Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hike: DNF on Old Rag Mountain

November, 2010

The big adventure planned for the week-end was my first hike up Old Rag Mountain, in the Shenandoah Mountains. It's a classic hike, tough but rewarding.

I went with a local group as part of training to be a leader with the group. I felt some trepidation over doing the hike; at 8 miles and strenuous terrain, it seemed a bit over my head. I didn't feel ready for it; but yet, I didn't want to admit that I wasn't ready for it. So I went for it.

The weather was beautiful, cool and clear. The downside was that I traveled to a metro station west of D.C. to meet the group. Over an hour of fast, focused driving. At the station, we spent about a half-hour going over details. Then we headed off to a town closer to the mountains. Most people were familiar with the area; the directions I was given left off two details that people familiar with the area would've caught and adjusted for. The two turns I took or didn't take put me behind the group about 1/2 hour or more. Arriving at the trailhead, the parking lot was full -- dozens and dozens of hikers lined up at the ranger station. Moving to a different parking area, quickly assembling my gear, and walking to the trailhead, put us even further behind schedule. It was 10:30 and I had not eaten since about 5:00am when I left my house.

To make up time, the leader suggested we eat as we hike and we'd break for lunch at the summit. As a newbie, this made sense for me. I didn't take into account though that due to my regular activity levels and work schedule, I usually have a snack about 9:00am and then a solid lunch by 11:30. My body, and brain, was expecting that food.

The start up Old Rag was a fantastic hike. It was strenuous, rocky and rooted, but beautiful. I enjoyed the group I was with. Most of the group were fast, but another hiker, the group's "sweep", and myself lagged behind. The trail was a bit too tough for me to eat and hike at the same time. The other "slower" hiker kept apologizing for needing to stop; I was thankful as it gave me time to grab a mouthful of trail mix. But that wasn't sufficient; my energy level tapered off the higher we climbed.

The last mile to the summit of Old Rag is a rock climb, exposed, and narrow. That's what I've been told. Hikers help each other over boulders and through crevices. The rocky, narrow section began at the same time my energy supply ran out. A combination of plunging blood sugar levels, doubt on my ability to do the section and get to the summit, wooziness over the steep sides off the trail, and the view way-down-below ... I sat down on a rock. And knew I wasn't going any further.

Somehow I teetered back down the 20 feet or so from the edge. I took a break at a nice overlook, realizing the hike was worth it just to get to this point. I ate, drank, and listened to stories from other people who also turned back. The hike back down was no piece of cake; going downhill on difficult terrain is not easy. It probably took me almost as long to go down as it did to go up. Along the way, I shared the downhill with other people who turned around too, whether from fatigue, fear of the heights, overcrowding at the summit, or injury. It was a pleasant hike down.

There have been very few instances in my life that I wasn't able to complete a physical challenge I set out to do. But I didn't feel bad about my DNF. I was comfortable knowing I made the right decision for myself. And the hike just to that overlook was worth the trip.

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