Sunday, December 28, 2008

Balmy Dec. 27, 2008

The picture is looking up the rock scramble section of the Old Rag Ridge Trail Dec. 27, 2008. Almost 60 degrees Faranheit virtually no ice. Click on it for better resolution.

Fee station closed so the hiker's devil voice grows a little louder and their angel's voice a little softer.

The warm weather saw increased traffic back on Old Rag. The upper lot was not only full but had a number of cars parked in places they probably should not have been and the road up to the lot had cars parked on both sides and squeezing the middle. Not sure a large rescue truck could have made it without scraping past or pushing some cars out of the way. Tried educating at least one car owner about the need to leave room for emergency services. Saw three dogs with owners on the Ridge Trial talked to them about the fact that dogs are not allowed.

I would guess that there had been between 150 and 200 hikers on the mountain today. Hikers appeared to all be having a good time out in the warm weather. I saw my last two hikers leaving the rock scramble just as I was entering it. I got a little bit later start than I wanted so that I could see my relatives off on their trip back home. Reached summit at just about full darkness or 18:00. No campers seen but I did see three inbound hikers on Weakley Hollow Fire Road at around 19:30. Noticed the large three foot diameter tree blocking Weakley Fire Road had been cleared.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Misty Solistice December 20, 2008

The day was very misty. No ice until late in the day. Then the mist turned tree branches and pine needles into Christmas ornaments. Unlike last weekend the trail had almost no ice. Only about 60 hikers on the mountain today. Saw several groups backcountry camping several hundred feet off the trail along the fire roads. While in the parking lot I was able to provide a lot of useful information to a couple of parties who had driven from a distance, were new to the area, and were planning on backcountry camping.

Not only no views but as the darkness arrived the mist/fog thickened so that you could only see about 3 feet in front of your shoes. In the thick fog the rock scramble trail would be very easy to lose if you were not familiar with it. The rock scramble is also easier to find your way on going up than coming down. Just keep in mind that the actual trail was routed so that when it has difficult moves you are exposed to less than a six foot falls and where you are exposed to long falls the moves are not that difficult. I am not saying that you may not find yourself on fairly easy hand and footholds with longer drops, just that you should feel very secure about your holds when there are longer drops. Also if you see a double blue blaze this is an indicator that the trail makes a fairly sharp turn as in the middle of the small cave. There is at least one false trail; often taken even in good weather, just before Skyline/PATC wall, that requires you to backtrack around a football field to get back to where you left the actual trail. If you find yourself on a difficult move and there is a long fall you are off the trail. If you are not sure turn back and look for the actual trail. If worst comes to worst turn back.

In the thick foggy darkness I met one couple coming back up the Weakley Fire Road who wanted to know where the parking lot was. The mist was so heavy they could not tell that when the road hit a stream that it continued on the other side. They had found the footbridge but then got baffled at the fordable stream (with no bridge) just after the third footbridge. Even being able to see fifteen feet would have made this situation unfathomable but when you can literally only see a couple of feet it is much more understandable.

Another unique and great day on the mountain.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


The following is my comment submitted to the NPS in regards to the SNP ROMP:

In wilderness is the salvation of the world. – Thoreau

Before writing this I spent about 10 hours reading the updated Shenandoah National Park’s Rock Outcrop Management Plan (ROMP) including its Appendix D the September 2008 DRAFT Shenandoah National Park Climbing Management Guidelines.

The document was very well written and edited. While I am sure there are spelling or grammatical errors I did not come across any. I was greatly impressed by the level of public outreach and fact gathering that was engaged in during the creation of the document. Reading the document provided me with an introduction to the many different policies and laws that need to be considered and or applied by the Park Service’s in its professional management of rock outcrops under their care. The ROMP provides a tremendous amount of fact based analysis in support of alternative and recommended courses of action. The ROMP will also provide a great future reference and compilation of historical facts regarding Shenandoah National Park’s rock outcrops.

The longer I digested the facts presented in the ROMP the more I found myself agreeing with the National Park Service’s (NPS’s) preferred alternative.

My personal goals for reading the ROMP included:
Reading and understanding what it had to say about Old Rag Mountain.
Helping with the effective implementation of NPS’s decisions about how to manage the rock outcrops on Old Rag Mountain.

I have pretty much done at least one circuit hike/patrol of Old Rag Mountain every weekend during the last year. Reflecting back on the thousands of Old Rag visitors I have observed or the hundreds that I have interacted with or assisted the following are my anecdotal observations in relation to the ROMP:

The vast majority of the human time on Old Rag is contained within a few feet of the existing Old Rag Saddle and Ridge trails. The general hiking public’s off-trail wanderings mostly occur around either a rock outcrop with a vista or around rock formations near the trail that provide an athletic puzzle/challenge. These instances of off-trail use are limited by the availability of good vistas or rock problems easily accessible and within the skill levels of the general hiker. Old Rag has huge tracts of both rock outcrop and woodland environment that remain untouched by human impacts of any kind for months if not years at a time. This is especially true of the Weakley Hollow side of the mountain once you get away from the ridgeline cliffs.

Most of the impacts caused to rock outcrop could be substantially diminished with on-going education and outreach efforts. A very large percentage of negative behavior is caused by visitor’s not understanding what is appropriate. Another large percentage of negative behavior is caused by visitors who are physically stressed or in crises. Some negative behavior is just a mistake and lastly there is a minor amount of negative behavior caused by individuals who just do not care.

Scout Troops and most climbers provide two examples of communities of well meaning visitors who through inexperience or lack of knowledge inadvertently impact the rock outcrop areas.

On Old Rag the off-trail use is miniscule compared to the overall human usage that occurs on or near the trails, the highest percentage of off-trail use is for the purpose of reaching rock climbing routes. Most of this activity is found either on the side of the mountain facing Etlan, or on the cliffs facing Weakley Hollow but close to the Ridge Trail (Eastern Summit and PATC/Skyline Wall), or among the Sunset Walls.

Rock Climbers tend to be extremely passionate about their sport. They general have a keen understanding that “good” existing or potential new climbs are very limited. Most of the rock climbing community will cooperatively participate in the protection of their climbing resources as long as they feel they will still have access to them. Because of the remote nature of Old Rags rock climbs non-voluntary enforcement of rock climbers’ behavior would be extremely difficult. Fortunately this community has a long and deeply ingrained tradition of protecting the climbing resource they are so passionate about. I know of one climbing community which self-imposed a tradition of declaring an area of available climbs as being forever undocumented just because they realized that by documenting you destroyed the first ascent experience. They wanted to preserve a resource of classic routes that were not ridiculously hard for future generations of climbers to experience of putting up a first ascent. The whole development of the “clean climbing ethic” during the late sixties and early seventies is another example supporting the fact that most the members of this community have a profound sense of preservation. With a little bit of outreach this community should prove to be tremendously cooperative with on-going preservation efforts.

I look forward to participating in NPS’s on-going effort at preserving and managing the use of Old Rag’s rock outcrops. I have a strong belief that humans were meant to explore and experience challenging adventures and strongly lean towards responsible use and stewardship of the wilderness resource as opposed to access restrictions.

I am a member of the Trail Patrol section of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) and a member of Old Rag Mountain Stewards. I have a great fondness for Old Rag Mountain because it is within a couple hours drive of my home and offers an almost alpine like climbing and hiking experience.

I grew up during the 60’s in the rolling upland hills between the small towns of Hamilton and Cazenovia New York. In high school I was a founding member of what was called the Environmental Study Team and when I was 16 I fell in love with rock climbing while attending a Hurricane Island Outward Bound course. For the next 16 years of my life I was an avid moderate grade east coast rock climber and mountaineer. In my early thirties I stopped my climbing and hiking activities to focus on my family and work commitments. A couple of years ago when my two daughters were mostly independent and my wife and I decided to separate I returned to my personal interests of hiking and climbing. During the last year I have gotten a great deal of satisfaction from hiking/patrolling Old Rag Mountain on most weekends. I have always greatly enjoyed sharing my outdoor experiences and adventures with others. For me, patrols on Old Rag Mountain provide impromptu opportunities to help and or share the wonders and adventure of the Old Rag experience.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Old Rag Lower Lot In December

For those who were here during the peak of fall leaf season (when the lot has 250 cars and the next door neighbor's pasture contains 100 overflow cars) take a look at the lot as seen around 3PM Saturday December 13, 2008.
Up on the trail, naked trees reveal more views but the colors of Spring's flowers, Summer's greens and Fall's blaze are replaced by a pallet of thousands of greys. Winter on Old Rag resonates with its own special beauty.
Spread these cars' passengers across the mountain and you have a lot more privacy but you may have to wait a long time for help from a fellow hiker. Patches of frozen ice make the Ridge Trail more challenging and easier to get hurt on. The lack of a large number of fellow hikers adds new meaning to the concept of self-rescue. Assuming a party member can go for help, a non-ambulatory injury in the middle of the Ridge Trail will probably have to wait six hours for first responders and 15 hours for extraction.
Saturday night the sky was mostly clear and the almost full moon was the closest and brightest it will be in years. The moon shadows were sharp and you could see individual trees in the woods 200 feet away, individual leaves and twigs on the trail and even ripples on the water of streamlets.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Saturday and Sunday December 13, 14 2008
Great moonlit evening Saturday night. A little bit of ice on the Ridge Trail. Clear and cool.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

SNP Rock Outcrop Management Plan

If you are concerned about Old Rag's rock outcrops you should be aware that the NPS has released the Draft Rock Outcrop Management Plan for final comments to be made up until December 19, 2008.

The revised draft can be found on the NPS's PEPC(Planning, Environment, and Public Comment) site under the subsection for Shenandoah National Park.

I will be trying to send in a thoughtful comment which I will also post on this blog.

The Begining

I have decided to try blogging about my patrols. Blogging is new to me so please bear with me during my learning curve. My intent will be to extract segments of my Old Rag PATC Trail Patrol Reports and add additional items that will be of general interest to the Old Rag public users, NPS, PATC, Old Rag Mountain Stewards and or any other organizations interested in the responsible enjoyment of Old Rag Mountain. I am not currently an active photographer digitial or otherwise but I am going to start so I can add images to this blog but it may take a week or two before I can buy my digital camera and figure out how to get the pictures on the blog.

If you happen to see me on Old Rag say hi.

Happy Trails
Bob Look