A Picnic in the Clouds on top of Old Rag

We are back! And I’m so happy to be writing this post from my couch with my feet propped up.  I can officially check “hike to the top of mountain while pregnant” off my to-do list.

Home Sweet Home

We got out of town right on time Thursday night.  We thought we’d make it to the campsite in time to enjoy a camp fire and smores before we called it a night.  We were wrong.  Traffic was horrible.  The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel was backed up as it always is during the summer months.  I had to take two pee stops in route. We also had to stop for some dinner because my belly was rumbling.  If I let myself get too hungry, nausea quickly follows.  We finally made it to camp shortly before 10pm at night.  Out came our headlamps (the one Christian uses for house repairs), and up went our tent.  Fortunately it only takes about 5 minutes to pitch our tent.  We ate a quick apple, and we called it a night.

Friday morning we woke up with the sun.  We were out of our tent preparing breakfast by 5:30am – No alarm clock required, only Mother Nature.  We quickly got ready and headed out for Old Rag Mountain.  It was a little further than we expect.  It took us about 45 minutes to get there.  We wanted to arrive as early as possible.  We have heard from friends and all the reviews online that Old Rag gets crowded fast.  We planned our trip Friday to avoid weekend traffic.  When we got to the parking lot, it was practically empty. Score! Planning a trip to Old Rag? Go Early. Go on a day that is calling for rain – our forecast for the day was showers during the day and thunderstorms at night.  We know Virginia weather normally predicts rain almost every day in the summer.  If it does rain, it quickly passes.  The gamble worked to our advantage most of the day.  We only saw about a dozen people the entire day.

On the Road to Old Rag - The summit is in the background

The hike to the top of Old Rag is about 3 miles long with 2500 feet of elevation gain.  The first 1/3 of the hike was in thick dense forest that followed a lot of switch backs up the mountain. It was hot, and the elevation gain was difficult for me.  I had to take several breaks to drink some water and even out my breathing.  There were a few points in the hike that I wondered if I got myself into something I shouldn’t be tackling.

Not having hiked Old Rag before, I didn’t know what was ahead of me on the trail.  Tackling new tasks and trusting where I’m going (without knowing) always makes me anxious.  I’m a planner.  Even though we thoroughly planned this trip, getting 1/3 of the way up the mountain already feeling tired and being uncertain of what terrain was ahead of us made me really anxious. As quickly as my nerves showed up, the quickly went away. We meet a really nice couple in the parking lot.  On one of my breaks to eat a quick bar, they passed us along the trail.  As they passed, they said they were so impressed that I was hiking up a mountain pregnant and keeping at the pace we were going.  I think that’s when all my anxiety disappeared. It’s sad that I need affirmations from a couple I don’t know, but it was so nice to receive a pat on the back from someone I don’t know. It’s like running a race and hearing someone cheer your name.  It just gives you a boost of energy. I was climbing a mountain that is rated difficult by the National Park System PREGNANT.  Most people don’t even tackle this task in their lifetime.  Of course I needed breaks.  I am not always easy on myself.  Talking to the couple was a nice reminder to pat myself on the back.  (Christian does it all the time, but it is different when it comes from someone you don’t know.)

Thank you to the nice couple for taking our photo!

As soon as the picture above was taken, the clouds started to roll in.  It sprinkled for a few minutes, but quickly passed.  With the passing rain, the sought after views on Old Rag also disappeared.  The clouds were there to stay.

Ahead of us was what we went to the mountain looking to tackle – Rock Scrambling.  It is one of my favorite things to do. Rock Scrambling is a mix of hiking and mountain climbing.  You have to climb up/across/through/under rock formations using your hands, feet and other body parts to support your body weight and maintain your balance.  It’s always challenging. With the challenge comes the reward of completing the task.  I love seeing how differently Christian and I approach each challenge. A lot of the formations require you to find foot holds and hand holds in the rock itself. Rarely do we ever follow the same path. What is comfortable for me isn’t always comfortable for him and vice versa. Christian and I fell in love with rock scrambling on our honeymoon in Zion National Park. Old Rag definitely did not leave us disappointed.

One of the Rock Scrambles

Some are definitely more challenging the others. Old Rag had a variety of all levels.  My biggest challenge was over coming my growing stomach.  I can’t bend and twist like I could pre-pregnancy. I normally don’t want to accept help from Christian during these tasks.  He has learned to watch quietly so I can figure things out on my own.  Pregnant or not, I still didn’t need his help! There were a few spots were I made sure he was close in case I lost my balance or footing. I also didn’t take the hard way for any of the climbs. Pregnant or not, it feels great to get to the top of each scramble.

At the top of the scrambles we stopped and ate lunch on a huge boulder.  We literally had a picnic in the clouds.  It was such a surreal experience. We were sitting at 3300 feet above sea level in a cloud eating peanut butter sandwiches and carrots.  I didn’t even miss the views that Old Rag is famous for having. I’ll take a cloud picnic any day!

The perfect picnic location
Big Rock, Little Me
Relaxing in a Cloud

Shortly after lunch, we reached the summit and made our way back down the mountain.  About 2 miles from our car, the thunderstorms rolled in.  We walked the last 2 miles in the rain.  Fortunately we were back in the woods, and the canopy protected us from the down pour.  This hike is definitely a must-do again post-baby.  I’d love to climb Old Rag in the fall on a less cloudy day. It’s also supposed to be beautiful in May when all the wild flowers are in bloom.

We made it!
Christian on top of the summit

Lessons learned about hiking while pregnant –  I think 9 miles is my max mileage amount when elevation and rough terrain are involved.  At about 8 miles, my hips started throbbing.  I felt like I had a bowling ball resting on my pelvic bone.  Although I love my hiking shoes, I think it I need a shoe with a little more cushion for the down climb. I definitely ate enough and drank enough water.  My camelbak is my new best friend (an unexpected Christmas gift from my sister a few years ago. Who knew we’d become inseparable!).

I already miss the mountains. We are heading back to camp with Cole in September. We won’t be climbing Old Rag, but there is so much to explore in the park. This weekend was everything I need it to be. It was relaxing. It was rewarding. It was renewing for both my energy levels and for my relationship with Christian. There is nothing better than a weekend spent outside exploring nature with your best friend.  Having a baby on board made it even more special.  I can’t wait to tell Maute Moo I climbed a mountain with him/her in my belly!

After hiking 9 miles in 7 hours and burning 2300 calories, I deserved my two smores!
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3 thoughts on “A Picnic in the Clouds on top of Old Rag

  1. Great story and fantastic photos! Just found it when doing a search to see if I was the only crazy person to do this hike pregnant – it took us 6 1/2 hours yesterday and I am 5 months preggo. It was also my first time on Old Rag and we had no idea what we were in for! Luckily I have a very patient husband/daddy-to-be 🙂

    1. So glad I’m not the only crazy one! Although we did know what to expected, I certainly didn’t expected it to be so hard on me. It’s such a beautiful hike. Now that I no longer have a baby in my belly, I can’t wait to go back.

      Congrats on your pregnancy! Hike the mountain was great training for labor too 🙂

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