Monday, October 29, 2012

Old Rag: Hurricanes, Crowds, and Ravens

This weekend was both the best and worst that Old Rag can be:  crowded, beautiful, quiet, crazy, frustrating, time well spent with old friends, and relaxing.

Saturday, the lower parking lot filled by 10 a.m. and there must have been a memo for every large group in the tri-state area to get a hike in before the impending doom of Hurricane Sandy.  We were a bit early for our shift with Old Rag Mountain Stewards, so we had plenty of time to sit and watch the unfolding chaos:  Several groups arrived with dogs (not allowed on Old Rag), one woman mentioned not having any food as she walked away from the fee station and proceeded on her way up the road to the trail, another woman asked the rangers what time the weather would get better (sometime Wednesday).  It was a relief to leave the crowds climbing the Ridge Trail and begin walking up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.

We had a quiet walk up the road.  The leaves are still on the trees in the valley.  We stopped for lunch at Old Rag Shelter and had a great surprise when Shenandoah Mountain Guides walked up the trail.  None of us had seen him since August and none of us expected to see him there.  We spent about an hour catching up with him before he had to head back down and go to work.  Before he left, he said that he hoped nothing happened while he was there because he wasn't really prepared.  Not 15 minutes after he left, as we headed up the Saddle Trail, we got a call for an injured hiker.  We hurried up the trail.  Fortunately, the hiker was able to walk, so other than adjusting a splint, he just needed to be walked out so he could be transported to his car.

At the Byrd's Nest Shelter, we found that someone had left a gift of an entire bag of trash.  Someone else decided that one of the granite slabs below the summit was incomplete without their graffiti.  At the summit, there must have been 150 people crowded around the rocks.  Although outreach is part of our mission, I was in no mood to speak to anyone.  In spite of that, I found a little bit of solitude and watched the ravens riding thermals over the valley.  Since there were still crowds of people coming through the rock scramble, we decided to hike back down the Saddle Trail.  We had a very pleasant walk back down.

Sunday was as different from Saturday as possible.  We arrived to less than 30 cars in the parking lot.  We hiked up the Ridge Trail and saw just a handful of other hikers.  It was colder, windier, and cloudier than Saturday as the leading edge of the hurricane-disturbed weather approached.  We saw the improvements that the hardworking NPS trail crews have made in the last few months.  And absolutely nothing happened.

The wind screamed out on the summit and it was cold enough to need a stocking hat and gloves for the first time this fall.  While we were at the summit, we watched the ravens riding thermals again.  There were even more than on Saturday.  A couple of them carried something in their claws that they tossed into the air and then plummeted to catch.  It was fascinating.  Then a hawk appeared and they all scattered.  We could see them further down the valley harassing the hawk, but they didn't come back before we left.  We had a completely uneventful hike out.

It was a good weekend overall, but it is frustrating to see people trash a mountain that I love.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Hiking up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.  As of yesterday, the leaves were still on the trees in the valleys.  I would expect that, as of this evening, Hurricane Sandy has blown most of them off of the tress.
 Changing maple leaves.
 Ladybugs huddled inside Byrd's nest.
 Looking out over Weakley Hollow towards Hot Short Mountain from the summit on Saturday.
 A raven riding thermals.
 A pretty fern, possibly Woodwardia virginica (Virginia Chain Fern) along the Saddle Trail.  I'm happy to be corrected on that.
 Headed down the Saddle Trail on Saturday.
 Ageratina altissima (White Snakeroot) seeds.
Clouds rolling in over Fork Mountain on Sunday.  The weather slowly deteriorated as the day went on.  We managed to be off trail by the time the rain really started.
  A raven diving near the summit on Sunday.
The mess someone left in Byrd's Nest Shelter.  Unfortunately, the wet spot is, let's just say, not water.

1 comment:

  1. Great pictures. I really like the ladybug shot. Glad you got achance to catch up with SMG. Very neat that you got to see the Ravens playing. I have tried to catch them in a close up mid-air but during the last year have had no luck. Either they are just little spots or if I zoom enough to get details I have trouble catching them in frame long enough and steady enough to snap their picture. For me your great leaf pictures produced a strong melancholia. Fall can be such a glorious ending to a wonderful year's pleasent memories. Thank goodness I get to look forward to the pleasures of the kaliediscope of ever changing seasons.