Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Old Rag Mountain Provides Timeless Views

©Bert Gildart: At 3,268 feet Old Rag is not the highest mountain in Shenandoah National Park (Hawksbill Summit, 4,015 feet, has that distinction), but it is without question the park’s most challenging and exciting mountain to climb.


Adam Maffei positiioning himself in manner that shows challenge of threading Old Rag


For one thing the rock is ancient almost beyond belief, meaning that although you can say “over a billion year’s old,” such time has almost no meaning. Naturalist try to add meaning by reducing such time frame to human longevity or human history. They say that if the Blue Ridge Mountains represented an event that occurred 12 hours ago then all the time that has elapsed since the birth of Christ would be less than a tenth of a second. By virtue of relativity perhaps that helps some, but since that probably does little it may just be easier to relate information that Adam and Susan Maffei, my frequent hiking companion, pooled as we climbed.


Click For Larger Images.  L to R:  Boulders near top of Old Rag, still immense, but much reduced through erosion; effects of erosion; suspended rock.


First, the rocks on Old Rag are among the world’s oldest, exposed only through the reduction of erosion. Using various techniques scientists say rocks atop Old Rag began their formation when the continents of North America, South America, India, Australia and Antarctica collided to form a super continent call Rodinia. These collisions, which occurred over a billion years ago created immense forces causing the massive plates on which these continents float to buckle. The story is complicated for we lay people because ultimately Rodinia separated into its initial components but formed again with a somewhat different configuration into another super continent known as Pangea. Billion-year-old Old Rag granite was formed during the existence of Rodinia, but its current resting place did not occur until the existence of Pangea, when the Appalachian Mountains were formed by the reoccurrence of tectonic plates being forced upward.


Old Rag granite, however, was not visible for yet millions of more years when erosion finally wore down the 20,000 foot high Appalachian Mountains to elevations of more contemporaneous times. Slowly, Old Rag Granite was exposed and we see it today as the huge boulders shown in these images. You can identification this rock by the appearance of the large white crystals geologists give to the mineral known as a feldspar.


And now along come Adam and Sue and yours truly, all of whom are knocked senseless by what we eventually discover.

From our starting point at elevation 1,068 feet there is little hint that we’ll be encountering rocks dating back to the earth’s earliest times following a few miles of hiking, but such is the case. Suddenly, our forest of maple, oak and hickory gives way to huge boulders, and somehow park trail managers have discovered a route that is challenging but certainly not beyond the capabilities of anyone in reasonable good shape. About here we found ourselves using three-point stances to struggle over boulders and thread our way through narrow defiles. At one place Adam facilitated Sue’s (who is a distance runner) perch so she could more easily grasp a natural hand hold in the rocks. It’s also worth noting that this is not a place for people with a fear of heights.


Adam and Sue follow route to Old Rag


We departed the trailhead at 9:30 and reached the summit about noon. From our vantage we had a complete 360 degree view. To the north and northwest we could see the route of the Skyline and the dozen of peaks which the route accesses.  To the west and southwest we could pick out the Old Rag overlook and the area known as Big Meadows, where we’re currently camped. As well, we could see a little of our return route, which would soon combine to make this 2200-foot climb into a circular hike of about nine miles. But more than anything, it was the timeless rocks at the base of our feet which attracted our attention.

Were we humbled? Possibly a little; but mostly by the beauty — and by man’s ability to comprehend and create plausible scenarios. But I must also say that I am thankful for the random gift of genetics that enable me to still climb a mountain that affords what may be one of the world’s greatest – and most timeless — vistas. But not to be too smug, I am grateful for younger friends who have helped me when outdoor events have challenged.


One more leap to summit of Old Rag


Adam and Sue will be with us another few days – hopefully longer – and at the time we’ll be hiking to a few of Shenandoah’s other grand settings. If we can find Internet hot spots, we’ll be providing more posts.




Chicken Alaska




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