Thursday, December 9, 2010

Looking Back..

It was a busy year on Old Rag for the Old Rag Mountain Stewards..
This week, we wrapped up our year-end reports .. and some of the results were very impressive!
Most impressive was the fact that Stewards spent more than 2000 hours on Old Rag this year providing visitor assistance and educational enrichment..
Part of those 2000 hours were some very significant assistance and rescues of injured visitors in which Stewards played a very key role.

Additionally, more than 800 hours were spent simply in the professional development of the stewards.
The average visitor to Old Rag Mountain may not know this, but the folks you see in the orange shirts, the ORMS, learn a tremendous amount about:

- wilderness first aid, first response and medicine,
-rock climbing and rappelling,
-land navigation, and
-the basics of high angle technical rescue.

On top of that, they are all certified as Leave No Trace (LNT) Trainers .. and they know Old Rag pretty much like the back of their hand...

To give you an idea of just how busy we were, this is taken from the year end situation report (SITREP):

VISITOR ASSISTANCE DATA (SUMMARY) - 2010 / 2009 / change

WATER ASSIST - 53 / 48 / +5



SEPARATED PARTIES - 25 / 27 / -2



DIRECTIONS PROVIDED - 516 / 438 / +78

LNT INSTRUCTION - 147 / 91 / +58



As you can see from the data, there is always something happening on Old Rag Mountain! If you need more proof, scroll down thru this blog...

This marks the end of the third year of the Old Rag Mountain Stewards...something that began as an experiment or pilot project has turned into a mega success!

Along with success goes the requests to do more... more days on the mountain, more places to be served by a program like this,

..more opportunities to get some really hi-speed training.. for free.

But to do that, we need more folks who are interested in participating.. people, who, physically, can easily hike Old Rag , who get along well with others, who may or may not have training in first aid, LNT, rock climbing... people who are willing to LEARN (and in-turn, SERVE)... in exchange for 2-4 days per year spent in an amazing environment with great people who love the mountains.

If this is you, email us!

Our spring training begins in March... with a training weekend that will be AMAZING!

I hope you can join us!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Season's End

ORMS season 2010 is now wrapped up and in the history books.. he third season of our presence on the mountain, and increasingly a critical first response asset. Once all the numbers and end of day reports have been sifted , sorted and deciphered, I'll have a more detailed report.. For now, we'll just look at our last day of the season... a professional "fun day".

Part of the job of the ORMS is to know Old Rag mountain extremely well and to be able to provide first response services as needed. Every week during the season there is training specifically geared to prepare stewards for both of those goals.

The last day of the year, started with the "lead stewards" giving a technical and safety brief for the days evolution.

The evolution for the day was to ascend the mountain via the western slabs utilizing fixed ropes.. a stumble or slip, unroped, would result in a terrible tumbling fall of more than 500 feet .
Midday found the team still well below the summit.... basking in the mid November sun.
The climb finished with the team topping out right at sunset.. packing up gear and breaking out headlamps for the hike down the mountain and waiting pizza!

Old Rag Mountain Stewards 2010

Photos courtesy of Ben Minehart and Karen Toth

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"There was no way I was making it down on my own."

"I'm the big blue burrito they helped down the mountain and thank God they did. There was no way I was making it down on my own. .. I have plenty of time now to reflect upon the events yesterday and I am so grateful to the wonderful people that helped me out. (ORM Steward )Bob, was first on the scene, was honest and thorough telling me exactly what to expect. I am so inspired by the generosity and good nature of these volunteers. Everyone who helped was fabulous and I'm eternally grateful."
This was received from a person who experienced a very difficult time and accident during the ascent of Old Rag on 7 November.. A more complete accounting of the weekend can be found on Bob's blog.
This year, from May thru November, the ORMS program has made a big difference on Old Rag Mountain both in terms of the visitor experience and the resource protection. Our last official weekend on the mountain is November 13, 14. Then, we'll be gone until next Spring. If you or anyone you know is (very) fit, interested in mountain skills, helping others, educating people about this magnificent natural resource (Stewarding!) and would like to join this select group, please contact us!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Blowin' in the Wind...

A nice thing for some of the ORM Stewards is that some of them/us are able to make our living in the mountains as outdoor educators and guides... meaning we get to see the mountains on days other than the crazy busy and crowded weekends... and visit many of the other fantastic mountains in the area... (contrary to commonly held beliefs, (apparently) Old Rag is NOT the only great mountain with a great mountain hike!)
Last weekend saw more than 3000 (!) hikers and visitors to Old Rag Mountain on Saturday... Can anyone picture a granite Kings Dominion??
Sunday the place was "relatively desolate".. only 1000 (!) people on the mountain.. with more than 100 on the summit area at any given time thru 6.00pm.

If it were not for our days away from Old Rag, I think the crowds would be a bit discouraging for someone who wants to really have a "mountaintop experience" . But I guess if you live in the city, it'll do....I mean it IS nature, sort of..
Although with 3000 visitors, I suspect even Nature stays away or wants to stay away (for a very good reason!

And now for the bad news:
Having spent the midweek this week in Shenandoah, I am sad to report that the wind has stripped a large amount of the Fall color from the trees, and most of the mountain summits and ridges above 1500 ft (most of them, in other words) are looking pretty much like winter
...But you don't have to take my word for it...The picture (above) was taken today (Thursday, October 28) at about 5.00pm looking toward Old Rag from the Skyline Drive..


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When the rubber meets the road..

While the primary raison d'etre for the Old Rag Mountain Steward program is to provide "mountain stewardship", promoting sound outdoor practices and ethics (like Leave No Trace) and trying to provide mountain education and safety awareness (our orange tee-shirts are an effort to make us very visible to hikers who may have a question or need assistance)...

..more often than not, our presence on Old Rag is most often realized in the event of an emergency: hiker illness or injury or separated parties.

Every weekend we have training on a very wide range of topics (see the previous post) so that regardless of the situation, be it a first time hiker's bear encounter or a traumatic injury we are prepared to respond appropriately.

This past weekend was no exception, except this was not training. A hiker experienced a severe lower leg injury (from short-cutting a trail, I might add. ..something that we actively discourage in our LNT role) and required a helicopter medevac.

As always.. training pays off! The joint NPS-ORMS team was able to effect a very smooth and rapid rescue from a very remote and inaccessible part of the mountain.... if they had just stayed on the trail in the first place...

(All images courtesy of Silver Spring Wanderer... one of our key ORMS members.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Training, training, training...

Even on the busiest of days, the Old Rag mountain stewards are always training during their time spent on the mountain: technical mountain skills, wilderness first aid, Leave No Trace, flora and fauna... the scope of their training is wide and inclusive.

And in between we help find "lost" hikers, offer backpacking and hiking tips and assist folks who may have become injured... sometimes all three of those in the span of an hour!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Of Mice and .... HIKERS

This little one lives in the Byrds Nest near the summit of Old Rag Mountain..
About the size of a nickel, it has a furry coat, a protected shelter from winter's howling winds, plus plenty of food and drink...
In most ways, this mouse is much more prepared for a day on Old Rag than are many of the hikers, especially during this busiest of seasons.. fall.

And while hikers don't have to worry about predatory birds and snakes, they should take steps to prepare for all of the other eventualities that the mouse has to worry about...

Warmth, water, food, protection from the elements.

Regardless of the Indian Summer warmth in the valley, the summit of Old Rag is prime hypothermia terrain this time of year.

Pack plenty of water... and don't forget a few extra layers. We have already had several hikers who wished they had come so prepared. Of course, by the time we connect with them, it's usually on the too late side of comfort.

mouse and dime

"Thanks to the Volunteers on Saturday October 2nd

My name is --- and I was assisted by 3 Volunteers this past Sat. afternoon. I was leading a group of 7 people and we lost 1 person in our party. I sent everyone else down to the car and climbed back up to the summit ,alone, to get help. 3 of the volunteers moved into action and started a search for my friend. 2 of the volunteers, I didn't get their names, descended via the ridge trail, and (ORMS X)and I descended via the saddle trail looking for my friend, XXX. Thankfully, XXX had returned to the car at the Old Rag Parking area.
I am very grateful for your willingness to help me look for XXX. Your help on the Mountain is something I will always remember. Keep up the good work!!
Thanks again,

You are most welcome!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fall 2010

The Fall half of the 2010 season has begun in earnest.. Crowds are thronging to Old Rag, literally by the thousands..
..and with good reason: there are few places in the world more spectacular than the Blue Ridge Mountains in Autumn.

The ORMS staff is constantly amazed at the behavior exhibited on the mountain, however. It is almost as if upon deciding to hike Old Rag and rushing out the door, that common sense gets left behind.
Please remember:
-Old Rag is a remote mountain peak. If you get hurt, whether by carelessness on your part or by accident, it will be HOURS before you will get to a medical facility.
- There are port-a-johns at the base of the mountain and a moldering privy at the Old Rag Shelter. Please try to plan your pooping and peeing accordingly. (This applies to your children as well) Nothing is more disgusting and distasteful than stumbling upon a pile of used TP on a beautiful afternoon hike.
- Even though it is Fall, you still need water. You may not noticeably perspire as much.. but you are still losing fluids... Take 2-3 liters per person!
- Dress for the weather... which means 15 windy degrees cooler than where you live!
-If you hike on the weekends... expect crowds and long waits at the tight spots. Have patience.
- Believe it or not, a large portion of Old Rag is designated as wilderness.. please respect it as such! Leave No Trace guidelines apply!!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

An all new season..

After months spent training and preparing, the 2010 season is off and running! Weekend one was hot and relatively quiet. With the upper parking lot now closed it's hoped that more visitors will heed the rangers' advice about water (take plenty, like 3 liters per person on hot days) and the presence of the mouldering privy a little more than 1/2 way thru the hike, near the Old Rag shelter (... Yes! that means you don't HAVE to poop all over the mountain on and off the trail as many folks seem to feel compelled to do)
As hot as it was, we even had someone who had hiked Old Rag previously, suffering from significant dehydration ... He didn't "want to have to be bothered with the weight of the water"
Come on folks, give yourselves permission to enjoy this hike!

We are always looking for new stewards... come join us! Learn all the "secrets" of Old Rag, climb! rappell! learn about the flora (thanks to Emily!) and fauna! and so much more!!!
This baby blacksnake was newly hatched and had just finished a nice beetle dinner!
(see the bulge) This "coil" is about 3" long.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Welcome to the 2010 ORMS season!

After a VERY long winter, (from which patches of snow will linger on the mountain into April..) we're just about ready to kick off our third season!

On April 17-18, the mountain Stewards will be holding our annual skills refresher training weekend. Beyond the always enjoyable time, we'll be learning about the latest and greatest protocols, from first aid and patient assessment skills to Leave No Trace, from park rules and regulations to what to do for a "lost person".. and so much more.

If you've ever had the desire to spend your weekend in the great outdoors (in a spectacular setting!) and provide a meaningful service to others.. consider joining us!
Flowers persisting at an Old Rag home site.. so many years later