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.