Monday, February 28, 2011

Sat&Sun February 26&27, 2011 Spring Like

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY
FEBRUARY 26 and 27,  2011
SPRING LIKE CONDITIONS

The weekend felt like early Spring.   The snow and almost all the ice were gone.    The only ice to be seen was a very rare small patch located here and there.   At Bartenders Spring high on the Ridge Trail switchbacks I saw around 30 small Nat like insects swirling around in a swarm over a pool of water.    Higher on the mountain I heard a birds singing spring like songs.    On the day of the December 21 solstice the sun only reached a noon altitude of 28 degrees above the horizon.    This weekend found the sun at about 42 degrees above the horizon at mid-day.  For the first time this year the sun's rays seemed to me to have some real strength behind them.  From this point up through sometime in June our average temperatures will be increasing by about two degrees per week.   Even with 20 to 30 mile per hour winds the summit air was warm and balmy.    A few weeks ago I was bundled up and bracing against biting cold.   Sunday evening I was in shirtsleeves and the warm balmy air reminded me of summer evenings when you can smell the Honeysuckle wafting through the air.

The Climbers
On Old Rag the best climbing conditions occur when there are no leaves on the trees and the air and sun are warm on the hands.    Late in the day I was just about to go through the cave on  the Ridge Trail when I suddenly heard the crashing of brush and the chime of climber's placements clinking against each other somewhere along the the base of the slabs on the first false summit.    I waited a while and sure enough I was rewarded by being able to watch a team of climbers doing a route up the middle of the face.

The Family
It was about 17:00 when the climbers were finishing their route.   I was about to start up the trail again when I heard young childrens' voices on the top of the first false summit.   A mom and dad with four kids between the ages of six and thirteen had hiked over the top of the first false summit and were starting up the rock scramble.    I decided to wait and speak to them in order to make sure they had lights and knew what to expect if they continued to the summit.    I ambled down the trail a little bit and we met at the little saddle between the first false summit and cave.    As I was approaching I could hear the parents explaining to their troop of kids that they had hit their turn around time and would have to head back to the the car.   They promised the kids that they would return in the future so that the family could make it to the summit.    The kids successfully negotiated with their parents to be allowed  to hike up the trail and touch the next blue blaze before turning back.    They then made a little  ceremony out of  touching the next blue blaze while committing to come back and go beyond it.    The kids probably did not realize it but they had just engaged in an old climbing ritual of making a promise to oneself to come back and exceed one's last high point.   There is something in our genetics that makes us want to push on, explore beyond the next bend, climb above the last high point, and discover that new piece of knowledge.    My conversation with the parents determined that they had lights and were very comfortable with their ability to get the troop back to the car so I headed back up to the summit.

Old Rag Human Activity
There are many reasons I enjoy volunteering on Old Rag but one of them is the countless interactions I get to have with folks of all different skill levels, personalities and persuasions that for a myriad of reasons find themselves hiking on Old Rag.  Sometimes hikers test my patience as when they are engaged in some ill advised activity like trying to trundle a large rock off a precipice.    Sometimes I get to take great pleasure in watching the explicit joy of someone discovering the wonders of the mountain for the first time.     Sometimes I get to  be inspired as when I was able to help a young hiker who was absolutely terrified of heights but who would not let that fear prevent them from reaching the summit even though that meant they had to work through 10 or 15 panic attacks as they progressed up the rock scramble.    Yet despite the fact I have seen thousands of Old Rag visitors I still get surprised by something unexpected on almost every trip.   This last weekend I was in the parking lot when I noticed some young men heading off on their hike with snowshoes, ice axes, and crampons.   When I mentioned that they would not need all the ice and snow equipment they responded in a completely serious way that they would need it for any potential crevasse rescues they might need to do up on Mount Robinson.    Right after that they laughed and explained that they were on a training hike for an upcoming trip to higher mountains and just wanted to practice with all the equipment they needed on their upcoming trip.    On the days when I actually encounter a few hours of genuine solitude I enjoy it but I am even happier on the days when I get to see 1,000 plus hikers enjoying the mountain.








The Mountain Laurel have started sending out their new growth shoots for the year.




For most of the day the skies were mostly sunny.




Looking up the Ridge Trail from the first false summit.




This portion of the Ridge Trail just before the summit feels landscaped.



The following video was taken just after sunset on the summit.    The wind was blowing but unlike the biting cold of just a few weeks ago this wind was balmy and even summer like.

Seals and Crofts Summer Breeze heard in background

video

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Early Spring Fever

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY
FEBRUARY 19 and 20, 2011

With folks feeling early Spring Fever on Saturday the parking lot was three quarters full. I had a report of someone who had dislocated their shoulder but had been able to get it back in place. The same person was having a really bad day and was also suffering from a Charlie Horse. As is typical, I was heading up very late in the day and told folks that reported the person having trouble I would keep an eye out for the shoulder person. I never caught up to this group but a number of groups heading down the scramble were able to tell me that the individual seemed to be doing well.

ADVICE
ELECTROLYTES
As the weather gets warmer it is routine for hikers on Old Rag to get cramps. Make sure to load up with some electrolytes and perhaps even bring a few with your group.

TRICK SHOULDERS
If you have a shoulder that is prone to dislocating it seems the Chute presents conditions favorable to causing shoulders to dislocate. The Chute is the spot between R30 and R31. This is the place where you will sometimes see a fixed rope. If you have a trick shoulder be especially careful here.

PARKING
Please do not fill out the ends of any of the rows of cars in the parking lot. In other words leave space for cars, horse trailers, or large emergency vehicles to be able to drive to the back parts of the parking lot. It is useful if you do this on both ends of a row so that if someone forgets at least one end is open.

The next picture is distorted because it is a 180 degree stitched shot of the parking lot from the bench in front of the Contact Station. There were about 120 cars in the lot when this picture was taken around 1PM.

If you look at last week's pictures you will see that there is a picture taken in the exact same spot as the next picture. In last week's picture there was lots of ice. It is amazing how much different the personality of the mountain can be on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis during the winter and the winter transition seasons. If you look at last years pictures from the same time you will find it was just after Snowmegeddon and deep snow conditions still existed on Old Rag.
The smoke that you can see in the next picture is from a forest fire in located in the North District of SNP. I met several hiking parties that had been redirected to Old Rag because Skyline Drive in the North District was closed due to the fire.


ADVICE
Be especially careful about fire during high wind conditions. Even with soil conditions being very moist last week there were numerous brush fires because of the high winds.


A summit shot about an hour before sunset. The winds across the summit were gusting to at least fifty miles per hour through the little gap in the summit boulders where this picture was taken.

The skies where crystal clear on Saturday so there were no clouds to turn pink or purple.
ADVICE
Old Rag has its most stellar sunsets when there are clouds on the Old Rag side of Skyline Drive but open skies on the western side of Skyline Drive. About ten or fifteen minutes after the sun goes below the horizon the clouds will usually light up with color.

SUNDAY
Sunday was a cloudy grey day. There were still quite a few folks on the mountain considering it was a February weekend but probably only half the number that were on the mountain on the Saturday. It was one of those quiet contemplative days.


SATURDAYS WIND
This short video will give you a little bit of a sense of the winds on Saturday.
video

Monday, February 14, 2011

February 13, 2011 Snow Is Gone


WEEK'S BLOG STARTS BELOW
OLD RAG MOUNTAIN STEWARD'S
ANNUAL TRAINING SIGN UP!

HEY FOLKS IF YOU HAVE EVER BEEN INTERESTED IN SIGNING UP FOR THE OLD RAG MOUNTAIN STEWARDS NOW IS THE TIME TO DO IT.


MINIMUM SERVICE EXPECTATION
THERE IS AN EXPECTATION THAT YOU WILL VOLUNTEER FOR A MINIMUM OF FOUR DAYS A YEAR FOR TWO YEARS BUT IN RETURN YOU WILL RECEIVE SOME GREAT TRAINING, VOLUNTEER WITH GREAT FOLKS AND HELP TAKE CARE OF A WONDERFUL RESOURCE.

ORMS's ANNUAL 2011 TRAINING WEEKEND IS SCHEDULED FOR THE END OF MARCH.

USE THE FOLLOWING LINK TO THE ORMS WEBSITE TO LEARN MORE AND THEN EMAIL mtnjedi@gmail.com.

http://oldragmountainsteward.blogspot.com/

THE WEEKS BLOG
The snow was mostly melted but the woodland trails often had about a half inch of hard slippery ice.


(Pictures can be enlarged by both double clicking and then enlarging the resulting new image.)



The parking lot had around 60 cars which is quite a few for a February weekend.

Here is a shot of the type of icy conditions that could be found on at least half the woodland trails. Folks without any kind of ice traction devices on their feet, (think Microspikes, Stablilizers, YakTrax, crampons), were having a very difficult time. Rapid slips on ice while usually funny can lead to very serious injuries. Every year there are folks who fall backwards on level parking lots or sidewalks and then die from not getting rapid enough treatment for the concussion they received when they forcefully hit the back of their head on the pavement.

A picture of a couple taking an alternate route (with about sixty feet of vertical exposure) down from the first false summit. Notice that granite exposed to the sun was clear of ice and snow.

The view from the first slab just above the Chute.

The view looking towards Sperryville from the top of Skyland aka PATC wall.

A raven above Old Rag summit.

A picture from the summit looking towards Skyline drive. Hawksbill Mountain is on the far left horizon.

Looking back at Old Rags lower summit from a slab near Byrds Nest Shelter on the Saddle Trail.

DEEP MUD
It is not unusual for Old Rag Fire Road between Old Rag Shelter and Post Office Junction to turn into very deep (4 to 6 inches) of mud for about a week during Spring thaws. It is not a lot of fun walking in this deep mud. It will suck the shoes right off your feet and or add about five pounds of mud to each foot. The good news is that the Weakley Hollow Fire Road seems to stay solid so you just need to suffer the mud until you get to the fire road junction. The other good news is the mud condition seems to disappear completely within about a week. It is interesting that this mud forms only during thaws and not during heavy rain in the warm weather. I am assuming it is because there is some layer of soil down under the mud that is still frozen leaving melt water trapped above it and once that layer unfreezes and becomes porous the muddy condition disappears.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Saturday February 5, 2011
Misty, Foggy and Warmer
Cleared At Sunset

While there were no views for most of Saturday, Old Rag mountain produced a pleasant muffled fog draped mood.

There were still plenty of icy conditions on the trail but it was much easier hiking then last weekend. This week's exposed rock surfaces were mostly wet and free of ice. Last weekend everything was coated in a quarter to half inch of clear ice that was so hard my microspikes would often not gain a good purchase. This Saturday the ice was mostly found only on the top of the trail's remaining snowpack and was of the softer white variety. My microspikes easily grabbed solid purchase in this weeks ice.

It is amazing how quickly conditions change on the mountain in winter. We did an up and back to just above the chute. On the way back down it was obvious that lots of snow and ice had melted since we had traveled upward earlier in the day.

On our way back down the sun had just dipped below the horizon and the fog was lifting when we hit the first false summit.

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As the fog lifts it is not unusual for the ground-hugging, wind-driven, wispy, smoky, clouds and fog to provide the most exquisitely mesmerizing exit dances before they disappear into the clear dry air.

Double click picture and use slider for higher resolution.



Much further and later the twilight had passed and the skies were a deep clear crytaline black. As clear and dark as I have ever seen it on Old Rag. At one point we took a break sitting on top of a large boulder. The stars were so abundant, crisp, and bright that we laid back and just took in the wonderous night sky for about ten minutes.
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With warmer snow free days in the forecast it will not surprise me if the mountain is mostly free of ice and snow next weekend. Then again, it will only take a few hours of colder snowy weather to plunge everything back into a winter wonderland. When the temperatures are rapidly fluctuating across the 32 degree boundary the mountain can take on totally different personalities in just a matter of an hour or two.
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Plan, prepare, have fun, be safe.