Category Archives: Hiking

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!

Sunset hike up Loudon Heights

29 March 2021

7.9 miles / 1,702 ft height gain / 3 hours 4 minutes

For some time, I’ve wanted to hike one of my regular mountain loops at night. This week, the conditions aligned when I missed a morning slot (too tired!) but still wanted to get out for a decent hike. A night hike was the solution!

I set out after dinner, having kissed my kids goodnight, since I wouldn’t be home before they went to bed.

There’s something special about the light in that hour before sunset. The sun is low in the sky. It’s warm and everything glows. The world seems more relaxed, even nature feels like it’s winding down at the end of the day.

I’ve hiked this trail many times in the past two years, but it felt new doing it at a different time of day. The views were different. Maryland Heights looked magnificent, basked in the evening sun.

I reached the junction in 47 minutes, about 5 minutes slower than usual on account of the big dinner I’d eaten just before setting off. I saw a handful of other hikers on their way down, but then had the mountain to myself, another advantage of going late.

I reached the lookout around 7.20pm, about 10 minutes before sunset. I stayed through the sunset, marveling at the light show and indulging my nature photography passion.

I enjoyed another half hour of fading light, watching a beautiful orange and mauve sky slowly fade out like a puddle evaporate on a hot day.

It’s been so long since I’ve been out in the mountains at night that I harbored a little trepidation about the darkness.

When I made it back to the junction I could barely see my feet on the trail, so I donned the headtorch for the last hour home. The world abruptly shrunk to the narrow beam of light on the trail ahead. I was only spooked twice by rustling in the trees beside the trail. One of those times, when I shone my torch in the direction of the noise, I saw three pairs of eyes staring straight back at me. Deer. Gave me a fright though!

I made it home at 9pm, a little over 3 hours after setting out. A great adventure!

Next, I’d like to try a full night hike, setting out at 9pm.

All these photos were taken on a Google Pixel 5 by hand.

View of Maryland Heights in the evening light
Split rock with Maryland Heights in the background
Beautiful evening light on the Loudon Heights overlook trail
Sunset over Harpers Ferry from Loudon Heights lookout
The rocks lit up briefly before the sun set
Yours truly at the overlook
Lower town of Harpers Ferry at sunset
Potomac River and Harpers Ferry lower town at sunset
Split rock at sunset. Compare with the earlier photo of split rock
Passing the power lines on the way down, as the light ebbed away
I spent the last 45 minutes following the narrow beam of my headtorch

Winter Hiking Season 2020/21

The winter of 2020/21 will go down as an outstanding winter hiking season!

Two things contributed to that: firstly, we live along the Appalachian Trail so have an abundance of great mountain hikes on our doorstep, and second, we had a decent amount of snowfall this winter.

I’m writing this in mid-March so my memory is a bit hazy now (pandemic days all blend into one) but I recall at least 3, perhaps 4 or even 5, snowstorms that each dropped 2 – 6 inches of snow.

Here are highlights of the best snowy walks:

16 December 2020: Snowy walk up Loudon Heights

10.5 miles / 1,828 ft height gain / 3 hrs 32 minutes

Loudon Heights lookout in the snow

More shots on Instagram here, here and here.

23 December 2020: Harpers Ferry to David Lesser Memorial Shelter along AT

19 miles / 2,848 ft height gain / 7 hours 4 minutes

David Lesser Memorial Shelter

A long hike along the Appalachian trail with Lexi. Fantastic day out. Read the full write up here.

More photos on Instagram here.

22 January 2021: Beautiful scenery on the Stone Fort Loop

8.7 miles / 1,592 ft height gain / 2 hrs 37 minutes

Wow!

Absolutely stunning early morning light on top of Maryland Heights on this loop.

More photos on Instagram here.

31 January 2021: Snowy Stone Fort Loop

10.5 miles / 1,683 ft height gain / 3 hrs 16 minutes

Top of Maryland Heights in the snow

Lovely, long walk in the snow around the Stone Fort Loop. There was already one set of footprints on the trail, which was helpful along the top of the ridge where everything was white.

More photos on Instagram here.

7 February 2021: Walk in a winter wonderland around Virginius Island, Armory Trail and Nash Farm loop

7.7 miles / 856 ft height gain / 2 hrs 34 minutes

Winter wonderland!

Beautiful winter walk around Harpers Ferry!

More photos on Instagram here.

14 February 2021: Loudon Heights to overlook

7.7 miles / 1,693 ft height gain / 2 hrs 39 minutes

Loudon Heights lookout in the snow

Great winter hike up Loudon Heights. It was the most “mountainous” it’s felt, with big views, lots of hoar frost, icy conditions and lots of solitude. Reminded me of climbs in Scotland and the Alps.

More photos on Instagram here.

19 February 2021: Armory trail loop

4.7 miles / 511 ft height gain / 1 hr 41 minutes

No footprints here. Breaking trail through fresh snow.

This hike was memorable because I got to break trail through fresh snow for the whole Nash Farm section.

More photos on Instagram here.

22 February 2021: Winter hike around Stone Fort Loop plus all the extras

12.7 miles / 2,299 ft height gain / 4 hrs 25 minutes

Maryland Heights lookout

The one and only hike where I needed the Yaktrax traction spikes on my boots. I wore them for the whole ascent and descent of the Stone Fort loop, where compacted snow was slippy.

This was an outstanding hike. I was enjoying being out alone on the mountain so much that I explored some of the side trails I’ve never been down before.

More photos on Instagram here. Videos here and here from the top of the ridge.

1 March 2021: Walk along the AT to the power lines break

9.5 miles / 1,706 ft height gain / 3 hrs 8 minutes

On the Appalachian Trail part way up Loudon Heights

The snow was mostly gone, only lying thinly on the northern slopes above Chestnut Hill road but below the ridgeline.

The upper slopes of the mountain were misty and atmospheric, making for a memorable walk.

More photos on Instagram here. And a video of the conditions here.


So there you have it, nine outstanding and memorable winter hikes, mostly up the mountains surrounding Harpers Ferry.

Between these hikes were many other shorter loops around town and sledding trips with the kids.

I love winter! More of the same next year please. Time to get back into winter camping too, methinks…