Vicki’s Death March is an annual VHTRC run usually held on “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving).
For more information, see the route and maps on Furbutt’s Favorites.
We meet at the 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 group start time will be 7:30 AM sharp. Though it is not a race, so feel free to start earlier or later if that better suits. 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.
Note that the VDM course does NOT include climbing the Old Rag trail, but instead bypasses that height, using the Berry and Weakley Hollow fire roads instead. So, purchasing an Old Rag Day Use Ticket is NOT needed if you plan to run VDM. A National Park or Shenandoah National Park pass is required, but not the day use ticket for Old Rag unless you intend to take that trail during VDM.
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.
|Old Rag Parking Lot
|Stony Man Summit
|Old Rag Parking Lot
Most runners are able to do this run in 6–8 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 overtakes the rest of the VDM crew somewhere between Hawksbill and Stony Man. NOTE: if you want to take the trail up and over Old Rag itself, then you will need to obtain an Old Rag Day Use Ticket. The tickets are only a dollar, but are required to use the Old Rag trail. Rangers will almost certainly be posted at all the trail access points, so spend that money if you think you may want to summit rather than bypass Old Rag.
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 sort themselves out into similarly-pace groups through the early fire road climbing. Groups and individual runners will often overlap at some landmark locations — particularly up on Hawksbill, at the Skyland aid break, and out on Stony Man. There are usually a range of speeds among the Death March participants, so you generally should be able to hook on to a fast, moderate, or slower-paced runner or group to fit your needs.
While the parking at Old Rag is technically free, entering Shenandoah National Park is not, even on the trails. If you don’t have a National Park pass, then the current SNP Entrance Pass fees are $15 for an individual or $30 for a carload of up to four. The rangers have kindly let up to four runners in on the basis of a single runner’s National Park pass, but if you don’t have a pass, hopefully you will pay to help support the park! You will want to carry the pass with you in case you are asked to produce it at the White Oak Canyon trailhead.
There is no planned aid, so carry what you need, and bring a method of payment for any “snickety snacks” you may wish to purchase at the Skyland Resort. There are bathrooms and water at Skyland, a gift shop that sells bottled beverages, and also a snack/coffee shop in the primary lobby of the main building. This is the last weekend of the year that Skyland Resort is open for the year, with its coffee/snack counter, gift shop and bathrooms. Plan on aid ONLY at Skyland, so don’t forget to carry cash/card for those snacks! And again, carry your National Park pass and your ID with you, as well, 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 at the start.
As this run is held in the mountains of western Virginia in late November, the weather more often than not is more like early winter than the fall. And it almost always changes as you make your way up from the eastern slope to the ridge line to Skyline Drive. The wind chill on the Appalachian Trail can be considerably colder than the early climbing miles and the late miles back down to the Old Rag parking lot. Dress, or otherwise prepare, accordingly!
Food and drink is available at Skyland (mile 15.6). So, be sure you have money or a card. As this is the final weekend of the season for the concessions at the dining hall, the pickings can be unpredictable, but you should be able to get Starbucks coffee, soda, sandwiches, chips, cookies and pastries. Water and bathrooms are also to be found. If someone volunteers to step up to provide aid at the trailheads on either end of the course along Skyline Drive, that would be welcome, but it is not planned.
Each runner is responsible for paying the Shenandoah National Park entrance fee. If the rangers are on duty at either the Old Rag or White Oak Canyon trailheads, they will ask to see your pass, so carry it with you. While we usually leave prior to rangers reporting for duty at either trailhead, that is not guaranteed. And you will almost certainly need to show your pass when you return to your vehicle at Old Rag parking in the afternoon. Plus, we all want to be good stewards of the parks, so we know you will want to either have an annual National Parks card, or pay the SNP entry fee.
The run is only the first part of the fun. You will also want to set time aside after for the equally traditional post-run sojourn into the village of Flint Hill (which is located on Route 522, on the way back to the D.C area) for lunch. This used to be a visit to the Griffin Tavern. As of 2023, that spot is now occupied by the Dark Horse Irish Pub. Other than a new sign, new signage and some beer selection changes, precious little has changed. This Irish gastro pub has a very comfortable atmosphere, good food, and good beer — so plan to join “Vicki” for a late lunch there after the run! She particularly recommends the burgers and fries.
This is not an official VHTRC event, so there is no sign-up needed! This is not a race, so no one will be keeping score. Quatro is coordinating the run, as it is, so email him if you have questions. See the contact link in the sidebar.
Reports/photos from prior years of the VDM
- Katie Keier’s report from 2013
- Joel Pulliam’s report from 2013
- Keith Knipling’s photos from 2012.
- Jenny Nichols’s report from 2011
- Keith Knipling’s and Quatro Hubbard’s photos from 2011
- Bobby Gill’s photos from 2010
- Anstr Davidson's photos from 2009
- Doug Sullivan’s photos from 2009
- Report from the 2009 VDM
- Sophie Speidel’s photos from 2008
- Quatro Hubbard’s photos from the 2008 summer edition
Last updated January 19, 2024