Gary Knipling cruising on the Appalachian Trail during the 2011 VDM.

Keith Knipling

Vicki’s Death March

Often referred to as “Shenandoah’s National Park’s greatest hits,” this 25-mile loop’s highlights include White Oak Canyon, Hawksbill, Stony Man, all connected by beautiful ridge running on the Appalachian Trail.

Date
  • Sat Nov 28, 2020
Start location
Start time
  • 7:30 am
Distance
  • 25.3 miles
Total ascent/descent
  • 5,800 feet
Run organizer
On top of the world on Little Stony Man during the 2011 Vicki's Death March
On top of the world on Little Stony Man during the 2011 Vicki’s Death March.

Vicki’s Death March is an annual VHTRC run usually held on “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving). But management has moved this year’s run to Saturday (due to the lack of any important college football schedule conflicts this year).

For more information, see the route and maps on Furbutt’s Favorites.

We meet at the NEW main Old Rag mountain parking lot on Route 600 near the hamlet of Nethers (location of the start). If you have not been out to Old Rag in a while, note that the National Park Service opened up two new primary parking lots in the summer of 2020. The former primary lot - with its great grassy expanse, right alongside Route 600 - is now utilized solely as overflow parking after the new lot and the neighboring bus lot fill. These new lots are just short of a half-mile past the old grass lot.

The VDM start time will be 7:30 AM sharp. The run is a tad over 25 miles, covering some of the more scenic sections of Shenandoah National Park — certainly some of its more popular trails.

Route details

Photos from the 2004 Vicki’s Death March.

For those not familiar with this course, it is special and you should plan to join us. We will go by Old Rag (climbing Old Rag is optional — hell, all of this is optional); head up White Oak Canyon and its spectacular series of waterfalls; hike up Hawksbill to the highest point in the Park for a 360 degree view; then run north on the Appalachian Trail to Skyland, Stony Man and Little Stony Man, before finishing up with some easy miles down to the infamous Corbin Cabin and along the Hughes River in Nicholson Hollow area to return to the starting point. Vicki’s Death March is a veritable “best of” Shenandoah National Park.

Vicki’s Death March: aid stations and landmarks
Aid station/landmark Distance (mi) Elevation (ft)
Old Rag Parking Lot 0.0 780
Hawksbill Summit 10.8 4,050
Aid: Skyland 15.6 3,700
Stony Man Summit 16.5 4,010
Old Rag Parking Lot 25.3 780
More photos from the 2004 Vicki’s Death March.

Most runners are able to do this run in 6–7 hours. Add a solid hour if you do the “Keith Knipling variation” and hike up and over Old Rag at the beginning. If you are a faster runner, you should plan on joining Keith for this bonus summit! The Old Rag troop generally runs down the rest of the VDM crew somewhere between Hawksbill and Stony Man.

Most of the climbing at VDM is in the first half, and most of the easier running occurs after scaling Hawksbill. There are several options to cut the run short — and there are options to lengthen the run as well, particularly by doing the Keith version of the VDM. Traditionally, runners stay somewhat together through the early climbing, forming back up at major trail junctions — particularly through Skyland and Stony Man. But there are usually a wide range of speeds amongst the Death March participants, so you should be able to hook on to a fast, moderate, or slower-paced group to fit your needs.

Bring cash for the parking at Old Rag (likely $15.00 if you don’t have a National Park pass) and for “snickety snacks” at Skyland. This is the last weekend of the year that Skyland is open with its soda machines, coffee shop, and bathrooms. In years past, there have been aid stations at either end of the Appalachian Trail section of the course. But in 2013 we didn’t have the aid due to icy road conditions on Skyline Drive. Since everyone survived the run without them, we have decided to forego the aid stations, so plan on aid ONLY by visiting Skyland. Don’t forget to carry cash for snacks! And carry your National Park pass and ID to show at the entrance to the lower White Oak Canyon section of the trail, which most runners reach about an hour or so after leaving Old Rag.

Aid

Food and drink is available at Skyland (mile 15.6). Be sure you have money.

Park fee

Each runner is responsible for paying the Shenandoah National Park entrance fee.

RSVP

This is not an official VHTRC event so there is no formal sign-up. This is not a race, so no one will be keeping score. Quatro is coordinating the run, so email him if you have questions. See the contact link in the sidebar.

Reports from prior events

Group shot in the Old Rag parking lot before the 2014 Vicki's Death March
Group shot in the Old Rag parking lot before the 2014 Vicki’s Death March.

Last updated November 11, 2020