Author Archives: benlcollins

North along the A.T. to Gathland State Park and return

25th May 2022

Hike / 23.8 miles / 2,902 ft ascent / 8 hours 52 minutes

View from Weverton Cliffs back towards Harpers Ferry

Originally I had hoped to get away for a few days hiking or biking, to celebrate finishing a big work project. But I was so exhausted from work and parenting that I couldn’t muster the motivation to plan a multi-day trip. I settled on a long day walk instead.

I left home around 9.45am with plenty of food and water. I wanted to see if I could reach Gathland State Park and return, which I knew would be a long walk.

After walking through Harper Ferry, I had a peaceful hour along the canal. It’s a pretty stretch along the banks of the Potomac River.

I was on the Appalachian Trail for the whole day, so I followed it away from the canal and up Weverton Cliffs. After a snack break at the lookout, I continued onwards, heading north.

Once you’re on top of the ridge, the trail is relatively flat and easy going, so the miles passed easily.

Typical conditions along the Appalachian Trail

I reached the Ed Garvey shelter around lunchtime and stopped there for lunch. I chatted with a few other hikers who were part way through their long hikes.

Time for lunch at the shelter!

The shelter is fantastic, with an upstairs closed-in section, and plenty of camping spots. I will return to stay here overnight someday.

The Ed Garvey shelter, easily the best lean to shelter I’ve seen.

At the shelter I had a choice. Do I turn around and head home, a 17-mile round trip that I did last summer? Or, do I push on to reach Gathland State Park, another 4 further on?

Of course, I chose to continue. I felt good and I was enjoying being out in the woods. I had plenty of food and water with me.

It was more of the same through the woods on the AT north. It’s a nice, quiet section.

I reached Gathland State Park mid-afternoon, and stopped to explore some of the history of this area.

The War Correspondents arch at Gathland State Park, the halfway mark and my turnaround point.

I’ve been to Gathland State Park once before, with Lexi, when we headed north from Gathland to climb Lamb’s Knoll. So the route today closed that gap in my AT coverage.

After another snack, I turned around and headed back south along the AT to Weverton Cliffs.

6 miles back to Weverton Cliffs, heading south now

I didn’t stop at the Ed Garvey shelter on the way home, but I couldn’t resist another stop at the lookout. It’s such a fabulous view!

A lone turkey vulture flying over the summit of Weverton Cliffs on my return

24 miles along the AT is quite tiring and I was stiff and tired the next day. But being outdoors all day is so good for the soul.

All in all, a great day out. I can’t wait to get back out there!

Loudoun Heights Loop Route, with Lexi

18 April 2022

Hike / 9.3 miles / 1,443 ft ascent / 3 hours 18 minutes

Some photos from the Loudoun Heights loop hike that Lexi and I did in April. Amazingly we had snow flurries on the second half of the walk.

Crossing the Shenandoah river, looking at Maryland Heights on the left and Loudoun Heights on the right
This view never gets old
At Loudoun Heights lookout together, with Harpers Ferry in the background

Instead of returning to Harpers Ferry back the same way, we decided to take the old path off the back of Loudoun Heights and then cross the 340 to the canal towpath. This was the first time I’d done this route. It’ll make for a nice shortcut on the Three Peaks hike.

Crossing 340, the old route of the Appalachian Trail
Looking back to Loudoun Heights, from the 340 over the Potomac River
Crossing the footbridge over the Potomac back into Hapers Ferry, contending with unexpected snow

Bike to Swains Lockhouse along the C&O canal, with Dominic

8th April 2022

Bike / 46.8 miles / 123 ft ascent / 6 hours 29 minutes

Setting off from Harpers Ferry with Dominic

My eldest son Dominic joined me for the first 7 miles to Brunswick, our longest ride together. We had a blast along the canal and he did great. One thing to keep in mind when cycling with young children is that they’re prone to stop suddenly, when they spot something interesting. Be ready to hit the brakes yourself! 😉

Cruising along the canal towpath between Harpers Ferry and Brunswick

Lexi picked Dominic up in Brunswick and I continued along the canal. I had another 40 miles to go to reach the Lockhouse.

Just beyond Brunswick is Little Catoctin Creek, which was heavily flooded after all the recent rain. I thought about attempting to cross, but quickly decided against it. The trail dips down quite far — I’m sure the water would have been waist deep or more in the middle.

Luckily I met another cyclist here, who had bypassed the flooded trail by way of the railway lines earlier in the day. He reassured me it was an easy detour. There was a train already on the far line, but the near line was clear, so we climbed the embankment and proceeded on foot down the lines until we could rejoin the canal towpath on the other side. I backtracked to help a mother/daughter team — on a multi-day tour — get past this point.

My Strava route showing the detour
Hot footing down the railway line

I cycled with my fellow rail-bridge-biker for the next few miles, chatting about our mutual appreciation of the canal and the bike touring.

Monocacy Aqueduct was next, 21 miles into the ride:

Monocacy Aqueduct

The next 15 miles were lovely and quiet. Mile after mile of towpath, meandering through the trees with the canal on my left and the river to my right.

I passed Seneca Creek Aqueduct around 41 miles into the ride:

Seneca Creek Aqueduct

Six miles later I reached Lockhouse 21, Swains lockhouse, where I finished my ride. I met up with Lexi and the boys, and tucked hungrily into the pizza that Lexi brought. We were originally planning to stay the night in the lockhouse, but had to return home instead on this occasion. We’ll be back though.

Swains Lockhouse, number 21
Swains lock

All in all, a great day’s riding along the canal. Particularly the first 7 miles with Dominic. I was really proud of how well he did.

Harpers Ferry to Bear Chase Brewery

Hike / 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.