Friday, November 11, 2011

The way home...

My father dropped out of high school, at age 17, to join the Navy so he could fight the war in the Pacific... as a young signalman, on board a 100ft long amphibious landing craft he saw some of the most intense battles in history... and never once spoke of them.. Yes, he spoke of typhoons with massive waves, the beauty of the mountains of the Philippines and of the antics that only an 18 yr old with a "they-were-expendable" attitude can have on liberty...
But of war.. he never spoke.
Eventually, he went to college and moved into the Blue Ridge mountains, a place of immense, yet simple beauty. And that is where he and my mother established our home.

Had I ever considered to thank him on Veterans Day, as seems to be the fashion today, I'm pretty sure it would have made him uncomfortable.. It's just what he and the other members of the Greatest Generation did... they sacrificed their youth, willingly and gladly even, for nothing less than world freedom... How can you EVER thank someone enough for that???

My brothers and I (and our brother-in-law) are all veterans... in fact, between the four of us, we spent more than 68 years in either an active or active/reserve status...

For me, going in the Navy didn't take a whole lot of thought.. it's just what I did. I was an English major with dim job prospects (lifeguarding /coaching swimming in the summer and teaching skiing in the winter.. the dirt bag life.)
Besides, I had all the time in the world. "A four year commitment?? that's nothing!"

In the Navy, I worked with some of the most amazing people I have ever known... from all backgrounds, and am intensely proud to have them as friends..
Though there are years and miles between where we make our homes, there remains a closeness that that is not easily described nor is very similar to what my birth brothers and I have - a bond born of experiences, shared.

Everyone has their reasons for joining: sense of duty, honor, tradition, legacy. For others it's a ticket out... a chance to "see the world" ... a job. For me, it's just what I did. Not a lot of thought applied. I'm not sure why. But surely, no thanks were expected... none are needed. I was the one thankful.

It never occurred to me to thank my Dad for his service... and you know, it never occurred to me that anyone should ever thank me for mine... and I'm sure all of my brothers feel pretty much the same... In fact, when someone thanks me on Veterans Day, I almost have to ask, "for what?"

My generation was shoe-horned between the ends of both Viet Nam and the Cold War and the beginnings of the Global War on Terror -a period of recovery in which we were trying to find our way, and our national identity, again. It was a time of diverse military actions from Desert One, Lebanon and Grenada thru the Persian Gulf, Operation Desert Storm, Somalia, the Balkans...

For the past ten years we've been a country solidly at war - no more short term crises. Today's generation of veterans are so like my Dad's generation... there are no maybes when you sign... and young people still choose to join...

So, today, at 11.11am (on 11-11-11) I ran 11 miles across the mountains. Veterans Day, Armistice Day....a day to put down arms... I ran because I don't like the feeling of being thanked for doing something that I gained so much from... I ran to honor my brothers, all of them. I ran to honor my father, and his brothers.

I ran all the way home.

.. and I ran mostly, just to keep the faith with those who are still on their journey ..... home.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Come with us and let's go climbing!

There are so many discount coupon offers out there.. we decided to cut out the middle man and offer our own..

Last month we tested the waters of offering a really nice deal..We only offered it on Facebook to those who "like us" on FB.. Well it's been a huge success!
We've decided to take it off the pages of Facebook and extend the offer through 15 December!

So here's the deal.. if you have "liked us" on our Shenandoah Mountain Guides Facebook page you qualify! If you have not "liked us".. do so, and you qualify!
Then you and 3 of your friends can score a day of guided group rock climbing for only $50 each! (normally more than $100 each!)... AND, it'll be just you and your friends!
(not with my neighbor Bob's Aunt Hester from Phoenix who just happened to be in town and was looking for something to do..)

E-mail us ( to set up your day and finish your registration! Isn't that easy?

High value information...
If you have a special day in mind... I'd encourage you to sign up quickly as the good days are going to go very fast. This is an unbelievable deal that can only happen once every .. heck we've NEVER offered anything like this .. in all of our 20 years!

Monday, August 29, 2011

End of Summer...

While the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall are upon us, the flowers and the scenery just get richer..
These are some images from the last few weeks..

The old farms and homesites in Shenandoah are particularly rich with floral and fruiting remnants that persist, and are particularly well suited and resilient to mountain life

..looking westward to the Alleghenies.

Late August shades of blue.

 stop, Fall!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


All of our staff, both current and alumni from the past 20 years all still enjoy their own personal adventuring... Many get together for trips of a very high level as the friendships, skills and love of adventure span the generations.
Summertime, between helping visitors from around the world have a great time here in our mountains, you will often find us either just returning from a great trip or preparing for one.

The thing that sets us apart however is the dedication to gaining absolute knowledge of a destination, and the effort put toward the mastery of the beta... so that we may then savor the maximal experience.
In a few weeks, a team of SMG staff , former staff and friends will be traveling to Zermatt to climb the Citade- er, uh, the Matterhorn. True to form, one of our top guides has been spending breaks on the trail preparing himself for this epic climb...

Beta is beta... and this beta won a Newberry Award!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Embrace Adventure..

One of my favorite sayings is "Embrace life!" and all the things it throws at you..
Well, life is also an adventure, a magnificent adventure... therefore , well you get it.. embrace adventure! and all that goes with it.

There are no guarantees. There is no script. You can never be quite certain what you'll see, what the weather will be, where you'll go or what may happen.
And you have to learn to simply let go of your ordered life and give in to the adventure of it all! Embrace it fully!

And when you do, things will never look quite the same.. your perspective will no longer that of one who only has predictable outcomes waiting for them.. instead you will eagerly look forward to the possibilities that may be!

That simple thought gives me goosebumps.

This spring we have been helping folks from across the country learn to embrace adventure..

From Kansas school boys tackling a favorite climb..

To local middle schoolers exploring their home waters by canoe.. using kick nets to find out about the health of their rivers...
What will they discover? a healthy stream? a dying stream?
Who knows... it's an adventure.. but whatever they discover, you can bet they won't forget it!

.. and a couple from Michigan.. who had only climbed on plastic indoor walls..
To climb real rock (the only kind we know)
on a real mountain... and maybe make it and maybe not..

The adventure and the scenery, and their smiles, speak for themselves.

.. and then there are those adventures of the senses... ahh spring!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


As I write this, the lowlands and valleys are cloud-free... yet the mountainside is under an endless cloud bank offering non-stop drizzle and showers... gloomy yes, but intensifying the green to the point of dazzling. Ocasionally, when the clouds shift a bit, getting un-stuck from the mountaintop, the sun shines in sideways bringing with it a light so full of life it is both startling and breathtaking.

The rivers have been (blessedly) bank-full for 6 weeks.. and the garden is, largely, an unplanted patch of mud and weeds... I reassure myself that since there was just snow a week ago (even though it was 2000 ft higher up!) that there is still time for planting.

One of the great thrills of mountain life, (wow, where do I start??) for me, anyway, is growing my own food... Something I learned as a boy, and began on my own as soon as I had the room. (yes, even in the Navy, living in California, I grew tomatoes and potatoes in my 1'X3 ' patch of "soil")
Something even more fundamental than growing your own, however is foraging... and in a year of unending spring showers and cool to cold temperatures.. foraging is the best game in town.

And I'm not talking about survival food.. I'm talking about delicacies from the wild. Right outside the back door. From dandelion greens, fiddleheads and poke, to morels and wild asparagus.. Natures bounty, free for the responsible (read: sustainable) taking.
How very sweet it is.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Homeground.. spring appears, barely.

Within an area that ranges from the rocky rolling ridges of MD and southern PA, to the steep highlands and river valleys of West Virginia's Potomac Highlands to the soaring peaks of the VA Blue Ridge and Alleghenies.. is our homeground. We know these mountains like we know ourselves.
While traveling the other day, I was struck not just by the breathtaking beauty of the day but also by this amazing powerful feeling of HOME .. deep home..
The defining emotion or the power of the experience was not just the scenery however.. it was rather the time-bending realization that the same views of mountains and valleys in which I make my living today.. are the same views of mountains that my father enjoyed and lured him and my mother to the small town in which I grew up..
They are the same views that my grandfather enjoyed... and his father before him (the ones that called him to leave his Army duty for crop planting during the Civil War), and his father... and finally his father, and grandfather, before him after coming to this country in the mid 1700s from Germany (as some of the first settlers in an area of the Shenandoah Valley known as Fort Valley, VA...)

The realization that the mountain passes, river crossings and many of the roads are the same as they were 250 years ago, is one of virtual time travel... and leaves my stomach feeling as though I've just driven over a quick hump in the road.. kind of weightless.

To work here, sharing these ageless hills and mountains, rocks and rivers with others, and to know them so intimately, their secret places, their histories... far beyond what is written..( those family stories passed down from generation to generation) .. the things that make them so much more than special... is not only a gift and a blessing, but it is an incredible privilege.

To drink from the same spring that my great grandfather once drank from (in the 1800s), and to recognize the timelessness of that refreshment is to (almost) touch on the concept of eternity.
The spring's rain and snows have boosted the aquifers to the point where they burst through the earths rocky surface bringing the streams to brimful.. rushing on their journey to flatter lands

Thursday, March 24, 2011

First Aid, Survival and Adventure Climbing

As has become pretty much a tradition, we celebrate the month of March (and the soon-to-follow, end of winter) with our Wilderness First Aid Weekend... and this year, for the first time in a good while, we had no snow on the ground! Co-sponsored with our friends, The Trail House, and taught by the fantastic instructors from SOLO in Conway, NH, the class always exceeds everyone's expectations... in fact it blows them away!

Here, instructor Ken, on the left, is demonstrating an improvised splint on our friend, a summer fun instructor from Adventure Links. (Despite the similar name... They are totally unrelated to Teamlink / Shenandoah Mountain Guides. They are an urban youth recreation provider serving a large youth market in Northern VA and DC. We are happy to be able to provide them with professional training for their staff.)

We have also been really excited about helping develop some of the "survival skills" for some of the middle school students in the area schools.. both practically, and metaphorically. Learning to prioritize your needs while constantly maintaining a keen sense of situational awareness is a life lesson for all.
Building a fire, as a team, without matches and with wet materials... it requires, planning, preparation, good communication skills, leadership, followership, sacrifice, patience, self confidence and tenacity. Not bad traits for anyone to have.

Starting our Spring climbing season in the middle of late Winter has been a real treat, especially with our newly launched adventure climbing program... The opportunity to climb on BIG rocks far off the beaten track is like nothing you've ever experienced! Incredibly AWESOME.

There is NOTHING like 200 ft of air between your feet and the ground to make you feel really alive!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

An all new year! 2011

First, let's go ahead and get this out of the way... in the January 2011 edition of Southern Living, we were recognized as the Best of the South for our summer adventure programs, particularly our waterfall hikes and cascading /canyoneering trips... a distinct honor from a great magazine! And of course along with that honor the reservation system has been pretty busy! Between that honor and the early arrival of springtime temperatures, we have been multitasking like crazy.. emailing, answering phones, getting in as much XC skiing as possible, tapping the maples, making syrup and of course, trying to launch our 2011 Activity Schedule.. Although it is still not fully completed and the website needs a bit of tweaking, I thought I'd get this post up as soon as I could...

WHAT'S NEW .. Well first of all we've launched a campaign that everyone needs to know about... 10% of the gross of all paid programming we do this spring thru April will go to defray the expenses of youth programming during Summer 2011. Historically, (though we don't advertise this) we work with hundreds of young people during the spring, summer and fall who come from very "challenging" backgrounds .. It may be a household where a parent(s) is incarcerated, or the family is homeless, or the children have been removed due to abusive conditions, or wanton substance abuse, or combinations of the above.. We have done this for more than 15 years with whatever funding may be available to us, and we make up the rest out of pocket.. normally 50% or more. We take these kids climbing, backpacking, canoeing, tubing... basically allowing them to have a week or two out of the year, in which it's OK just to be a kid, to play, and have wholesome, structured fun with no worries about food, shelter or anything else, (use your imagination). We provide a camper: staff ratio of 2:1....

This year, virtually ALL funding has been cut from these important child development programs, which means we face a challenge. It would be easy for us to just say no... But working with these children is too much of a mission, a calling for us. So we are committing to providing these programs, and absorbing all of the costs ourselves.
But to do this, we need to raise, at a minimum, $5,000
, for which we provide a dollar to dollar match. That's where you can help. Enroll in one of our programs NOW and you can be assured that 10% of the gross, (basically any profit +5%) will be going to our youth programming...

Have yourself a ball, and know some young person will, too ... Thanks to you!

"Healthy Hiking" /Backpacking
... There is no better way to lose weight, and to see awesome sights than mountain hiking. The low impact activity in fresh, clean air in a landscape of sparkling waters and crystal clear mountaintops is the perfect way to shed lots of unwanted weight. Coordinated by one of our staff (who is a collegiate fitness instructor during the winter), these can be configured as day-hikes or backpacking trips* (* the recommended option) of one to four days in length. (with before and after weigh-ins) We provide all needed gear ..
Call the office for more information 866.455.8672

Adventure Climbing... (previously listed as Old Rag Guided Climbing) This is a Spring and Fall adventure that is truly special... climbing the rocky flanks of Old Rag (and other significant peaks) as the average tourist will never see or dare... straight up! ropes, climbing shoes and helmets are required! (and provided!)

Boiling Sap

Maybe the most sure -fire harbinger of spring is the realization that the maples are breaking dormancy in preparation for budding.. the sap is running!

Now, being basically a southern boy, I always looked for spring in different ways: pruning apple trees, listening for peepers, paddling streams (normally too low to paddle most of the year) fresh with spring-rain and snow melt.. increased talk of planting 'taters and onions, being out without a gazillion layers of clothing ...

All those things are still big parts of my life, and I look forward to each and every one of those events... they happen like clockwork, every year.. at least in the way I've chosen to live my life.

But as we all grew and spread to different parts of the country, my brothers and sister adopted many of the practices of their new surroundings.

One of my brothers moved north... WAAY north.... and make no mistake, it's definitely not the south!

Many of the customs and traditions of being close to the land are very solid and natural.. good stewardship of the land is a strong northern ethic. But one of the things he naturally began was tapping his grove of Sugar Maples to make syrup... "huh? he's doing what?" which was my first reaction about 20 years ago....

But the magnificent Christmas gifts of homemade syrup made their presence known and we looked forward to them every year... and every year hence.

As I grew older and closer to the earth, the idea of making syrup, a thousands -of-years-old skill, started to look like the most natural and logical thing to do... and last year, I fumbled around and managed to produce enough sap for abut a cup of questionable-quality , but sweet, syrup... which I might add, was immediately devoured.

This year, I have been determined to step up my game just a bit.

Now my brother, he's gone all high tech... with his trees tapped and piped straight into his corn-crib-converted-into-a boiling-room...

I am not nearly as sophisticated...

Sap runs on its own time.

When I was a child, in my imagination, I used to view springtime sap boiling as something that must be an exciting time... I mean it's directly associated with all those sources of childhood excitement.. a wood fire, a barn, SNOW, and sweet stuff to eat... what's not to be excited about???

Even as an "adult" I have still been known to view gathering and boiling sap as a time of great anticipation and lots of doings...

Reality, however, is very different... it is much more mellow, more balanced, more in-tune with earthy doings. I have come to realize that , as with gathering sap, there is little I can do can make it boil down faster... natural laws are in charge. The best thing I can do is find a good book and settle in to feed the fire , and maybe, when no one is looking, catch a nap...

.. and it just may be that this is what it means to live in sync with the world... accepting the zen-like concept of everything in its time.. rest when it's time to rest, (re)store energy for the time of growing, and in turn, work when the time is right to work.

... and to be content to let sap run... and, in it's time, to let sap boil.

It sure is sweet...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The hardest time of year..

Our administrative office is located, appropriately, on the side of a mountain... which provides an amazing environment in which to work, unless, that is, you have to work, indoors... then, it's a bit problematic.
And the reason it's a problem is that some of the most challenging single track in the East is 1/2 mile out the back door... and some of the best backcountry and nordic skiing east of the Allegheny Front is located, well, it starts when the back door closes...
and for those in-between seasons when the snow is too crunchy or thin or the trails too muddy and soft.. then, there is the most amazing mountain trail running..

I guess none of that really sounds like too much of a problem... unless you have indoor work that MUST be done.. like the final planning for 2011, or executing a marketing plan, or revising course and class syllabus for the start of the 2011 teaching season, or acquiring 2011 permits, or finalizing trip planning, regardless of how amazing the trip.

So today, I was close to finishing some major admin-weenie jobs.. when I happened to look out thru one of the office windows... at the deep blue sky, a foot of hard-pack, crusty snow, 26 degrees. .. hmm, can't ride, can't ski... maybe I should pack up my work and head into a coffee shop or library in town... I definitely won't be distracted there.

Thirty minutes later, there I was: daypack on, poles in hand, running shoes with gaiters, slogging up 1,500 ft. for what will be the most exhilarating 3.5 mile descent I've ever made without skis..
Two hours later, my one hour respite has now evolved into 2.5 hours, as one run was not enough.. (is it ever??) Nordic Mountain Running... perhaps the worlds greatest sport.

Yes, my work remains. It'll be there tomorrow. It'll be there next week.. Heck, at this rate, it may be there in JULY!
But Nordic Mountain Running may only be there for another few weeks (months, if I'm lucky)

This is the hardest job in a tough season... but, please, shed no tears.. I'll survive somehow.