C&O Bike Tour with the boys (Shepherdstown to Harpers Ferry)

16 – 18 September 2022

At the beginning of summer 2022, my wife and I sat down with our boys and made a bucket list of summer adventures. We had a great summer and ticked most of them off. But there was one adventure โ€” dear to my heart โ€” that we hadn’t done yet. Camping.

The boys were desperate to go. They really enjoyed last year’s micro backpacking adventure. I was keen too, so it was time for another adventure.

Day 1: Shepherdstown to Antietam Creek campground (3 miles)

I rode from home along the C&O canal to Shepherdstown where I met Lexi and the boys. She picked them up from school and brought their bikes and the camping gear in the car. The plan was to ride back home over the next 3 days.

Super excited as we set off!

I used a Burley Flatbed trailer to haul our camping gear: the tent, 3 sleeping bags, 3 roll mats, cooking gear, spare clothes, 3 days of food, and about 12 liters of water!

Off we go!

Typical scenery along the canal

We covered the 3 miles to Antietam campground quicker than I expected. The boys rode really well.

I forgot that Antietam campsite required online bookings, so for a short while the success of the trip hung in the balance whilst I booked one of the last remaining tent sites, on my phone with very patchy data.

The campsite was fantastic (apart from the individual shouting obscenities at various times through the night. Drunk? Probably. Thankfully the kids slept through it.)

Day 2: Antietam Creek campground to Huckleberry Hill campground (8 miles)

We were up and away by 8 the next morning. A thick, wet fog hung over the river and the campsite so the grass, the tent, the bikes, and our feet were all soaking as we set off.

Soon after leaving the campground, we arrived at Antietam Creek Aqueduct, so we stopped to explore for a while.

Looking out at a foggy Potomac River

The river looked stunning with the fog.

Potomac River from Antietam Aqueduct

We stopped for lunch at Lock 37. Chicken wraps, fruit, muffins, and tea (for Dad) were on the menu.

Owen’s helmet had a lot of positive comments from other hikers and bikers

Along the way we stopped frequently to explore the river edge, collect bugs, and check out the cave near Dargan.

“Shell beach” near to Huckleberry Hill campsite
“Naan” the cicada came along for part of the ride
What’s more exciting to a 7-year old than a real cave?

The boys rode strongly all day and easily managed the 8 miles. The key was the frequent stops to explore, so that they never had to ride too far in one go.

We arrived at the campsite in the early afternoon, when no-one else was there. By dinner time, a handful of other bike touring groups had arrived and one hiking group.

The evening light over the river was beautiful.

That evening a park ranger visited the campground, to check everyone was ok and ask for more information about the drunk at Antietam the previous night. I was relieved that the ranger was out there, because I was nervous he might show up again.

Another unusual thing happened that night too. We heard a series of loud pops, then a few moments later, heard a tree falling down. It sounded like fireworks going off! Thankfully, it happened some way away from the campsite but nevertheless was a sombre reminder that there are risks to being out in the woods. It was dark when this happened and I meant to look the next morning, but completely forgot ๐Ÿ˜‰

Day 3: Huckleberry Hill campground to lower town Harpers Ferry (4 miles)

We enjoyed a leisurely morning at camp, enjoying the quiet and chatting with the other campers.

Huckleberry Hill Hiker Biker Campsite

We returned up the trail to “Shell Beach” for another explore, before turning our bikes downstream again, and heading down the trail towards Harpers Ferry.

We stopped to explore the river edge by the ruins of Dam 3, where the flat water turns to whitewater, and becomes a section of rapids called “The Needles”.

We reached Harpers Ferry at around 11.30am.

Climbing the stairs up the pedestrian bridge with the loaded trailer was the hardest physical challenge of the trip. It’s a spiral staircase and I was at my limit hauling the loaded trailer to the top.

The boys were tired as we walked over the bridge into Harpers Ferry. It was a hot day and they had reached their limit. We bit off just the right amount.

Lexi picked them and the trailer up in lower town, and I rode the final uphill mile back to the house.

Tired but happy at the finish line!

All in all, it was a fantastic, memorable trip with the boys. Really, really good trip.

They seemed to enjoy it a lot too. I’m looking forward to our next adventure together!

Paddle from Taylor’s Landing to Shepherdstown, on SUP

9 September 2022

Standup Paddle-board / 8.34 miles / 2 hrs 18 minutes / River level 4.2 ft

Me! On the river! ๐Ÿ™‚

Since moving to the Harpers Ferry area three years ago, the rivers have exerted a quiet, subtle pull on my adventure cravings. They form a natural routes between places; an alternative way to travel from A to B that complements other mountain activities.

I grew up windsurfing and sailing, but swapped wetsuits for crampons when I went to university and took up mountaineering. But recently, I’ve come full circle and am getting back into water-sports.

I first tried paddle-boarding in 2016 on the Chesapeake Bay (where jellyfish kept me focused on staying standing!). I’ve been hooked since.

Taylor’s Landing to Shepherdstown

The route from Taylor’s Landing to Shepherdstown

This route is a beautiful stretch of the Potomac river, with little development and only a moderate current and nothing more than a few ripples to contend with. It’s ideal for learning to paddle on rivers. It’s featured in Johnny Molloy’s book on the greatest paddling adventures in the area.

On this particular day, I was joined by my friend Chuck, which meant we could shuttle a car and avoid any upstream paddling.

View from the boat ramp at Taylor’s Landing

The water moves swiftly past Taylor’s Landing as the river is shallow and half way through a 200-degree sweeping bend.

Beyond here, it settles down, and we encountered nothing more than a few ripples and occasional boils and swirls. Certainly no whitewater.

But it is extremely scenic and quiet. We only saw two other kayakers in the whole 8 mile stretch.

Both banks are tree-lined the whole way, and at one stage we saw a bald eagle swoop by.

Chuck paddling on the Potomac
Typical scenery on this stretch of the river
Home on the water

The takeout is the Shepherdstown boat ramp, on the right bank of the river.

This was a great day out and I’m already planning more adventures on this and other sections of the Potomac. Next year (2023), I want to try low-grade whitewater on the SUP, so I can include the Harpers Ferry section of the rivers into trips.

Crowded Clough scramble on Kinder Low with Alistair (Peak District, UK)

29 June 2022

Hike & Scramble / 11.6 miles / 2,499 ft ascent / 5 hours 44 minutes

Hope Valley, Peak District National Park, UK

Alistair is one of my oldest friends. We met at the mountaineering and walking club at university and over the years we’ve walked across the Pyrenees together, done countless trips to the UK mountains (e.g. this Scottish adventure), traversed the mountaineer’s Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, and spent 5 months together in the Andes of South America, nearly getting to the top of Aconcagua together.

However, since my move to the States 10 years ago, we’ve only seen each other once, briefly in 2014 for a short walk around West Kirby Marine Lake.

This year, June 2022, I was in Peak District for 2 weeks with my family, my brother’s family, and the UK grandparents, for a big family reunion after years of Covid restrictions. Alistair lives just around the corner, so it was easy to meet in the Peaks for a day walk together.

Alistair suggested a scramble up Crowded Clough onto Kinder Low and then walking a circuit around the head of the Edale valley.

We had great weather for it!

Alistair on the way up Kinder Low. Crowded Clough is the prominent dark scar, where the stream bed lies.

We began from the village of Edale, also the start of the Pennine Way, and headed up Kinder Low. It was great to catch up on news and reminisce about adventures past.

Looking back towards Edale

Near the top of the climb we entered the stream bed and began the short, wet, but entertaining scramble up Crowded Clough.

Alistair scrambling up Crowded Clough
Higher up on the scramble, which went up to the left of the stream. Fun!

Near the top we had the option to take the path towards the summit of Kinder Low, or complete the scramble up a final awkward chimney. Being the purists that we are, we opted for the scramble.

It was a few bridging steps followed by a heave and a struggle to push up and out of the bowels of the mountain. Here, Alistair demonstrates the sideways traversing technique to exit the top of the chimney:

We continued on over the plateau with the weird stones to the trig point at the top of Kinder Low.

Me and Alistair, some 23 years after our first summit together

From here, we continued around the head of the valley, past many Duke of Edinburgh youth groups (which is how I started my love affair with the mountains), to Brown Knoll, Lord Seat, and eventually Mam Tor.

Crossing the flagstones over Lord Seat

The section from Lord Seat to Mam Tor was more of a defined ridge line, as opposed to open moorland that we’d crossed earlier in the day.

On the ridge towards Mam Tor
Summit of Mam Tor

From Mam Tor, which was rather crowded, we descended to Hollins Cross pass, before turning north into the valley and back to Edale where our cars were parked.

Alistair on the way down to Edale

Back in Edale, we stopped to refuel at the excellent Penny Pot Cafe before our respective drives home.

One of the best parts of climbing mountains is the license to eat whatever you want after a big day!

Truly a top day out with a great friend. The best of days.

Gritstone Edge Walk With Pete (Peak District, UK)

24 June 2022

Hike / 26.1 miles / 3,206 ft ascent / 10 hours 29 minutes

Near Gardom’s Edge, looking west to Baslow

Whenever my family and my brother’s family get together, Pete and I like to squeeze in an adventure together. Last time, in 2019, we did a great walk in the Glyders of Snowdonia. This year, as we were holidaying in the Peak District, we explored the gritstone edges and moors of the Peak District National Park, an area I have not spent much time in before.

It being close to the summer equinox, it was light ridiculously early so we set off before breakfast (we joked it was our alpine start). We left the house at 5.30 am, and began walking just before 6 am from the Robin Hood pub (picture in the background and an excellent country pub to boot!):

Smiling despite the early start ๐Ÿ™‚

Our route was an out-and-back along the western gritstone edges in the Peaks, including: Gardom’s Edge, Baslow Edge, Curbar Edge, Froggatt Edge, Burbage Edge, and Stanage Edge (similar to this All Trails route).

Yours truly looking out towards Baslow

Shortly after crossing Clodhall Lane, on our way up to Curbar Edge, we saw a basking adder on the trail. Despite Pete and I living in parts of the world where snakes are more numerous, this was my first sighting of 2022!

A basking adder, one of the few species of venomous snakes in the UK

The route traversed a series of escarpments โ€” edges โ€” that we followed along the tops. They ran generally south-to-north, punctuated by roads running east-to-west.

Consequently, the expansive views we enjoyed were generally to the West, into the central Peaks. But we could also often see the next edge on our route to the north (or south on the return leg).

Yours truly on Curbar Edge

Roughly halfway through the outward leg (so, one quarter distance for the day) we walked through Longshaw Estate, passing close by the sprawling Longshaw Lodge:

We traversed Burbage Edge in thick mist, which lent an end-of-the-world feel to the place. Views towards the valley disappeared over the edge.

Burbage Edge

The best thing about these days is not the scenery of course, nor the adventure at hand. No, it’s spending a full day with my brother and chatting and goofing around together again. I miss doing this more frequently.

Our final edge was the grandaddy of them all, Stanage Edge. I’ve walked and climbed here before, so I was vaguely familiar with the area, although our southerly approach and the thick mist meant I didn’t recognize anything specifically.

The trig point at the southern end of Stanage Edge

We walked most of Stanage Edge, past Robin Hood’s cave, but we stopped short of the road crossing that borders the north edge. My Strava read 13 miles at the turnaround, so we knew we still had a long way to go to get home.

Pete above Robin Hood’s cave

Our route home was mostly over the same ground, although we took the low route beneath the edges when we could.

View down Burbage South Valley

We started feeling weary at this stage, eighteen miles into the walk, as we passed Burbage Edge for the second time.

Burbage Edge on the return

We took a different route through the Longshaw Estate on the return leg, opting to walk around Granby Wood since we’d bypassed it earlier in the day. It was easy terrain through the estate.

Rhododendron bushes on the Longshaw Estate

Our weary feet and creaking knees carried us over Curbar Edge again, and this time the clouds made for a wonderful backdrop to the English countryside.

Curbar Edge
The man, the myth, the mountain: Pete on Curbar Edge.

Not going to lie, the last couple of miles were tiring!

We walked a tad over 26 miles all up, so a marathon distance. Not bad for a couple of old buggers. I think this is the longest walk I’ve ever done in a day (notwithstanding the handful of ultra runs I’ve done, which were further).

My knees are the limiting factor for me now, and they were quite tender by the end of this walk. I didn’t have my poles with me, which would have helped. I do think I can go slightly further though, so the next goal of course is 30 miles in a day.

To summarize, a truly fantastic day out with Pete! One I’ll remember fondly for the rest of my life, along with the myriad other adventures we’ve done together. Cheers bro!

North along the A.T. toย 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!