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!
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