Sunday, December 8, 2013

Saturday December 7, 2013 Late Afternoon, Dusk & Night Hike Caterpillar Field Guide

It is fun for me to start up the back side of Old Rag Mountain late in the day.    On this Saturday the air was clear and very cool but not what I would consider cold.   Keep in mind that every one's bodies ideas about crazy cold, cold, cool, warm, hot, crazy hot are probably different.  

Wim Hof has a body that thinks 32 degree F ice water is cold but not deadly cold like the rest of us mere mortals.

For me a dry 30 degrees is something I consider pleasantly cool

My Saturdays evening hike was delightful sustenance for the soul.   I love the moods that late afternoon, sunset, early dusk, twilight, and dark put me in.    This was one of those nights when twinkling stars and carpets of valley lights elicited feelings that all was okay with the world.   It was fun seeing around 80 hikers on their way back down off the mountain.  As usual for Old Rag I had  lots of different human encounters.   Most days on Old Rag I am lucky and encounter the most wonderful folks.....

After it was deep dark I encountered a large group of around 20 40-60 year old equally mixed male and female hikers.   Sensing their presence long before they sensed mine I sat on a rock and turned off my headlamp and music so I could enjoy the sound of their happily twittering conversations.   Once they got close enough I turned my music back on.  It is fun to let them be be a little surprised when they come around a corner and run into a funny fellow sitting all alone on a rock happily listening to music as you greet them with a matter-of-fact neighborly "wonderful evening isn't?"

While not roped up, the males in this group looked technically prepared to be on an open ice field above 17,000 feet.   The females were bundled up for zero degree weather but did not have all the technical mountaineering accouterments of their male companions.    The important thing is that they all seemed very comfortable and happy to be engaged in their mountain social adventure.    About an hour-and-a-half latter I was leaving the summit after having enjoyed my own long solitude of wonderful music and valley lights when a single individual hiker with a good sized electric lantern arrived.   He was holding his lantern out in front of him like an old town crier.   We had a pleasant talk about the fact that the Ridge Trail's wetness was turning into ice and that for safety he had decided to go out on the Saddle Trail and Fire  Roads.   He was clearly dressed very warmly and seemed very comfortable and at ease.    I suggested that he check out the view of the valley lights from either the tippy-top summit perch or the larger sitting area just on the Weakley Hollow side of the tippy-top summit rocks as we parted company.    He passed me on his way out just before the Saddle Trail slab looking down on Byrds Nest Shelter.     Earlier in the evening I had chatted with a couple of hiking parties who did not realize they still had about 2 hours of walking to get to their cars. Their only source of light being their smart phone flashlight apps.    I gave both those groups good directions and some little emergency thumb lights.   The first group consisted of two young, wide-eyed, slightly fearful, girls.  Besides good directions I  tried to calm and reassure them.   Half an hour later I got to speak with a group of teen age males.  Very respectful but also showing a little bit of pride/bravado.  I tried to temper their hutzpah just a touch.      

Since I was going back to Berry Hollow and not down Weakley Hollow it was a little bit of a relief to realize the large party of adults and the single lantern carrying male would unwittingly providing good Samaritan sweeps down Weakley Hollow Fire Road.

D Cox had recommended I get Caterpillars of Eastern North America.   He has a strong personal interest in moths, butterflies and therefore of course Caterpillars.   You can see his web postings at:

I had mentioned him in an earlier blog posting which can be found by clicking on the label listing "butterfly identification".   He lives on the flanks of Old Rag Mountain and spends lots of time on Old Rag Trails and in the Old Rag off-trail backcountry.   I always have good time sharing information with him when we meet on the mountain.

Caterpillars of Eastern North America is a marvelous field guide.    It was written by David L. Wagner who clearly must have spent an obsessive amount of time on its 496 pages of exquisite text and over 1,200 photos.  

I would recommend it as a wonderful Christmas present for any of your naturalist friends who do not have it.

Sorry but my current point and shoot camera can not do the summit night scene justice.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sat.&Sun. Nov. 23&24, 2013 COLD WINDY

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cloudy Misty Wind Light Rain

Saturday and Sunday November  16&17 
Daytime Cloudy Warm Moist Air
Evenings Fog and Misty Rain 
There are times when Old Rag Mountain becomes cloaked in a very heavy fog/very light mist.   Daytime visibility can be greatly limited.  Nighttime visibility becomes problematic.  Once it becomes deep dark you can not use the bright settings on your headlamp because of your headlamp's reflection off the mist.  Taking your headlamp off your head and holding it down by your waist and setting your light on its lowest brightness should help. 
When I did these things on Saturday night my ability to see the trail was still marginal.  I had to be very careful, slow, and deliberate with my foot and hiking pole placements.  I could only see the barest of an outline of the trail.    Many times I would find my foot dropping 3 inches further than I expected or coming to rest at an unnatural angle.   I am not just familiar with the trail, I am very familiar with a large percentage of rocks, boulders, roots, water-bars, steps, trees, and other features on the trail.   Even with this knowledge there were times on Saturday night that I found myself a footstep or two off the trail.   I was not surprised when at the CCC Stairs I heard voices and saw the diffused glow of a couple of headlamps about 200 feet off the Saddle Trail.  Based on the hikers' conversation it sounded like they were trying to figure out where they were.     When I yelled out to them, "Are you were you want to be?" they replied with a question,  "Are you on the trail?"  My voice became their bell buoy/fog horn and my headlamp their lighthouse as they made their way back to the trail.     These young men made it back to the trail and I noticed that the clanging sound I had been hearing was caused by ice-climbing-tools.  They each had one in their hands.   They seemed puff-chested-flustered, like the person who trips but fluidly jumps up and says did you see that fake fall.    I decided to treat our conversation as though we were neighbors who had chanced upon each other during our evening strolls.   
The good news was that while the air was saturated with fog and very tiny rain droplets it was also relatively warm.  It was warm enough that even had the individuals had to emergency bivouac until morning, hypothermia was unlikely.  With colder temperatures hypothermia could be a very serious risk for the unprepared.  During warmer snake seasons, fog like limited visibility makes it even harder to be careful of where your placing feet or hands.  At these times it is good to have  hiking poles or a walking stick.  Besides the extra stability they provide you can use them to probe/feel ahead of you the way a blind person uses their cane. 
If your ability to see your feet gets bad enough you should probably stop. If you must continue it might be best to scoot along on your butt.   Once a climbing partner and I found ourselves in the deep-dark with no lights.  We were a half mile from our car on a very steep Adirondack mountainside.  We had lost the trail but we could hear the cars on the road below us.  We decided to blindly bushwhack our way slowly towards the road.    Suddenly we both found ourselves in free fall.   Luckily we only dropped five feet and were not hurt.  It could have just as easily have been a 20 foot drop!  The rest of the trip found us scooting along on our butts.   The neat thing was that on our slow way down we got to see some really neat phosphorescent glowing fungi.   
The most difficult navigation conditions I have encountered along exposed parts of the Old Rag Ridge Trail have been near (but not quite) white-out blizzard-like blowing (30+ mph wind) snow conditions.   The good news is that these conditions are incredibly rare on Old Rag (maybe once a decade).   When they do occur they probably only last for a few hours (not days) and they are generally localized to the highest and exposed portions of the mountain.   If you are going to place yourself at risk of potentially encountering these types of conditions, I would advise that you come prepared for the possibility you might need to shelter in place.  


A type of Umbilicaria I believe Umbilicaria-mammulata but am not sure.  Common name Tripe.  Notice that after 24 hours of fog and natural mist it is green color.  On a hot dry summer day it is grayish black.

  1. On Saturday night I came upon a rabbit on the trail just below Byrds Nest Shelter.    On Sunday night I came across the same rabbit sitting in the exact same spot in the trail but this time he had a little field mouse as a companion.    They both sat and stared at me for about 20 seconds before deciding to scurry off into the underbrush.
  2. On Sunday night I made a stop and sat on a boulder along the trail at the stairs just below Byrds Nest Shelter.   The wind was quiet and I could make out the outlines of the bottom of Weakley Hollow.  Continuing my hike I stopped and sat on a boulder near the trail by Byrds Nest Shelter and the wind was blowing at around 15-20 miles per hour and I was in a thick blowing mist.  The wind was loud enough that I had to shelter my phone and almost yell to be understood.     Upon return to the stairs just 100 feet lower and maybe 800 feet away I was back below the cloud-deck in windless perfectly still conditions.   The conditions were so radically different in such a short distance that it was as though I had walked through a portal between two worlds.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Veterans Day Weekend



Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Musical Inspiration For Old Rag Naturalists






From Wikipedia:
"The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)", is an electronic dance song and viral video by Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis.
I enjoy both the sounds of nature and inspirational music.

Having just attended both Aida and Die Fledermaus the following viral musical Internet hit was a wonderfully joyful auditory pallet cleanser.   Combining both my love of music and nature I thought other Old Rag naturalists would enjoy the following song (sorry but you will need to skip the ad):
From YouTube:

What did Pelusios seychellensis say?

It turns out that Old Rag Granite may contain the richest trove of Pelusios Seychellensis fossils anywhere in the world.   While declared extinct this species of fresh water turtle is now considered one of the most extreme examples of having had a population bottleneck.

I am very skeptical but there are some that say I once wrote,

"If it did not exist it might still be extinct."  

"ARE YOU CRAZY?!!!  Here we are arguing about the past.  What about now?  What about the future?   We are burning valuable time!  Wasting daylight!   Every infinitesimal fleeting instant is causing whole species' future-pasts to become their past-futures.  If we keep this up we will have wasted so much time that we will find ourselves in a future where extinct species are discovered to have never existed except in the past!!!"

Adventurer/surgeon/rock musician Buckaroo Banzai said:

"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." 

"There are times when verbal ingenuity is not enough."

Plan Ahead And Prepare (a LNT Principal)

What does the Bear say?  

Motivated by his interest in abandoned picnic baskets and human carcasses, Yoga Bear, I mean Yogi Berra,  had these wise words for Old Rag Hikers(among others):
"If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else."
"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there."

"If you come to a fork in the road, take it."


Happy trails!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sat. Trail Patrol Training Sunday Old Rag Patrol

Pictures now text  later

Cindy Kelly's photo.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Columbus Day Weekend and Weekend After

While driving around and some of the hollows bordering SNP I took a picture of this well built stone wall.   It ran along the road for over a half mile.   No mortar but very square and well kept.

The three day Columbus Day weekend rained and rained and rained.  Louise and I managed to go for a few short walks around the cabin during spells when the rain slowed down to a drizzle.    For the rest of the time we sat on the big covered front porch enjoying the wild life, reading and conversation or were inside compulsively working on a 1,000 piece jig-saw puzzle that featured historic Virginia.    One of the delightful bird songs came after dusk from a Barred Owl doing his "Who who who cooks for you"

Fall colors are here for the next few weeks.

The weekend after Columbus Day I taught a Saturday introduction to LNT for the Mid-Atlantic Climbers during their Great Falls National Park adopt a Crag work day after which a ran out to the Vining Tract on the eastern border of the southern part of the SNP in order to have dinner and spend the night with PATC Trail Patrollers who had rented Mutton Top cottage for the weekend. 
On the way there I stopped at the Old Rag Parking lot to see if things were crazy busy(first weekend after the government shutdown ended).   I was surprised to find that it was not much busier than I would have expected for a nice mid-October Saturday.  (The parking lot was full with an additional 130 cars in the neighbors pasture.)    I arrived after the Rangers had left so answered questions from hikers arriving back in the parking lot after their circuit hike of Old Rag.   For about an hour I answered all the typical questions and helped with a separated party issue that resolved itself after about a half hour.   
Just as I was about to leave a couple who look a little befuddled were staring at the map on the back of the interpretive sign so I asked if they had a question.    The question was, "Where are we?  This is not where we parked.  This is where we wanted to park but could not find it"    I asked where they parked and they said they were not sure but it sounded something like "Sleepy Hollow".    I asked "Did you mean Berry Hollow" ?   Oh yes that is it.    I started to explain to them how to get to their car but realized it was already near sunset and close to getting dark so  I asked if they had lights?  The answer was no.   Not having any backpacks, looking fairly lightly dressed, and clearly not knowing what the ten essential systems were I figured it best that I drive them to their car on my way to Mutton Top Cabin.   They were a very nice couple in their early 60's and we had a good conversation on the way to their  car.   They said they had a great time and wanted to hike more.   I was not sure giving them advice as to how to go on other hikes would be the best thing I could do for them but it was clear to me they were going to most likely do more hiking regardless of how much I did or did not help them.    I used the 25 minute ride to try and give them basic outdoor-hiking pointers along with suggestions about how to find additional resources.    Sometimes but not always,  the best adventures are mis-adventures.

On Sunday I  hung out with the PATC Trail Patrollers until around noon then went to Old Rag to hike and do volunteer outreach


A cloudless sky so the sunset did not involve much color.   It is interesting to notice how far the place the sun drops below the horizon changes with the passage of the seasons.    I like to try to visualize the Sun being still and the giant ball called Earth that I am sitting on slowly rotating me away from the sun.    It was too cold on Sunday night for the frogs to engage in their chorus.   Perhaps it will be next summer until I hear them again.