I think it’s fascinating to wonder what the insides of the Blue Ridge Mountains look like. Layers of bedrock stripped down over time can reveal stories no different than the pages of a book. Having seen the impressive granite spires of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the jagged peaks of the Northern Cascades, it is safe to say I found inspiration on a different scale. With that said though, the Blue Ridge Mountains still capture my attention just the same.
Ancient geology amongst the Appalachian Mountain range captivates those that visit them and for good reason. In an effort to continually explore these mountains we call home, Jess and I visited Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park near Sperryville, Va. Course granite features made of white feldspar and the unique blue quartz, shaped one billion years ago, standing at 3,284 feet make this hike one of the most unique places to visit in the Blue Ridge. Because of its unique characteristics and compelling hike to the summit, Old Rag has become one of the most popular hikes in the region.
We set off on a Wednesday, early in the morning with the intent to beat the crowds. To our surprise though, we pulled into a parking lot at the base of the mountain filled with people. Slightly jaded by what we saw, but still excited, we set out on the 9.5-mile circuit hike to the summit and back.
You start by climbing for nearly three miles, meandering through beautiful stands of old forest on a well-graded trail. We passed people occasionally, but it wasn’t until the bottleneck at mile three where the serenity of the walk really took a hit. People began to move slowly as the infamous rock scramble of Old Rag took its toll. Now, almost in single file, I started feeling quite uncomfortable. There were two miles left to climb and people were everywhere. Loud hip-hop music blasted from a speaker close behind me. How could this be? The obnoxious music and voices filled the crevasses in the rock. It’s out of respect for the place you are and the people around you to remain quiet, peaceful even, when present in such a beautiful place.
As Jess and I climbed and crawled through the ancient rock we began to separate ourselves from the circus down below. I was thankful to hear nothing but the wind and the occasional caw of a crow, which I’m still convinced was yelling at the people down below. As we reached the summit, we quickly located a place of solitude to hunker down for a while. Old Rag Mountain’s summit is a powerful place to say the least. The large igneous rock displays, towering over the valley floor are an amazing exhibit of power and time. I was grateful for the quiet time we received at the top.
The rest of the hike descends from the summit. Feeling the sunburn on our winter-white skin, we made our way back to our van. With mixed feelings about the day I gazed up on the rocky summit where we just were. Inspired by the magnitude of natural beauty, but wearied by the people, I decided instead to be grateful for the day spent outside in hopes that future visitors to Old Rag, and any outdoor destination, will consider a compromise. The compromise is this —let us all seek unity with the natural world while still respecting the people, the experience, and most importantly, the place.