14th October 2021
23.5 miles / 4,006 ft ascent / 10 hours
I’ve been feeling a little morose recently and I knew the best antidote would be a challenging day in the hills.
There are three peaks that surround Harpers Ferry, all within walking distance: Loudon Heights, Maryland Heights, and Weverton Cliffs.
I’ve previously climbed two of them in a day – Maryland Heights and Loudon Heights – but all three in a day is an altogether more challenging prospect. It’s still small fry in the grand scheme of things, but a good challenge for me with current fitness levels and creaky knees.
It’s a 24 mile walk with over 4,000 ft ascent:
I left home at 6, wearing my head torch because it’s still dark that early at this time of year. Lower town is atmospheric and feels even more olde-world at this time in the morning, when it’s quiet and devoid of cars.
My route took me through lower town, over the pedestrian bridge, then up Maryland Heights as the first peak. I did the Stone Fort loop, which takes in the old civil war fortifications on top of the ridge, some 1,400 ft above the river.
I ditched the headtorch when dawn broke, as I ascended the steepest section of track, near the top.
It was misty on the summit, and no one else was around.
After a short break, I continued along the summit ridge, which is one of my favorite section’s of walk in the area. It’s especially enjoyable in inclement weather or wintry conditions, and today the swirling mist gave it an other worldly feel.
As I progressed along the ridge, the sun made an appearance, slowly burning off the mist and appearing out the cloud.
The dew was heavy on the ground, the leaves, and spiderwebs. Nature even does Halloween decorations better than we do.
Peak fall foliage is still a few weeks away but evidence of change was all around. Leaves are falling and starting to cover the ground. Mostly brown and yellow at the moment, but the reds, oranges, and purples are surely just around the corner. This shot was taken on the descent of the Stone Fort loop, on the way down Maryland Heights.
From the base Maryland Heights, it was four miles along the C&O canal to Weverton Cliffs, passing the abandoned canal lockhouse under Maryland Heights cliffs. I was yet to see another soul since leaving home.
Counter-intuitively, the flat, hard-packed surface of the canal was harder on my feet than climbing the mountains, so I was happy to reach the turn north on the A.T. to head up Weverton Cliffs. I’ve climbed it several times before (from home and with family) so I knew what was in store.
It’s a relatively short climb from the trail to the top of the ridge, but as I already had 10 miles in the bag I was feeling a little tired:
The views from the top of Weverton Cliffs are magnificent! You can see a much wider panorama than from the other two mountains. Weverton definitely has the best views.
Here, I’m looking down on the Potomac River and across to Short Hill Tract mountain:
This was peak number two in the bag! So far, so good.
I had a short break on the top of Weverton Cliffs to enjoy the view. I could still see the summit of Maryland Heights, enveloped in cloud, and also Loudon Heights, which I still had to reach.
The flat miles back along the canal to Harpers Ferry were tiring. My back ached but I was spurred on by the thoughts of coffee and bagel from Battlegrounds Cafe in town. Harpers Ferry was teeming with people by the time I reached lower town again, such a contrast to first thing in the morning.
The bagel and coffee were every bit as good as I hoped, and made for a thoroughly satisfying lunch break!
Lower town looked splendid as always:
Suitably replete, I walked through town on the A.T. with Lexi, before saying goodbye and heading up Loudon Heights, for a final showdown.
I crossed 340, over the Shenandoah River, having already walked 16.5 miles rather than the usual 1 mile if I was doing Loudon Heights from home. But I felt great and was excited to continue my hike.
The ascent was tiring, I’m not going to lie. I was weary, but happy. All I had to do was keep plodding up the hill, passing Split Rock on my way to the lookout.
The view from Loudon Heights lookout never disappoints and today the air was super clear, so I could see for miles. Lower town and the train bridge looked sharper than usual, as if they were in better focus than earlier in the summer when it was more hazy. I took a good break at the lookout to enjoy the view (and the rest!).
Loudon Heights lookout was the third peak in the bag!
Looking upriver to the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and enjoying a tasty apple.
Looking across the Potomac River to Maryland Heights, which I’d climbed early that morning.
Overall, it was a fantastic, long day out that gave me a solid challenge and a decent sense of accomplishment.
I find days like this make memories that last a lifetime, that nourish me for months, even years to come. I cherish these days because they’re so fulfilling, in a different way to other aspects of life.