Just a quick post to show some photos of the incredible cloud inversion I saw on a recent hike up Maryland Heights.
My original plan was to hike the Stone Fort loop, but as I crossed the river through the cloud and then climbed higher on the trail, I knew there was a good chance of seeing a cloud inversion. So I skipped the Stone Fort loop and headed for the lookout. It was spectacular and there was no one else around!
Harpers Ferry rose out of cloud like an island, with thick fog clinging to the river valleys of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.
Day 1: Home to Harpers Ferry Campground, 2.5 miles, 8/22/21
I’ve wanted to take the boys camping for a long time but never quite gotten around to it. Something always came up or the weather didn’t cooperate. This time however, the stars aligned. I had a gap in the schedule, the boys haven’t started school and the weather forecast was stable (although rather hot!).
This is sad to say, but it’s been years since I’ve camped (something I plan to rectify!). I had fun digging my old camping gear though and packing for this adventure. Everything looked like new again. That’s the thing with good quality outdoor gear — it lasts a lifetime if you look after it.
In my pre-kids life I did a lot of camping so it was easy to plan what we needed and get everything together. The boys carried some of their clothes and water bottles in their bags.
We set off around 3 pm, full of excitement! The boys were embarking on their first camping adventure.
Lexi walked with us for the first quarter mile to Nash Farm. Owen didn’t believe us when we said that mom was turning around here. “You’re joking right?”
We strode on, down the trail from the back of Nash Farm to the river. Owen face planted twice on the way down, the poor guy. No harm done, just muddy knees. At the bottom of the hill I led the boys through the river tunnel under the rail tracks rather than crossing the tracks. It was almost bone dry.
We stopped to explore the Canal Headrace and enjoy views out to Maryland Heights. At this age, the boys are mostly indifferent to pretty views though. They prefer bugs or interesting graffiti.
We arrived at the campsite around 5 pm. I couldn’t find the caretaker, so we picked the furthest tent site and set up camp. The boys helped put the tent up, and then proceeded to trip over the tent pegs every 5 minutes 😉
The tent is a 7 year old Mountain Hardwear Skyledge, which is a lightweight 2-person tent. It was comfortable with me and the boys, if a little cozy. I’ll consider taking the 3-person pyramid tent next time.
Once we’d set up camp, we wandered back to the river shore to explore for an hour or so. We built sandcastles and hunted for shells. It’s serene and beautiful in the evenings. Again, the boys were digging in the mud whilst Dad was admiring the view.
Back at the tent we had dinner. I brought the MSR Pocket Rocket stove to heat up a camp meal for myself. The boys had sandwiches, fruit and muffins.
That night I had my work cut out! They were excitable and wanted story after story. All good fun and they fell asleep around 9.30 pm. I was nodding off by then too.
But sleep didn’t come easily because it was so hot in the tent. I ended up keeping both fly doors open and cracking the inner doors too. Thankfully there were no bugs so that wasn’t an issue. I eventually fell asleep properly sometime after midnight. I was woken up a couple more times but overall it was a relatively good night.
Day 2: Harpers Ferry Campground to Home, 2.5 miles, 8/23/21
It was a beautiful morning when we woke up, with the sun rising over the river and pouring through the trees. We were all awake by 6.30 am when the tent got light.
Our first job was to retrieve our food bag that we hung last night. We didn’t hang it to protect from bears (low risk here) but I wanted to protect from rodents in the night. It was also a fun experiment to do with the boys. It worked a treat.
Then it was onto breakfast. I had this hot granola, which was surprisingly good, and a cup of tea.
Another family with young boys was camped a few sites down from us (the rest of the sites were empty at this end of the campground), so we stopped and played with them for a while before setting off on the trek home. We stopped for a paddle in the river too.
We went a slightly different way home and met Lexi along the Armory Trail.
We took the trail that cuts up to East Ridge St, and then home from there. It was another super hot day so I was relieved it was only a short day!
Overall, this was a fantastic mini adventure. It wasn’t easy but it also wasn’t too hard. I’m looking forward to more trips with the boys in the future!
I left Harpers Ferry around 7.30am, slightly later than I’d hoped for, given the forecast was for a scorching day. Today’s route was north along the Appalachian Trail, turning around at the Edward Garvey Memorial Shelter, a trip of around 17 miles.
Most of my hiking trips these days are out-and-back hikes, rather than loops, since I live next to the Appalachian Trail. I’ve always enjoyed them. You get to see all the cool scenery again, but from a different perspective.
The view from the point of Harpers Ferry – the confluence of the Potomac (left) and Shenandoah (right) rivers – was majestic, as always. My route took me over the bridge into Maryland and out along the C & O canal, parallel to the Potomac River.
The miles along the canal were relaxing. Surrounded by trees, with glimpses of the river to my right, it’s a good walk to do some thinking. I was in a reflective mood this morning, perhaps because I’m 40 now, or because I had space to think without my kids absorbing all my energy (editor: no ground-breaking insights were discovered though 😂).
The Appalachian Trail turns away from the C&O canal after a few miles to head north up Weverton Cliffs, which I’ve climbed a few times before (incl. with Lexi and the boys).
Weverton Cliffs has tremendous views over the Potomac River, and across to the mountains of Short Hill Tract, Loudon Heights and Maryland Heights.
After a brief rest at the lookout, I continued hiking north along the AT. It climbs for a further 20 minutes or so, but then levels out along the top of the ridge for a relatively easy walk.
Again, the easy miles were conducive to deep thinking. I lost myself in a trance like state. I passed no other walkers and had this whole stretch of the trail to myself.
The shelter is spectacular, perhaps the best lean-to type shelter I’ve seen. It was two story, with a fantastic upstairs. There were plenty of picnic tables and benches, fire pit, latrine, bear box and bear pole, and numerous tent sites.
After lunch I played around with the new Hennessy backpacking hammock that Pete bought me for my birthday last year. I wanted to practice the setup, so I can spend a night out soon.
I recorded a quick timelapse of the setup:
The return trip was uneventful and considerably hotter and busier than the outward leg this morning.
Of course, I stopped to enjoy a refreshing dip in the Shenandoah river, by the 340 road. Always a great way to finish a long hike (like this one!).
Lexi’s parents came to stay with us for a few days after the family vacation, which meant we could get away for a few days just the two of us. It was our first adventure together in nearly 18 months, because of the pandemic. We were excited!
I found a cabin on AirBnb near the base of Old Rag mountain. We’ve climbed it before, in 2019, and had such a good experience that we decided to go back. It’s also near Sperryville, a cute town in Virginia with a wonderful coffee shop (another reason to return).
Old Rag is one of the most popular mountain climbs on the East coast (All Trails route), probably on account of the fantastic rock scramble along the summit ridge. We set off early to avoid the crowds and the heat; it was forecast to get to 95 F (35 C). Yikes!
The first part of the walk, from the car park to the ridge line, is a pleasant walk through the forest.
After a couple of hours of walking, and about 3 miles into the hike, we reached the shoulder of Old Rag. We stopped at the lookout here, refueled and readied ourselves for the ridge scramble that follows.
For a flavor of what the ridge scrambling was like, here’s some footage from the scramble up Old Rag:
The scramble is a ton of fun! Never hard but entertaining from start to finish, it’s a real joy. It’s physical: you have to pull yourself up and over blocks and down and through canyons, which is great fun and distracts you from the heat and one’s weariness.
The scramble along the ridge line takes you all the way to the summit. Even with our early start (we were walking by 6.30am) there were already other groups up here.
The views are spectacular from the summit. Shenandoah to the West, Robertson Mountain to the North and the Virginia plains to the East.
As we looked across to Robertson Mountain, I asked Lexi “hey we could climb that today if you’re interested?”. Nevermind that it was hot as hell, we had plenty of water. Game on!
We descended off the back of Old Rag, passing Byrd shelter and Old Rag shelter. At the fire road junction where returning hikers turn right to head back to the car park, we continued straight on.
The hike up the fire road, in the heat and blazing sun, felt interminable. Eventually we reached the turn off for the trail up Robertson Mountain.
The summit is tiny and overgrown with trees and brush. A few big boulders and breaks still give tremendous views, including back towards Old Rag where we’d come from that morning.
The descent off Robertson Mountain was the crux of our route. It was a steep, loose trail for 1.6 miles back to the fire road. Easy to follow but hard on one’s knees. We were happy to reach the relative comfort of the fire road!
From there it was a couple of easy miles back to the car, with a quick dip in the river en route to cool off our weary feet.
There are three mountains that surround Harpers Ferry: Loudon Heights in WV/VA, Maryland Heights in MD, and Weverton Cliffs in MD. I’ve previously climbed each of these peaks separately but never linked them together into multi-peak hikes. On this occasion I linked up two peaks. In the future I’d like to try the full 3-peak challenge.
The most obvious link-up is combining Loudon Heights and Maryland Heights, being the two closer mountains. They’re also both more substantial hikes.
The day before Lexi completed this same circuit on a similarly hot day, so I knew what the conditions were like and how much water I’d need. I took 3 liters of water, which was just enough.
When I set out that morning, at 6.15 am, it was beautiful, in the 70’s F (about 21 C). By the time I got home at lunchtime it was around 93 F (almost 34 C), which made for tough hiking conditions.
Thankfully you cross the Shenandoah river on the way home (by the 340 bridge) so I jumped in for a swim before home. Glorious!