Author Archives: benlcollins

Harpers Ferry to Bear Chase Brewery

23 miles / 4,160 ft. ascent / 11 hours 21 minutes

Twelve of us met in Harpers Ferry at 8 am Sunday morning for a long hike south on the Appalachian Trail to Bear Chase brewery.

The crew!

Lexi backtracked into town to retrieve one of the group who missed the start, so we formed a sub-group at the back.

We were all keen as mustard setting off and set a good pace up Loudoun Heights (1 hour to the junction, including all the backtracking). From there we continued south along the A.T. past the Harpers Ferry park boundary, past the power line break, and onto Keys Gap.

Me and Jacob at the park boundary
Our group passing the power line break. From left to right, Joe, Lexi, and Mike.
Me and Lexi on the boardwalk section right before Keys Gap

We stopped for lunch at the David Lesser shelter, probably an hour behind the lead group by now. We had hoped to catch up over the day, but we’d lost another half hour before Keys Gap searching for Mike’s phone (in his bag! 🤣).

Lunch break at the David Lesser shelter. From left to right: me, Jacob, and Joe.
Leaving David Lesser shelter to continue heading south
Yours truly at one of the scenic overlooks just past the shelter
Me and Lexi approaching the lookout near to Blackburn Trail Center (photo by Jacob)
Lexi and me at the very windy lookout, by Blackburn Trail Center
Spring!
Our group at the Blackburn Trail Center connector trail. We elected to skip a visit and keep going. From left to right: Lexi, Mike (back), me, Jacob, and John.

The big milestone in the second half of the walk was Raven Rocks, around the 18 mile mark. The trail starts to undulate again in the couple of miles before and I think everyone was starting to feel the effects of the previous 15 miles. I lent my poles to Lexi to help her manage a niggle in her knee.

Still smiling despite the achey joints
Raven Rocks lookout! So good every time
Me and Lexi at Raven Rocks
Views to the south
Me and Lexi leaving Raven Rocks lookout (photo by Jacob)
Crossing back into Virginia on the descent of Raven Rocks

Lexi opted to finish at Raven Rocks trailhead at mile 20, where she met our support crew and headed over to Bear Chase brewery in the car. I’ve stopped here twice before too, once on my own and once with Pete.

Me and Lexi at the Raven Rocks trailhead, mile 20.

Jacob and I wanted to walk the last few miles to a final lookout at Bear’s Den, before walking to the finish line at the brewery.

The evening light was beautiful for the final climb up to Bear’s Den. There was no one on the trail, but quite a lot of people at the lookout, since you can drive in from the other side.

Me on the ascent to Bear’s Den (Photo by Jacob)
Jacob and me at Bear’s Den lookout

It was cold and windy at the lookout so we didn’t hang around. We were both pretty tired and eager to get to Bear Chase brewery for some food.

Stunning sunset from Bear’s Den lookout, although we didn’t stay to the end.
Made it! Bear Chase brewery in the background.

What a day! This is a wonderful hike and it was fun to experience it with Lexi and friends.

Winter Hiking Season 2021/22

Recap post of significant hikes this winter season. It was a great winter hiking season!

We had less snow this year overall than last year, but we had a period of very cold weather through January and February, so that I wore the traction spikes on most of my walks (compared to only once last year).

December was unseasonably mild, and there was no hint of winter. I did a ton of great hiking with Pete, mum, Dave, and Lexi, but all under normal conditions. So those hikes are not listed here. See Harpers Ferry Three Peaks and Harpers Ferry to Raven Rocks.

Here are the seven snowy mountain hikes from this season:

4 January 2022: First ascent of Loudoun Heights of 2022

8.08 miles / 1,798 ft. / 3 hrs 2 minutes

At last, some snow! Barely a dusting, but it was still great to see winter arrive at last.

More photos on Instagram.

8 January 2022: Snowy Loudoun Heights

8.19 miles / 1,766 ft. / 3 hrs 28 minutes

A lovely walk up snowy Loudoun Heights. Couple of inches of snow. Bluebird conditions!

Looking towards Maryland Heights from the shoulder of Loudoun Heights
Harpers Ferry in the snow

More photos on Instagram.

16 January 2022: Loudoun Heights Extended

9.81 miles / 1,984 ft. / 3 hrs 57 minutes

I extended my usual walk by tagging the park boundary sign. It snowed during the walk, which is always a fun experience. As I walked home through town, I saw a car that had slid off the road into the fence and narrowly avoided dropping further down into the stream bed. Yikes!

Maryland Heights just visible still
The Yaktrax spikes were helpful today
A snowy Appalachian Trail
Washington Street looking pretty under fresh snow

More photos on Instagram. And video 1, video 2, and video 3 from the day.

25 January 2022: Icy Stone Fort Loop

8.57 miles / 1,633 ft. / 3 hrs 30 minutes

The prolonged period of cold meant that none of the snow melted and where it was stamped down on the trails, it turned into inches of ice. Definitely a day for the traction spikes!

On the way up Maryland Heights!

More photos on Instagram.

1 February 2022: Cold Loudoun Heights

8.18 miles / 1,771 ft. / 3 hrs 42 minutes

Cold! I’ve used my huge down mittens on most of the winter hikes this year. Indispensable!

Big mittens and a flask of tea 🙂
Majestic Maryland Heights
Heavy icing on the banks of the Shenandoah River

More photos on Instagram.

13 February 2022: Keys Gap return and Loudoun Heights

16.94 miles / 2,800 ft. / 6 hrs 57 minutes

A fantastic, long winter hike, the longest winter hike of this season. I’m counting this as 1 of my 12 challenge walks for 2022 (goal is to do 1 per month, 12 for the year. More on my goals for 2022).

Walking through a tunnel of white
View from the power line break

More photos on Instagram.

13 March 2022: Snowy Loudoun Heights

8.36 miles / 1,777 ft. / 3 hrs 43 minutes

The most scenic walk of this season. A surprise late season snowstorm dumped a few inches of heavy snow on Saturday. A cold night ensured it was still all there the next day. It coated everything. Stunning!

A winter wonderland!
Maryland Heights with a fresh coat of snow
Looking up the Potomac River to the confluence at Harpers Ferry

More photos on Instagram.

Harpers Ferry to Raven Rocks with Pete

19 December 2021

20.96 miles / 3,864 ft ascent / 9 hrs 12 minutes

This is a long walk along the Appalachian Trail, from Harpers Ferry to Raven Rocks trailhead, passing Keys Gap along the way.

About half of the height gain occurs on the climb up Loudoun Heights on the way out of Harpers Ferry, then the rest of the walk is mostly flat along the ridge until it gets lumpy again near to Raven Rocks.

The lookout at Raven Rocks is outstanding!

I’ve done this walk once before, on my own earlier this year. This time it was fun to share the trail with Pete and show him one of our classic backyard hikes.

Pete and me at the power line break after climbing up Loudoun Heights on the way out of Harpers Ferry
Pete on the boardwalk near to Keys Gap
One of the numerous “blowdowns” along the AT that happen every winter
Me and Pete at the David Lesser shelter for our lunch stop
Pete in the David Lesser shelter
Looking west from the ridge line, into West Virginia
Pete and me at another view (there are a handful along the route, otherwise you’re in the trees)
Appalachian Trail
I couldn’t resist climbing this boulder, the first bit of “climbing” I’ve done in years! 😉
Walking past the white blazes on the AT (Pete’s photo)
Raven Rocks lookout
Looking south from Raven Rocks to the Shenandoah
Me and Pete at Raven Rocks lookout
Job done! At the trailhead where we met Lexi for a lift home.

All in all, another great walk with Pete!

Harpers Ferry Three Peaks Hike With Pete

13 December 2021

24.3 miles / 4,304 ft ascent / 11 hrs 36 minutes

There are three peaks that surround Harpers Ferry: Maryland Heights, Loudoun Heights, and Weverton Cliffs. Each is a solid 8 – 10 mile return hike from home. Walking all three in a single outing makes for a big day out.

I first walked this route in October (trip report here) but since Pete was now here, it was the natural challenge to try together too.

Pete came with me to drop the boys off at school that morning, so we didn’t get away until a little after 9.30am, which meant we would definitely be finishing in the dark given how long the walk is.

Peak 1: Weverton Cliffs

We chose to do Weverton Cliffs first, which is 3 miles along the canal towpath before you climb the mountain. Good section to chat together and catch up on 2 years’ of news.

At the junction where the AT turns away from the C&O canal
Pete near the top of Weverton Cliffs
View from the top of Weverton Cliffs, with Loudoun Heights on the L and Maryland Heights on the R
Brothers on the summit

Peak 2: Maryland Heights and the Stone Fort Loop

We walked 3 miles back along the canal but instead of taking the regular route up Maryland Heights, we climbed up the eastern flank via the direct path (which I’d only descended once before on a Thanksgiving hike in 2019).

It’s a good climb and we had incredible weather for December. We were hot in t-shirts!

Pete climbing up Maryland Heights
Me, just below the main lookout of Maryland Heights, looking over Harpers Ferry
Looking NW upstream of the Potomac River
Me traversing the blocks to reach the main lookout
Turkey vulture flying on the thermals
Brothers at Maryland Heights lookout
Brothers on the summit of the Stone Fort loop, with the Potomac River visible in the background
Me descending Maryland Heights in the waning light
Two shadows walking along the C&O canal back into town
The ruined lockhouse at Harpers Ferry (Maryland side of the river)
Another view of the ruined lockhouse with the cliffs of Maryland Heights above
Crossing back into West Virginia, with the moon out
Beautiful evening light as we walked back through town

We stopped back at the house to collect the camp stove, and more food and water, before setting off for Loudoun Heights, the third and final peak.

Peak 3: Loudoun Heights

We had about half an hour of daylight remaining as we set off for Loudoun Heights, which is a 3.5 hour walk, so we’d definitely be needing our headtorches.

Leaving town to head up Loudoun Heights, peak 3
Photo of a photo at sunset
We switched on the head torches when we crossed Chestnut Hill Road
Pete at the boulder, very close to Loudoun Heights lookout
Me (red jacket) and Pete (black jacket) at Loudoun Heights lookout at night

We brought my MSR camp stove, hot dinners, and tea bags, so we enjoyed a veritable feast on the summit of Loudoun Heights!

Great fun and a real morale boost in the cold and dark night.

Pete cooking on the summit of Loudoun Heights
Mountain dining: spaghetti bolognese!
Head torches mandatory

Overall it was a tremendous day out. It’s a great walk, with a bit of everything: mountains, rivers, history, and mountain-town.

Seriously fun to do this with Pete and show him my local trails.

My next challenge with this walk is to do it under full winter conditions…

Hiking Around Harpers Ferry With The UK Family

December 2021

My brother — ordinarily based on the other side of the world in Australia — made a surprise visit to see us here in Harpers Ferry, in December 2021.

With the pandemic, it’s been over 2 years since we last caught up in person. Last time we had an amazing hike around the Glyders in North Wales. What would we do this time?

Here’s a breakdown of our hikes from the week:

  • Thursday 12/9: Bolivar Heights loop: 3.57 miles, 442 ft ascent, 1 hr 15 mins
  • Friday 12/10: Armory Trail loop: 4.53 miles, 408 ft ascent, 1 hr 43 mins
  • Saturday 12/11: Loudoun Heights: 8.02 miles, 1,752 ft ascent, 3 hrs 36 minutes
  • Saturday 12/11: Hike to lower town with Pete, Lexi and the boys: 3.73 miles, 338 ft ascent, 2 hrs 52 minutes
  • Sunday: 12/12: Chicken Power event with Pete, Lexi and the boys: 1.46 miles, 300 ft ascent, 45 minutes
  • Monday 12/13: Three Peaks with Pete (Weverton Cliffs, Maryland Heights/Stone Fort, and Loudoun Heights): 24.27 miles, 4,304 ft ascent, 11 hrs 36 minutes
  • Wednesday 12/15: To the Power Lines and back with Pete and Lexi: 10.65 miles, 1,778 ft ascent, 5 hrs 5 minutes

My mum and her partner Dave then arrived (I knew about this trip!) a week later too, so I had a lot of my UK family together for the first time in over 2 years.

My mum didn’t know about Pete’s arrival, so he surprised her with a wonderful prank 😉

  • Thursday 12/16: Walk around the neighborhood with Pete, Lexi, Mum, and Dave: ~2.5 miles (forgot to do Strava)
  • Friday 12/17: Maryland Heights lookout with Pete, Mum, and Dave: 6.12 miles, 1,379 ft ascent, 4 hrs 38 minutes
  • Saturday 12/18: Walk to Hilltop hotel lookout with Pete, Lexi, Mum, Dave, and the boys: 2.61 miles, 148 ft ascent, 1 hr
  • Sunday 12/19: Home to Raven Rocks with Pete: 20.96 miles, 3,864 ft ascent, 9 hrs 12 minutes
  • Monday 12/20: Bolivar Heights and mushroom trail: 2.72 miles, 257 ft ascent, 58 minutes

Pete flew home to Australia on the Monday afternoon.

  • Thursday 12/23: Loudoun Heights with mum and Dave: 8.05 miles, 1,789 ft ascent, 3 hrs 30 minutes
  • Sunday 12/26: Weverton Cliffs from home with mum, Dave (second half), Lexi and the boys (for the climb): 11.64 miles, 1,182 ft ascent, 6 hrs 22 minutes
  • Monday 12/27: Bolivar Heights with Lexi and Dave: 2.22 miles, 215 ft ascent, 45 minutes
  • Tuesday 12/28: Stone Fort loop with Lexi: 10.01 miles, 1,548 ft ascent, 3 hrs 31 minutes
  • Thursday 12/30: To the Hilltop Hotel lookout with mum: 2.14 miles, 230 ft ascent, 40 minutes

Loudoun Heights, Saturday 12/11

I’ve written about the two longer hikes (3 peaks and Raven Rocks) separately but here are a few photos from our hike up Loudoun Heights. As this is my go-to mountain trail, I was excited to show it to Pete.

Showing Pete the local trails (on the way up Loudoun Heights)
Pete close to Split Rock lookout on Loudoun Heights
Harpers Ferry from Split Rock lookout on Loudoun Heights
Brothers at the lookout on Loudoun Heights, 11 December 2021