Monday, November 11, 2013

Old Rag Mountain Stewards Final 2013 Weekend

Michael and I spent the weekend out with Old Rag Mountain Stewards, doing our normal trail patrol and having a little fun, too. Saturday's group of volunteers met up at the Berry Hollow parking lot and got the very last three spaces there. The volunteers who stopped at the fee station to pick up a backcountry permit spoke of flying monkeys, crazy large groups, and full parking lots on the other side of the mountain. This is what passes for a normal fall Saturday on Old Rag.

The mountain was just as crowded as was observed in the parking lot. After setting up camp, we walked up the Saddle Trail. Multiple groups of 20 or more people passed us on their way down. The summit was pandemonium. There was a dull roar from all of the people talking over the wind. We picked up trash in the area, which was a little maddening. There is a small ravine that leads off of the north side of the summit that, I swear, had nearly as much trash as a back alley in downtown Washington, DC. Some of it, like the energy bar wrappers, probably just blew there, but the water bottles and bricks, yes, bricks, were almost certainly thrown. Around an hour before sunset, we started asking people if they had lights for the walk down (which takes most people 2-2.5 hours). Some do, many don't. Did I mention the guy in a union suit? At this point, anyone who goes into the woods to get away from people is probably crossing Old Rag off of their list of hikes they want to do. I don't blame you. Fall Saturdays are Old Rag at its worst and most crowded. 

But, Old Rag is beautiful and amazing in the fall, too. At some point, the crowd thinned and I realized the dull roar was just wind. I wandered around taking pictures, watching the ravens play on the wind, and enjoying what was left of the fall colors. As the sun dropped below the horizon, we headed down to Old Rag Shelter. The six of us camping out had a nice cookout at the shelter. We shared the fire with another group camping nearby. That night, all of us listened to the wind scream above us, happy to be camping below it.

Sunday couldn't have been more different than the day before for Old Rag Mountain Stewards. Like Saturday morning, we hiked up the Saddle Trail, but there we turned off on a climbers path and bushwhacked to a completely different adventure. We repeated an ascent that we had done three years ago. We spent the whole day making our way up slabs on the west face of the mountain, an area that few people other than a handful of climbers ever see. This year it was cold and crazy windy. Three years ago, we hung out on the last slab waiting for the rappel rope to be set. This year, those of us who arrived on that slab first tucked ourselves into a nook to get out of the wind. The sun was nearly set by the time we reached the Saddle Trail and our group had spent the day on the busiest mountain in the mid-Atlantic in solitude. A great end to another season with Old Rag Mountain Stewards.

The view down below the Ravine of Trash. The wind took care of a lot of the leaves this weekend.
I'm not sure why anyone would haul bricks up the mountain, but throwing them into a ravine off of the summit makes even less sense. This was just one of more than a dozen.
Did I mention the guy in the union suit? It turns out that he did have pants with him. He just stripped down to his long johns on the summit. Whatever floats his boat.
Fall colors from the summit.
One of my favorite things about fall on Old Rag is watching the ravens play on the wind near sunset. There was plenty of wind for them this weekend. They are hard to photograph clearly, but once in a while I get a few good shots.
Another raven riding a thermal.
This group of ravens were diving and soaring south of the summit.
The spot where I always take a photo. Three weeks ago, there were many more leaves on the trees. Winter has arrived at the summit.
The shadow of Old Rag in the valley.
As we got ready to leave the summit, I happened to look down the Saddle Trail and, just for a minute, all of the trees were bathed in red light from the sunset. A few seconds after I took this picture, it was all gone.
 We spent Sunday coming up the mountain the hard way: on ropes. We didn't really climb so much as use the ropes to assist walking up steep slabs and as safety lines. I didn't get many pictures, but this one is at the top of the ascent.
Sunset from a boulder in the ravine we climbed to get back to the trail. 


  1. Awesome pictures as usual. Love those ravens. Also great seeing ORMS folks on the mountain this weekend. Long live the Old Rag Ravens and ORMS! Once you become conscious of them you will spot numerous dumps of gravel, sand, pebbles along with bricks around the summit. Evidently some hikers use these things as extra weight for fitness training and then dump them when they get to the summit. Using water or packing out what they pack in would be much better.