Friday, October 2, 2015

Fall, 2015..Allium Edition

The Fall season is upon us! We're excited to be back on the mountain !  It's obvious that the hiking public is as well. Last weekend we had a solid stream of hikers crossing the summit... and the weather was....well, it was...

The weather forecast you read eight days ago was for areas of Northern VA,-DC-MD, Fredericksburg thru Baltimore... "Expect overcast skies with daytime highs in the low 70s and nighttime lows in the lower 60s"

"PERFECT!" you thought,  "LETS GO TO OLD RAG!"

(Of course, the forecast you should have read was:

"Shenandoah National Park officials are issuing a weather advisory for anybody planning on travel to the Park over the next few days.   Since Thursday, the Park has received 4.8 inches of rain in some areas, resulting in localized flooding of trails, parking lots and roads.
Forecasts show more rain — heavy at times — in the upcoming days. Visitors to the park should use extreme caution during this weather event; expect slick conditions and debris-such as trees, limbs and leaves- on roads and trails. Additionally for areas above 2000 ft, expect extremely low visibility, which will greatly restrict views and make bicycling extremely hazardous .. Temperatures are expected to remain in the mid forties to low 50s")

The view from the summit is always a breathtaking experience, which is part of the reason on days when the weather is so perfect, hundreds and thousands flock to this one of a kind mid Atlantic hike!

Often hikers ask the Old Rag Mountain Stewards about the bright orange shirts they wear... it is to help with visibility and provide ready identification should their assistance be needed..
This is a picture of one of our Stewards teaching a short class on Leave No Trace to a group of 30 novice hikers , and particularly,  how it pertains to several of the more fragile species of plants found on the mountain..  n

 I'm sure the novice hikers will be more than anxious to return and practice their newly acquired skills 

During the last days of summer, the National Park Service put the finishing touches on the combined lunch room - outhouse at the Byrds Nest just off the summit. This novel concept will aid those people who have felt the need to poop and pee on the trail. In the Byrds Nest, right behind the picnic table is a place that has been reserved for those who HAVE to answer Natures call, and cannot bring themselves to "go in the woods"  The concrete floor, and stone walls not only ensure privacy, but also ensure that your waste in all its smelly glory will be there for weeks and  months to come... enticing those others, who may want to picnic to come on in and pull up a seat... right  next to your offering..

(There was to be a ribbon cutting next weekend, but, unfortunately Anita Pee and her cousin Tiny Bladder couldn't wait ... Their (still liquid) urine and their paper are still enticing all those hungry picnickers who also cannot wait...)
So gross! No more will sights like this be seen on the trail or n the woods, now that pooping indoors, beside the picnic table is an option!


And this is really great news! "It has been determined that indeed, all the Park's wildlife can not only survive, but indeed THRIVE on a diet of spilled fruits, nuts, candy, waste products, bread, dirty socks and cigarette butts!"

So remember, for maximum enjoyment this Fall, come to Old Rag!  on weekends! when you can share the mountain with thousands of others looking for the same wilderness experience...

-There, you'll find trails where you and 8 of your best friends can hike abreast of each other... (no more of that dreaded single-file walking) 
-Don't bother checking the (Old Rag local)weather or with the Park... what do those guys know? Just read up on whats local to YOU, and go with it!
-Just drop your trash wherever is convenient! We'll all thank you... especially the animals!
-Please confine your pooping and peeing needs to those places where other hkers like to eat and relax.. it's much more user-friendly that way....
-And don't forget, for a real thrill, start late in the day...Now that it's getting darker earlier, you can have a true adventure, route finding your way down in the dark.. 

and above all... HAVE FUN! 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


 (Is the group in front of you too slow on the steps? This is what happens if you just go around them)

Leave No Trace.. more than just an idea and good sounding words. The program was designed to provide some guidelines for land use and recreation, particularly for WILDERNESS areas (like Old Rag), in the absence of laws and burdensome regulations. 
For public lands that are extremely heavily used the guidelines are critically important if the nature of the resource is to be preserved.

1. Plan ahead and prepare... Take a moment to think about water, bathroom, snacks, fitness of your group, and the time and weather. Prepare yourself mentally and physically for the day on the mountain BEFORE you leave home.

2. Travel on durable surfaces.. (most of Old Rag is closed to camping now, so I left that part out) The trails on Old Rag are "hardened", defined, somewhat maintained surfaces... but the trails are not 10 feet wide! or wider. And while you may know a "better, more direct way" that is not a regularly maintained trail, with a few hundred or thousand people traveling on your "secret path" will soon become a rut, an unsightly scar on the mountainside, prone to erosion. Stay on the trail.... not on the margin.

3. Dispose of waste properly. Yes, Shenandoah is a PARK. No, it does not have a grounds crew that picks up your trash. It's as simple as if you bring it in, you carry it out. And yes, many people believe that if it's organic, it's OK to leave... Yes, apple trees grow throughout the region untended by the hand of man... and apples readily decompose. When is the last time you saw a banana tree? or an orange tree? or a "plastic water bottle tree" growing along Skyline Drive? An orange peel will take YEARS to decompose as will toilet paper.... plastic and cigarette butts last forever. When you leave it, throw it, "hide" it... its there for a long time. Don't do it.

4. Leave what you find. (unless you are carrying out trash you find) Flowers and pine cones are reproductive organs of the plants on the mountain. ... you don't want someone picking your reproductive organs do you? Enough said.

5.Minimize campfire impacts... this is an easy one, since no fires are allowed at all!

6. Respect wildlife. This goes along with not leaving waste, food or trash. Animals are opportunistic eaters, and human food is not what they need. The animals on Old Rag are at home there, and do quite nicely without human intervention (or taunting or prodding or teasing) give them wide berth.

7. Be considerate of other visitors. Visitors go to the mountains for a wide variety of reasons. For the quiet, the solitude, the challenge, the chance to reflect on creation. And each person has the right to that experience... Having said that, no one has the right to step on another person's experience. If you need music, wear headphones. If you are with a large group, spread into smaller groups. This is not supposed to be a "Kings Dominion" experience... "take a number, wait in line for your turn at a thrill". If you think someone needs directions, then spend a moment teaching them, don't mark the trail with paint or chalk ( the way the Capitol Hiking Club does).

The damage and impact to Old Rag Mountain is easily seen, not just by the ORMS (who are arguably there more than any other group) but also by the National Park Service staff and even the average visitor. 
A study, by the NPS, to determine exactly who makes the most impacts costs a lot of money and tends to pit user groups against user groups. Regardless of the guilty party, the result would be to restrict usage for all... or heavy-handed usage regulations.... for ALL.
 No one really wants that.

Over the past several years, the ORMS has been very quietly making observations of the users of Old Rag Mountain. Not just one or two, but thousands of users on weekend days for 25 weekends per year. The results? 
Like it or not, there is no debate or arguing....

Trail runners.
Large groups.
First-time hikers. 

The reality is this:  Those three groups are making a huge impact on Old Rag... and not a good one.

Trail runners. Who doesn't love trail running? Many of our Stewards are fanatical about trail running. and of all the places on the planet, Old Rag is one of the best! But midday, on a weekend? with 1300 other people on the trail? Really?
Trail running at these times leads to passing hiking groups often by running on the margins of the trail, or off the trail altogether! It sounds unbelievable, but there are places on the Saddle Trail where the trail has been trampled and widened to a width of almost twenty feet! 
It also leads to a frustrating run... who wants to have a stop and go experience while waiting behind crowds? There are hundreds of miles of little-used trails in Shenandoah begging to be run... Try those on weekends... a much greater experience (disclaimer... I LOVE trail running... but not on Old Rag ... on weekends! for ideas, call us!)

Large groups. Large groups contribute to trail widening much like the trail runners.  Walking four-abreast, while talking, necessitates others passing you by stepping on the margins of the trail or off the trail entirely. In general, trails are designed to be traveled on single file with room for passing others. That is not to say that two- abreast can't be done at times, but it's awkward. The "group mentality" of large groups (think busloads of people) is in no way conducive to a wilderness experience for anyone... either in the group or outside of the group. 

If you are coming in a large group, consider breaking yourselves into smaller parties of no more than 10, and traveling at staggered times.

If you need to hike in a large group... join the Army.

First -time hikers. Learn before you go... as much as you can!. Go with someone who knows good outdoor practices and ethics. Prepare yourselves mentally and physically. Carryout your trash... all of it. Don't bite off more than you can chew.   Don't cut across switchbacks in the trail... Be ready for an AWESOME mountaintop experience!

Please, The ORMS is on Old Rag to enhance the visitor experience for ALL. We do this thru education. Please help us spread the word about how we can ALL get more out of our mountaintop experience... LEAVE NO TRACE! for everyone.. for all of us! 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Help Wanted!

It's hard to believe that it has been an entire year since this blog has been updated! Sometimes we get so caught up in our regular lives that we don't make time for some of the more mundane actions.. like blogging.

Old Rag Mountain Stewards is a purely volunteer organization..We are volunteers from all walks of life and we drive as far as 4 hours (one way!)  to be on this mountain as a steward. In fact, besides the friendship and good times, the other thing we have in common is our love for Old Rag  and the outdoors.

And that, is exactly the point of this blog entry. ORMS has been around for almost 8 years now. the impact has been phenomenal for the overall health of the mountain and the visitor experience... and especially at the juncture where those two meet! (Just scroll down through the entries from past years... the impact is easily quantifiable)

For many years, we have had a core of Stewards who have worked tirelessly on Old Rag, often climbing the mountain as many as 70 times in a year! As life always is, people change jobs, move away, get married, have kids, get divorced,  etc... The result is that we wind up with fewer and fewer trained volunteers trying to do more than is possible... and this is where you come in!

We need a  few good people!
If you are an experienced outdoors person, you love to  hike Old Rag, you have good "people skills" and you would be able to be on Old Rag, four weekend days per year, let us hear from you!

E-mail a brief "outdoors resume" or CV, and a brief statement of why you are interested (besides wanting a  cool orange shirt!) to:

We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

.. and now..OPEN!!!

We look forward to everyone having a safe visit. Come prepared for large crowds, early darkness, and cold nighttime temperatures..Bring water, high energy snacks, an extra layer (of clothing) and a headlamp or flashlight.. and don't forget your camera! 

(Remember: If you find that you've bitten off more than you can chew, it's ok to turn around.. it's a beautiful hike regardless. Give yourself permission to have fun!)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Old Rag Mountain is Closed

During this, hopefully brief, period of time in which the government is closed for business, Shenandoah National Park, including Old Rag Mountain is closed to visitation.. Old Rag Mountain Stewards will not be on duty...nor will Shenandoah National Park rescue assets. Some sites on Facebook are encouraging visitation despite the closure (In particular, the Old Rag Mountain fan site).  We believe this is irresponsible for numerous reasons... with the primary concern being that of safety and accident response.

We encourage you to use good judgement and understand that you and you alone are fully responsible for your actions.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hello 2013!

There is so much  going on..Following several well-deserved months off, the ORMS are chomping to get back on the mountain! 
The 2012 season ended with a bang, finding the stewards out almost all night with an assistance call for a sick and long overdue hiking group..( remember, especially in the "shoulder seasons" , when you come to hike Old Rag Mountain, come prepared for dramatic changes in the weather... Sunny and 70 in Fredericksburg may be windy, 34 with sleet on Old Rag... Don't just wear your flip-flops, tank-tops and cutoffs. And if you do, be prepared to turn back when the weather is not what you expected.)

In spite of the crowding that we all experience on weekends on Old Rag, it still remains one of the top-rated hikes in the Eastern US!

Havinng said that, with the looming budgetary constraints that the National Park Service is facing, the visitor assistance that the Mountain Stewards provide will be more important in 2013 than ever!
ORMS patrols will be starting in April... and going thru mid November. 

During 2012, we refrained from recruiting new volunteers. 2013 is a new ball game!
 If you have solid outdoor skills, are in good condition and have a basic knowledge of wilderness first aid, have a few weekend days to spend on the mountain,and would be interested in helping with this invaluable service, contact us!( We'll connect with you to schedule some "hike along" days.

We are looking forward to the 2013 season with great anticipation. We hope you are as well!   

By the way, the ORMS was featured for their visitor assistance work in the "2012 Accidents in North American Mountaineering" compiled and published by the American Alpine Club. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

You can stop the "NO"

The genesis for the Old Rag Mountain Stewards was the proposed Rock Outcrop Management Plan drafted in 2008. Some of the more extreme recommendations were to restrict the public from access to some of the more popular rocky high points in Shenandoah, like Old Rag Mountain, Hawksbill, Little Stony Man and others. 
In response, the ORMS was formed to serve as "stewards" interacting with the public about the resources that need protection and why. 
In this, we have been highly successful, interacting with tens of thousands of visitors annually for the past five years.

Well, now it seems that regardless of the work of so many volunteers and the overwhelming positive response of the public, a few people in the National Park Service feel that it will be much more expedient to  simply restrict access for both hikers and climbers to these popular destinations.   

The goal is for the park to put these restrictions in place before February 2013.Comments are needed at your earliest opportunity and before 10 January 2013

What can you do???
open up the ROMP
Read it... decide if you like the proposed restrictions to your favorite rock outcrop... and then comment..

This is time urgent.
If you consider these mountains to be our shared resources, then you need to get involved and let your voice be heard.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ready, Set.....

Returning to Old Rag!

After a much needed hiatus, the Stewards will be returning to weekend patrols on Old Rag over the next few weekends! Stay tuned!