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.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome review. We are hiking Old Rag this weekend in what looks to be similar conditions. Thanks for the advice!

    - G M