The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Old Rag Mountain: August, 2018

Lately I’ve been slowly working my way through unedited personal sets in my photo library. This week’s offering is from last Summer, when I finally got to hike Old Rag once again. After my Spring, 2017 knee mishap which led to surgery and a long recovery in PT, this was my first time hiking Old Rag since making a full recovery.

My friend Patrick, who you may recognize from many of my car posts, and I hit the trail on a steamy August mid-morning. I’d come to find out later that day there were other people I know on the mountain at the same time we were, but we simply never crossed paths; funny how that works sometimes.

Old Rag is the tallest peak in Shenandoah National Park, and naturally provides some of the most incredible panoramic views of the Shenandoah Valley. It is known for its extensive granite rock scrambles along the trail with some locations along the trail and at the summit offering opportunities for bouldering or full-on rock climbing for those feeling more daring.

All photos in this post are available for print here.

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If you’re unfamiliar, parts of the trail run through and under the massive granite boulders; here, the trail proceeds up a natural staircase inside the opening between the rocks, in the center of the frame below. As you ascend and eventually descend the mountain, you can changes in foliage, ground composition, and wildlife.

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Appalachian Trail Day Trip

Recently I've been itching to go on a nice hike, and typically I like to choose a place that's new to me to go explore.  I've taken trails that briefly intersect the Appalachian Trail before, but I've never outright hiked on the AT.  This weekend a lot of stuff fell into place - some friends wanted to go hiking, we went wine tasting at a vineyard just a few miles off the trail, and I got the Chinese food I've also been craving all week (while watching 'The Prestige' for the first time).  Unfortunately I didn't make it out to the Folklife Festival like I do every year, but I'll surely be going next weekend instead.

This trailhead was right off of VA-55, which is the same route I usually take to Luray.  Just a few hundred feet off the trailhead was crossing to the other side of the tracks.  I have never conducted a stereotypical photoshoot on railroad tracks, and I don't advise it due to the extreme danger.  I had a spotter watching both directions to keep me safe for the few snaps I did take here.

See the very end of this post for details about our hike path.

I also decided this was a good day to have some fun with my 90mm Tilt-Shift lens, which is probably my least used lens... although that pains me to say, since it is a wonderful lens to enjoy.

The AT's official name is The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, however this 4 mile stretch of the AT's 2,200 miles simply wasn't that scenic, even at the two peaks we hiked to.  It was mostly steep, rocky switchbacks and tick infested swaths of overgrowth (shocking, I know).  This portion was more about covering terrain than overlooking scenery.

I can't even imagine what this is like for Patrick, who hikes barefoot.  One of the backpackers we passed commented that he was "hardcore."  The joke is that he "lost his shoes in a bear attack."  Sounds like the beginning of a Chuck Norris joke to me.

Ascendance: Summer of 2014

Even at the peaks, you really couldn't see much.  These are the only few spots you had much of a view through the thick woods.

We didn't spot much wildlife, despite birds being heard all over.  In fact, the most common sight was Blue Mud Daubers which have a distinctive metallic blue body.  Even though this was tick heaven and you could spot them waiting on grass blades, none of us picked any up.  Thankfully not a single snake sighting... except for the harmless black ratsnake the vineyard captured later that day during our wine tasting.

After doubling back to the trailhead, we went a few miles up the road to Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn for a tasting.  All of their wines are blends, which I do enjoy, however their driest white wine, Islington, was the sweetest end of the spectrum I would normally enjoy.  All good wines; just overall too sweet for my personal taste as a dry wine drinker.  We found a cozy, cool spot to enjoy our wine, sangria, and dark chocolate as a post-hike treat before saying hello to the goats outside.


Here is a map of our route along the AT, and some stats from our hike.  Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to export the graphs of our altitude, which was interesting to see as we climb and descend; some of the sections were pretty steep.

Ascendance: Summer of 2014

Distance:    7.2 miles
Elapsed Time:    4hrs including lunch on the trail.
Avg Speed:    2.3 mph
Max Speed:    4.1 mph
Min Altitude:    742 ft
Max Altitude:    1,501 ft
Max Gradient:    -17.1%
Total Ascent:    980 ft
Total Descent:    2,454 ft