Monday, March 30, 2009

March 28 and 29 ORMS TRAINING


This weekend I took the ORMS Sponsored Wilderness First Aid certification course held up off Skyline Drive at the Pinnacles Research Station. In addition to the Wilderness First Aid course, Shenadoah National Park staff members responsible for Search and Rescue in the Central District (where Old Rag is located); introduced themselves, showed us various types of equipement that will be used on Old Rag SAR incidents, and also gave us an overview of how Shenandoah National Park will organize and run any Old Rag SAR incidents. An immense amount of information was gone over and a large number of practice sceanarious provided significant hands-on development of practical skills. Solo who has been the leader in wilderness medical training for thirty years did an awesome job. This was one of those courses that could be compared to drinking-from-a fire-hose. The handout materials were excellent so I will be able to use them to continue to reveiw, internalize and become fluent in the material over the coming weeks. Thanks to the teaching styles of the instructors and presenters the long days were kept informative, lively, fun and interesting. The free coffee graciously supplied by Central Coffe brewed in the three coffee makers brought by various class members along with countless tasty pastries and snacks brought by other class members helped power our days. Saturday evening there was just a little bit of time to relax and class members had all the ingredients for a great impromptu social event. Starting with a dinner of delicious roast pig and an incredible amount of other great eats. There were lots of good conversation, a lively dice game, an interesting card game and a short but excellent set of guitar music. Had Cedar Run been a little closer I am sure there would have been a quick trip to one of its swimming holes.
On the way home I had a couple of hours of daylight so I stopped by Old Rag and strolled up along the Brokenback Run for about an hour. A few types of understory bushes are starting to show green buds and I saw my first Tick (THEY'RE BACK!) since fall.
On the drive home I noticed the evening light on the rolling piedmont hills seemed very different from how it has been this winter and it suddenly dawned on me that it was because the pastures are starting to glow with that bright spring green that the grass takes on when it first comes up.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

March 21, 2009 Equinox

Sunset 10 minutes from the summit.

Fly Fishing Shop
On my way to the mountain I made a side trip to Murray's Fly Fishing shop in Edinburg Virginia. If you are interested in fly fishing this is a great resource for supplies, advice, and lessons. Their website is at:

A couple of patches of ice still on the mountain.
As weather warms, crowds and their associated litter returns to the mountain. Winter not only had far fewer hikers on the trail but most seemed to practice Leave No Trace ethics as well as pitch in with picking up for others.
Many thanks to the many hikers who during all seasons help by bringing out more than just their own stuff. (Note: If you pick up broken glass make sure you protect yourself. I started carrying a "sharp stuff" bottle/vault in my litter bag after I accidentally cut myself when my hand pressed down on a sharp bottle shard in my litter bag while I was in the rock scramble.)
The Park Service has a duty to strike a balance between laws that encourage protection of the wilderness and laws that encourage public use of the same wilderness areas. Appropriate use is desired and encouraged but misuse must be controlled if not eliminated. Litter is a visual assault on those that follow. Throwing something over a rock, into a crevice, far off the trail does not mean it is out of sight. A student studying things off the trail, a park visitor seeking a little off trail solitude, a curious hiker exploring, a botanist or biologist looking for a specific species, a back country camper or a climber are just some of the examples of people who go places you think are out of sight. There are individuals who will notice changes at the same level of the changes you would notice in your own backyard. It is also good to keep in mind that this is home for hundreds of other species whom we owe respect.
Usually I try to keep in the Don't Worry Be Happy mood but there are times that I let my imagination toy around with a plot for a horror short story in which there is a wilderness stalker who practices various forms of harsh vigilante justice on abusers of the back country or maybe a whole town complete with a hanging judge who enforce a bizarre set of extreme local litter ordinances or some bizarre future country where they decide to have an open season on adult litterers (they have to be taller than 5 feet to be legal) or the back woods toilet paper covered Bogey man who gets revenge on the tissue paper litter bugs. I have a very active imagination so the list goes on but you get the idea.

The Mountain Laurel are showing green sprouts.
Ridge Trail about an hour before dark.
Equinox and the days are getting warmer but there was still just a little bit of ice to be found on the Mountain. Next weekend is an ORMS training weekend sponsored by NPS so no patrols on Old Rag next week.
The one unusual thing on this circuit were the number of the little black Pine Voles I scared off the trail after dark. I estimate they were less than a quarter the size of house mouse, have very dark grey fur, and are very quick to disappear in just a blur of motion when they were surprised by the light of my headlamp. One actually stood still for the shortest of a partial second in a freeze frame before vanishing in a blur. I must have seen around 5 more tiny blurs after that as I came down the Saddle Trail. I wonder if this evening was unusual or if I was just more tuned to picking up the blur of their escapes after that one had given me the briefest of glimpses of him standing still. It appears that in their panic they are ad libbing their escape routes because when they choose to escape in your direction of travel you can see them do a lot of direction changing, jumping, and sometimes falling off the rocks but it all happens so fast you can not register the specifics of their actions. Their physical prowess would probably be amazing and at times funny if you could watch them on a slow motion replay.

Monday, March 16, 2009



One of those cold wet early spring weekends. There were a fair number of visitors on the mountain considering the weather. Met Matt from PATC Trail Patrol on his was out. He and a friend from Colorado had just finished the hike. Starting in the later part of early afternoon, I mostly saw hikers that were coming out. I meet a nice group of four backpackers wearing heavy packs and dealing with the challenges of a wet rock scramble. I tagged along with them until Byrds Nest which was near where they planned to stay for the evening. While slippery in parts the mud was not too bad. As dark fell some of the raindrops were freezing on the tree branches but as of 9PM there was no ice forming on the ground. There were still patches of thin snow cover in the woods. So thin it was polka dotted by holes from rain drops. Good day to test your gear and your ability to deal with wet conditions.

Most of the time the mist is similar to what you see in these pictures and you can see one hundred feet or more down the trail. That said, on a very rare occasion I have seen it where you could barely see five feet in front of your feet. While woodland trails are continuous and easy to follow even in thick fog the rock scramble may not be.
Even when the mist is not thick, your lights will be greatly limited in the distances they throw light or can be seen at night.
In all of my times in the wild I have found rainy weather near freezing the most challenging for survival from hypothermia. Cold wet days have fewer people on the mountain and therefore more need for self reliance. Remember that if an injury makes you non-ambulatory you will not have the furnace of physical exertion to keep you warm and it would not be unusual for it to take 12-15 hours from when someone goes for help for you to be evacuated.


Misty days are a unique experience. Everything is muffled, close and a little bit surreal. Time is blurred and slower. The mist softens thoughts of goals. It no longer is important to push for the summit views because there will not be any. I find it easier to slow down and absorb the details of places I would never have focused on during a clear day. Mist brings quiet, soft, soulful, restful, nostalgic, reflective thoughts and both respite from and recharging for the more frenetic activities of clear dry days.

John Muir wrote

I was as wet as if I had been swimming after crossing raging torrents and fighting my way through the Alaskan jungle. But everything was deliciously fresh, and I found new and old plant friends, and glacier lessons that made everything bright and light.

Signs Of Spring

Down in the lowlands signs of Spring are showing. An early alarm that spring approaches for the mountain as well. It should not be too long before we start to see dark purple skunk cabbage blossoms followed by green skunk cabbage leaves up near bartenders spring. Skunk cabbage is a unique plant in that it generates its own heat (thermogensis) and therefore is one of the first plants to sprout and flower on the forest floor in the Spring.

Of course now that I am watching Spring will take longer than my anticipations' expectations.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spring Season Starts March 7, 2009

Parking* is free but there is a fee to enter the park unless you have a pass.
*Note:On one or two peak days during the year the lower lot becomes full. When this happens the owner next to the parking lot will sometimes offer paid parking in their pasture (estimate $10/car). This does not exempt you from still needing to pay the park entrance fee.

The weather was wonderful, 70 Degrees three quarter moon, no ice, and only minor amount of mud. The Rangers have opened the fee station and the warm weather brought out large numbers of hikers. Over 110 cars in the lower lot when the above picture was taken. I ran across Valerie and Chad two of the Old Rag Mountain Stewards. Valerie was coming down off the mountain having hiked Old Rag with a friend. Chad and two of his climbing friends were rock climbing for the weekend and I shared about an hour conversation with them during their dinner. Enjoyed some of their 2008 wild grape wine. and While the moon was only three quarters the night sky was clear enough that I did not need to use my headlamp during most of the trip out. Sunday was start of Daylight Savings which means dawn and sunset come one hour later.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Saturday, February 28, 2009 Dark Encounter Tales Of Rescue

Pileated Woodpeckers are fairly common on Old Rag. They can be a little bit shy of humans though. They like to make long rectangular holes in their search for bugs like the one next to the blue blaze above. Most of their holes are not this big. In fact this one almost looked like the start of a resting or nesting cavity that was never finished. I have seen an old punky thirty foot softwood pine reduced to nothing but a pile of splinters by three Pileated Woodpeckers over the course of a couple of weeks. If the wood is rotten and full of good bugs they can really make the chips fly.

Saturday, February 28, 2009 Rescue Tail and Dark Encounter

It was cool but trail was dry and ice free. On the way up encountered husband of women who had help rescue a hiker who had dislocated his shoulder in the middle of the rock scramble a couple of Sundays before. She had a Rescue Blanket she used to help keep victim warm and she stayed with the victim until they got him off the mountain. Another passing hiker had a cell phone and could call the injury in so responders only took 3 hours to get there. Even with the Rescue Blanket it was a wee bit cold for the victim but all ended well.

Low on the mountain I encountered a young military recruit with a close relative having a kind of get in shape hike before reporting for duty. He was pretty sure he was going to Afghanstan. This is my third encounter of a hiking party consisting of a relative and a recruit sharing an adventure before deployment. I think I would find some strength and peace of mind from having been able to do Old Rag with someone close to me before shipping out.

I did not get to the top of the crux of the rock scramble until it was deep dark. I did not see the alleghany wood rat that I had seen the week before but there must be several hundred feet of crevices for him to hide in right in that area. As I usually do, I stopped to look down at the beginning of the rock scramble in order to see if any hikers were coming up. Since it was deep dark I was just telling myself that I was foolish for even looking when what to my wonderous eyes did I see but some lights bobbing over the top of the first false summit and entering the rock scramble. I decided to wait to make sure they got up all right. Being a dark night I thought about hiding up in the little cavern at the end of the crux with my light off and then greeting them with a loud deep bassy WELL HELLO THERE or maybe a FEE FI FO FUM but I realized that would not be a good idea so I gave them plenty of advance warning as they approached from below. It turned out they had no problem getting up through the rock scramble even with two dogs that they had to lift over the vetical parts. We all enjoyed a beutiful veiw of the valley lights at the next false summit. They were planning on camping near Byrds Nest.
Saw another large camping group near the junction of Weakley Fire Road and Corbin Hollow Trail on my way out.
Earlier in the day I saw Jr. and heard reports of a second local dog who looked like him but was older.
As I was approaching the summit it started to sleet a little. The air was cold enough that the top of the deep mud on the Old Rag Fire Road was frozen. The mud underneath was not frozen yet so the crust would sink a little as you walked on it but at least the mud did not suction onto your boats. For those of you who encounter this mud when it is three inches deep (it will suck a low rider shoe right off your foot) take comfort in the knowledge that once you get to the fire road intersection that the Weakley Fire Road will be hard pack.