Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holidays on ice...

Seasons Greetings!

and a quick New Years Eve 2008 edit...
I'm usually out on the mountainside for the sunrise.. hiking, running, yoga/stretching, cutting wood... time in the quiet to gather my thoughts for the day ahead..
I've become a big believer in signs... all Fall we had the most incredible red sunrises (red sky in morning...).. and then of course the abundance of wild grapes and cones (results? the abundance of 2008 wild grape wine and (remember?) how harsh November was!)

This morning was a bit different.. maybe it was the fresh wind howling over the ridge, the snow showers or just the light coming a wee bit earlier. I'm not sure what it was that felt.. just DIFFERENT somehow.

It may have been hearing from my good friend Walter Lema (from St Martin de los Andes, Patagonia Synapsis-Patagonia) last night. His words reminded me that following your heart and your calling, brings true satisfaction and peace to your soul.

It may have been sitting in the chair made by my sons (Creekside Adirondack Chairs) my Christmas gift made from recycled skis.. that very well may be the most comfortable chair I've ever sat upon.

It may have been the promise of so many good times to come.. a thought fresh in my mind from almost finishing the new format for the 2009 calendar (at the bottom of this blog)

.. and it just may have been looking forward to tonight's bonfire with family and friends..

Whatever it is, 2008 is almost history.. and the promise of 2009 is powerful.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fire and Ice..

..sun, wind and rock.

Into the crucible, go these elements of winter adventures.

As the natural world slows for a rest, we gear up for the sort of adventures that can only be had in this time of year..

Many of you* will be receiving, shortly, an e-newsletter about some of our upcoming activities... some of the information will be found here on this blog, other will be found in early January on our website.
Adventures, adventure learning and the wild world of the mountains and rivers in the Blue Ridge, Potomac Highlands and Alleghenies ...all make for an enriched life, well lived.
.. the sort of life many hesitate to embrace, but love it once they do.... This year come to the source. Join us and bring your friends and loved ones .. on the rocks and waters and paths of our home range..

* if you would like to be added to our limited e-mailing please send a note to Andy at

**As a special offer to those who follow our blog, sign up for any of our guided adventure programs between now and 25 December and receive a 10% discount for you and your group.. good for any time in 2009 .. mention coupon code "SB1208"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Now What???

You're out for a late fall hike.... you kind of know where you wanted to go, rather, where you meant to go, but now it's getting dark, definitely cooling off, and spitting snow. You're not sure, but you're pretty sure that you're just getting deeper and deeper in the woods...Now what??

Well if you go through one of our classes, you'll know that situational awareness in combination with being prepared for whatever may come is the key to turning a bad situation into something that closely resembles fun... Why just survive when you can learn to thrive??

This weekend, while most of the SMG staff (meaning all but me) were out either making tracks in WV's four feet of new snow (!!) or putting up the first lines on this years Blue Ridge ice, or both. The rest of us, (namely, me) stayed behind to teach a new course.

Intro to Outdoor Survival (IOS), is a course that hits the highpoints of our 3-day BOSS course..without the sleeping-out component. It's also a course we designed at the request of our partners, Excitations and Discovery Channel.. (look for it in the Discovery Christmas Catalog, Experiential Gifts, or directly from Excitations) Drawn directly from our very in-depth BOSS class, IOS covers the basics of what it takes to survive, (including building a personal survival kit), water, shelter, signaling and fire. It also includes a healthy dose of navigation and (constant) focus on situational awareness . (IOS is only available thru Excitations /Discovery. You cannot register directly thru us.)

A perfect class for the weekend hiker, the occasional car-camper or the aspiring backpacker... It's designed to give the student a solid grasp of the skills and knowledge that can make the difference between a fun day in the mountains or agony.. or maybe even between life or death.

This weekend we had students from Philadelphia, Northern VA and MD.... and I think all would agree, it was a very powerful and empowering, and fun, class.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Acute Sense of Place.

Tilting into winter.. and working in the mountains, and on the mountains.. is to know that life and love cannot be easily distinguished from the other.
I'm always stunned by the profound realization of how full of life these mountains really are (and always have been). . or is it love?
The weak autumn sun slipping over the next ridge should diminish the view and bring forth a monochrome landscape. Yet these mountains, the very trees, fight the fight. Even as their days are numbered they are full of energy and life and light.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Falling Backward

The intention is to keep this blog current.. so much for intentions. Normally as the summer crowds wane, so does the demand for our services... until this year. Between long days in the Blue Ridge, our work with a multitude of schools, companies and organizations, the Old Rag Mountain Steward program... our days are complete.

So with our website woefully out of date, gear needing cleaning, repair and stowage for the winter.. so much "real work" that needs to be done, we do what is most obvious..
We stay out as much as possible.. putting off the inevitable for some rainy / snowy day when no other activity can be justified... (Who am I kidding?)
Yesterday, we were up on the spine of Shenandoah with elements of DC city government... for those folks, it was definitely not business as usual! Beyond the 25 degree temperature difference, there was also SNOW... but just a dusting.... and a very good sign for us and our friends.. there was lots of roadside ice and a clear snotsicle off the old mans nose...

(the wonderfully miraculous thing about this time of year is the amount of contrast... just 3 ridges over into WV... within eyesight of mountaintops.. our good friend Chip Chase at Whitegrass was celebrating with a foot of new snow!.. Game on!)

Our college classes (Shepherd and Hood) canoeing and climbing are complete.. both wrapped up with spectacular field trips into the dazzling color...

And as Autumn wraps our world in still deeper shadows and the occasional chilly flurry. It all just keeps getting better and better!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Late summer sun always sets too soon.

This post is only about 3 weeks late.. which is pretty good, considering. This time of year is always very special. Just as the farmers and orchardists wrap up their growing season, we at Teamlink and Shenandoah Mountain Guides wrap up our robust summer programming.
No sooner does it wind down than we begin putting the schedule together for 2009.. and that's where we are now..

September's Washingtonian Magazine ran Bill and Mary Burnham's article on guided hiking in Shenandoah National Park.. The Overall Run waterfall described in the article is currently just a trickle.. but if you scroll down thru these posts, you can see what it looked like when the authors did the hike.

Our GWU Outdoor Leadership class had the chance to check out Overall up close and personal as we had another incredible mountain experience with these leaders of the TRAiLS program.

This is also the time of year when we try to wrap all of our rained out and re-scheduled programs be it climbing or paddling..
trying to take advantage of the late summer sun,
Only to find out just how weak it is as the evening comes earlier and earlier

.. of course the end of summer brings about the departure of our summer interns and staff. As they go back to school. We wish them the best on their learning adventures. We also look forward to hearing how they have been able to enrich their respective school's outdoor adventures.

As a last note, two of our summer staff, I'm particularly proud of are Drew and Jake. Besides being great climbers, paddlers and skiers, they are also pretty darn good collegiate athletes in soccer (at Lynchburg College in VA) and football(at McDaniel College in MD) respectively. The picture at left shows Jake after being invited to practice his kicking with Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt

Oh, they are also my sons...

SMG guide, Chad ... Action Photographer!

yes indeed folks, this is Chad in action! on Old Rag, with a frat from VT... Action photography is not for mere mortals.. don't try this at home.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Southern Living...

To all of you who have found your way to this blog as a result of the Southern Living article of August 08...Welcome!

This is an occasional blog kept by me, Andy Nichols, the director of Programs for both Teamlink and Shenandoah Mountain Guides. It reflects on some of the stuff we're doing, have done and are looking forward to doing.

On the left side margin you'll see a few links to other blogs, Blue Ridger, kept by Jesse VonFange, a friend and fellow native Rappahannock Countian (he has AWESOME imagery), Shenandoah Mountain Guides, maintained by Chad, one of our full time guides (another native R.C.), Teamlink, which is VERY occasional and addresses the corporate and school part of our programming. There are also links to two websites: of course one is ours, Teamlink/SMG, and the other is to a kindred spirit, Whitegrass... also living and working immersed in the mountains and all they bring. (on our website there is a more comprehensive list of links to partners, friends and associates... working with them makes us who we are)

As I write this, we're in the heart of our summer.. which means we have staff all over the place, except in the office. We're working in (eastern) WV, (western) MD, (northwestern)VA and (southwestern)PA.. in the mountains and on the rivers.. wherever, you can bet we're having a pretty good time.

To contact us you can try our office phone, or better, try e-mail through our website.

We're looking forward to hearing from you.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pondering the wonders of Red Creek

A trip to that corner of our high country world brought out the "ahhs " and "oohs".. and then
we got down to serious jumpin' and swimmin'..

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Unbearably Busy

As it should be this time of year.. our days start about 0500 and end sometime just before midnight. (Time spent on) the rocks and ridges of the Potomac Highlands, on (and in) the highland creeks and rivers, and in the waterfalls of our local Blue Ridge .. is a mighty nice place to punch the clock.. and you should see the corner office!
Will write more when the dust settles a bit... until then well, we'll see you in the hills!
We'll have a ton of imagery to upload as well!

BTW... and FWIW... (cool abbrevs huh?.. next thing I'll be texting.. oh yeah, for that I need a cell phone with reception..)
Jeremy is on a month long break for a backpack tour of Iceland.. and Chad and some of our other friends are out in Washington doing a self guided ascent of Rainier...
Who needs all that when I have fresh huckleberries from.. places... near the "office" ??

Friday, June 13, 2008

In the heat of the summer..

From our nice cool spring into the maw of the inferno in the snap of a finger... what's ever happened to transitions?

It's been a busy season for the folks at Shenandoah Mountain Guides and Teamlink.. a lot of end of school activities, a lot of time spent up in them thar hills...
From graduations (Congratulations Jake!) and all of the end-of-school-year activities and hoopla, to tromping all over the Blue Ridge.. to floating anything with water... This life is kind of like one big party.. and it just doesn't get much better!

Our guided adventure programs have been nothing less than amazing.... even on the micro scale... even for us! This is just another (one of many) upturned trees in a damp cove around the 2500 ft level on one of our local hills..
...until you look closer. Hundreds of tiny toadstools. (click on the image for the full effect.)

Besides our guiding, the Old Rag Mountain Steward program, a pilot program we are spearheading in conjunction with Shenandoah National Park, has proven to be significantly challenging. After three weekends of being on the mountain, we've experienced winter, spring and summer, encountered thousands of visitors, some ready for the conditions, many not quite as ready as they wished. We've assisted hundreds, helped locate numerous (misplaced people) and responded to several ("almost" medical emergencies.)

When the day is done, we're like whipped puppies.. ready and able to sleep in a second.

Stewardship by its very nature is born out of love and respect.. This mountain, Old Rag, which towered over me and sheltered me in my childhood, tempted me out to climb and explore during and after class (in high school) occupied many weekends and summer afternoons (in college), and filled my sleepless nights when I was light years distant (in the Navy)... This is a mountain to which I owe so much.
If all I can do is be a good steward to her, and help keep those who venture out on her flanks and summit rocks safe... than I will feel I have at least attempted to repay my debt.

Dung beetles. They lay their eggs in dung. Roll the dung into little balls, then roll those dung balls to wherever dung beetles roll their dung balls to... Go to the SMG blog to see the result of Chad's photographic efforts... below
For the next two Saturday evenings, we'll be doing our summer solstice hikes deep into the meadow at Big Meadows in SNP.. come on out and join us as we hike into the night, then watch the stars come out as the summer haze sinks into the valley.. Let your senses go wild.. taste the rich afterglow of the sun as she sinks thru the distant West Virginia ridges, breathe in the spruce- fir and wildflower aroma of a high elevation glade, wrap yourself in the summer chill, under a blanket of stars, listen as the dew forms on the grasses and sedges of the meadow floor, to a background symphony of barred owls, and watch as two by two, the meadow border fills with eyes... "we won't be gone long, you come too"

All next week, we'll be out on the river.. really...come go with us.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Like a fox on the run..

All the way from Milano, Italy! a bachelor party like no other.. wine "growers" and business men.. childhood buddies. Hiking and toasting each other on our beautiful Blue Ridge.. In this cold wet spring, we are very thankful for the mountain huts along some of the backcountry ridges. A hut, a little hot cocoa, and all is right with the world.

We all had the opportunity to head out on some of our favorite trails last week. (You'll have to visit Chad's blog as well - the SMG blog) Chad was down in Roanoke getting his certification as an LNT Master Educator.. while we got to spend some major good times in the highlands

Two weeks ago we kicked off the first of the Old Rag Mountain Steward weekends.. and it was a c-c-cold weekend indeed! howling winds, spitting rain(?) I swear it was sleet! It made Old Rag resemble Mt Washington more than a lesser Blue Ridge peak...The summit temps were a solid 20 degrees cooler than the base.. It's always interesting to see folks arrive at the summit in tank tops and shorts, when the temperature is in the high 30s... not counting the wind chill. At the same time we shivered here.. our good friends at White Grass WV were getting a late spring snow.. you gotta love mountains!!

Folks from the lower piedmont, tidewater and northern VA/DC/ metro MD head to the mountains with great enthusiasm, but arrive at the summit with the same shocked expression.. "It wasn't this cold in Fredericksburg" must have been overheard 25 times. Wingtips, heels, umbrellas, briefcases... "Folks this is a NATIONAL park.. not a municipal park!"
The clouds and icy squalls kept blowing in.. bumping into, the mountain before lifting up and over.. leaving little "wind eddy" clouds spiraling on the back side.

We're preparing ourselves for another amazing spring weekend in a few days.. Memorial Day weekend. We will again be on Old Rag... being good stewards to our favorite playground.

Monday, April 28, 2008

'Taters, Merkles, Creekin', Jacks, 'Falls and Trillium.. It's Springtime in Shenandoah!

It's said that spring comes to the Blue Ridge at the rate of 100 feet per day...
But that isn't the only marker of spring.. for as the mountains green, so do our lives' activities mark the season's arrival.. in work, in play... in celebration... climbing, paddling, hiking... chasing that 100 ft per day... (and when we catch it, we put in in our pocket for next winter's fireside)

Potatoes cut and planted, the harvest distant, but already in sight.. the spring's cool rains and sun's warmth bring out a variety of eminently edible mushrooms known as morels from the forest floor.. ("merkles" as they're pronounced locally, perhaps from "miracle" in the local dialect) Sprouting from nothing.. free for the taking, and easy on the taste buds.

A day, or two or three is never wasted when spent hunting miracles.

And not only do the rains bring forth merkles from the forest duff, but they also swell the local creeks and bring out the year's crop of white water boaters from Hood College.. testing their newly acquired skills, and stretching the limits of what is within their abilities.. and not ceasing to be amazed.

Overall Falls, the icy playground of our winter afternoons, now mercurial, is breathtaking as it leaps off the mountain in full flight..filling the air with white noise and mist.. plunging headlong into the valley below.

Waterfalls and wildflowers, wildflowers and waterfalls.. the ying and yang of springtime in Shenandoah.

Our scheduled weekly hikes (Thursdays) and climbs (Wednesdays) in Shenandoah National Park have started... and life for us and our guests just doesn't get a whole lot sweeter!

On a recent warm day we were joined by Bill and Mary Burnham, noted travel writers and guidebook authors.. as they journeyed with us into higher and less visited regions of Shenandoah. The uphill labors were well rewarded. Our day was measured not by mileage or even by elapsed time, but by the procession of the green into the heights as we passed through the seasons, from the emerald lowlands, back into winter grays of the heights.
(someone please queue Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man")