Old Rag offers the finest and practically only granite
climbing area between New Hampshire and North Carolina.
Perhaps this statement will not impress the western climber, for
all of Old Rag’s climbing would fit into a small portion of
Middle Cathedral Rock in Yosemite. However, beauty inheres
in many qualities other than grandeur.
Rag, it's way up there.
|For texture, hardness and subtlety of
feature, Old Rag granite compares favorably with that of
Joshua Tree. Climbing at Old Rag includes
bouldering, top roping, sport climbing, and traditional
leading. The quality and volume of all of these
are excellent. However, the star attraction is
lead climbing on flawless granite of great variety.
Because of its designation as a Wilderness in Shenandoah
National Park (SNP), bolting or addition of fixed
anchors of any kind on Old Rag is now prohibited.
The mountain will continue to defend itself from
crowds with a 1 hour 45 minute drive from the nearest
real population centers, a 1 hour 30 minute up-hill
approach hike plus sometimes significant bushwhacking,
and the elements of its mountain location. The
adventurous and the fit will find wonderful climbing far
from the crowds.
Climbing in the Park began in the 1930's, with
visits from local climbers practicing for trips to the
west. Visited by Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
(PATC) members on and off with some older pins and
rusty bolts marking their efforts. Most of these
early visits centered on the Summit Area and the PATC
Wall. A rebirth in activity began in the 1970s,
marked by the free accent of Strawberry Fields, as
classic a granite hand crack as can be found.
Through the 1980s the efforts continued, with routes
as hard as The The, a 5.13a/b finger crack on the
Bushwhack Crag and as strange as Tooth & Nail
(5.9-), requiring the star drill to be held in the
leader's teeth while hand drilling a bolt! The
majority of the routes seem to fall in the 5.9 to
5.11c range, perhaps because the nature of the rock
gives up passage in that range of difficulty.
My God" Dihedral 5.10c PG
Gear requirements at Old Rag are standard for
granite routes. The rock can be best described
as similar to Joshua Tree, existing as domes with
slabs and splitter cracks. Small Tri-cams and
active cams (SLCDs) are highly recommended. A
standard rack would contain a full set of wired nuts,
a dozen quick draws, six full length slings, several
small Tri-cams, a full set of SLCDs, a cordalette,
some extra biners, and perhaps some Aliens and
Ball-nuts. A roll of athletic tape for the hands
and the knowledge of its use is mandatory for many of
the saber-toothed cracks. A single rope is what
most routes require, but doubles are occasionally
nice, the second rope often finding additional use in
descents and hauling. Add a couple of bail
biners, quick links for anchors missing pieces, and
several tied slings for backing up anchors, and
you’re in good shape. You won’t need a lot of
this gear on most routes, but it is a long way to the
car! Long pants and long sleeves are mandatory
in any season, and bug repellent is very useful at
times in certain areas. Since the hike is long,
carry more water than you think. A minimum 2
quarts in the winter, and 4-5 in the summer.
This is a fee area. At the Nethers end of the
Ridge Trail end there are rangers on weekends.
Otherwise it is the honor system. The fee
is $5.00. Golden Eagle Passes are good for a
family or one hiker and a partner.
Camping is substantially restricted in the vicinity
of Old Rag. This is a very popular location
in-season, and I would suggest that you not plan on
camping in the immediate area. Competition can
be stiff, and this is no place to build a tent city.
There are many camping areas in the nearby Shenandoah
National Park and surrounding areas. However, in
off season periods back country camping is practical,
and the cost of the permit is included the entrance
fee. Please respect the following updated
restrictions. Back country camping permits are
available at the Ranger booth at the Ridge Trail
parking lot near Nethers, at the White Oak Canyon
trailhead on Berry Hollow Road, and at any SNP
entrance station. There is no additional fee for
back country permits.
The season can often determine the best climbing
area just as definitively as traffic law determines
which side of the road on which to drive. In the
winter, the east and south facing slabs and walls are
often comfortable on cold days, though the cracks
never seem to warm up. The lengthy approaches to
south east crags are reasonable in the winter and
early spring before the local flora springs to the
defense of the mountain. In the summer, the west
and north facing PATC wall is appealing, cool with a
short approach. Bouldering on the summit is
brutally cold in the winter, sun or not, but the wind
makes it nice in the summer. The north and west
facing areas such as the PATC Wall are brutally cold
in the winter – ideal for budding alpinists anxious
to practice martyrdom and pointless deprivation.
10 of the BEST Routes at Old Rag
** Pure Fun 5.6 to 5.8+ depending on finish.
Scramble down a small gully on the south end of the
summit; pass by a short smooth hand crack on the left,
and turn right down through the bushes to the
southwest face. Several moderate lines wind
through this somewhat broken-up face (though the rock
is very sound like almost all rock at Old Rag).
An excellent alternate start (5.8) is possible
following the right leaning hand crack 20’ to the
left of Pure Fun. Pure Fun follows cracks
up the middle to a slight overhang. One the
right side, follow a difficult crack that fades away.
To the left, follow climb through the overhang using
horizontals with hidden jugs (5.8). Or belay
here, and traverse off to the left through easy
chimney. A good beginner's lead. Trad,
PATC Wall Area
Duck Walk 5.10c R. A truly marvelous mixture
of techniques; one bolt, large to medium gear and
a few tiny wires. Tape absolutely necessary.
Overhang move off the deck, short crack, traverse
up and right to bolt, then back left. Dead point
to crack under final overhang, jam out and up right.
Know how to lead or don't start at all. 85 tough feet.
*** Dobie Gillis 5.8. Nice hand crack
leading to a bolt and a rightward rising traverse and
a creepy anchor (4 old bongs in horizontal crack).
Tape, medium rack and one tied runner to back up the
*** Psychobabble 5.10b PG. Nice
face climbing on wonderfully solid crystals.
Improbable crystal pinching crux right at the top.
A couple of nuts low in the right hand crack, then a trio
or so of bolts. Again, the same creepy anchor as
Dobie, now to your left. 65feet.
Reflector Oven Area
**** Strawberry Fields 5.9+ to first belay,
5.11a to top. Probably the best known
Old Rag climb, it is irresistible. Climb obvious
hand crack at center of wall, with small dead tree in
crack at 3/4 height. Traditional route takes
plenty of pro from fist to small. Many parties
climb only the first pitch (75 feet) and rap from a
cabled anchor. Tape up, and expect continuous
effort, as this “traditional” rating is hard for
its grade. Second pitch follows thin layback
crack to top. 30 feet, 105 feet total.
Cold shut anchor at the top. Long, complex walk
off is also possible to the right.
Fields 5.9+ or 5.11a
||God Crag /
Bushwhack Trail Area
*** "Oh My God" Dihedral 5.10c PG.
Classic overhanging lay back/off width crack.
With modern large crack cams it is merely exhausting
and intimidating. With only Hexcentrics in the
good old days, it was terrifying, as the crack keeps
getting bigger, steeper, and smoother. Practice
energy conservation, and keep it moving. 55
feet, gear route.
*** Scared Seamless 5.10b/c.
Follow 2 bolts up center of slab through bulge, up
vanishing seam to left, finishing with traverse to
anchor on right. Light rack including small SLCD
or Tri-cams for top of seam. 70
Wall That Dreams Are Made Of
Bushwhack Crack 5.10c. Climb obvious
fist/hand crack leaning to the left. Leads up through
roof (spot may be advisable) at about 10 feet,
followed by continuous perfect hand jamming up perfect
vertical granite. Fortunately, it soaks up
plenty of gear, upon which resting is popular.
About 100’, overhanging a little the whole way.
The The 5.13a/b. About 20 feet to the right
of Bushwhack Crack there is a finger crack. Mere
mortals can get some distance off the ground.
Then it gets hard. The first 5.13 red
point in Virginia.
Eagle’s Gift 5.10a+ R A classic by any
standard. At right side of wall, climb past 4
bolts beginning at shallow right facing corner layback
crack. The 3rd bolt is hidden from view by a
|Continue to rising traverse on bumps to
grove/crack 25 feet to left. The gear placements on
the route, though adequate, are strange in spots.
Not a sport climb. The finish of the climb up a
rounded flaring crack includes a 40’ run-out over
initially difficult but easing rock. Gear belay
with cordalette if using 165’ rope! Light rack
with stoppers, small SLCDs, and Tri-cams. A very