Each year, thousands of people hang out on and among the boulders and slabs at the summit of Old Rag Mountain. Most are not aware that just a few yards away, facing west, is a cliff that holds a small selection of high-quality granite trad routes in the moderate range. Getting up to about 100' in length, these single-pitch routes (with one two-pitch exception) are among the longest on Old Rag and, in fact, any East Coast state. The approach requires a moderate to strenuous hike of nearly three miles with 1700-2200' of elevation gain, depending on the trailhead chosen. But accessing the crags themselves is easy, and this is especially nice considering most climbing areas on Old Rag require bushwhacking to approach. Also, because the cliff faces west, it is a nice place to climb on sunny winter afternoons; and because it is at 3000+ feet and usually breezy, it is one of the few places in Virginia where climbing can be tolerable in the hot, humid summer.
Accessing the Crag
From the summit, head west among the boulders and find a narrow corridor between two boulders; the right-side boulder has a prominent diagonal crack on it. (There is a photograph on this page showing the spot). Go through the corridor and down a short chimney (Class 3) and then follow a climber's trail to the base of the crag.
You can also access the crag via Sunset Walls, taking a seldom-traveled and highly scenic route to the summit; this trip is about the same length to the summit as the trail approaches, but there is no maintained trail for the last third of the way, and you will encounter bushwhacking and Class 3 and 4 scrambling.
From the base of Upper Sunset Wall, head left until you can find a way up and around the end of the wall. Pass a pinnacle-like formation called Old Rag Gendarme (recognizable by a bolted line on it), and head generally southeast to the cliffs of the Summit Crags, which are visible from Old Rag Gendarme.
Because of dense undergrowth, this would not be a good route to take May through October.
From left to right as you face the crag (see photos below):
Pedestal (5.6)-- The only two-pitch route at this crag and one of only a few in Virginia. See the photo on this page for a view of most of the route.
Pure Fun (5.7)
Twin Cracks (5.7)
Beginner's Crack (5.4)
For more details, please consult either 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 this crag; the latter includes three routes not mentioned in the guidebook.
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 2.7 trail miles as opposed to 3.6 via Weakley Hollow, and it is easier going (1700' of elevation gain vs. 2400', and no scrambling).
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.
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