Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Plan Ahead and Prepare for OLD RAG



Plan Ahead and Prepare
This may be the most important of the LNT principals. Make sure you have planned and prepared well for your trip.

There are many resources that will help with this activity. If you go to the index of this blog and pick the index item called "Advice" it will bring up this blog's numerous postings that contain various forms of advice. Just as I did above, I usually highlight my blog entries containing advice with a bold type heading that includes the word ADVICE.

There are many other resources available for your use. There are maps and guides both on-line and in paper form. For example:

Hiking Upward located located online at:

or Henry Heatwole's Guide to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive (lower half page 138) located online at:

or Shenandoah National Park's two page map and write up about Old Rag located online at: http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/upload/old_rag_area.pdf

Paper copies of PATC's guide and excellent PATC trail maps are available from PATC and many outdoor stores. The Old Rag area is located on PATC's Central District Map 10.

If you google Old Rag you can find lots of individual trip reports, images and even videos on line.

PATC's latest Guide

The route finding software used by car based GPS devices and online services like MapQuest or Google Maps sometimes provide erroneous route descriptions for destinations in the park. During the last couple years this has caused some visitors significant problems. If this is your first time driving to Old Rag it is best to keep to travel directions described in the guides.




If you are going to visit the park more than two times a year than a Park Pass can be the best deal.


There is a very small upper lot that fills as early as 7AM. You are not supposed to park along the roadway. There is a large 250 space parking lot eight tenths of a mile below the upper lot. Expect that you will need to park in the lower lot. Parking is free but you will need to have money to enter the Park unless you have a pass. (See below under busy Fall days for rare parking fee exception.)


I find that the temptation of the extremely limited upper lot provides for a very interesting test of a visitor's character. On several occasions I have overheard heated trail discussions indicating that the group's day was being significantly and negatively colored by a member's upper lot obsession. What if there was no upper lot? This hiker's group would have come and had a completely happy day at Old Rag despite the fact they did not get an upper lot space! How many hikers have missed the delights of the hike between the upper and lower lots because they where upset they did not get a coveted upper lot space?

Sometimes it is best to turn on your brain's Don't Worry Be Happy channel/filter and enjoy your situation the way it is.

Spare Keys
It is good to have a spare set of keys held by another member of your party or hidden on your vehicle. If your keys are misplaced and no spares are available it may take hours to get your problem resolved.
Strenuous Walk and Rock Scramble
Old Rag trails are very well maintained but they are not sidewalks. After a heavy storm expect that you may have some trees blown down on the path. Starting from the fee station this hike gains approximately 2,500 feet. An average hiker will take 4 to 6 hours to complete a circuit hike. Why not plan on extra time and enjoy taking a leisurely time on the mountain.
Ridge Trail and Rock Scramble
The popular Ridge Trail has around fifteen spots where you will need to use both hands and feet to get you up, down, or around short 4-8 foot vertical rock problems. Soles that will stick on the rock will help. The trail is designed so that whenever there is a more difficult spot, a slip or fall will be relatively short(under 8 feet). If you stay on the trail it is safe. That said, the trail runs near or past many unprotected vertical drops some of which are over 100 feet in height. If you are bringing young children have enough adults to properly watch and help them. Without knowing a lot about your individual circumstances it is impossible to estimate whether this trail is a good choice for your group. That said, I have seen parents with babies, individuals with artificial limbs, and individuals over 70 successfully negotiate this trail.

Plan for cooler mountain weather conditions that may change dramatically during your hike.

Plan for the appropriate clothing and footwear.

Plan for food, water and meds.

Consider sunscreen and bug repellent.



With 50,000 visitors a year, if each visitor donated just one piece of trash we could easily have enough trash to mark every foot-fall along the whole hike. Hensel and Gretel could keep their bread for eating.


Saddle Trail

The Saddle Trail does not require the use of hands. While most would not want to miss the fun of the Ridge Trail's rock scramble, you can avoid the challenges presented by the rock scramble if you do an up and back hike on the Saddle Trail.
Water and Bathrooms
There will be no bathroom facilities once you leave the Old Rag parking lot which only has porta-potties. Of course you will have the whole woods just make sure to properly bury or pack out any waste. The following link describes how to poop in the woods:


There is no tap water at the parking lots. Bring all the water you will need with you. On a very hot day a large adult hiker could need 100 ounces of water. Cooler days will require less water.
Cell Phones
Your cell phone will not work low on the mountain. On clear days some people can get sporadic cell phone service along the ridge. Precipitation, fog, or mist will inhibit or block cell phone reception. The Park's emergency number is:


Emergency Phones - No Pay Phones
There is an emergency phone on the outside of the Old Rag boundary/fee station. It only connects directly to the Park's 24X7 emergency communications center. There are no other public phones available.
Self Rescue
You should plan ahead and prepare for this to be a self-rescue mountain. That said, there will often be fellow hikers that can help. There may be volunteers with radios or Rangers patrolling the mountain. Once your able to communicate with the Park's communication center it can dispatch help. If you send a message by foot, make sure the messenger has complete information preferably written down. If you have enough help, send messengers in both directions. On their way to the fee station the messengers should be looking for hikers/volunteers with radios or cell phones that have reception. It is useful for emergency responders to know the blaze number closest to the victims location. (For a picture of one of these blazes check out the blog index entry for Signs.) If the victim is going to be moving, the messenger should know the planned direction of travel. Despite the urgency of the crises, the messenger should make sure not to risk becoming a second injury. You are on a back-country trail, expect that it is going to take several hours from the time of an injury until first responders can arrive. If an injured person can SAFELY move it is best to cautiously make way towards the closest fire road or parking lot. Stay on the trail. Expect non-ambulatory injuries in the rock scramble to take up to fifteen hours to be extracted. Once the furnace of exertion is turned off victims will likely need additional layers to stay warm.

Note: On the Appalachian Trail along Skyline Drive a very short bushwack will often bring you to the road. There is no place along the Old Rag circuit where going off the trail will save time. Going off trail will be more dangerous for you. Responders who would find you within hours on the trail could require days to find you if you move off the trail.


Your party should have a well communicated group management plan. Everyone should know what to do if members of the group get separated. If you are going to be hiking with children it would be a good idea to teach them about "Hug A Tree and Survive". http://www.mra.org/training/documents/HugATree.pdf

Manage your group with consideration for other visitors.

Examples of maps and navigation aids.


Old Rag can be popular and therefore crowded. Check out and expand the picture of the Chute during one of its busiest days last fall Fall at the following link: http://oldragmountainsteward.blogspot.com/2008_10_01_archive.html.

If you look in the upper right corner of the photo you can see parts of what was a 200 person line on that day.


Even on the busiest of days this can be a very enjoyable hike as long as you come mentally prepared for enjoying the community of fellow hikers and waiting in a line at the Chute. The good news is that the Chute naturally gates traffic volume reaching the summit and the summit area is expansive and comfortably handles large numbers of visitors.

During the busiest times it is best to avoid hiking downward on the Ridge Trail. Like a long narrow ladder, the rock problems only allow for hikers travelling single file in one direction at a time. Traffic flow is delayed when the line needs to be stopped until all the upward bound hikers clear the single file section after which all the downward group needs to clear the single file section at which point the line of people can resume sending hikers upward.


On at least one random Fall weekend day, a lot of factors will align and there will be a spike of 1,500 visitors on Old Rag. On this day, all the parking lots will fill and some visitors will be turned away. When the lots fill sometimes a neighbor will open their pasture in order to provide additional parking. In the past they have charged $10. This parking fee will be in addition to the Park's entrance fees. On a day when the lot is full you can expect a 100 to 200 person line and up to a one hour wait at the Chute.

Days when the parking lots fill past capacity are rare. A more typical nice weather leaf season weekend day will still have free parking available. On a more typical nice Fall day the Chute will have a 30 to 60 person line with a fifteen-twenty minute wait. Bad weather or the threat of bad weather will greatly diminish the number of visitors.

The weekdays Monday-Friday are FAR! less crowded.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sunday September 27, 2009

Sunday September 27, 2009 Early Fall After A Night Of Rain

Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature's darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail.
John Muir (1838 - 1914)

Morning Glories on a country road along the way to Old Rag.

Old Rag about fifteen miles away.

Old Rag about three miles away.

Fall berries.

Berry clusters of a Flowering Dogwood

Last weeks giant blowdown has already been fixed. Great work by the trail maintenance team.

Looking back at first false summit from near the cave.

Some leaves have changed but not many. (5 to 10 percent)

The ravens were cavorting in the gusty breezes near the summit.

The view from PATC aka Skyline Wall.

Sunset from the slab above Byrds Nest Shelter.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Last Patrols of Summer September 20 and 21, 2009

The last two patrols of Summer 2009 Saturday and Sunday September 20th and 21st.

About fifteen miles from Old Rag.

Four miles from Old Rag.

Lots of folks getting directions and paying the boundary station entrance fee.
Note picture distorted on purpose.

One of Shenandoah National Park's friendly and informative rangers.

Take note of the metal bands. They have direction and mileage information.

My point and shoot does funny things with just slight changes of shooting angles. The photos stitched together below were taken from the exact same spot within a few seconds of each other.

An interesting snail was out on the Saddle Trail at night.

A large blowdown in the switchbacks just below Bartenders Spring on the Ridge Trail.

The mist/fog was blowing from the southeast and rolling down the north west side of Old Rag as evening approached. It was a smokey wispy fog.

A family coming down the Ridge Trail on the rocks at the top of the first false summit.

There were two eyes glowing from my headlamp in the upper lot. Thinking it was a raccon I grabbed my camera and flashed a picture only to discover it was a Grey Fox or very small Coyote who disappeared after recovering from the flash.

Old Rag/Shenandoah Piedmont Country Roads

A Shire if there ever was one.

The Road Goes Ever On and On with countless wonders to be discovered.

When you walk past the gate at the edge of your property be wary and safe. Plan ahead, be prepared. Lots of things can share your path. Milk and honey with cold dark dangers, sun drenched breezes with blustery snow, rolling hills with plunging precipices, willowy butterflies with ominous organisms.
Oh the places you can go!
The things that you can see!
The friendships you can make!
The adventures that you can live!

Butterflies Thistle and Bees

Butterflies Thistle and bees September 20 and 21 last days of summer. Some of these shots were taken on a country road about 4 miles from Old Rag and some were taken along the road between the lower and upper Old Rag parking lots.

If you are a butterfly or bee thistles must have delectable pollen.

Blue Chicory

Two butterflies and two bees what a wonderful life.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary

Black Swallowtail

Friday, September 18, 2009

Leave No Trace LNT for Old Rag

LNT in my blog is short for Leave No Trace.

All three organizations that I volunteer for on Old Rag (SNP, ORMS, PATC TP) are supporters, practitioners, and trainers of LNT.

For those that are new to LNT it is both a system of outdoor ethics and an organization whose primary mission is to foster outdoor ethics.
The LNT organization focuses outdoor visitors on seven main principals that are summarized below. Keep in mind that these seven principals should be applied with individual judgement and common sense. They are principals not laws or rules. That said, a lot of thought has gone into crystallizing current thought on outdoor ethics into these seven concise but comprehensive LNT principals.

The LNT organization provides material for use in learning or teaching outdoor ethics. It continuously improves and maintains a standardized education program including the supporting education and outreach materials. LNT also oversees the LNT Trainer certification process for the purposes of making sure that LNT outdoor ethics are being taught in consistent high quality ways.


Learn and practice outdoor ethics as presented by LNT.

The link to the LNT organizations web site is:

The Seven LNT Principals Are:

The following copyrighted language has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www. LNT.org.

Plan Ahead and Prepare
Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
Repackage food to minimize waste.
Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
In popular areas:
Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
In pristine areas:
Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

Dispose of Waste Properly
Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Leave What You Find
Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

Minimize Campfire Impacts
Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife
Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Saturday September 12, 2009 Early Fall

A unique type of weather that I have most often seen in the mountains or in a jet plane as it climbs above the weather. Forboding and dark stormy skies break to show off the clearest and crispest of blue skies. A dreary dark shadowed indirect light is replaced by a rare and special, clear, bright, glow.

I arrived with just enough time to check in with the rangers at the fee station and pick up my radio. I spent quite a bit of time in the upper lot before starting my circuit. It was mostly cloudy but the wind picked up and the clouds started to break during the circuit. Lots of advice given out.

Hiking in the twilight with all the dark clouds it felt more like very late Fall not very late summer or early Fall. The good news is it will help me savor the better fall weather that is sure to be coming up.

For a second week in a row I came across a copperhead on the Saddle Trail while under headlamp. This one was quicker than last weeks and disappeared out of sight of the trail before I could get his picture.
Fall flowers.
Woodland Goldenrod
White Wood Asters

A panorama stictched together from four shots. Looking up the Ridge Trail as evening approaches. Double click and use slider bar for higher resolution.
Looking back at the first false summit basked in the light of the setting sun shinning through a patch of blue in the midst of swirling dark clouds.
The igneous dike with the chokestone stuck in it.
While peak colors are weeks away some of the leaves are already changing.

Looking down on Graves Mountain Resort from the summit as twilight fades to night.
A great looking mushroom.
I believe it is Jack O Lantern but I am not sure. If it is than its gills will glow a faint green in the deep dark.