Author Archives: benlcollins

A Long Day Walk Along The A.T.

Opportunities for long hikes have been rather limited this year, since our longest blocks of childcare since March have been about 6 hours. But for Christmas, we have the grandparents visiting and staying with us. So that meant we had a full day to go hiking.

We decided to do a return hike to Keys Gap and back, around 12 miles. I’d done the walk earlier this year in March.

It was 28 Farenheit when we left the house at 8am. Chilly! We had a flask of tea, a packed lunch and smiles on our faces.

We covered the ground to Keys Gap easily. First up was the junction, after 53 minutes, much slower than usual. We turned right at the junction, headed south on the AT.

Following the junction comes the Harpers Ferry National Park border sign, then the WV/Va State Line sign, then 4 mile camp and then the pylon clearing on the ridge, which offers great views to the valleys and mountains to the East and West.

It was cold on top of the ridge. The sun was anemic and the cold wind kept us moving along.

When we reached Keys Gap, looking at the AT map showing the next stage, Lex turned to me and said “Why don’t we keep going?”

“Yes, why not!”

We set a new goal of reaching David Lesser memorial hut, 3 miles further on, which would add 6 miles to our day.

Would my knees my survive?

The trail was less rocky and gradually rose from Keys Gap. An hour later and the sign popped up to tell us we’d arrived.

The shelter was fantastic. Well built. Clean, spacious, with a huge deck and view out the front. Certainly on the list for future adventures.

We stopped for lunch and a cup of tea. This marked the halfway point of our hike.

After our brief repast, we turned North on the A.T., towards home.

The afternoon light through the bare trees, with snow on the ground, was magical.

Crossing US 340 bridge in the evening light. We reached home just before dusk fell.

It was a wonderful day out with Lex!

It was a 19 mile hike, with 2,800ft height gain.

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.


Am I too old to wear a hat like this?



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



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.



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



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



Keys Gap! Appalachian Trail!



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



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



White blaze on the Appalachian Trail.



Power line view on the return leg.



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



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.


Just outside the office window.



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



Crossing the Shenandoah River.



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



Appalachian Trail South.



Definition of winter. Low sun. Cold.



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



Typical trail conditions.



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



My destination for this hike: the park boundary sign.



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



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.


Dominic leading the way up Weverton Cliffs.



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



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



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



At the top enjoying the splendid views!



Looking upstream of the Potomac River, towards Harpers Ferry.



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).


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:


Lights along the Fiolstræde street near the hotel


A gorgeous courtyard, tucked away down a side passage


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


Reindeer at the Kultorvet (“The Coal Market”)


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.


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).


Saying hello to Santa.

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