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Climb a New Mountain

February 9, 2018

Another Way for week of February 2, 2018

Climb a New Mountain

In 1995 when I was in my mid-forties, my daughters and I, along with one sister who was visiting us, climbed a local mountain, “Old Rag,” famous in these parts for a “rock scramble” near the top.

I had wanted to climb it, and pondered doing so for years ever since I had heard about it in college here in the Shenandoah Valley. Finally my oldest daughter, 14, talked us into trying it because she had climbed it two times and wanted us to share the experience. My husband had to work that day so we five women (ages 9 to 40s) set out. It was a chilly day in spring, if I remember correctly.

Virginia’s lovely Redbuds laced our trail.

I recently ran across an editorial about that experience I wrote for the magazine I’ve edited since the early 1990s, now called Valley Living. It reminded me of something I had totally forgotten about my take away from that climb.

Old Rag (original name “Old Raggedy”) still rises 3,268 feet high in Shenandoah National Park, not the tallest peak in our parts but quite noteworthy both for the view and the rock scramble near its peak. The hike is nine miles up and down and takes from 3-8 hours to complete, depending on how long you linger at the top or on your rests. (You can see videos of how to do the rock scramble although I’m not sure I would have attempted it if YouTube videos had been available back then!) Also of note: the main trail is approached from outside Shenandoah Park, from a little Virginia village called Sperryville, and you now have to pay a park entrance fee.

I well remember how grueling our 3.5 hour journey to the top felt at times, when you just set your jaw a little firmer and kept putting one foot in front of another even though you felt like resting, again.

Michelle (back row), Tanya, my sister Pert, and Doreen pause on one of our many rests.

One of the narrow squeezes.

I wrote, “After the strenuous uphill hike in a mild drizzle, the adrenaline flowed freely as we faced the challenges posed by the rocks. When we did indeed finally make it to the top, I felt like I could do anything. What a rush!”

It was excruciating, exhilarating, exciting and exonerating—this last word because it cleared away all doubt that I could do it. But re-reading my editorial reminded me of one thing I had very much forgotten. It was another e-word: empowering.

And that’s the true take away from many things we attempt in life that we’re not sure we can do, whether it’s getting that diploma, getting through rehab after hip replacement, writing a book, running a marathon, or earning a promotion.

One big regret: hub wasn’t able to go and at this point I’m afraid it will have to be chalked off his bucket list. But we can start again by trying shorter hikes, smaller mountains.

Last year I read Tina Fey’s autobiographical book Bossypants and was surprised to learn she had also climbed Old Rag while in college at nearby University of Virginia. She and a friend tried it at night—and made it. Some start in the middle of the night to enjoy a spectacular sunrise. The trail is extremely busy now on weekends, they say, and you have to park three quarters of a mile away. So if you ever go on this or a similarly challenging hike, take along your energy and plenty of water, and heed posted safety warnings. Also, most folks can’t get cell service up there, a common problem.

While my husband and I can no longer do just anything, there are plenty of new challenges to conquer. I will try to remember the exhilaration and empowerment of trying just a little more than I ever had before. I thank God for safe keeping, memories, and the bonding of family as we conquered that rock scramble helping each other.

At the summit of Old Rag. The view was not great that day, but our spirits soared! L to R: Michelle, Doreen (showing no signs of fatigue whatsoever), sister Pert, and Tanya.


There are plenty of YouTube videos of various hikers; I liked this one because they had a pretty day!


What have you pushed yourself to do? What would you love to do?

I would love to hear and share your stories in a future column. Email me at or at Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22850.

Another Way is a column © by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. Columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  


  1. Your post and wonderful photos just reminded me how much I loved to climb mountains, I have to do that some time soon again. Thank you and greetings.

    • I’m delighted to know this gives you a pull to get out there and climb! I’m hoping my husband and I will attempt a much less rugged climb this summer.

  2. I enjoyed this post a lot. Love the photos!

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