. I love pine cones! I wanted to take one home, but I think there are rules about removing plant life from National Parks.
Two miles into the hike we started to be high enough to start taking in some great vistas. The weather couldn't have been better, with blue skies and hardly a cloud to be seen.
The temperature changes along the hike were intense. It would be freezing one moment, then we'd come around a turn and be on the other side of the mountain facing the sun and the temperature would go up 15 degrees. It was also windy at times, but something told me it could get a lot windier.
Around this time is when we got to the rock scramble, a mile long stretch of boulders that had to be climbed over, sometimes on all fours, and every once in a while crawling through tight crevices.
Sure the leaves were pretty, but the rock scramble was the best part of the hike. This rock fell as we were walking through this ravine, and I had to hold it up so that we could get by. Everyone had to crawl through my legs.
Along the rock scramble were several lookouts, including this one. In this picture I was wishing that Edz were with me!
As this sign attests, the summit is only 3 miles from the start of the trail. Getting there took us four hours, though. About two hours to get to the start of the rock scramble, and another two to traverse it. Man, we were slow.
The summit delivered 360 degree crystal clear views of the surrounding valleys. I think we missed the peak of the leave changes by about a week, but what was left was still beautiful. It has been years since I've experienced autumn and I've missed it.
The hike from that point on was pretty, but somewhat boring. It took us two hours to hike down and around and not once after leaving the summit did I feel like my life was in danger, although I freely admit my legs were cramping and I really had to pee.
And although these photos don't show it, there were a lot of people along the trail. Hundreds, perhaps. Hiking along the East Coast is not a solitary affair and gets to be shared with hundreds of trendy backpackers with disposable income.
At one point we came to some rocks along the rock scramble that had about 50 people waiting their turn to climb. I joked that it felt like i was waiting in line to go to Starbucks. We cut around them and pulled ourselves up a steeper place in the trail, but yeah, so the take home message on Old Rag is cool rock climbing, great vistas, tons of yuppies.