Author Archives: benlcollins

Out-and-back hike along the Appalachian Trail to Keys Gap

I suspect loop hikes are generally more preferable than out-and-back hikes, as you avoid covering the ground twice and you get to enjoy new scenery for the entire route.

However, out-and-back hikes have their own special charm.

You go as far as you dare, knowing that when you turn around you’re exactly half-way through.

You see all the same scenery, but from a different vantage point on the return leg. Inevitably, you’ll notice different details and appreciate the chance to take it all in for a second time.

You can mark your progress on the way home (negative splits anyone?). You’ll notice landmarks on your return that give you a refernce point for how far you’ve travelled and how much further you have to go.

Personally too, out-and-back hikes along the same route always invoke visions of the great Antarctic explorers, from Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen, to more modern explorers like Borge Ousland and Ben Saunders. These explorers set off from a base camp headed for the pole, before turning around and retracing their steps home. All of them wrestled with the question of when to turn around. They had to solve the equation of distance remaining versus supplies left. Could they reach the pole before food ran out on the return journey? In the words of Shackleton: “Better a live donkey than a dead lion”.

Luckily all I have to worry about is how tired, hungry and thirsty I’ll be at the end of a pleasant walk!

Here is a selection of photos from a 12-mile out-and-back hike along the Appalachian Trail from home to Keys Gap and back.

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Am I too old to wear a hat like this?

 

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Downed trees blocking the path, a result of recent storm damage.

 

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Kinda the “summit” of the hike, at least in terms of a view. A break in the trees provides a lookout to the valley where Harpers Ferry Road runs, and across the Loudon Heights.

 

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This entire hike is out-and-back along the Appalachian Trail, signed with white blazes.

 

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New boardwalks added near to Keys Gap to combat erosion in the wet ground.

 

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Keys Gap! Appalachian Trail!

 

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A little bit of history for you. This area is rich in history as it was one of the civil war flashpoints.

 

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Success! Half way point of the hike. Now I just have to retrace my steps home.

 

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White blaze on the Appalachian Trail.

 

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Power line view on the return leg.

 

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Just after you start descending off the ridge, you see the entry sign to the National Park land. Nearly home!

 

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Crossing a broody looking Shenandoah River at the end of the hike. Harpers Ferry is on the left bank.

Winter Hike Up Loudon Heights

Our first winter in Harpers Ferry was extraordinarily mild.

So much so that this was the only hike I did under winter conditions!

Route on Strava and a short video from the hike.

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Just outside the office window.

 

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Before any hikes could happen, I had fun building a snowman with the boys.

 

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Crossing the Shenandoah River.

 

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The stairs at the start of the climb, on the Appalachian Trail.

 

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Appalachian Trail South.

 

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Definition of winter. Low sun. Cold.

 

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Whoever invented the built-in hood system is a genius!

 

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Typical trail conditions.

 

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Can you spot the white Appalachian Trail blaze on the tree?

 

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My destination for this hike: the park boundary sign.

 

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My favorite little section of trail up near the top of the ridge, dead straight and flat through a tunnel of trees.

 

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Frosty not looking so good a day later 😂

 

If you think it’s beautiful in summer, you should see this place in winter. It’s magical.

Weverton Cliffs with the boys

This was our last hike of 2019.

We squeezed it in during that weird period between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

For Lexi and me, it was our second hike up Weverton Cliffs (route description). For the boys, it was their first real mountain climb.

Weverton Cliffs, Md. is the third mountain hike accessible from Harpers Ferry, after Maryland Heights and Loudon Heights. It’s a 9-mile out-and-back from Harpers Ferry — much too far for a 2yo and 4yo — so we opted to start from the car park at the base of the mountain.

The route is part of the Appalachian Trail. It’s a short and easy climb and rewards walkers with some of the best views of this area. It’s well worth doing but I’d avoid weekend afternoons.

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Dominic leading the way up Weverton Cliffs.

 

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Owen walked about a 1/3 of the way and went the rest of the way in the backpack.

 

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He refused to walk but took a lot of convincing to get in the backpack 🤷‍♂️.

 

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At the summit junction, where Weverton Cliffs trail splits off from the Appalachian Trail.

 

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At the top enjoying the splendid views!

 

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Looking upstream of the Potomac River, towards Harpers Ferry.

 

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Owen walked most of the way down.

City Hike #3: Copenhagen, Denmark

Part 3 of a series of “hikes in big cities”. For Parts 1 and 2, walks around San Francisco and New York, click here (NYC) and here (SF).

December 10, 2019

I had a few hours free in Copenhagen, Denmark, after leading a Google Sheets training workshop for a client.

It was a chance to fit in an exploratory nighttime ramble through the heart of this pretty city.

This was my approximate route, starting from hotel Skt Petri where I was staying, and taking in the Lego shop (of course!), the Skaal craft brew house (for dinner and beer) and Starbucks (for a cup of tea).

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European cities are beautiful at this time of year.

They’re pedestrian- and bike-friendly of course, which I love, and full of wonderful architecture and old buildings.

But they really shine (pun intended) at this time of year.

They deck the streets with lights, people walk around hand-in-hand past Christmas markets, and everyone has a glow, a warmth, about them. At this time of year, London is like this too.

Here are a few photos from my short foot journey:

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Lights along the Fiolstræde street near the hotel

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A gorgeous courtyard, tucked away down a side passage

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Christmas tree in the square near to Skaal brew house where I had dinner

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Reindeer at the Kultorvet (“The Coal Market”)

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Quintessential European culture — a cafe with seating on the sidewalk. People sit out, even at this time of year, to watch the world go by.

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The imposter Lego shop! It had a great selection but the official Lego shop was further down the street (I visited of course, but didn’t get a photo there).

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Saying hello to Santa.

One day I’ll have to return for a longer walk and include some of the parks and lakes.

Glyders Traverse, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

15 October 2019

My brother and I headed out for a day of hiking in Snowdonia National Park, during our overlapping family trips to the UK.

That morning, a full moon presided over the mountains of Snowdonia, which bathed in a soft dawn light. The valley slept under a blanket of cloud.

It was a most auspicious start to our day.

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View across the River Conwy valley to the high peaks of Snowdonia.

As we blasted along the A5 towards Capel Curig and beyond to Llyn Ogwen, the landscape felt absolutely familiar and shockingly distant. It’s an area that I’ve spent a lot of time in, but that was all more than 10 years ago.

Tryfan looked every bit as magnificent as I remember it.

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Tryfan!

Here we were again. My brother and I preparing for a walk from that layby half-way along Llyn Ogwen.

We couldn’t help but smile at the adventure that lay ahead.

I was a little run down with a head cold, so we decided to attempt Tryfan and see how we felt before committing to anything else. If we (or rather I) felt terrible we’d call it a day. If not, we’d carry on.

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In high spirits as we set off from the layby about half way along Llyn Ogwen on the A5.

It was a good long pull up to the summit of Tryfan. It was immensely satisfying to be walking over familiar terrain once again, chatting away with one of the most awesome people on planet Earth.

We both felt pretty good on the ascent and reached the summit without too much trouble.

Once there, we shared a cuppa and a digestive biscuit. We’d talked about this moment for months and here we were, living it. Or rather, eating it.

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My happy place. Tea and a digestive biscuit (the king of all biscuits) on a mountain summit (Tryfan).

The swirling cloud made for some good pictures. Mountains, ridges and lakes drifted in and out of the cloud. Pete hopped on over to the shoulder of Tryfan for this great shot (his idea).

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Pete on the flanks of Tryfan with Bristly Ridge in the background. Epic scenery!

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Looking West along the spine of the Glyders.

Back at the saddle between Tryfan and the rest of the Glyders, we rested briefly. We drank more tea and decided to continue traversing the range.

We were both happy as pigs in sh*t. There was no way we were turning back now.

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Taking a break at the Bwlch Tryfan, looking back at the summit of Tryfan where we’d just descended from.

As we ascended Glyder Fach, the clouds lifted away from Tryfan to leave a stunning image of the summit pyramid against a deep blue sky.

No doubt about it, Tryfan is a mighty mountain.

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The iconic Tryfan.

The walk over the top of Glyder Fach was in and out of cloud the whole way. We were given enough glimpses of our surroundings that we didn’t need to use the compass for navigation.

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Looking NW down the valley towards Bangor. Glyders on the left. Carneddau on the right.

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Pete at the same spot.

Mother Nature treated us to a nice surprise on the top of Glyder Fach: a brocken spectre!

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The best brocken spectre I’ve ever seen (bottom right of photo) where your shadow is cast onto clouds and makes this rainbow halo. Taken very close to the summit of Glyder Fach.

It was amazing, by far the best I’ve ever seen (out of maybe two others, haha), and I think it was the first one that Pete has ever seen. What a treat!

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The Brocken spectre up close. Amazing!

The cloud thickened as we skirted Castell Y Gwynt and continued over Glyder Fawr. The path was easily followed so navigation didn’t present any real issues.

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Striding into the mist past Castell Y Gwynt.

It was pretty cold though.

We’d visited the Costwolds shop the day before to buy these beanie hats as we’d both neglected to bring anything warm with us to the UK.

Good job too. We wore them for almost the whole day.

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Selfie somewhere along the ridge between Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr.

The mountains mellowed in the late afternoon light as we descended out of the mist of Glyder Fawr and made our way up Y Garn, our final mountain for the day.

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Looking out towards Foel Goch, which we didn’t climb on this trip.

Y Garn is a more mellow mountain than Tryfan and the two Glyders.

Where they are all rocky and imposing, Y Garn is round, grassy and welcoming. We enjoyed beautiful views from the summit.

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View back to Llyn Ogwen, where we began the day, from the summit of Y Garn.

As we descended off the summit of Y Garn, we passed a slow moving family — a dad, mum and two teenage kids.

The mum was having a torrid time, basically clinging on all fours and scared about the steep ridge.

As we passed, the dad turned to to Pete and me and said something like “One of us is not having a good time, and I’ll let you guess who that is” with a smirk on his face. What an asshole we thought. Very weird.

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Descending the ridge off Y Garn, looking towards the Carneddau.

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Pete on the same descent route, a little further down. Llyn Ogwen in the background.

The route is stunning and spectacular every step of the way. This waterfall photo was taken a few hundred metres from the road.

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The river tumbling out of the Glyders, near to the head of Llyn Ogwen.

My knees ached on this final descent, indicating that we’d bitten off just the right amount. Anymore and I’d have been in a bit of pain.

They’re still recovering from the over exuberance of my trail running earlier this summer.

We finished with a cup of tea and a delicious brownie from the Ogwen Snack Shop before a quick yomp along the A5 back to the car.

All in all, an absolutely magnificent day out.

One of the finest days of hillwalking I’ve enjoyed in Snowdonia.

The Route

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The numbers on the map and elevation profile correspond to the following summits:

  1. Tryfan
  2. Glyder Fach
  3. Glyder Fawr
  4. Y Garn

The dotted line shows the segment I missed on Strava because I forgot to start my watch when we left the car.

Although the distance was short, around 8 miles or so, it’s a lot of up and down over rough terrain, so it was a tiring day.

It’s an absolute corker of a route and we had just about perfect weather for it.

I love this part of the world so much. I spent many happy childhood days walking, climbing, camping and drinking tea in Snowdonia National Park. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

Until next time!