Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunday August 28, 2011 Day After Irene Several After Earthquake

Sunday August 28, 2011
Day After Irene Several Days After Earthquake

Wonderful weather, folks having fun, no sign of rock movement from earthquake, four blowdowns from hurricane Irene, some good interpretation done, two pieces of cut lumber moved to Byrds Nest, Sparkles my raccoon friend tried to sneak up behind me while I was pre-occupied shooting sunset pictures,  a bat either counting coop or trying to dance with me near the Tree-With-Three-Trunks and the Twelve-Foot-Stump  (Actually flew up and almost touched my face before making pass two where it  lightly brushed my chin before flying away.  I wonder if the music on my Beats headphones worn around my neck had anything to do with it, (Not on my ears so I can still hear voices and nature's sounds.), super wonderful solitary evening on the Ridge Trail/rock scrambles.

These delicate Spicebush Swallowtails made it through Irene.   

How do they do that and how many did not make it? 

The more I experience nature the more I wonder with awe.  

ADDENDUM  Wednesday September 21. 2011

If you check the comments section for this post you will find that a naturalist that lives near Old Rag (David C.) has corrected my identification of these  butterflies.    They are not Spicebush Swallowtails but rather Red-Spotted Purples one of several species that mimic Spicebush Swallowtails because Spicebush Swallowtails are toxic/distasteful to butterfly predators.   It is awesome all the great stuff I keep learning about Old Rag and its denizens.

The following are some great links for learning more about Spicebush Swallowtails and species who mimic them.

about Spicebush Swallowtail:

about Pipevine Swallowtail and both Batesian and Mullerian mimicry:

about Red-Spotted Purples:

Sunset video not chronologically in order. 

First two pieces of cut lumber muled from Old Rag Shelter to Byrds Nest Shelter.   The biggest projects can start with the smallest steps.   

Sparkles my raccoon friend visited on the summit but was disappointed that I never left my pack unguarded.
Another Old Rag Sunset

For me it was a wonderful solitary trip down the Ridge Trail and rock scramble under headlamp.    There is something intoxicating about knowing you can comfortably and competently range deep in the back country, in all kinds of conditions, completely by yourself.   For those who were not aware the NPS actually considers solitude a resource that needs to be protected for current and future generatiosns.

I just recently read a great article about how the cell phone and connectiveness is destroying many young adults opportunities to grow through solitude.   The following is a link:

Even though the drive on a busy highway is far more dangerous for me than being alone in the backcountry... it is not as safe as having a friend who can help in the event of some random unlucky bad event.  Mowing your lawn, reading a novel, first responding, swimming, driving your car, rock climbing they all have risk reward equations.    

The air was warm and balmy low 70's.  Breezes were blowing.  The frogs and other night life were singing.    The city and country lights in the valley looking towards Culpepper were twinkling wonderfully.    Music that gives flight to the soul.   Life is blessed. 

The next picture was taken from the first false summit just before R22.

All the tenuously perched rocks I examined (around 10) did not seem to have moved one iota.   I even looked for small rock crumbles/rock dust around edges of large many multiple ton rocks that rest on small steeply sloped granite-to-granite contact zones.   I did not see any new cracks or fissures and the old cracks and fissures all seemed to be of the same width.

Double click pictures for higher resolution.

Blowdown one just 100 yards down from PO junction completely across Weakley Hollow fire road.
Blowdowns two and three just 400 yards up the Saddle Trail from Old Rag Shelter.

Blowdown four was the coolest one for me.   At the end of the switchbacks on the Ridge Trail just before the location of the Trillium field there was a boulder and large widow maker that marked a little side trail to the last good camping spot on the Ridge Trail before the NO Camping zone.   


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Plan Ahead and Prepare


Hey folks we just had an earthquake which was centered not too far from Old Rag Mountain.    There are a few(not many) large sized rock formations that are tenuously perched so be extra careful/vigilant  over the next week or so.

There is a hurricane coming at the end of this week and during the upcoming weekend.   Not a good time to be on the mountain but if you are going to be out than please be on the look out for large seemingly sturdy trees blowing down.    During a hurricane a few years ago I was amazed to see huge trees near my home have their crowns being blown around to and fro like they were stalks of grass.  

Streams may get too high to safely cross and some roads may be underwater.    Helicopters will not be able to fly during the storm and SAR resources will very likely not be able to respond until some time after the storm passes. Even after the storm passes local roads and SNP fire roads will probably be blocked by tree debris.     Plan on needing to self-rescue or to shelter-in-place with the understanding it may takee a day or two for any help to arrive.

The air is often its clearest the day after a hurricane but expect high streams and blow-downs across your trails.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sunday August 21, 2011 Smoke, Friends, Sunset, Wedding

Sunday August 21, 2011
Bouldering, Sunset, Day After The Wedding

Remember clicking on pictures gives more resolution.

With the rain and warm weather the fungus are doing well.
Ben one of the lead ORMS Stewards was on a personal hike/bouldering day with a climbing friend.    I saw ORMSer Craig T.  with a friend also doing a personal hike earlier in the day.
I think that lots of folks have a soft spot in  their heart for this gentle S turn in the trail so this picture is for them.

Campers with an illegal campfire down in Weakley Hollow.    Taken from just below Atlas Rock looking towards the upper parking lot. 


Below is a picture of a Blaze Number the R stands for Ridge Trail and the S's stand for Saddle Trail.   The numbers have nothing to do with distances.  They have meaning to search and rescue folks so if you are calling in an emergency it would be good to be able to tell the emergency response folks where you are in relation to the closest blaze numbers.   Based on that information the SAR folks will know what types of equipment and human resources will need to be called out and sent up the mountain in response to your emergency.

(ACT V IF you count the report from my ORMS friend after he and his son's scout troop had an encounter with the raccoon being out on the summit begging for food on the one weekend I did not see her myself.)

I saw my  raccoon friend on the ledge that over looks the first false summit just above the Chute.    I said HI and started to get my camera out when she scooted off out of sight.   Boy you would think she was a public figure and I was the paparazzi.   Although I am glad that she looked very healthy and seems to be getting shy of humans.



Monday, August 15, 2011



On Saturday I was tired from long hours of work and personal reading.   (I have about 30 books at various stages of completeness on my Kindle and I am not counting the approximate 15 to 30 minutes I am trying to get in of various spiritual books each day.)   I have had a particular interest in some of the recent Noetic Science findings.    As a result I slept late and then got asked to help with some household cleaning activities before heading out so I arrived at the contact station around 13:00.     While touching base with the contact station rangers a group of three boys who looked fairly frazzled arrived and asked for directions as to the quickest way to get to Matthews Arm campground where their car was.     They had been backpacking for 5 days and thought they were on the trail that would take them back to their car.


They found out that cells phones did not work and you really could not call a cab unless you wanted to spend an awful lot of money.   I agreed to shuttle one of them up to their car.   This took over an hour, 52 miles of round trip driving and by the time I got back it was around 15:00.   

Duke Research Project.  
I had a LONG! talk with a Duke researcher who is going to try and take a quantitative look at Old Rag traffic.   You may see him doing his hiker counts in the upper lot.  

My discussion with the Duke researcher made me even later so I figured I would do an up and back on the fire road/Saddle Trail.     It started to rain long before I got to PO Junction around 18:00.    Since it seemed certain the rain would not clear before dark and all the hikers had been washed off Old Rag with the rain I decided to head on home and come back the next day. 


On the next day I did not get to the contact station until around 15:00 and decided to finish my prior days plan.     I got all the way to Byrds Nest Shelter just in time to avoid the rain.  It poured complete with very heavy thunder and lightning.     Not being in any particular rush to get home I hung at Byrds Nest eating some food, reading my Kindle, and smoking my pipe.    I was rewarded after a little over an hour with the sky clearing to the west.     This happened just in time for me to hustle up to the summit and experience a beautiful sunset to the west and a rainbow to the east.

Enjoying the rain from a nice dry shelter.

A huge wonderful arching rainbow, (did I say huge?) to the east with a dark menacing thunderstorm providing a poignant background of angry swirling darkness behind a bright joyful rainbow.    

Sound byte credit goes to, The Young Rascals Grovin'

Red Velvet Ant aka Cow Killer aka Dasymutilla occidentalis .   Not an ant but a wingless wasp with the reputation of having a sting that will make you wish you were dead.

This young bear has been hanging aloud the area of PO Junction and Old Rag Shelter.    I saw a coyote at Old Rag Shelter but could not get my camera out in time to get a picture.

With the recent rains the mushrooms are starting to pop up.

After the storm from the slab above Byrds Nest shelter.    Spectacular sunset to the west and wonderful rainbow to the east.    WOW!!!!

I did not see my raccoon friend myself but I did get a report that she had come up to and was begging food from a group of Boy Scouts near the summit.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sat&Sun August 6&7, 2011

Saturday and Sunday August 6 and 7, 2011
Overcast and Rain Saturday
Weakley Hollow Sunday

I did a late day reverse circuit on Saturday and a late day short hike to where Brokenback crosses Weakley Hollow where I spent a couple hours at the gurgling stream side reading books on my Kindle and periodically speaking to hikers that went by. 

The springs at Old Rag Shelter and Bartenders Spring are still flowing (but barely).    Old Rag received a light soaking rain Saturday night.    Just enough to form a few small puddles and get the top soil wet but not enough to add much flow to the streams.

Surreal Mist
I made it to the summit on Saturday just in time to see that a pretty good rainstorm was headed my way from the west.  I scurried down the rock scramble on the Ridge Trail arriving at the first false summit just as the rain was starting in earnest and it got too dark to see without a headlamp.   The hike down the Ridge Trail switchbacks was surreal because besides the rain there was a heavy mist of millions of tiny floating water droplets diffusing the light from my headlamp such that I could not see the ground very well.   It was like looking through gauze.   My visual depth perception was way off so I had to concentrate and overrule my visual ques and depend on the touch of my feet against rock, root, or ground.     The mist was so blurring my vision that some roots could just as  easily have been a snake on the trail so I often had to test with my hiking stick before stepping near the root.   It was fascinating trying to develop a walking technique that allowed for both safety and speed.

While Brokenback Run was still flowing it was as low as I have ever seen it.

I saw my little raccoon friend near the slab that looks over Byrds Nest Shelter.   It was walking downhill parrallel to and five feet off the trail.   When she got to within about ten feet of me I gently asked what are you up to at which point in time she stopped and stared at me.    I then shoo'ld her off into the woods.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hot, Bear, and Raccon2 Sat&Sun July 30&31, 2011


Still very hot and no significant rain for quite a long time!  


The spring at Old Rag Shelter was only trickling at about a quart per minute.

It would be good to take  100 to 128 ounces of water per person when the weather is hot!!

That means at least three litres or quarts per person!

The following juvenile bear cub was hanging out near the junction of Old Rag, Berryhollow and Weakley Hollow fire roads.


I have a strong suspicion that the raccoon in the next pictures is the same one I saw on the first false summit the week before.   This time I encountered it on Old Rag's summit.     I had taken my pack off and left it on top of a boulder on the summit and then walked away from it briefly in order to visit with a group of three hikers.   When I came back the little rascal was ripping into my pack.   Before I could chase it away it was able to grab an energy bar and run under a nearby boulder to eat.     

While this incident was inadvertent it may have contributed to this animals eventual death.    If a wild animal becomes a nuisance animal there is a good chance it will be put down.    I will be keeping my pack close to me from now on!   I  will also make a point of hazing this animal if I see it being too familiar. 

At the time of this incident there were only 4 people on the summit and we were all initially about 150 feet from my pack.    Returning to the area were I had left my pack I realized a raccoon was frantically ripping into it.   I got within about three feet and actually on top of the boulder before the bandit would run away.   She was able to score an energy bar before she ran under a boulder about ten feet away.     After she finished her stolen snack she had the gall to come back to the boulder.   I was standing directly over my pack on top of the boulder and the little gal came right up to the edge of the boulder and stood on her hind legs with her front feet grabbing holds on the side of the boulder just inches away from my toes.   She was looking straight at me with a cute, quizzical, deploring, gotta luv and feed me expression.      Despite how adorable she looked I yelled at her and stomped my foot at which point she decided to retreat not just from the boulder but totally off the summit.     She did not seem crazed or mean but I suggest you keep a very tight watch on your equipment.

Besides keeping a tight watch on your equipment do not do what I did just after chasing the raccoon away from my pack.   I reached down to examine the hole the raccoon had just made in my pack and realized the fingers on my right hand were slimy with the raccoon's saliva.    Bad move.   While I did not have any visible cuts on my hand and the raccoon did not seem outwardly sick (just very bold) I will be discussing with my GP whether the smart thing to do is go through a series of rabies shots.  The good news is I did not have any cuts or sores.    The saliva was hardly visibly but being able to feel its wetness on my fingertips and knowing it was fresh from the raccoon's mouth caused me to go on alert and disinfect my fingers.   The good news is rabies virus is very short lived outside of its host (not sure if this means seconds, minutes, or tens of minutes).     While doing a little on-line research I found out that dead bodies can continue to harbor live virus for awhile.    Surprisingly  the cold weather can actually keep rabies virus viable in a dead host's body longer than it will remain viable in warm weather.    The bottom line is that you should be very careful how you handle wild animals or any vectors/fomites that come in contact with them.   

Not the best picture but you can see how close the raccoon (who is at the bottom left of my pack) was getting to humans in quest for food.

Double click picture for better view.

The raccoon is ravenously eating her energy bar in this picture.    While she was clearly very hungry and willing to get very close to humans she never seemed crazed or angry.   
I had a friend who raised and released a rescued/orphaned baby raccoon when I was in high school.  For those who think this might be fun be aware you need to be trained and licensed to do this both legally and in order to make sure you are doing what is best for the animal.

(See the following link about 11 year old fined $500 dolllars for saving woodpecker.)
While wild animal rescue can be rewarding it requires a very significant round the clock seven day a week level of commitment.   

One of the funny games my friend would play with his juvenile raccoon was to give it a sugar cube and a bowl of water.   The youngster would instinctively wash the sugar cube which would promptly dissolve/disappear after which the coon would spend many funny antic filled minutes looking for it.   My friend would have liked to have kept his young raccoon but had to naturalize and release it before it became sexually mature.   Like humans, once raccoons become adults they can be very MOODY!


I love Old Rag sunsets, dusk and twilight.     Make sure you have lights and backup lights if your going to enjoy these times of day on Old Rag.

During warm weather I almost never see Copperheads during the day but see one on the trail in the evening about every third trip.     Very pretty, fun to see, and not a worry unless you are trying to walk out without a light.   Of course it is always good advice to never place any part of your body (usually feet or hands) where you can not see.    I heard of one person who while hiking up Old Rag grabbed around a small tree trunk only to jump back because he had inadvertently grabbed a black snake climbing up on the back side of the tree trunk.  Towards the end of the summer I have sometimes seen some humongous Wolf Spiders on tree trunks.   I had a friend who reached up on a high shelf in his backyard storage shed and was bitten by a Wolf Spider.  Not life threatening but his arm swelled up and he felt really sick for awhile.    While under headlamp on really buggy nights it is good to keep your mouth shut or wear some kind of shield to prevent bugs from getting sucked down into you lungs.     I once ran into what are called European Hornets.   They look like super giant yellow jackets, are nocturnal and will attack lights.    It took me a few seconds to realize they were after my headlamp and that I needed to turn it off until I had walked past the area near their nest.  

Fireflies, spider and animal eyes reflecting back at your headlamp light, bats flying almost right up to your face while chasing bugs attracted to your headlamp.  The wonders of shooting stars, moonlight, twinkling star fields, constellations, planets.   The beauty  of distant city lights, cars, and planes.    Becoming much more aware of your senses of sound and smell.

I added the next short video clip more for the sound of the tree frogs.   The audio in the clip does not do them justice.    Between the tree frogs, cicadas and a nearby screech owl it was a marvelous symphony.