Thursday, April 26, 2018 will be a day to go down in Duckpin team building history. That was the day our small team of seven took on a not so small mountain. Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park to be exact. At it’s highest peak, this beast is 3291’ and we survived every centimeter of it. Inches do not do this pile of rocks justice. Old Rag is made up of 400 billion year old granite from the Paleozoic era that rose from the Iapetus Ocean floor 700 million years after the Greenville Orogeny. So the moniker “Old” is justified.
Our team building trip set sail bright and early at 7am on a gorgeous spring day. Fingers were crossed since the surrounding days’ forecasts were cursed with rainstorms. Luckily, for this momentous occasion, the clouds parted and the sun shined down on us eager adventurers. It took about 3.5 hours to meander the windy Shenandoah Valley roads to get to the parking lot. We gingerly walked the 0.8 mile stroll upward to the trailhead, naive of the challenge that lay ahead.
Embarking on the trail was a rocky one, literally, that started at 11:11am and was led by our fearless seasoned hikers, Andrew and Ryan. It began with an upward hike that eventually transformed into a series of switchbacks—some short, some endless. The cardio endurance needed to survive this portion alone was astonishing. Two hours later, after we recovered and our hearts returned to our chests, we were greeted by our first arrangement of boulders—welcoming us to the next gauntlet, the “rock scramble”. In my head I was thinking this was going to be a relatively flat, condensed grouping of rocks that one has to navigate over and then ta-da, you’re at the summit. Not so much the case. These were boulders that made the one in Indian Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark look like a pebble you’d leisurely skip across a pond. The first one alone was a test to see how much I could suck in in order to shimmy through a narrow cutout and then climb up and over onto the top. Scaling the uphill, smooth surface that was roofed by another large boulder just didn’t seem like an option, even though it was braved by more than half the team. Knowing one’s limits is key in times such as this. After we got to the top of this rock, we were met by our first gorgeous vista of many.
Next we walked a little further and hit the false summit. This view is unbelievable. The lush greens of the sweeping farm land below and the glistening of the sun against the clear blue sky was breathtaking. They call this the false summit because you’re thinking to yourself, “I’ve made it! This has to be it. If I climb any higher I am going to be in orbit with SpaceX’s Starman.” But then the dreaded news was announced that we still have approximately another two hours of climbing to reach the summit. Say what now?
Up and over, down and around, back up again. You get the picture. This was by the far the part where the team building came into play. If you’re not a seasoned hiker, this was one of the most intimidating things you can do, especially being a short to average height person. Unlike Julia Roberts, my legs are not 44” from hip to toe, so trying to scale a boulder taller than me was a bit daunting, much less scaling endless amounts of them. Therefore, a lot of helping hands were needed whether it be for a foot hold, a little hoist up onto a rock or across a gap, or demonstrating the chess-like moves worthy of Magnus Carlsen in order to navigate the undulating and ever-changing surfaces.
There were definitely a couple of low-risk, fun areas that looked like they were straight out of a movie. We ascended manmade steps and crawled under a looming rock nestled tightly between the walls. We entered into slabs of granite that had fallen over, creating a dark, cavernous almost wigwam-like structure. Then the fun quickly came to a halt when we encountered the dreaded “crevice”. Up until this point you thought you had it difficult. Negative, Ghost Rider. Not only was it a deep angled fissure 3.5’ off the ground and bordered by seemingly ungrippable rocks, but it was wet. Why did it have to be wet? I myself slipped, lost my footing and was dangling while hugging a not-so-loving rock for dear life until I got a much-needed boost from Andrew. Cara, being 4” shorter than me, through wit and will made it over thanks to Chad, Noah and a friendly-guide who gladly lent himself as a human wall to brace against. Once we all met up, we still weren’t there yet.
Finally, we crossed the last grouping of rock scrambles that looked like they were in a desert-like terrain and had another stunning view. The best part, if we looked over to the left and up, we could see the end of the line. The summit was in our reach! Too bad we had one last uphill pass to conquer before we could celebrate.
Up and up we went and finally, at 2:47pm, 3 hours and 36 minutes after we embarked on our journey, we summited. It was a glorious moment full of sweat and thankfully, no tears. We had made it—which I can say was a personal feat. The view was stunning and you could see for miles and miles as hawks glided not too far above. Celebratory peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bourbon were had as we basked in the sunshine and fresh, clean air at 3291’. Unfortunately we still had to come down.
For our descent we took a steep hike down rocky paths and over manmade steps wedged into the mountainside until we hit a fire road. While walking the final three miles back to the parking lot, we had the pleasure of enjoying fresh water from a rambling creek, a peaceful river moving along with little waterfalls from mountain runoff, and the best part…black bear cubs! We watched as these two little guys played at the very top of a bare tree, and then climbed down in what can only be described as a very rolly polly manner. Then we forged ahead before mama bear could make an appearance.
Alas, 6 hours and 54 minutes after we started, we made it back to the van. We had hiked 11.8 miles, took 28,394 steps, and climbed the equivalent of 242 floors up to 3291’ above sea level. Needless to say, we were excited, exhausted and well-deserving of the pizza and beers that were ravenously consumed at Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen in Sperryville before driving back to Baltimore. In the van ride back, driven by our Roller road warrior Zach, we blasted tunes and dreamed of clean pajamas and cozy beds. We pulled back into our office parking lot just after 11pm, all as survivors and conquerers of Old Rag Mountain.
As always, there is a lesson or two to learn after each one of our monthly team building adventures. I can say without a doubt that this month taught us a lot. Personally, it taught me that despite my lack of confidence in the realm of physical strength, I am a lot stronger than I think. I learned that I need to, and can, trust my mind and body to get me through difficult and challenging situations. If I ask for help, people will show up and lend me a hand—a lesson that is very hard to learn for a stubborn and independent person like myself. There’s nothing wrong with trying to challenge oneself, but always know where to draw the line…especially when it comes to towering, slippery rocks or deep, enigmatic crevices. As a group we learned that it sometimes takes a village to overtake a mountain. Also, no matter how far ahead some of us may get, we must always stop and wait for others so we can reap the final reward together. The one lesson 90% of us undoubtedly learned was cardio, cardio, cardio because it was evident we ain’t getting any younger.
In the end, it was my favorite team building event thus far since we started in January. So great, in fact, that we have decided that all future Rollers will have to take on Old Rag as part of an initiation vision quest. Too much? Nah.