Old Rag Mountain has what many regard as the best rock climbing in Virginia, and the east face has some of the best climbing on the mountain, scattered about several named crags. Reflector Oven is a southeast-facing crag that receives a lot of morning sun and is great for winter climbing. In fact, this spot can be a miserable place to climb from May through October because of dense undergrowth choking the access route and the base of the crag, and also because the summer heat and humidity there can be stifling.
Reflector Oven has sport, trad, and toprope routes, but despite the number of routes and the variety of them, it is not a place for beginners or even most moderately experienced climbers. Although there are a few moderate routes, most are 5.9-5.13. Most of the routes are single-pitch routes, but the area classic Strawberry Fields can be done as two (more information below).
Climbers up to the grade will probably want to try Strawberry Fields (please see the picture). The first part is 65' and goes at 5.9+. It follows a hand crack up to a prominent ledge. From the ledge, you can rappel back down (there is a bolted belay station) or take on the second part, a 35' stretch on a finger crack that goes at 5.11a and leads to another set of anchors. This is a trad route.
But it's not only for climbers-- Although there is some bouldering and scrambling here, it is really a spot for challenging roped climbs. However, it is still a worthwhile destination for hikers and scramblers who would like to expand their experiences with and knowledge of Old Rag Mountain; outside the community of technical climbers who frequent Old Rag, almost no one knows about the spectacular cliffs, crags, and boulders to be found off the trails on this very popular mountain. Anyone with decent scrambling skills and patience for thorny bushwhacking can have a great time exploring the relatively unknown east face of Old Rag while the crowds swarm along on the Ridge Trail above. People familiar with Old Rag who still love the mountain but want something new can enjoy a nice tour on the east face that includes a visit to Reflector Oven and then a journey north through and past several other crags before regaining the Ridge Trail and heading back to the car; you don't get the summit, but you do get solitude and scenery most others do not on Old Rag.
This page will, in addition to providing overview information, describe how to find Reflector Oven and will photographically represent some of its routes and other features. It does not list and describe every route (there are more than 30, some recently put up and not in any printed guidebooks). For detailed 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 page for Reflector Oven on rockclimbing.com. 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.
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 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.
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.
Finding the Crag-- Trail Approaches
If approaching from Weakley Hollow, hike the Ridge Trail for about 2.2 mi to an open slab studded with a few small boulders and facing east. Just beyond this slab, there is a tree with three trunks on the left side of the trail. About 50 yards past the tree, the trail passes an obvious bowl on the eastern face of the mountain. My guidebook says that a cairn is here, but there was no cairn in January 2009.
Note: When approaching from Weakley Hollow, it is very easy to mistake the location of and access for Reflector Oven. This is because just after the Ridge Trail breaks from heavy tree cover to the rocky upper section of the trail, it passes an open slab facing east and shortly after that passes a tree with three trunks. This is not the spot described in the preceding paragraph. At the slab, you are actually atop what is known as the Lower Ridge Trail Crag, and the prominent cliff ahead of you as you look across the rocky east face of Old Rag is not Reflector Oven. To reach the correct access point, you must continue along the Ridge Trail through some Class 3 sections and through well-known features such as the "cave" and the "staircase."
This page includes photographs of the "correct" slab and tree with three trunks (see below).
If approaching from Berry Hollow, hike 2.8 miles to the summit area and continue on. About 5 minutes east from the summit you cross an open area of slabs and boulders; the cliff edge here is the top of Skyline Wall. In about five more minutes, pass the "balanced egg," a huge, obvious boulder that marks the eastern access point for Skyline Wall. Continue about 0.2 mi more to a section where the trail passes an obvious bowl on the eastern face of the mountain. My guidebook says that a cairn is here, but there was no cairn in January 2009. If you pass a tree with three trunks and reach an open slab facing east, you have gone a little too far.
Finding the Crag-- From the Trail to the Crag
Start heading down into the bowl and look for a faint unmaintained trail known as the Bushwhack Trail. The Bushwhack Trail is more a concept than it is an actual trail; at times, it is apparent, but often any trail that may be there is buried beneath leaves, undergrowth, and forest debris. In any event, Reflector Oven is easy to see to your right almost as soon as you begin your descent, and it is a short trip down and just a matter of working your way over, so don't worry if you don't see the actual trail. The rocks to your left as you head down the Bushwhack Trail are part of the God's Area complex.
Note: There is supposed to be a way to traverse from near the upper end of the Bushwhack Trail to reach the upper terrace on Reflector Oven, but I did not look for that route and cannot attest to its location or condition.
The Bushwhack Trail is also a way to access other nearby climbing areas such as Oh My God Dihedral, Lower God's Area, and Wall That Dreams Are Made Of.
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