Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Off Season...

The west side of Old Rag, as seen from Hawksbill... the quietest of times for hikers.
The summit area and rock scramble can be treacherous with ice this time of year... it's a long slippery drop with a very sudden stop. Be prepared for icy conditions with the appropriate footwear and protective gear (good advice for this time of year is to always pack as if you may wind up in an emergency overnight bivouac)...and as always, solid advice for going into the mountains, (and more importantly, coming back out of the mountains)... if in doubt, turn back.

The program administrators for the ORMS program have been working daily to prepare for the next season.. planning training and developing a compendium of lessons learned from a busy first year. Next year should prove to be amazing! Join us and be a part of it!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


It seems to have just begun...
In reality, though, the first season of the Old Rag Mountain Steward program started back in the icy winds of April.
As the season has progressed we've helped folks of all ages find the group they were hiking with, we've provided countless band aids and "blister training", we've helped people off the mountain who were unable to proceed on their own, we've brushed-in social trails whose continued use jeopardizes rare plant species... we've met with US Senators and church groups, scout troops and folks celebrating major life milestones..we've witnessed perhaps the busiest days in Old Rag's history.. we've seen hikers in heels (!) (?) ..and we've watched as the bears, who claim the summit as part of their territory, sweep down on the scraps of food left behind by the weekend hordes.

What an experience!

The first half of the season was staffed by the program's coordinators from Teamlink and Shenandoah Mountain Guides.. the second half of the season was staffed primarily by volunteers.. folks who were skilled outdoors enthusiasts.. who wanted to take their enthusiasm, knowledge and skills to a higher level.

So now, we begin our preparations for next year... though we have about 12 solid stewards, we, like the marines, are still looking for a few good people.. e-mail us!!

In March of '09, we have a big training weekend scheduled... all of the stewards will be learning and practicing our wilderness rescue and first aid skills.. then, starting again in May, we'll be back up on the mountain.. being good stewards of this billion year old gift...

Learning the finer points of setting anchors, rigging haul systems (for rescue), and the principles of mechanical advantage..

Here's a thought:
Do you realize that Old Rag was a mountain when life on the earth was limited to one-celled organisms??
What an amazing place.

Monday, October 27, 2008

25-26 October... a 50-50 proposition

The weekend opened as much needed rain poured down on the mountain, two inches by the end of the day Saturday, which was more than enough to dampen the spirits of most visitors.. but not all.
The absence of hikers enabled the ORMS to do a lot of hands-on training under the guidance of Chad and Jeremy... a whole day of learning.. likened by some to taking a drink from a fully pressurized fire hose... a lot of info in a relatively short bit of time.

Sunday was a different story. Similar to the previous Saturday, the parking lot was approaching capacity by noon, and the lines of hikers at the summit choke points added a different dimension to the hiking challenge. (If you click on this picture, you can see the folks lined up on the far right side of the image, ORMS steward Bob L is in the right foreground, white shirt, helping folks up and over.)

We had four new stewards with us for the weekend, including former (and still part-time) SMG guide extraordinaire, PatMo.. great fun, great cameraderie... with a total of 10 different stewards over 2 days.
Besides the usual reconnecting misplaced hikers with their groups, we were able to assist new backpackers with their Leave No Trace skills and practices, and taught some strategies for positive human backpacker behavior in nuisance bear territory.

We're all marking our calendars for the last weekend in March, 2009,when we will be having our annual field training extravaganza... watch for details!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

18-19 October

When the summit looks like this...

.. and the trails are full of hikers.. and the wait times at the squeeze points are 90 minutes (and more!)..

It makes the few quiet moments at the Old Rag sweet spots all the sweeter for the ORMS staff. The late afternoon sun was just starting to bathe Madison County in shadows when we got our first chance to relax a bit and enjoy the views..

This Saturday was perhaps the busiest day of visitation in recent memory on Old Rag Mountain.

Even with the all the visitors and the assistance we provided, returning stewards Ben, Michael and Emily were able to get a full plate of training.

We visited some of the little known cultural sites in the Old Rag vicinity (Here, Michael is at an old home ruin, washtub still in place.)

To understand the full significance of Old Rag, past and present, cultural and natural, is an important goal for the stewards of this resource.

Emily took time out from training on first response situations (sprains, strains and fractures) to explain to (numerous) groups of visitors the importance of the rescue and life support gear that is kept in the "big green box" that we keep near the summit.... (NO! It's NOT a urinal!!!)

We also spent a portion of the day reviewing climbing and rescue knots and general ropecraft.

(While no steward is expected to be an expert with climbing gear and high angle rescue, it is important to have a general knowledge and understanding of basic climbing/rescue techniques on a mountain like Old Rag.)

At the end of the day, a day full of incredibly meaningful work, it's nice to reflect on the view from the "corner office".

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Two Fall weekends down...

The October weekend of 11,12 marked our second full blown ORMS weekend... staffed with 7 volunteers and one visiting land manager from Kent, England.
And while Old Rag experiences consistently high visitor usage on October weekends, the focus of these first fully staffed weekends is TRAINING.. the ORMS program requires a lot of knowledge, and we spend a considerable amount of time with on-the-job-training (OJT). Our presence on the mountain, even when training, is also a godsend to those who have misplaced themselves from the trail, or are experiencing other unforeseen difficulties.

Not only do we cover the background of the program, LNT, the culture and history of the region, first response /emergency procedures for mountain medical emergencies.. we also cover basic everyday skills like the use of the park's communication system. Before we even leave parking lot, we all conduct a series of solid radio checks, and practice established communications protocols. Here, Michael is tuning the "brick", Bob studies the new hi-speed (lo-drag) ORMS specials, and Matt (from SMG) supervises.

Here's the gang, minus Chad and Andy (from SMG) prior to Saturday's initial circuit of the mountain