A SNP Old Rag Mountain Story…

One gallon of water weighs about 8.4 pounds and Shenandoah National Park can be a tough place to backpack.  Sometimes it is hard to find a nice loop, a nice loop being one with a flat, open place to set up a tent, with water,

I’m pretty obsessed by water.  If you can camp near water or can anticipate water on the trail, that’s a lot of weight you don’t have to carry.

For me, normally, Breakfast = 4 cups of water for 2 cups of coffee; 1 cup of water for a 2 packets of oatmeal (or grits); dinner needs about 2 cups for a meal, another 2 cups for hot cider or cocoa; not to mention what I need on the trail.

One of the problems with SNP is that the trails wind thru steep valleys, following creeks or old creeks, and usually, where there’s water, you have to fight thru the bushes, up hill, to find flat spot to put your tent.  The ridges are also problematic, and there’s the issue of water, you have to carry a lot of it, and you really have to have a good place in mind for camping, it is extremely haphazard if you don’t have a specific spot in mind.

Not too too long ago I hiked down white oak canyon to the valley floor and crossed the rather large creek, not stopping to get water because my map showed a spring next to one of the birds nest shelters on the trail coming down from Old Rag.  Well, the spring wasn’t there and I couldn’t find a stream that still had water (it was October), but I found a very nice place to camp, although it was at an intersection of a popular trail and an old gravel road.  I was down to about 1.5 liters so I had to suck it up.  I camped about 200 feet away from the trail and shelter on a very nice flat spot, at least that’s what I told the nice ranger who drove up the gravel road, unlocked the gate and proceeded up to the shelter to check my permit.  The extremely nice ranger gave me 2 liters of water and I proceeded back up towards skyline drive on the forest road that wound its way up the mountain.

That spring I returned to the same spot, the spring was flowing this time and the very same ranger once again drove up and checked my permit.  She didn’t recognize me, but I reminded her of her act of kindness and gave her many thanks.

She told me how to avoid the massive crowds, expected to be in the hundreds, hiking old rag.  I wasn’t sure I believed her.  The next morning, I packed up and started up old rag, starting at the opposite end away from the parking lots.  I was carrying a 35 lb pack.  Jesus Christ that was messed up, class 3 rock scrambles with a heavy pack.  The ‘jump’ over the 3 foot gap, about 9 or so feet above the ground, was a true moment of truth.  I think it would have been much easier going the opposite direction, going up. 

Then I met the crowds; hundreds of people and boy scout troops, at one critical bottle neck, there is no way I could have easily climbed up one flat section over my head, but due to the crowds, I merely lifted my pack to a person on the lip and climbed up after it.  At several points, before the crowds, I had to lower my pack on a cord, drop it, then down climb, my brand new fucking pack being dropped and scraped up!

The walk back was 3 or 4 miles, I think about 7 round trip. (I’m not refreshing my memory with a map), anyway, the friendly ranger came back and I asked her, ”why didn’t you warn me about the difficulty I would have with all that weight, it was very unsafe”, she said, “you never told my you going take your pack!  I thought you were going to leave all you stuff here”!  OMG! Duh, I’m going to just leave my tent up in sight of the trail with 200 day hikers walking by.

Makes for a good story.  I know I got off the water topic, but I’ll come back to it.  Later


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