Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Old Rag Backpacking

I met Anthony at his house after work on Friday afternoon. From there he drove to Heather’s house in Frederick. We set out in Heather’s Element, after stopping at the Coffee Company and Chickfila I drove. The directions were easy from Frederick: S340 to S522 to Sperryville and S321 to a right on Sharp Top Rd. Heather passed out in the back, after all week of working nights. Once there, she said the trip only seemed like it took five minutes. Anthony and I chatted, him keeping me awake and being the DJ.
We pulled into the lower parking lot - a blast of arctic air banishing the warmth inside the Element. We took some things from our packs - mostly warm layers of clothing. My layers consisted of: a blue long sleeve under-shirt, a T-shirt, a heavier pull over with pockets and a Mt hardware wind stopper jacket. I also wore a fuzzy hat and had the gloves out. The temperature was below freezing, but not by much. Heather talked Anthony into taking a fleece that she’d grabbed from the house on our way out of Frederick. Anthony had also purchased some smart-wool socks at REI a few nights before.
There was no envelope to leave the required $25 park entrance fee, but I did fill out a backwoods camping permit form. We headed up the road from the parking lot at about 9:30pm. By the soft glow of our headlamps we made our way up the black top road for nearly a mile until we reached the Old Rag parking lot, now closed to vehicles. We took the fire road up Weakely Hollow to look for a campsite, figuring the ground in the valley would be easier to find flat spots. We crossed the 4 bridges and the road begins sloping up a little bit, on this ascent a descent open area right off the fire road was seen. Anything further into the woods was shrouded by night.
Heather and I set up the tent. We always work so smoothly together. Nothing needs to be said, we just do what needs to be done. In no time the tent was setup, by headlamp and candle lantern. Inside Legolas lit the interior as we tossed our gear inside.
I hung the bear bag with help and an audience. After getting it lofted, we all climbed into the tent and crawled into our sleeping bags. I went to sleep quickly and slept soundly.
We woke before the sun crested the hills. The morning was brisk. We climbed out into the chill and broke camp, knowing Jim was meeting us somewhere. The sun slowly creeped down the hillside above us, finally warming us upon reaching down to us.
We put our packs on and hiked back towards the way we came. Over the bridges I saw Jim headed our way. He was a little mad as he couldn’t find us, and I had told him we were coming in Anthony’s car but had opted for Heather’s at the last minute. We walked back down the road to the vehicle to switch out some gear, pick up food for dinner, and redistribute the wealth. The parking lot was very full and there were quite a few people passing us going towards the mountain. 

After we loaded our packs we headed back up the road and after a quick stop for a picture at the bottom, we began the trail.

We took our time going up, allowing various day hikers walking faster than us laden folks pass us from time to time. The conversation was easy, and the couple miles quickly disappeared. Anthony did very well, though sweating profusely, we didn’t stop for any type of substantial break until we got to the first overlook, even that was less than 5 minutes. I was very impressed at how Anthony has progressed over the summer. Easter of this year Ant and I went on the Skyline and he struggled coming back from the waterfall, and crawled going back to the car up the road. This time he just kept going, keeping a very good pace too.

At the first real rock scramble Jim, Heather, and I kept our packs on, as we could shimmy, squeeze, or clamber up or around the crevice the trail surmounted. Ant took his pack off, and after some coaxing and some pulling got beyond the obstacle. While waiting, an older woman, maybe in her late 50’s fell off the slippery part of a rock going around the crevice. She fell about 5 feet on to her back. Jim and Heather both lent there medical knowledge, but she wasn’t hurt, or so it seemed, just shaken.
From this point on the trail became a series of scrambles, and climbs, some fairly easy, some a bit harder. At one point, after passing through the cave and the balancing rock a line formed on the trail, and wasn’t seeming to move. A narrow, quite rocky area, with a rope for an assist, was bottle-necking the trail. Jim became impatient and used an alternate, albeit, much harder, route... just the way he likes it! Heather also went that route. Anthony couldn’t have made it that way and choose to stand in line. I wanted to be there for Anthony, in case he needed a hand up, or a push up. Heather grabbed his pack from him, so it would be one less thing to mess with. While Ant and I were waiting in line and making our way Heather was helping a downward ho! group around the other way, passing packs down. Jim was helping some people up as well. In the crevice, Ant and I finally made it to the ‘technical’ part. On his first try he wasn’t hold ing the rope very well and slipped, on the second try I got a (unfortunate) good grip on his ass and heaved him up. Once he was cleared, I grabbed the rope and walked right up, with my pack on. It took him and I less than a minute to get up and through, still not sure why it was taking so long in the line.
Once beyond this, the hardest part, we made our way to a couple more false peaks, around a few more scrambles, to the top. We took pictures by the summit sign, then went and climbed up a boulder. A small pool of rain water stood on the top, and Heather and Legolas got a good photo opportunity. 

The sun was getting the late afternoon hue to it. We decided not to dawdle too much since we didn’t want to make camp in the dark again. We headed down the mountain, the elevation shedding quickly. My big toes hurting (note to self: cut your damn toenails jackass). Anthony decided he wanted a summit rock, some hippy chick heard him and handed him a piece of quartz. Not satisfied, he continued to search for a flat rock, Heather helped in his search.
The back side of the mountain is steep, and drops quickly to a fire road. There is a shelter and an out house at the beginning of the road. There were several camps of large groups, probably Scouts close at hand. That, as well as the water supply being rather far away, had us come to the consensus to head down to a side trail. Jim offered to run (quite literally) ahead to the path and find a suitable campsite. Anthony seemed a little worried that we would somehow lose him. I wasn’t concerned, and the day was getting late. Jim had the desire to have a fire for the evening and collect the wood and make the fire pit for us. We all set off, Jim disappearing around the next bend with easy speed. The next couple miles were very easy, on a well graded un-used road. We made good time to the cut-off trail. We crossed the creek at the beginning of the side trail, following it up into a valley. The ground looked very rocky, and I was wondering how far Jim had to go to find a suitable place for tents and bivy. Around another bend, and I beheld a raging campfire. We made our way to an empty beef jerky bag on a stick to mark the camp, had the fire not been visible. In camp Heather and Anthony setup the tent, after finding a good place for it. Jim setup a tarp and bivy shelter close by. I began making dinner. Cutting up and frying sausage, cutting up celery, onion, green pepper, and tomato and frying it in the grease of the sausage. While this was going on I began boiling the brown rice I had put water in at lunch. Note: [Next time put water in the rice at breakfast and soak all day. It took 20 min of boiling and the rice was still a tiny bit crunchy.] Added to the rice after boiling for a bit: crushed red pepper, tomato paste from a squeeze tub, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, and tabasco sauce. Had I known Anthony’s aversion to hots I would’ve added less and let each of us add to taste. He didn’t complain, and he ate it all though. The goulash turned out all right, but it was way too fuel expensive and heavy on the fresh vegetables.
All the time during cooking, after setting up his shelter, Jim gathered firewood. By the time dinner was ready he had a sizable stack... and this after breaking my saw, snapping the blade of it. Dinner was served and everyone seemed to enjoy it, human sumping the bits left in the bowls and cups. We went through the wine in no time, and passed around the flask while the sky got dark and the fire grew warm. After clean up and some rest Heather Anthony and I went to pump some water. Anthony seems to have an irrational fear of running out of water and drinking more that he actually does. Ant watched as I pumped 3 liters and Heather held the tube in clear flowing water. Back in camp we hung the bear bag and after banking the fire, headed to our nylon cocoons of warmth. A crawled into my bag, synched the draw string, and disappeared until the morning, falling asleep quickly, and only waking a few times to roll over. I didn’t slide, even though the slight slant we were on, Heather slide more toward Anthony as I was at the top of the hill. I was quite warm, hot even to begin with, in my liner and bag.
We woke around the time of first light. We took our time getting out of the bags, finally motivated by the need to pee and the desire for coffee. We boiled water to make oatmeal and hot chocolate and /or coffee for all in Heather's JetBoil. After breakfast I ran to the stream to fill up and clean the pump filter. I pumped three liters. I arrived home with all of it unused.
We broke camp and confidently strode back down the fire road, after letting Anthony take us out of camp as a training exercise. He needs to work on his awareness of where he is and how to get out. 

He crossed the path without realizing. These skills take time, and granted this path was much less used and more covered in leaves. But the blue blazes were still visible, just un-noticed by him.
We made our way back to the car with good conversation and into a lightening and warming day. The parking lot, was again packed full of day hikers. We hopped in the car and headed to second breakfast in Sperryville.
We drove back, tired sore but content with the achievement of conquering Old Rag in full pack.