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 mountains, scattered about several named crags. One of the troubles with climbing on the east face is the approaches involved; even in winter, approach routes from the Ridge Trail are rough and require bushwhacking and sometimes scrambling, but from May through October, many of the approaches are downright impassable to all but the most determined and the truly insane.
Fortunately, there are some established climbing spots and routes right off the Ridge Trail itself, and they require little or no bushwhacking in any season to approach. In fact, some of the routes begin from the Ridge Trail itself. There are trad, toprope, and sport routes. And there is, of course, a plethora of bouldering and scrambling.
Please note-- Anyone familiar with Old Rag knows that virtually countless boulders, crags, and walls sit beside the trails on the mountain. It is not my intent to document each of these spots with pages of their own or sections on other pages. Instead, the spots covered on this page are both known, named sites with established routes on them. These sites are known to some as the Ridge Trail Area and the Lower Ridge Trail Slabs.
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. It also lists some of those routes but makes no claim to covering all or even a majority of them. 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 the Lower Ridge Trail Slab
. 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.
The following two sections cover how to find the crags and what you will find at them. The descriptions are based on starting from Weakley Hollow as opposed to Berry Hollow since starting from Weakley Hollow makes more sense (please see Getting There).
Lower Ridge Trail Slabs
The established routes at this site are the closest to Weakley Hollow of all those found on Old Rag. Hike the Ridge Trail for about two miles until it reaches Old Rag's version of timberline-- the trail crests the mountain's north ridge, where the route becomes rocky and often open. Just beyond "timberline" you reach an open slab that has expansive views to the east; this is atop the Lower Ridge Trail Slabs. Continue hiking the Ridge Trail for a short distance through a rocky area that includes a 6' downclimb and then look for a trail heading down into the obvious bowl on the east side of the mountain. If you do not find the trail, and not finding it is likely, don't worry, the view from the top of the slab makes the lay of the area pretty apparent, and it is just a matter of finding a reasonable way down.
Although I have read that there are many routes on this crag and just viewing it seems to confirm that, I have found information on only two established routes. Both are on the north end of the crag, and both are trad routes:
Thunder & Bears
Lower Ridge Trail Slab
Ridge Trail Area
There are two notable and easy-to-find sport routes here. Hike the Ridge Trail for about 2.2 miles until you reach a narrow passage between a smooth face on your right and a large block on your left (photographs on this page show this spot. Along the way, you go through such notable Ridge Trail features as the "cave" and the "staircase."
Shortly after passing two large overhanging blocks (one of which is shown below), you reach the passage described above. The routes are on the right; look for the bolts.
Ridge Trail Direct
is on the left and is a face route that also includes an incipient crack. It used to be a 5.11 route, but some broken holds have led to a rating change to 5.12 b/c. On the right is The Stud
(5.8), which goes up the face and then a crack and corner. A photograph on this page shows the face with the locations of the routes.
Overhanging block The "passage" as approached from the Old Rag summit
You can start from Weakley Hollow on the north side of Old Rag or from Berry Hollow on the west, but it makes more sense to start from Weakley Hollow since the approach is 2.8-3 trail miles as opposed to 3.4-3.6 miles, with significant elevation loss, from Berry Hollow.
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.
The east face of Old Rag, with the Ridge Trail climbing areas marked.
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
Lower Ridge Trail Slab Ridge Trail Routes