Monday, July 26, 2010

Saturday July 24, 2010 A YEAR OF EXTREMES

Saturday July 24, 2010 A YEAR OF EXTREMES

In the following picture the Old Rag Boundry Station's thermometer was in the shade but it was still showing 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Just five-six months ago we were snowshoeing and skiing and now we are seeing record breaking highs.

Thank goodness for the Park's new PSAR (Preventative Search and Rescue) program. It would be extremely valuable in any conditions but especially so in the extreme heat we have been experiencing lately. This year's "HIKE SMART" PSAR team comprised of Rangers Todd Sager, Derrick Austin and Casey Mikus are pictured below. When not responding to actual emergencies they offer helpful advice to park visitors in the hopes that emergencies can be prevented.
The rangers in the boundary contact stations also perform PSAR duties. The map, slide show, thermometer, and weather report on the contact station door along with all their helpful advice keep folks safe. When they are on duty it is absolutely worth it to check in with these rangers. They can go over your route, provide maps and offer all kinds of safety and interpretive information.
With the weather being so hot I thought I would provide a little guidance about a tiny but deep-enough-to-cool-off-in wading hole near the end of your hike. It is in Brokenback Run just below the old upper lot. Look for an informal trail between the big boulder and the PATC Trail Overseer sign. Since this can be a popular place please try and be careful about limiting your impact.

FUNGI AND INSECTSOld Rag has a wealth of fungi species and some can be very colorful. If you look closely at the mushroom pictured below you will see a beetle (I believe it is a firefly) on this one. I have recently started to become more aware of the insect life on Old Rag. At one point on this trip I saw four beetles rumbling in the middle of the trail. I did not see any obvious thing nearby to fight over but it was clear they were fighting over something. One beetle finally prevailed and the other three took off into the leaf litter. Ten minutes later and further down the trail I heard a fairly loud noise in the leaf litter. Thinking it must be a small rodent of some kind I waited to see what was making the noise and a GIANT! black beetle about the size of a small vole emerged. When I put my headlamp on high I can see all kinds of pin point but bright insect eyes glowing back at me. Upon close inspection they are usually revealed to belong to a spider. Fireflies Photuris pyralis are still around but their numbers are greatly dwindling. Of course then there are the countless species of ants, termites, ticks, gnats, flies, bees, wasps, butterflies, moths ........

OLD RAG DOGSThe Old Rag Dogs who live at the base of the mountain love to go walk-about up on Old Rag. Their owners have been really good about keeping them at home this year but the Old Rag Dogs are passionate about their mountain and very wily so every once in a while they still manage to sneak in a hike up into the rocks. Below you can see one of the Old Rag Dogs Canis lupis familiaris catching a nap in the shade of the rocks just before the start of the rock scramble.
The blue blaze you see in the background is R22.
The Old Rag dogs have been up and down the mountain hundreds of times and know their way home. They are country outdoor dogs so they may be a little dirty from running around outdoors. They have owners that care a lot about them. Please do not mistake them for being abandoned. It is a terrible shame they can not talk because if they could I am sure they could spin some good yarns over a campfire and a few beers.
Looking back at the first false summit from just below the cave.

Looking down on the farms near Etlan from the slab just above the Chute. I am always amazed at how small everything looks even though it is only a two to three thousand feet and a mile or two below.

Slow down you move too fast you got to make the evening(morning) last.
Got no deeds to do,No promises to keep.I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep.Let the morning time drop all its petals on me. Life, I love you, All is groovy.
-The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" a song by Simon and Garfunkle
With slight poetic liberties on my part.
On one side of the summit the sun was going down and on the other side the moon was coming up. It is a special treat to hang out on the rocks on a quiet balmy summer evening with a gentle breeze. A time to just absorb the evening's smells, sounds, and soothing restorative energies.
Balmy summer evenings bring back memories of my youth when as young boys of nine to thirteen a group of neigborhood boys would take Gilmore's (a family with nine brothers) tractor with a huge flatbed wagon way up into the highest point of their hundred acre apple orchard to sleep on the flatbed under the summer stars. This spot was on the top of a hill in the Cherry Valley country of Central New York. At about 2,200 ft. it provided a fifteen mile view of rolling ridgelines. The sky was dark and the air clear with thousands of twinkling stars, a very distinctive Milky Way, shooting stars and on rare occasions displays of shimmering green Northern Lights.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sunday July 18, 2010 A Full Day

Thoughts About Hikers With Special Concerns
After reminiscing about some behaviors I witnessed on the mountain this weekend I thought it appropriate to once again remind folks with special fitness circumstances to make sure they think through their decision to do this hike.

I have seen folks of all different ages, sizes and shape make this hike. That said, it is a strenuous physical activity and if you go up the rock scramble it will require the use of some upper body strength. There will be a couple of spots in the rock scramble where the trail takes the easiest and or safest route but where you will have the potential for a four to eight foot vertical fall if you slip from your holds. (see the picture of the chute below) When you are in the rock scramble keep in mind that even in the best case when you have immediate communications with the SNP's emergency services that medical first response is going to take hours.

Plan ahead, take your time, be extra cautious, do not go at all or turn around if good judgement dictates it. A few examples of times you need to use extra care and or take above normal precautions:

  • You know you are at risk because of high blood pressure or a cardiac condition.
  • You have a very bad shoulder that easily dislocates.
  • You are badly allergic to bee stings and you forgot your Epipen or noticed that it expired.
  • You are very old and your bones are frail.
  • You are way out of shape or way overweight.
  • You badly twisted your ankle the day before but can painfully walk on it.
  • You are in the middle of an intense cold or flu.
  • You are carrying a very young infant on a very hot day.
  • You are six months pregnant.
  • You are missing a limb or a sense.
  • You are tremendously hung over.
  • You arrived at the hike and realized you forgot to plan for water or you left your meds at home.
  • You are a super jock hiker who has decided to explore a harder more exposed way on the rocks than the trail.
  • There are an infinite range of special situations each requiring extra thoughtfulness.

I can not say if you should or should not go. You are responsible for making that judgement. I am just reminding you to use good judgement and realize that you are not going to have access to quick medical response. A heart attack which could be survived in the front country with AED or quick ambulance responses has a high probability of being fatal on a remote trail. If you are alone on a weekday or out very late on a Sunday and you have both no means of communicating and you become non-ambulatory than it may be the next day before any help comes within earshot. Cell phones only have sporadic reception at rare locations on Old Rag and the nearest emergency land line is on the outside of the Old Rag Boundary station. Helicopters are sometimes used but they are often unavailable or can not respond because of weather conditions. Even with a helicopter the response times will be an hour or two from time of notification. Without the aid of the helicopter human carry outs of non-ambulatory patients from the most remote parts of the rock scramble are going to require up to twenty responders and 10 to 20 hours from time of your injury until you are loaded on an ambulance.

Two friends joined me for the hike up to the chute. They wanted to beat the heat so we started up around 8AM.
I hung out at the Chute for a very long time. Above is a picture of a large group in the Chute. There were no lines on this day.

I have taken and saved a lot of pictures of the restoration/re-vegetation areas in hopes of posting some before and after pictures in the future.

If you look very very closely you can see a full rainbow against the blue sky. The sun was low in the sky and we had very patchy thunderstorms happening and one of them was dropping light rain drops just in the right spot for them to form a very faint full rainbow.

Another Old Rag Sunset

A juvenile Copperhead that was crossing the trail along the side of a log riser. This was about 600 hundred feet up the trail from Old Rag Shelter. Folks make sure you have some lights so you can see what your stepping on at night.

Monday, July 12, 2010

SUN JULY 11, 2010 After The Rain


After a couple of weeks of very hot weather with no rain a cold front came through on Friday evening and Saturday morning and provided some much needed rain. Sunday was a very comfortable high seventies low eightees on the mountain. There was no water running in the ditch through the lower parking lot but there was water in the Opferkessels on the summit

The next picture is a composite of three shots from the first false summit looking up the Ridge Trail and demonstrates I still have a lot to learn about photography.

Pipilo erythrophthalmus Eastern Towhee

The Eastern Towhee is very common on Old Rag but they are hard to get a good glimpse of because they like to hang out in dense brush and are a little bit shy. They like to turn over the leaf litter looking for bugs. It is not unusual for them to make a lot of noise while doing this and many a time I have thought there must be a large animal over in some brush only to sneak up and see a Towhee busy at work earning a living. Unusually, the Towhee in the picture above was perched high out in the open and singing its lungs out.

With the sun going down so late in the day I have usually headed for home long before I can can enjoy a sunset this time of year. I decided it would be worth it to go ahead and stay to enjoy the sunset even though it would mean getting home after mdinight. Of course this also means that at least a part of the trip out on the fireroad will be in the deep dark. Fireflies, the eyeglow of spiders and the close acrobatic flybys of bats catching bugs attracted to my headlamp are just a few of the simple pleasures of a night time walk out on the fire roads in July.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

4th Of July Weeked 2010

Saturday Clear and Low 80's
Sunday Slight Haze Mid 80's
Monday More Haze Upper 80's

Saturday was the best of the three days although because it was the coolest and clearest. Temperatures are headed for recorded highs during the upcoming week. When the temperatures get hot and humid enough I find I need to just substantially slow down. Please bring lots of water and manage the heat you are producing through exertion. Be especially cautious of any infants you may be bringing since they are not able to regulate for heat that well.
ORMS(Old Rag Mountain Stewards) members got to practice their placement artificial anchors.

SUNDAY July 4, 2010
Whenever you see areas totally closed with mesh fences please honor their obvious intent. There are some rare species that are only found on Old Rag Summit or near by outcrops. If they are lost they will be gone forever. The National Park Service has the difficult task of operating under many laws and regulations that sometimes work at cross purposes to each other. On the one hand they are obligated to try and maximize the access and enjoyment of wilderness areas for the general public and on the other hand they are obligated to protect natural resources and wilderness areas. There are currently some natural resources at risk around Old Rag's rock outcrop areas. The current plan involves trying to protect the Old Rag Summit as best as possible while still allowing visitors mostly free access to it. The plan also calls for more aggressive protections for some nearby rocky areas that contain the rare species as the summit but are not of as great an interest to visitors. If we all exercise a little caution and restoration efforts go well some of the restrictions may get relaxed but if things get worse additional restrictions may need to be put in place.
ORMS got to engage in scenario training in which we had to respond to a hypothetical victim of a long fall.

Looking up the Ridge Trail late in the afternoon from the first false summit.

One of several photos that was combined to form the stitched shot above.

I periodically see fairly young children well out of sight of their parents. Of course high on the mountain there are the obvious dangers of the unprotected vertical drops but most parents seem to have close watch of their young children around these risks. On the lower trails we have some risks that may not be as obvious to urban visitors. While rare, we do see bears, venomous snakes, and bees nests in the park. A bear that would be afraid of a hundred pound human might consider a fifty pound lone child an opportunity to grab a defenseless meat meal. The venomous snakes and bees are only dangerous if they feel threatened but 6-9 year old children might accidentally get into trouble and their small size makes them much more vulnerable if bitten or stung. If an accident occurs and you are in the backcountry it is going to potentially take hours before first responders get to your child and then potentially additional hours until your child can get transported to a modern medical facility. If a member of your group has been prescribed an epipen please make sure they have it with them and that it has not expired.
Dislocated Shoulder
The Chute was the location of another dislocated shoulder. There is a spot in the rock scramble that we call the Chute. Most will remember it as the most challenging spot to get up.
As per my plan I arrived at the mountain just in time to check in with the Contact Station before it closed and then start a long slow hike up the Ridge Trail with hopes of watching the sun set after which I would come out in the twilight with the aid of a headlamp.
When I arrived in the upper lot to start my patrol my radio had traffic about an injury in the Chute. It was clear the the PSAR, and SNP medical response resources would have the injury out before I would even make the first false summit so I just made it known I would be available in the event of a carryout. Since someone with a dislocated shoulder can usually still ambulate no carryout was necessary.
For hikers in the rock scramble if you have an injured party who can ambulate and they are near or above the Chute R30 (Chute bottom) or R31 (just above the top of the Chute) please ambulate towards the summit so as to be able to go down the Saddle Trail. In an emergency the park can get vehicles up to the Old Rag Shelter and your victim's quickest way out will be over the top. Much below the Chute and it may (too many factors to make an absolute statement) be easiest to go down the Ridge Trail. Certainly if you have not started the rock scramble and are below R22 it will be easiest to go down the Ridge Trail to the old upper lot.
Once again the consummate SNP professionals mounted a smooth efficient response.