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).
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.