Author Archives: benlcollins

Old Rag Mountain and Robertson Mountain Double Header

13th July 2021

13 miles / 4,000 ft ascent / ~10 hours

Panorama from the summit of Robertson Mountain (click to enlarge)

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.

Robertson Mountain is the conical, wooded mountain to the right, below the ridge line in the distance. It’s slightly higher than Old Rag.

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.

We’ve climbed this mountain before, on day 3 of this trip.

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.

All in all, it was an amazing day out!

Harpers Ferry Twin Peak Hike On The Hottest Day Of 2021 (Maryland Heights + Loudon Heights)

29th June 2021

15.7 miles / 3,200 ft ascent / ~6 hours

Looking out at the confluence of the Potomac (L) and Shenandoah (R) rivers early in the morning, as the sun was peaking out from behind Maryland Heights (mountain on the L). The mountain already in the sun is Loudon Heights.

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.

Remains of the old road bridge across the Shenandoah.

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.

On the top of Maryland Heights on the Stone Fort loop trail. Getting hot!

Thankfully you cross the Shenandoah river on the way home (by the 340 bridge) so I jumped in for a swim before home. Glorious!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on the top of the Stone Fort loop.
Views downstream of the Potomac River (towards DC) from the top of the Stone Fort loop.
The CSX trail passed by as I crossed the pedestrian bridge back into Harpers Ferry after completing the first peak.
I walked the Appalachian Trail through town, which passes by St Peter’s church in lower town.
A fawn on the trail up Loudon Heights.
Looking across to Maryland Heights from the Loudon Heights trail. Hard to believe I’d been on top of that mountain a couple of hours earlier.
Harpers Ferry from the lookout at Loudon Heights. Love this view! I chatted with a section hiker who had just completed Georgia to Harpers Ferry, to complete his hike of the entire AT. He had a couple of days in town before catching the Amtrak to Chicago.
At the lookout 🙂
Crossing the Shenandoah river on US 340. It was hot as hell by now because it was the middle of the day. There was only one thing for it…
Post-swim photo after a refreshing dip in the Shenandoah river. 20 ft out from the bank was a waist deep pool that was perfect for splashing around in. The river flows fast! From here it was a last 15 minutes to home. It was amazing how refreshed I felt after the dip in the river. I powered home.

Harpers Ferry to Raven Rocks Long Walk

22nd June 2021

21 miles / 3,800 ft ascent / 9 hours

Panorama from summit of Raven Rocks.

A week ago I planned a long walk from home to the David Lesser Memorial shelter, but torrential rain and flash floods curtailed plans that day and I settled for a shorter walk to Keys Gap and back (well, almost…).

So I had unfinished business and wanted to attempt the longer walk again. Lexi suggested I go all the way along the Appalachian Trail to Raven Rocks trail head where she would pick me up, which was a great idea.

It was a 21 mile walk, the furthest I’ve gone since before we lived in Florida (when I did this long run). My knees survived and they felt great until the downhill in the last mile when they started to ache.

The scenery was typical of this area: thick forest punctuated by magnificent vistas from the handful of lookouts. It’s the exact opposite of walking in the UK where you have views from the moment you step out the car (since the mountains are so open there) and it’s just the perspective that changes as the walk progresses.

Here, the views are hidden. You progress through a tunnel of green until you’re surprised by a lookout that reminds you the world exists beyond the trees. The views from Raven Rocks, near the end of this walk, are fabulous.

I set off in the rain around 9.30 am but remembered to take my rain pants this time, so I stayed dry for a little longer. An hour later, with the rain still coming down heavily, I was wet through again, although not quite as wet as the flash flood walk day. The rain persisted until lunchtime, stopping just as I reached the halfway point of the walk at the David Lesser memorial shelter. I dried off, wrung out my socks and chatted with another hiker backpacking this section of the AT.

I enjoyed a dry afternoon along the top of the ridge, passing many thru-hikers, on my way to Raven Rocks.

Fantastic day out!!

Moody skies as I left Harpers Ferry and crossed the 340 bridge on the Appalachian Trail.
Can you spot the white blaze to mark the way? There’s something magical about hiking in the forest in the rain in summer. It’s so verdant and teeming with life. Leaves of all shapes and sizes, and all shades of green, shine in the rain.
Wet and misty at the powerlines break, between Harpers Ferry and Keys Gap.
Keys Gap, 6.5 miles into the walk. Notice the water canisters left by a trail angel for passing thru-hikers.
The David Lesser Memorial Shelter on the AT, where I stopped for lunch and to dry out.
It’s a great shelter and a fine spot for lunch.
The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) maintains a lot of the trails and shelters in this area
Leaving the shelter to continue my hike south on the AT.
One of the intermediate lookouts, slightly off the AT, somewhere above Shannondale.
Lichen on bark.
The magnificent Raven Rocks lookout.
All smiles at Raven Rocks lookout. It’s a fantastic spot with an amazing view south towards the Shenandoah.
The best self-portrait I could do without a tripod.
Raven Rocks reflection.

More: Strava route & Instagram photos

Maryland Heights with Lexi and the boys

21 June 2021

5 miles / 1,122 ft ascent / 5 hours

I’m proud of my boys for climbing to the top of Maryland Heights under their own steam! Especially since it was 90 F (32 C) that day and a tough walk even for mum and dad!

(It was their second mountain summit after Weverton Cliffs.)

O wore his green dinosaur backpack the whole way, so he could collect things along the way. Here he is striding along the C&O canal:

And here’s D climbing up Maryland Heights. He brought a Lego set and a plastic bag to collect a caterpillar (which we eventually found and brought home to release in our garden).

Half way up Maryland Heights. Managed to get the whole family smiling at the camera:

The top! The view from Maryland Heights, looking across the Potomac river to Harpers Ferry, is fantastic.

Here’s the family portrait at the top. We were all hot and sweaty from the climb. D loved dipping his hat into the streams to cool himself off. All in all, a fantastic family day out!

Flooded Walk Along The Appalachian Trail

11 June 2021

12 miles / 2,022 ft ascent / 4 hours 9 minutes moving time

I recently set out on a solo walk from Harpers Ferry to Keys Gap and return, via the Appalachian Trail that goes up Loudon Heights.

It’s the same walk I’ve done many times before, including once last year at the very start of the pandemic and again in December all the way to David Lesser shelter and return.

This time, I knew the forecast was for rain all day, but I didn’t anticipate what I was going to see out on the trail.

The entire trail, from the moment I stepped off 340 all the way to Keys Gap was under inches of water. It was flowing up, down and across the Appalachian Trail. Incredible!

This video is a compilation of clips I took on my phone throughout the day and it gives a sense of just how much water was out there:

Leaving home and the last time I was dry on the walk! Within 15 minutes I was soaked through and remained that way until I was back home that night.
Thick cloud and heavy rain were the order of the day as I crossed the Shenandoah river on the 340 sidewalk.
This river is normally a tiny stream but was already much higher early in the day. This river was so swollen on the way home that I couldn’t safely cross it (see the last photo).
The Appalachian Trail was flowing with water for almost the whole 6 miles from Harpers Ferry to Keys Gap. It was like a cold rainy version of the swamp hike Lex and I did in Florida a few years ago.
The pylons half way along the ridge to Keys Gap, the only break in the treeline.
A little bit of shelter by the notice board at Keys Gap. Blocked enough of the rain that I could eat my sandwich without it getting soggy.
At times the water was running straight down the hillside , right across the trail.
Lower down the rain eased so I could take the phone out of the plastic bag hence why the photos improved 😉
Normally a dry river bed!
The final river crossing near the end of the trail before it hits 340. It felt just out of my comfort zone. I waited for 10 minutes or so, scheming a way to get across but ultimately decided not to take that risk. My risk tolerance has dropped dramatically since having kids and I felt it was just wasn’t worth taking the chance. 10 years ago and I’m sure I would have done it!