Difficult to access and dangerous to climb, Eagle's Gift is one of several high-quality climbing areas located on the eastern face of Old Rag Mountain. It is easily seen from SR 231 outside the park and from a section of open slabs along the Ridge Trail, the Class 3 route to Old Rag's summit that is one of the most popular trails in Virginia.
Eagle's Gift is difficult to access because its approach route can be badly overgrown spring through fall; even in winter, deadfall and thorns make progress tedious. The crag can be dangerous to climb because protection options are not abundant and some routes have considerable run-out. But to the determined and accomplished climber, the crag is a gem because of its high-quality granite, its challenging trad and sport routes, the lengths of the climbs (up to 150', very long for the East), and the solitude that can be found there.
Eagle's Gift has little to offer people like me who want more than a hike but something less than true technical climbing. Nevertheless, it is worth a visit just to see something different on this very popular mountain. The summit itself is an easy scramble from the western side and has excellent unrestricted views.
Highly recommended for hikers and scramblers is an off-trail scrambling and bushwhacking tour of the east face of the mountain that will take you past and through crags such as Reflector Oven, God's Area, Eagle's Gift, and Whale's Lip.
This page will, in addition to providing overview information, describe how to find the crags and will photographically represent some of its routes and other features. Because there are so many routes scattered about three principal areas (more than 20 in all, and around a quarter of all the established routes on Old Rag), this page will not even attempt to cover them all. For more information about the routes, use Eric Horst’s Rock Climbing Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, the first chapter of which is devoted to the climbing on Old Rag, or visit the rockclimbing.com page for Eagle's Gift. Note: the rockclimbing.com page currently has very little useful information-- just two climber's logs. If anyone who has extensive experience climbing here would like to take this page over or make additions concerning routes, please send me a PM.
From left to right, the four established routes on this crag are as follows (a photo on this page marks the approximate locations of the routes):
A Visit from Juan (5.9-)
The Ally (5.11a)
Muscle Memory (5.11d R)-- 150', has a long run-out section past a bad bolt.
The Eagle's Gift (5.10a R)-- 150', considered an Old Rag classic, run-out, 4 bolts.
Additionally, there is a short bolted route called The Celebrated Crystal Crank (5.11c) on the left side of the "hallway" as approached from the eastern side.
You can start from Weakley Hollow on the north side of Old Rag or from Berry Hollow on the west. The Berry Hollow approach involves about 3.3 trail miles as opposed to 3.1 via Weakley Hollow, but consider the following: the Weakley Hollow approach involves about 500 more feet of elevation gain than the Berry Hollow approach does, and the Weakley Hollow approach is via the Ridge Trail, a route both scenic and fun but also tiring because of the many Class 3 sections (not hard, but still tiring, especially if you are hauling climbing gear).
Getting to Berry Hollow
At Sperryville along U.S. 211, look for signs indicating 522 and 231 and follow the directions to them. Turn right on 231. You can also reach 231 via 522 from Culpeper, and you can take 231 all the way from Charlottesville. After about 10 miles along 231, you reach a tiny town called Etlan. Look on the east side of the road for a small convenience store. Directly across the road from the store is SR 643. There should be a sign indicating access to Whiteoak Canyon. Follow this road for about 4 miles until you reach a stop sign. Turn right (a sign for Whiteoak Canyon should confirm this). You are now on SR 600, and it takes you all the way to the signed parking area and trailhead, almost at the very end of the road. Instead of turning into the parking area, continue straight for about 0.8 mi to the end of the road, which is where the Berry Hollow Fire Road begins. It is about 5 miles from the junction of 643 and 600 to the trailhead, and the drive takes about 15-20 minutes.
Getting to Weakley Hollow
At Sperryville, located along U.S. 211/522 east of Shenandoah National Park and in the park's shadow, turn south onto US 522 where it splits from 211 and turn right onto Virginia 231 shortly afterwards. There is good signage for these intersections. You can also reach 231 via 522 from Culpeper, and you can take 231 all the way from Charlottesville.
A little over 8 miles from Sperryville, watch for the signed turn to Old Rag at Route 602. The road becomes Route 707 at an intersection (stay left on the south side of the river). At the next fork bear left again, now on Route 600. Follow this road for 4 miles to its end at the parking area, which accommodates 200 cars. Park here and walk 0.8 mi to the upper parking area at the end of SR 600. Trails begin here.
Update: As of August 2010, the upper lot is closed to vehicles and parking along the road to it is illegal. This is a permanent closure.
Finding the Crags
This section covers how to find the crag and what you will find there.
This page has photos and links to others that help identify major landmarks that will assist you in accessing the crags.
Crag veterans will probably approach from Berry Hollow, and this approach is a 3.3-mile hike over the summit to an east-facing slab (pictured on this page) from which climbers can access the Whale's Lip, God's Area, and Eagle's Gift crags. However, first-time visitors may want to approach from Weakley Hollow (2.3 trail miles) because they will get an excellent view of the crag at about 2 miles (pictured on this page), and that view will help them get their bearings when the time comes to leave the trail and find the crag. Therefore, the directions that follow are from the Weakley Hollow approach.
At about 2 miles from the TH, the Ridge Trail leaves the dense woods and reaches the mountain's summit ridge; from here to the summit, the route is rocky with some Class 3 sections and, most of the time, outstanding views. Upon reaching "treeline" the hiker will see an east-facing slab to the left; this slab affords a nice view of Eagle's Gift. Hike about 0.3 more miles, through such notable Ridge Trail features as the "cave" and the "staircase." Shortly after a Class 3 section that verges on Class 4 and a tight squeeze through a smooth wall on the right (look for bolts) and a large outcrop on the left, you pass a huge open slab to the left and then reach a smaller, gently sloping slab just after that (this slab is pictured on this page). This second slab is where you leave the trail. If you pass a tree with three trunks on the left side of the trail (a photo of this is also on this page), you have gone a little too far.
Walk down the gently sloping slab (the one just past the tree with three trunks) and look for a faint trail heading into the woods. Almost immediately, the "trail" splits. Head left and downhill to a corridor between a large slab on your left and a smaller one on your right. The rock on your left is Whale's Lip. The one on your right is unnamed, but Eagle's Gift is directly below it; in other words, this unnamed outcrop is in between Whale's Lip and Eagle's Gift, and the three outcrops run almost parallel to one another.
It is easier to go around the right (upper) end of this unnamed outcrop and then descend to Eagle's Gift, which will be easily visible.
You can also reach the left (lower) slightly uphill to reach the crag (this will likely involve some scrambling and tedious bushwhacking). Do not head downhill and north; if you do, you will go too far down the mountain and will face some nasty, exhausting bushwhacking to get to the crag (I know this from experience). Do not be fooled by the crags directly in front of and below you; that spot is not Eagle's Gift.
As you view the long, smooth outcrop that is Eagle's Gift (the routes are on the other side), look for a "hallway" between the crag's lower (left) end and a huge block to its left, and go down and through this "hallway" to reach the base of the crag. The sun was directly in my face the last time I was there and I could not get a picture of the formation, but there is a picture on this page showing this spot from the other side, and there is also a shot from the uphill end of the "hallway."
Views of Old Rag's East Face
March through November, there is a per-person entry fee of $8; December through February, the fee is $5 (the maximum for family groups is $15 and $10, respectively. Payment is mostly on an honor system, but rangers do collect fees on weekends at Berry Hollow.
No pets allowed. Remember that as much as you love your dog, it is still considered a pet. People routinely violate this restriction; please don't join them.
Be prepared for poison ivy, and be wary of rattlesnakes.
There are no campgrounds at or near Berry Hollow and Weakley Hollow, but people do sleep in their cars at the trailheads. Backcountry camping is not allowed on Old Rag above 2800'. Free backcountry camping permits are required, and they are obtainable by self-registration at the trailheads.
Don't show up the night before and set up a tent at the TH or within sight of it. Rangers look for people doing this, and I have seen people ticketed for it.
Shenandoah National Park Telephone: (540) 999-3500
Official park site