Sunday, December 13, 2009

Saturday Dec. 12, 2009

Saturday December 12, 2009

When I arrived I was surprised to see lots of cars in the lower lot(around forty). I decided to change my routine a little and start my hike on the other end of the fire road. While I got to the Old Rag fee station to pick up my radio at around twelve thirty I did not go into service on the other side of the mountain until around 13:30.

Once again a photo from the same spot so that seasonal change comparisons can be made.

The shot above is stitched together from around six shots all taken just outside of Etlan. Double click and use slider bars for higher resolution. Hopefully this picture will be a help to rock climbers trying to plan trips on this side of the mountain.

Sorry that this is not such a good photo. It was taken from the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.

Bartenders Spring near the top of the switchbacks on the Ridge Trail.
From this point up the trail was covered with hard packed icy snow until I got below Old Rag Shelter. This weekend was a good example of the trail becoming far more treacherous after the snow is packed down and has melted and refrozen several times. The rock scramble was easier and safer to negotiate than last week because a lot of what had been snow covered rock was bare and dry this week. That said, the non-rock scramble parts of the trail above 1,700 feet were far more difficult to walk than last week. Having my Kahtoola Micospikes made what could have been a scary experience pleasant.

Using my point and shoot this is the best photo I could get of the lights looking towards Etlan and Culpepper. The photo does not even come close to representing what you see with your eyes. In the winter when the air is crisp and clear and the leaves are off the trees the lights in the valley create a beautiful twinkling view.

Looking up at the Chute from the middle of the rock scramble.
Several hikers reported they had seen large numbers of boy scouts on the mountain. I reached the first false summit as the daylight was fading. I had run into about five hiking parties that were returning down the Ridge Trail as I was going up. I did not see or hear anyone between the first false summit and Byrds Nest Shelter. When I got to Byrds Nest Shelter there was a camping party there who had a wonderful large fire going. Had fun visiting with them for about an hour.
I saw another group of campers down by PO Junction but since it was already so late I decided not to visit them. It was nice having a short trip to my car from PO Junction.
I Signed out of service at 21:49.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dec. 6, 2009 SNOW AND ICE

I had a great trip on Old Rag the day after it received several inches of snow. It was the first time I got to use my Kahtoola MicroSpikes. Great product for icy trails. Most of the day was partially sunny in the low to mid thirties and I only saw about 20 fellow hikers on the mountain. Our paths did not cross but it turns out Emily and Michael some friends from ORMS were also on the mountain this day. Check out their trip report on their great new blog Silver Spring Wanderer located in my blog list.

I have taken a picture from this same spot once a week for several weeks. I cut out the silo and farm fields because they were all green and would have lessened the effect of the picture. The valleys just to the east of Old Rag were an anomaly in that they had no snow while for miles around them everything was snow covered.

Looking up the switchback at a couple of hikers.

The resting spot at the No Camping Sign just below R15.

Looking up the Rock Scramble from the top of the first false summit just before R22 which is at the slot beginning the Rock Scramble.

Looking up at Whale's Head Rock aka Atlas Rock R29. All pictures can be clicked for higher resolutions.

Looking down the Ridge Trail from the top of the Chute between R31 and R32.

A panorama stitched together from shots taken at the southeast corner of Old Rag's summit.
Unless you are actually looking to bushwack off trail in order to find vertical ice routes you probably will never need an ice ax or crampons on Old Rag. That said, some type of ice traction devices may be a necessity even on the trails at times. Think Yaktrax, Microspikes, Stabilizers ect. They will not be as useful on the first day of any big snows since you will mostly be dealing with deep snow and not necessarily much ice. It is during the days just after big snow storms when the snow has been tromped down and then melted and re-frozen that a large majority of the trail may be very icy. There is one spot on the Saddle Trail just below the Byrds Nest shelter that is notorious for having ice build up. Often there is thick ice at this spot many days after the rest of the mountain has become clear of any ice. Check out this video to see the spot I am talking about:
Please be extra careful in the winter folks. There have been injuries even on nice sunny dry days. During a winter weather response rescuers will be taking risks just driving to the mountain. Normally the park service can get four wheel drive vehicles right up to Old Rag Shelter via the fire roads. But the fire roads are never plowed and deep snow may mean rescuers will need to walk in from the park boundary. Since deep snow is rare in SNP I do not believe the park has any snowmobiles and helicopters are not an option in really bad weather. If you are non-ambulatory in the middle of the rock scramble in the middle of a white-out winter storm it might take more than 15 hours for first responders to reach you. Who knows how long an extraction may take? Are you or your group prepared to keep a non-ambulatory victim warm for fifteen hours? How about 24?
I have actually seen solo trail runners in gym shorts, light wind breakers, running shoes (no sign of any kind of ice traction devices), and no pack containing extra layers or other self support stuff (see link above) on the trail in some pretty winter like conditions. At least they usually have a cap and maybe some gloves on. I hope they have someone at home who knows to go looking for them if they are not back home in a timely fashion.
If you think like me, you know that your consummate skill and discerning judgement provide you a shield of invincibility. Because of this, hiking Old Rag even during a two foot white-out right after a record ice storm does not even come close to the risk of playing Russian Roulette with a half loaded two barrel shotgun.
Having libertarian tendencies and being a huge fan of outdoor adventures, my personal opinion is that as long as you have a group of friends pre-arranged to rescue or recover your body in a completely self-sufficient-low-impact way, GO-FOR-IT. Especially, if you have a good filming team like Teton Gravity Research ready to create films that can be shared afterwards.
On the other hand, if as the result of an injury you will be anything less than fully self sufficient, please make your decisions fully cognizant of the fact that a non-ambulatory injury will cause responders significant hardship and risk.
You should want any of your adventures to be judged as affirmations of a life robustly lived and not as death wishes. At least when considered by a jury of your crazy outdoor peers who do things like ski Everest or the Grand Teton.
In the event you are one of those folks not sensitive about putting others at risk, you should realize that more and more organizations are charging for rescue services. Especially when it is determined that poor judgement or irresponsible behaviour was involved. Keep in mind the judgement about what is poor judgement or irresponsible will not be made by a jury of your outdoor adventure peers. The bill for these services can easily add up to $10,000-$20,000 per incident. In case you were worried about your inability to save for such a large cost, Global Rescue and Geos Alliance are two companies that offer World Wide Search and Rescue Insurance products.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday After Thanksgiving

Sunday November 29, 2009

Warm clear weather changing to slight overcast with very light sprinkles.

I did not get back from my trip to my parents for Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family until a little after midnight on Saturday. I got a slow start Sunday morning and then I found that I had a flat from a nail induced slow leak. By the time I got the tire repaired it was around 1PM. My oldest daughter Sarah and I were still able to fit in an abbreviated Old Rag trip. We arrived at Old Rag around 3PM so we only hiked to the first false summit where we watched the sun set and then returned under headlamps. Even though not the whole circuit it was still a great trip.

As we were about to start our hike we met a multi-generational (4) family of about 40 folks who said it was their families 43rd annual Thanksgiving weekend family hike of Old Rag. Pretty impressive tradition which started around 1966 when Lyndon Johnson was president.

The moon was bright enough that you could actually walk slowly and carefully without your headlamp. Of course having the leaves off the trees helps a lot with the moonlight.

Sarah checking out one of the remaining charred trees from the forest fire.
A picture of me at the break spot just before the No Camping Beyond This Point sign.

Sarah enjoying the sunset from the first views of the eastern valley. (Double click then click once on the picture for highest resolution.)

A very late dusk picture looking up the Ridge Trail from the first false summit.

Sarah and I on the first false summit just before we started back to the car.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Trail Patrol Again Sat. Nov.21, 2009

Trail Patrol Again Sat. Nov.21, 2009

I am back to doing PATC Trail Patrols until sometime next Spring. Because of this I shifted to a little bit later schedule knowing I wanted to do a long slow circuit that landed me on the summit around dark.

I have purposely taken and posted pictures taken from the same spot over the last several weeks so as to provide a reference for the progression of fall color changes. My September 27, 2009 post shows this view of Old Rag in full summer time green and the October 11, 2009 shows this view just as the colors started to change. This one shows it with just about all the leaves off the trees.

I was surprised to find the lower lot was fairly full. At least a tenth of these cars were from two Scout troops that were doing a fairly large day hike and overnight.
Some of the Scouts who had finished their day hike of Old Rag and were picking up their packs before hiking back up the fire road and setting up a campsite along Brokenback Run. For a second weekend in a row the streams were high with lots of cascading water.

Looking back at the first false summit around 17:00. Not much light left. Only saw one party on the mountain after this picture and they had lights. Most were down off Old Rag by 17:30 when lights would have been needed.

Just below the Chute at around 17:00

The Summit at around 18:00. It is amazing how early it becomes dark now. On my way out I spoke to a nice group of campers at Old Rag Shelter. About half way between the metal bridge and upper lot I could see the lights of the boy scout camp site several hundred yards off the road. There was one report of a hiking party late to return from an Old Rag hike but it resolved itself. The litter was not too bad and I did not have any medicals. I did not see any illegal open fires or dogs.
Sunday was my first day in five or six weeks that I did not have a scheduled work or volunteer activity. The downtime was welcomed.
Next week is Thanksgiving and I will be voyaging to Central New York to have dinner with the extended family at my folks home between Cazenovia and Hamilton New York.
The Finger Lakes Trail which did not exist in my youth runs east west just a few miles from my parent's house. The Finger Lakes Trail is part of the longest current hiking trail in the US called the North Country Trail which runs from New York to North Dakota. I find the network of trails being created and maintained by hundreds of passionate local hiking groups amazing. Each stand alone segment is a tremendous resource. String a number of those segments together and before you know it you have a long trail. Then people realize it would be neat to interconnect the long trails and suddenly everyone has a passion to make that interconnection happen.
Link for Finger Lakes Trail:
Link for the North Country Trail:
Link for neat map of many of the US Long Trails:
(Start of Humor Tag)
I used to think that the efforts of all the local trail organizations were spontaneous. Then the Bureau of Land Management took down a web page detailing the many interconnected long trails. I wondered what their motivation was? This caused me to ponder about the fact that the International Appalachian Trail seems to be a well kept secret? Yes and what about all those aliases used by hikers and the fact they are always trying to leave no trace? The interstate highway system funding was partially justified for military logistic reasons maybe the same is true of our national hiking trails system? I bet that just about all military bases as well as any well known non-disclosed locations would be found to lie within a few days hike of one of the existing or planned trails? I bet those seven Leave No Trace principal actually have hidden meanings? My little ember of gnawing suspicion is now growing into an outright bonfire.
(End of Humor Tag)
Of course information about the International Appalachian Trail can easily be found at;
Have a great Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009


Saturday and Sunday, November 14 &15, 2009
ORMS (Old Rag Mountain Steward)
weekend 2009

Great weather on both days but as you can see from this photo the colored leaves are almost all down. The Ridge Trail was very wet because of the tremendous amount of rain from the three days before.

While not overflow level crowds it was still very busy on the mountain this weekend. The next picture was taken during Saturday's preparations. Congratulations to Tony for earning his ORMS shirt.

A look back at the first false summit from near the cave.

A better shot of some hikers leaving the first false summit.

I have been seeing quite a few walking sticks lately.

A shot from the summit looking off towards Skyline Drive. No leaf color in this photo.

Huge apologies to ORMS members including myself for not getting any photos of the following activities from this weekend but I at least want to note them. All of the photos above were from Saturday when we had Jeremy, Ann, Valerie, Tony, Michael, Emily, and myself. We ended up only needing to deal with getting one non-ambulatory hiker off the fire road.
Valerie hosted a wonderful end of season overnight with tremendously good food and drink. Several of the guests brought gourmet dishes to supplement the fare. Imagine that, super Stewards by day gourmet cooks at night. Savory lasagna, soup, basil lemon cake and chocolate (sweet potato) fudge just to mention a few of the cornucopia of culinary delights. There were animated, competitive Scrabble and Phase 10 games played with lots of laughs and I would guess some itching for a rematch.
Sunday was the day of a MEGA Scenario. Chad, Ben, and assorted fruits played victims in the rocks while Andy observed as safety officer and evaluator. Scott, Tony, Valerie, Ann, Michael, Emily, Maria, and myself were severely tested with a loose simulated baby named Melonheart who was crawling around on a ledge 10 feet below a rock high point. A second patient was all broken up on the ledge ten feet below Melonheart and momma Chadlette was hysterically screaming for help before going unconscious from insulin shock.
Lots and lots of lessons learned. Considering our current level of training we did well but there is nothing like a challenging scenario to put a laser focus on things you still need to learn and skills you need to improve.
When dealing with emergency response there can always be a victim/patient that is beyond your ability or resources to save. You can not let perfect be the enemy of good and at the same time you need to guard against harmful unintended consequences.
Training and protocols attempt to carefully think out and provide directions that define what to do in advance of emergencies but it is impossible to even come close to defining everything responders will see. This is especially true when there are multiple injuries in an environment with very limited resources. The individual responders must often rely on their best judgements?
For example, suppose that while sitting on Old Rag Summit you hear about two incidents one being that hikers saw someone take a tumbling slide down the front face of the the first false summit and another that there is an unconscious hiker near the CCC stairs and there is no additional information. Furthermore assume you have only two Stewards and one radio. What is your response plan?
The air over Old Rag hosted a pair of falcons and a two-seater ultra-light.
The sweeps across all the mountain trails found hikers in need of help getting out to their cars but these incidents were fairly simply resolved. Then it was time for pizza.
It was a GREAT 2009 for ORMS. Here's to an even better 2010.
As much as I enjoy my solitary PATC Trail Patrols on Old Rag, I will miss my ORMS weekends. I am already looking forward to the ORMS Wilderness First Aid training at the end of March.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nov 7&8 Crowds, Medical Assists, Training

Saturday and Sunday November 7 and 8, 2009
Great weather both days.

The Old Rag Fee Station's neighbors opened the pasture to aid with overflow parking on both days. Keep in mind they charge for parking and this charge is on top of the park boundary entrance fee so on any day that has the potential to be super busy it is best to plan to bring extra money (at least $10 per car).

Leaves are completely off the trees at the higher elevations. Trees at lower levels still have colored leaves but not for long.

The Stewards meet early in the morning to establish their plan of action

Here is a rare shot of the neighbors pasture open for parking. This is usually only required on two or three days in the fall of the year when all the various factors align to create overflow crowds.
Looking back at the first false summit from just before the cave. (Double click for higher quality).

A couple of new Old Rag Mountain Steward (ORMS) volunteers on the Ridge Trail.
On Saturday there were two different but overlapping medical incidents. It helped that one of the injured parties could cautiously self ambulate. It was determined it would be best to litter the other party down off the mountain. Both responses went smoothly and the individuals where off the mountain long before midnight.
Sunday's Stewards first action item was to carry the SAR equipment and reset supplies up to the SAR cache. After returning the gear we got in lots and lots of great training at Byrds Nest Shelter.

After training everyone headed for the summit. We enjoyed a little summit time before splitting up with some going down the Ridge Trail and some going down the Saddle Trail.
For the next couple of months sunset will be happening between 4:30 and 5:30. Weather can change rapidly on Old Rag. You can be in tee shirt weather one hour and needing to bundle up for freezing rain or snow the next. Keep in mind it can take 2-3 hours to get from the summit to the Nethers parking. Unless you are experienced with hiking in the dark and are well prepared (headlamps, backup lights, warm cloths) you should probably plan on leaving the summit between two and three. If you have a light that needs to be held by hand my recommendation is that you take the Saddle Trail down. The Ridge Trail requires use of both your hands at times. If you accidentally drop your light it could possibly break or fall into the inaccessible void. Add a little cold rain, a slip that results in a twisted ankle, and imagine what a fine mess you'd be in then.

Friday, November 6, 2009


The following link goes to Shenandoah National Park's page offering videos and podcasts:

Lots of great content

The following links take you directly to a great Hiking Old Rag Mountain video they can also be reached indirectly via the link above. :

High Quality 23 MBytes
Low Quality 2.3 MBytes (dial up users)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009
End of Daylight Savings Time
Almost Full Moon, rain turned to partly cloudy.

The next three pictures are of the brand new moldering privy located at Old Rag Shelter or where the ends of the Saddle Trail and Old Rag Fire Road meet. For those who pay attention to such things, it was located outside the Congressional approved wilderness area. A very high percentage of Old Rag acreage is enclosed designated wilderness area. If you are curious these areas are designated on PATC maps. As with all your back country visits it is best if you use toilet paper designed to be biodegradable. This privy is designed so as to create an environment for natural decomposition of human waste. Please follow the instructions posted in the privy and especially do not put anything in the privy that either can not break down like metal, plastic, diapers or glass or might be toxic to the organisms being used to foster decomposition like baby/wet wipes, or perfumed toilet paper.

The following link will take you to the Appalachian Trail Conference's(ATC) Backcountry Sanitation Manual which has a lot of information concerning all the various ways for trail maintainers to manage waste including a lot of information about moldering privies.

However it got here a lot of work and planning went into making it happen.

I was told and believed it was assembled off-site and delivered by helicopter. Repeating this story to my weekend companions I was told that I was most likely the victim of a favorite hiking pastime in which naive folks are told creative tales. Clearly a helicopter lift would never have been approved because of the associated noise pollution. With the Weakley Hollow Ice Road not being available for a couple of months the privy was most likely delievered; silently by para-glider or by the Nethers 20 mule team.

Please follow the instructions posted on the privy.

Because of the rain there were probably only about 50 hikers on the mountain today. Last Sunday we had close to 2,000. Because of the light crowds we decided to do some extensive first response training. The following pictures show us neatly putting the equipment away after several hours of practice. The Shenandoah Mountain Guides are great at coming up with pertinent but challenging scenarios. On this day Jeremy invented a great scenario and Ann, Bob, Scott and Tony got in some good hands on practice and learning time.

For ORMS members and anyone interested in learning/practicing knots the following is a good resource:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunday October 25, 2009 PEAK LEAVES PEAK CROWDS

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Old Rag from the road before the lower lot if you had a telescope you could see the crowds streaming up the trail.

This title may be used for a future electronic game in which hapless Keystone Cop like volunteers are pitted against supremely wily, passionate and resourceful pet owners.

Gotta love em!

The fee station staff was kept busy today.

A couple of hiking groups headed up the road to the trail head.
"No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible." —George Burns.

Most groups enjoy a refreshing pause at the spot shown in the next picture.
There is no camping allowed between this spot on the Ridge Trail at about 2,400 feet and Byrd's Nest Shelter at about 2,800 feet on the Saddle Trail.

Old Rag contains some very fragile micro-habitats. Old Rag is like an island in the sky. Many plants located here do not exist again until you get hundreds of miles from Old Rag. Like remote islands there are even species and or sub-species that are unique just to Old Rag's micro-habitat. Once destroyed there is no way for them to be re-established.

Steward Ben during one of our frequent life is good moments.

Looking across Weakley Hollow towards Skyline Drive and the Appalachian Trail.

Lots and lots of hikers enjoying the day.

A zoomed shot of the Chute from the First False Summit.
The next picture was taken while waiting in a line which stretched a tenth of a mile to the Chute, 528.6 linear feet, 120 vertical feet, about six stories and two city blocks or from R28 to R31.
Note: If you expand the picture below you can see a hiker high up on the cliff face (one example of tens I saw this day) who was tired of waiting in line and was trying his luck at an alternative route. While there is no rule against this it is highly advised against. Going off trail you are trampling ground not routinely trampled upon. A fall will end with a literal impact on the resource. Non-ambulatory injuries put huge demands on the folks who need to respond.
I know many accomplished climbers whom I would not be nervous watching free solo these alternate routes. I would be confident that their practiced skills and deep experience allowed them to be Clipped-Into-Themselves -Pat Ament- . But on this day, most of those I saw attempting these alternate routes did not display any signs that they possessed the skill and experience to be relatively safe on their free solo adventures. Being too far away I was not in a good position to suggest they alter their behaviour.
There is a definite morbid fascination and pleasure I get from watching these individuals' mini-dramas (Patroller/Steward TV) but I eventually need to get on with my steward/patrol duties. After all, I will find out soon enough if I need to respond to something bad happening.
Don't worry be happy. In every life we have some trouble. When you worry you make it double. -Bobby McFerrin-
Expect changes to ORMS over time. The Old Rag Mountain Steward program is still in its infancy. The topic of how ORMS can best perform its mission is under constant review. Lessons are constantly being learned and improvements are constantly being made. Do not make any assumptions or plans based on any of our past behaviours.
This is actually good advice for any of your visits to the outdoors. Go assuming your own self sufficiency. Do not assume the friendly fee station staff will give you a map. Come with your own map. Do not assume there will be extra water at the fee station make sure you have brought enough. Do not assume a friendly steward will be there to help. Stewards may not be on the mountain or may be fully occupied.
A HYPOTHETICAL FUTURE (Is that redundant?)
It is not that hard for me to imagine a far distant future in the which the trail has purposely been removed, all maps containing wilderness areas have been changed so they only show a large blank area labeled WILDERNESS, all guidebooks to wilderness areas have been banned, and it is against the rules to provide assistance of any kind to park visitors located in managed wilderness areas. (Is that an oxymoron?).
We do not carry injured bears out on a litter why should humans be any different? If wildlife could vote humans would be designated an invasive species.
-extracted from the majority opininion of a hypothetical Supreme Court Case-
(Is it magniloquent to pose as a hypothetical Supreme Court Judge, or what)