Category Archives: Hiking

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…

Harpers Ferry Three Peaks Hike

14th October 2021

23.5 miles / 4,006 ft ascent / 10 hours

I’ve been feeling a little morose recently and I knew the best antidote would be a challenging day in the hills. 

There are three peaks that surround Harpers Ferry, all within walking distance: Loudon Heights, Maryland Heights, and Weverton Cliffs.

Panorama of Maryland Heights
Maryland Heights panorama

I’ve previously climbed two of them in a day – Maryland Heights and Loudon Heights – but all three in a day is an altogether more challenging prospect. It’s still small fry in the grand scheme of things, but a good challenge for me with current fitness levels and creaky knees.

It’s a 24 mile walk with over 4,000 ft ascent:

I left home at 6, wearing my head torch because it’s still dark that early at this time of year. Lower town is atmospheric and feels even more olde-world at this time in the morning, when it’s quiet and devoid of cars.

My route took me through lower town, over the pedestrian bridge, then up Maryland Heights as the first peak. I did the Stone Fort loop, which takes in the old civil war fortifications on top of the ridge, some 1,400 ft above the river.

I ditched the headtorch when dawn broke, as I ascended the steepest section of track, near the top.

It was misty on the summit, and no one else was around.

After a short break, I continued along the summit ridge, which is one of my favorite section’s of walk in the area. It’s especially enjoyable in inclement weather or wintry conditions, and today the swirling mist gave it an other worldly feel.

As I progressed along the ridge, the sun made an appearance, slowly burning off the mist and appearing out the cloud.

The dew was heavy on the ground, the leaves, and spiderwebs. Nature even does Halloween decorations better than we do.

Peak fall foliage is still a few weeks away but evidence of change was all around. Leaves are falling and starting to cover the ground. Mostly brown and yellow at the moment, but the reds, oranges, and purples are surely just around the corner. This shot was taken on the descent of the Stone Fort loop, on the way down Maryland Heights.

From the base Maryland Heights, it was four miles along the C&O canal to Weverton Cliffs, passing the abandoned canal lockhouse under Maryland Heights cliffs. I was yet to see another soul since leaving home.

Counter-intuitively, the flat, hard-packed surface of the canal was harder on my feet than climbing the mountains, so I was happy to reach the turn north on the A.T. to head up Weverton Cliffs. I’ve climbed it several times before (from home and with family) so I knew what was in store.

It’s a relatively short climb from the trail to the top of the ridge, but as I already had 10 miles in the bag I was feeling a little tired:

The views from the top of Weverton Cliffs are magnificent! You can see a much wider panorama than from the other two mountains. Weverton definitely has the best views.

Here, I’m looking down on the Potomac River and across to Short Hill Tract mountain:

This was peak number two in the bag! So far, so good.

I had a short break on the top of Weverton Cliffs to enjoy the view. I could still see the summit of Maryland Heights, enveloped in cloud, and also Loudon Heights, which I still had to reach.

The flat miles back along the canal to Harpers Ferry were tiring. My back ached but I was spurred on by the thoughts of coffee and bagel from Battlegrounds Cafe in town. Harpers Ferry was teeming with people by the time I reached lower town again, such a contrast to first thing in the morning.

The bagel and coffee were every bit as good as I hoped, and made for a thoroughly satisfying lunch break!

Lower town looked splendid as always:

Suitably replete, I walked through town on the A.T. with Lexi, before saying goodbye and heading up Loudon Heights, for a final showdown.

I crossed 340, over the Shenandoah River, having already walked 16.5 miles rather than the usual 1 mile if I was doing Loudon Heights from home. But I felt great and was excited to continue my hike.

The ascent was tiring, I’m not going to lie. I was weary, but happy. All I had to do was keep plodding up the hill, passing Split Rock on my way to the lookout.

The view from Loudon Heights lookout never disappoints and today the air was super clear, so I could see for miles. Lower town and the train bridge looked sharper than usual, as if they were in better focus than earlier in the summer when it was more hazy. I took a good break at the lookout to enjoy the view (and the rest!).

Loudon Heights lookout was the third peak in the bag!

Looking upriver to the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and enjoying a tasty apple.

Looking across the Potomac River to Maryland Heights, which I’d climbed early that morning.

Overall, it was a fantastic, long day out that gave me a solid challenge and a decent sense of accomplishment.

I find days like this make memories that last a lifetime, that nourish me for months, even years to come. I cherish these days because they’re so fulfilling, in a different way to other aspects of life.

Cloud Inversion From Maryland Heights

Just a quick post to show some photos of the incredible cloud inversion I saw on a recent hike up Maryland Heights.

My original plan was to hike the Stone Fort loop, but as I crossed the river through the cloud and then climbed higher on the trail, I knew there was a good chance of seeing a cloud inversion. So I skipped the Stone Fort loop and headed for the lookout. It was spectacular and there was no one else around!

Harpers Ferry rose out of cloud like an island, with thick fog clinging to the river valleys of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.

It was a stunning morning!

Cloud inversion from Maryland Heights showing Harpers Ferry
Panorama from Maryland Heights overlook
View of Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights overlook
View looking upriver of the Potomac River, with the cloud creeping up the side of Maryland Heights
I was a tad excited with the views on this occasion!
As the sun rose, the cloud thinned and Harpers Ferry lower town emerged fully, bathed in sunshine.

More photos here on Instagram.

Route details on Strava: 7.79 miles / 1,553 ft ascent / 3 hours