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Climbing With a Hole in Your Pants, or How to Pick Up Chicks at Old Rag Mountain

September 26, 2012

Pebble Wrestlers: Eric and Mitch

Guest Pebble Wrestler: Stephanie

Guest Ninjutsu Master: Matt

With the sweaty summer finally in the rear view mirror, Mitch and I decided to take a weekend off from climbing and enjoy a day of hiking on Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park with our friends, Stephanie and Mitch. One of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah, Old Rag is also a popular climbing destination. Although no official guide seems to exist for the area, several websites, including Robin’s Bouldering Page describe a number of bouldering problems on the mountain. Nevertheless this was to be a day to rest the aching fingers and shoulders and knees and backs. Of course when its a beautiful day and there’s boulders galore just waiting to be climbed, lack of equipment be damned, we’re gonna wrestle some pebbles!

Setting out early on Sunday morning from Rockville, we quickly realized that our drive home would bring us tantalizingly close to that Shangri La of om nom nom that is BonChon. After an 8 mile hike up and down a 3000′ mountain, we would be rewarded with a pot of golden (twice!) fried chicken at the end of draining day. This thought would linger in our minds throughout the two hour drive to the wilds of central Virginia.

The first part of the hike is brisk upward march through the forest on the lower side of the mountain. It was during this segment that I had a hole along the seam in the butt of my pants. Of course I already knew this. It had originally been brought too my attention a week earlier as I attempted ease my lower back pain by contorting my body into an awkward fetal position on a crash pad at the gym. But, like an injured tendon pulley, a week’s worth of climbing had caused the hole to grow considerably. However, I only have one pair of pants suited for hiking or climbing, so hole no hole, I had no other choice. Besides, it was something to attract eye.

The last segment of the hike to the summit of Old Rag is a mile long rock scramble through a climber’s playground of slabby corridors and giant cracked and pock marked stone eggs. The magnetic pull of the rock would prove to be impossible to resist. The trail leads the hikers under a boulder jammed in a narrow hallway staircase. Mitch can be seen pondering the situation during a previous visit to Old Rag:


We began to discuss the possibility of going over, rather than under the boulder. Intrigued by our conversation, a woman stopped to watch as one by one we eased our up and over the boulder and through a convenient exit at the top.

Shortly afterward, we found a slab replete with perfect crimps and rails that could accommodate even my hiking boots. With Mitch as my spotter and a small patch of hard packed dirt as my crash pad, I climbed to a jug rail halfway up the boulder:

For the next few hours, we made several off trail detours, climbing up and down random boulders scattered throughout the mountain, exploring the lesser visited areas of the mountain, and generally having a good time scrambling around, a spicy move here and there to keep us on our toes.

As climbers, Mitch, Steph, and I preferred a careful evaluation of every situation, followed by a slow, methodical, and static ascent or descent. As a ninjutsu master, Matt took a different approach, running up boulders and throwing caution to the wind, leaping across gaps between between rocks as if they were nothing more than cracks in the sidewalk. At times, he seemed to disappear down the side of one boulder on to pop up on top of another like a game of Whack-a-Mole:

Near the summit, we encountered and egg shaped boulder with a perfect line from a sit start through some sloper crimps and a juggy rail to an easy top out:


Though the sit start proved too much for my boots, the stand start proved to be a fun and easy climb. It was here that I attracted the attention of second woman who asked me about my climbing experience. This was followed by a second encounter with the woman who we seen us climb over the boulder wedged in the corridor pictured above. She insisted that I climb the boulder for her, allude to the fact that she was single, and commented on the size of my forearms. Despite the physical feats exhibited by my companions, all this attention seemed to be directed towards myself. As a trained scientist I can only conclude that it was the combination of the climbing with the whole in my pants. I, as I usually do, played it cool and slow, a technique which any one who knows well has worked wonders in my life.

It was at this time that we realized we still had a two hour hike back down the mountain followed by a long drive back to Fairfax for our coveted fried chicken. We continued on the trail, with a brief stop on the summit and eased our way through the five mile hike down the mountain and drove back to DC and BonChon. A Caesar salad sized for a buffet, a bottle of Soju which proved to be a chore to finish, and twenty drumsticks later, we left content, full, and mouths afire. All-in-all, a fantastic day. Old Rag is definitely worth another trip. While carrying a crash pad up the mountain may prove to be more difficult than its worth, I’ll definitely return with some Evolv, chalk, and a slider.

Much thanks to our photographer and videographer, Steph.

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