Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ghost of Christmas Past

Like a restless spirit I have long been stuck between personal worlds. My position as a role model and my desires as an individual often collide. Several days ago I took the LNT high road. Instead of posting a picture of the obvious Leave No Trace infringement, my training won and told me I would only encourage copy-cats. So I didn't even take the photograph. I left only my ski-prints behind.

The conversation of the Boxwood tree I had found littered with ornaments several miles in the back-country came up during the Christmas feast. Grandpa changed my mind with one question. "You know the ghost of Ragged Mountain decorated that tree don't you"?

Some say he was the towns preacher who died when a branch fell on his head as he stood just outside the church. Others say he is an unforgiving settler pushed from his home to make way for the new park. Still there are those who have heard of the Monacan warrior who had holed up lonely on the mountain while his people peacefully integrated. After many moons and a weeks fasting and meditation he is said to have made a vow to the wind. He then climbed an impossible path to the top of one of the high ragged boulders and jumped.

I have heard his voice icy on the wind through the rocks. I have seen the eyes in the dark and the fog. But there was a warm breeze and a feeling of spirits at peace when I skied up a second time to the old Boxwood. I visited the old community cemetery as the sun broke through the fog to the forests' snowy floor.

Like its adornments, Boxwood trees/shrubs are not native to these forest, rather they are a small and slow growing tree and a specimen this large has been here since the days before this land was a park. This one was planted in the yard of one of the 18 cabins of Old Rags' pre-park community.

The truth is I don't know who decorated the tree, but I do know that no matter what we do we have left a trace. I didn't touch the decorations, just took the photograph and had a nice warm ski back down.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas From the Woods

Christmas came early this year and gift wrapped the region with a nearly two foot thick present. The back-country is an untracked wonderland for skiers and ice-climbers, and the joy of the season is upon us! I made the above ornament for my little sister (Joy) from the unique shapes of the wild grapevines.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Old Rag Snow Day

Big bro and I were the only ones dumb enough to head up the mountain today. We had a time getting out of the driveway, and not a chance at getting to the upper lot (although it is clear now) so we shoveled out a parking spot and we were on our way. Much thanks to the folks who were up there yesterday evening and broke trail all the way to the chute, without them, we probably wouldn't have had the heart to make it all the way up. It was the most fun (in a painful sorta way) we've had on the mtn in a long time. Here's a few shots.

Yee Haa, hucking for the deep powder on the way down!

Much of the hiking was the kind where you lift the snow up with your thigh, pack it down with your knee, step down with your foot. Repeat. A steep spot on the way up.

Sometimes the snow was a bit deeper. Here's Jonathan digging through a drift that was over his head!

A neat snow corniced rock in the middle.

View near the top.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

From This

The view from the top of Marys Rock.

To This!

What a difference a day makes!

You might have guessed the bottom one is taken from the valley, 20 inches and still falling!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Old Rag Marathon

In the fifth grade I ran the classic Rappahannock 10K, the Fodderstack race. It was by far the longest I had ever run and my good friend Ian beat me in the final steps to the line. I spent the night at Ian's and we will never forget the agony of soreness that was walking down the steps in the morning.
Tomorrow, I will again know this pain.

High-school running was the the 5Ks of cross-country and I hated every step. Boring, painful, but good conditioning for the other sports. I had the worst spot on the team, 5th, always the last on the team to count for points, and often pushing to the point of vomit to score us a little higher. I swore off running and entered a blissful state of apathy.

But trail-running is much more interesting, the quick steps, the downhills on the edge of control and the occasional rolling digger. It can be almost exciting. So I've done a little here and there, and then I got inspired. Several weeks ago a friend ran Old Rag twice in a day. My uncle, who never ran, has recently taken to running marathons in his sixties. And last year I lost a bet, my punishment; Old Rag three times in a day. The gears in my head started turning.

So having never run more than twelve miles in one stint it began unceremoniously at 7:36 this morning, and would end in much the same fashion 6hrs 13min later. I would park 1 mile down from the lower lot, run to the upper, eat some food I stashed, don the hydration pack, knock down three laps and finish out the 26.2 miles to the car. Simple right, I've always wanted to do a marathon, I think.

I did actually start out very well, 2.5m in my hands warmed up and I was moving fast. But soon I hit the snow and ice, "this might be a bit dodgy". I concentrate much better when there are consequences,and running is definitely more fun when you are not thinking about the fact that you are actually running. So laps one and two fell and although I was starting to hurt, my pace was great, I was actually enjoying this.

On lap three I learned the valuable lesson that when running a marathon on Old Rag for the first time in one's life, it is best to stick to the snickers and the goldfish.

I started the third lap with a belly full of dried peach halves, tuna sandwich and water. I was huurrrtting. Not a whole lot of running on the way up the third lap. Legs burned, stomach ... questionable and for safety sake I was moving through some sections in ways I have never tried except with a full pack of climbing gear, after a full day of climbing. It never rose above freezing and the wind howled. That third lap made me feel as if the mountain really is the cold hard beast I know it can be. In the midst of a burly wind near the top I came across a huge buck who stared calmly while chewing on sticks. I thought, "Boy, I could learn a lot from this great creature, cause he may be dumb, but he sure is tough"!

Nonetheless I made it to the top and did not barf. I got a sort of, second wind but even so, trying to let the wheels spin on the way down was a very painful proposition. Some relief was obtained by a glorious stop at the upper lot port-a-john (thanks, and sorry for the brutalization, NPS). I plodded my way back to the car.

I did it, and I am proud, but my math was off. I realized the fact in a hot shower after all my self-congratulating. Parking one half mile further down the road would have given me the 26.2 mile mark, I in fact ran 25.2. Oops, at least I got out from under that bet.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I think I saw Bigfoot

We have come to the time of the year where you sometimes hike all day and never see a soul. Its just your breath, tracks, trees, and the beauty of the mountains. We've enjoyed a couple recent snows and last night brought my favorite conditions for taking pictures, an ice storm. After an ice storm no matter how crappy the camera it's going to be a cool picture!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Between the Rains

Another post-rain sunset shines a little light on Old Rag.

When the sun and wind hits the rock it can dry quick, but with all the rain of late we have had to jump at our opportunities.

A little guy learns the ropes of trail running on a dry boulder stream crossing. With a little extra care even rainy day trail running is a good time, and with Shenandoah's 500 miles of trails there is plenty to see!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nearly Thanksgiving Sightings

Along with this plump turkey and the flock which followed her across the road, Saturday was fat with animal sightings. The first sighting of the day was not far from these tasty afternoon delights, they were three coyotes which hopped up on the wall as I watched from the car. It was my first coyote sighting in Shenadoah, they are mostly nocturnal and relatively uncommon; exciting! Then the hikers of the day and I watched a mother bear and three cubs foraging, followed shortly by a ruffled grouse which flew off as we walked by. A weeks worth of sightings packed into one day. Wow!

A Red Eft Newt having a bite to eat trail side near "the Portal" in the south district.

A cold dragonfly warming his bright eyes in the morning.

A two inch long skull which must have belonged to a muskrat with a nice safe home next to the stream and under some large overhanging rocks.

The ridge of a mini Seneca Rocks like formation off of Brown Mtn. and the Shenandoah valley to the west.

The best way to see this great park, at 50mpg its not a bad way to commute either.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gift of the Fog

Like sight, sounds are muted in the fog. Even when the water level is up and pounds off the tops of Shenandoah's cliff bands it seems to somehow land softer. With rain gear we prepare to shield ourselves but find that our warm bodies keep our cotton dry, and the waterproofs remain packed. Then the sun breaks through and all the branches glisten. Sounds are amplified and we hear the crunch of the mother bear and her cub foraging on the not to distant slopes. The fog has taken away our senses and given them back. Now, we can see into the valley, but we are grateful for the whole process.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Happy and Sad Thoughts

I found myself wandering a narrow park boundary road in the gloom of the rain.
As I passed a broken cliff I noticed something hanging from the upper and most vertical reaches, and the memories flooded back. It was a gym class style rope hanging just low enough that a deft jump to the leaf covered ledge would put one mid-cliff. From the ledge a dangerous down-climb/slide looked to be the path of least resistance. No doubt, this had been the plan enacted by the same brilliant child (along with unsuspecting friends) who had stolen the rope from, well, wherever the rope was stolen from.
It has been nearly twenty years since my first backwoods Rappahannock County climbing experience, which so quickly came rushing to the present. I was filled with joy and pleasure as I reminisced on the similarities laid out before me. How high that little cliff stood, and how tall I felt on top, will never fade.
Yes, it's amazing I made it this far.

A short distance ahead I parked the car and entered private property.
You can't see it from the road but If there were a trail it would be under a minute hike through a picturesque canyon before arriving at the base of the falls. Shorter, in fact, than any of the park's hikes to falls. This is not in the park, there is no trail, just no trespassing signs, no scenic view points, no benches for contemplation. In fact, there is no evidence humans spend any time at this thirty foot falls at all, except for the trash. This beautiful place has not been preserved, situated just outside park boundary it is what all park land would now be had it not been preserved, and it stinks. It stinks because of the two rotting deer carcasses thrown off the road above. It stinks because no one enjoys this place, and because the the stream is clogged with beer cans, buckets, tires, and a 16 quart carrying can for 100 proof liquor.
It stinks, and it makes me love the park that much more.

I believe I grow a bit every time I go into the woods.
Every time I learn something new and wonder about something I don't know. Growth happens from hurting, healing, and laughing through it all. I doubt the big old tree pictured below knew what it would become when its roots were ripped from the ground and it fell to the forest floor. Today, three trees grow straight up from what was the side of the original fallen tree.
Today I might have grown up two, maybe three bits.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Old News

I fight through my mixed media emotions to bring you several stories which are old news. The big story was certainly the fall leaves. Basically gone. But that's not quite the whole story, the bands of wind protected Yellow Poplars and a few others still streak their brilliant paths up the hollows. The above picture shows what it looks like from the top of Old Rag.

Although it's been over a week now since the printing I have to show the beautiful personification poem printed on the front page of the Oct. 22 edition of the Rappahannock News. It is entitled Autumn Spectacular. I have always loved the downtown Sperryville tree it refers to. The picture can be clicked on and enlarged so you can read the poem off to the tree's side or I have retyped the poem at the bottom of this post with the permission of the author Al Simpson, he's my grandpa!

I don't know
But I've been told
If you keep on dancing
You'll never grow old - Steve Miller Band

Grandpa is 91. In July I watched him party till 1am, last weekend he was out dancing again, I am proud.

In other media outlets Fox 5 was in the park last Monday the 26th exploring. They found us, and I was in short interview on live TV. Here is the link.

Autumn Spectacular
By Al Simpson

Ohhhh, I am
So beautiful
So magnificent, so glorious
So wonderful to view

When the sun shines
Upon me
I glow, I sparkle
Each leaf of me
Ablaze with color
Red and yellow
Orange and green
And everything in-between
I am a living rainbow

I do a tango
Dancing with the wind
I sparkle in the sunshine
I embrace the breeze
I am so beautiful

I am a cameo
Captured for a time
Truly a favored tree
Displaying such design

I am the queen of Main Street
The belle they come to see
I am the crown jewel
Of Sperryville's autumn

Some call me "Big Red"
Some call me "The Tree"
Some think of me
As crimson
Some say burgundy

I prefer Scarlet
But call me what you will
Just come to see me
I'll pose for you

And share my beauty
With all who live
In our community
I am so beautiful!

Scarlet Maple

Monday, October 19, 2009

Counting Ravens

If you've never stared of into the distance than your life is a shame. -Counting Crows

Watching a raven fly in a heavy wind atop Old Rag Mtn. is the coolest thing ever. Ravens are the Cirque du Soleil of the avian aviators and with this weekends fog, rain, snow, and wind they were out in force. I would highly recommend sitting on a rock and watching them until the shivering becomes to much, than do some pushups, some jumping jacks, warm up and watch them again.

Friday, October 16, 2009


For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms...

-Henry David Thoreau

Fog adds a new mystique to the forest, as does brightly colored rain jackets!

Be it leaves, temperatures, rain, or snow, the woods of Shenandoah are precipitating. It may not be what you expected but it can be beautiful. Waterfalls run higher volumes, and what could be more stunning than a snow or ice storm in fall colors.
But be carefull, the unexpected breeds unpreparedness and you can find yourself a long way from the trailhead if you get hurt. Be safe, hire a guide if you want to stay safer, otherwise we will see you out there!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Leaf Looking

Bright Maples like this one dot the entire park, and rain or shine its a great time to get out to see them.

Purple Aster flowers on the flanks of a back country bridge, Asters bloom all throughout fall and add yet another color to the patchwork.

Lunch at the lowest of White Oak Canyons falls where the leaves are not quite peak yet.

Another great Shen view through the leaves.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

the Bear and the Breathtaking

Between the bear and the breathtaking views is a place we call Shenandoah. It's a place were the leaves are turing early this year and the cold winds are coming. It's a place where you might see a bear, coyote, turkey, or bobcat in the wild anytime. It's also the place where in the last couple days you might have seen the Peace Corps or Aramark staff laughing, playing games, or traipsing through the woods on a Shenandoah Mountain Guides lead activity.
Here's a quick slice of the last week.

The flying squirrel soars out towards the valley at Aramark's picnic.

Peace Corps staff working through their game/race on the summit of Blackrock Peak.

Rattler getting in some good rays on a talus slope.

Aramark staff playing games at the Skyland lodge lawn.

Before climbing forty feet up a big tree this bear decided it was time to use the little tree for a good butt scratchin.


Watch how easily this 400lb bear climbs the tree!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Weekend Explorer

With many trips comes many personalities, this week we had the pleasure of introducing Emmy awarded host Jeffrey Lehmann and the film crew for Weekend Explorer to Shenandoah. As usual we had a blast! So much so that after the scheduled rock climbing and rappelling was finished, Jeffrey changed up the days itinerary and headed deeper into the woods so we could show him some more! Jeffrey and the crew know how to find the good stuff, and as the mornings fog turned into evening mist we hiked back up the hill 40 pound HD camcorder in hand, a bit tired but happy with the footage and the fun!

Based out of California the award winning, PBS television series, Weekend Explorer takes you along to incredibly scenic destinations around the United States and the world and it's about time Shenandoah made the list! But don't take my word for it, the link to Jeffrey's site is, our show should air sometime around June 2010. It was great to meet the crew along with Jeffrey and to show them around our home. We wish them the best of luck with the show.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rain or Shine

... and sometimes the colors seem to shine even more when its raining!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Summer Sun Fading

Well the temps are starting to cool in Shenandoah and the ideal hiking/climbing days are arriving. That's not to say you won't be seeing us at a swimming hole cooling off after a hard hike or possibly even canyoneering in a wetsuit, some of the best trips from the last week or so have put us in the water for at least a quick break. Here's a couple pics from last week, in the water or not.

Climbing the Sentinel in the bright sun and warming up, before jumping in swimming hole number two on Saturdays' adventure race birthday party.

What can I say, I'm a man who loves butterflies. A Red Admiral suns itself next to a pool.

It was nice enough out last week that we just wore the wetsuit tops for our canyoneering trip! (It's not quite as steep as this picture makes it look but it is as fun)!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Noticed this Monarch Caterpillar munching some of its favorite food, the Milkweed, near Skyland lodge several days ago.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Good Evenings

After a great hike in the meadow I had the chance for a quick hike to the top of Compton peak on the ride home. It's sunsets like this that good evenings are made of, of course the cliff and the Mountain Ash help as well.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bug-eyed in the Woods

Walking through the woods in Shenandoah this time of year can leave one a bit bug-eyed. There is so much to see, the big summer wildflowers, the butterflies, the bugs and the bear all vie for your attention. Here's a couple the folks on my hikes and I have seen in the past couple days.

A Locust hanging on a lichen covered tree near the Nicholson Hollow trail.

A Spicebush Swallowtail lighted on a Cardinal flower Stream side.

The biggest Wild Turkey leading the flock through the ferns of the Limberlost trail.
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