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

First Backpacking Adventure With The Boys

Day 1: Home to Harpers Ferry Campground, 2.5 miles, 8/22/21

I’ve wanted to take the boys camping for a long time but never quite gotten around to it. Something always came up or the weather didn’t cooperate. This time however, the stars aligned. I had a gap in the schedule, the boys haven’t started school and the weather forecast was stable (although rather hot!).

This is sad to say, but it’s been years since I’ve camped (something I plan to rectify!). I had fun digging my old camping gear though and packing for this adventure. Everything looked like new again. That’s the thing with good quality outdoor gear — it lasts a lifetime if you look after it.

In my pre-kids life I did a lot of camping so it was easy to plan what we needed and get everything together. The boys carried some of their clothes and water bottles in their bags.

We set off around 3 pm, full of excitement! The boys were embarking on their first camping adventure.

Leaving home!

Lexi walked with us for the first quarter mile to Nash Farm. Owen didn’t believe us when we said that mom was turning around here. “You’re joking right?”

All smiles as we passed Nash Farm, about quarter of a mile from home 😉

We strode on, down the trail from the back of Nash Farm to the river. Owen face planted twice on the way down, the poor guy. No harm done, just muddy knees. At the bottom of the hill I led the boys through the river tunnel under the rail tracks rather than crossing the tracks. It was almost bone dry.

At the canal headrace on the Potomac River, looking out towards Maryland Heights (which we climbed with the boys earlier this year)

We stopped to explore the Canal Headrace and enjoy views out to Maryland Heights. At this age, the boys are mostly indifferent to pretty views though. They prefer bugs or interesting graffiti.

We arrived at the campsite around 5 pm. I couldn’t find the caretaker, so we picked the furthest tent site and set up camp. The boys helped put the tent up, and then proceeded to trip over the tent pegs every 5 minutes 😉

The boys were super interested in how the tent went together

The tent is a 7 year old Mountain Hardwear Skyledge, which is a lightweight 2-person tent. It was comfortable with me and the boys, if a little cozy. I’ll consider taking the 3-person pyramid tent next time.

Our home for the night!
It’s a nice campground! We got the end tent site which was nice.

Once we’d set up camp, we wandered back to the river shore to explore for an hour or so. We built sandcastles and hunted for shells. It’s serene and beautiful in the evenings. Again, the boys were digging in the mud whilst Dad was admiring the view.

The Potomac River is beautiful in the evenings
Another dreamy view on the Potomac River
Cooking dinner!

Back at the tent we had dinner. I brought the MSR Pocket Rocket stove to heat up a camp meal for myself. The boys had sandwiches, fruit and muffins.

That night I had my work cut out! They were excitable and wanted story after story. All good fun and they fell asleep around 9.30 pm. I was nodding off by then too.

But sleep didn’t come easily because it was so hot in the tent. I ended up keeping both fly doors open and cracking the inner doors too. Thankfully there were no bugs so that wasn’t an issue. I eventually fell asleep properly sometime after midnight. I was woken up a couple more times but overall it was a relatively good night.

Stories before bed in the tent

Day 2: Harpers Ferry Campground to Home, 2.5 miles, 8/23/21

Morning of day 2 as the sun rises over the river

It was a beautiful morning when we woke up, with the sun rising over the river and pouring through the trees. We were all awake by 6.30 am when the tent got light.

Our first job was to retrieve our food bag that we hung last night. We didn’t hang it to protect from bears (low risk here) but I wanted to protect from rodents in the night. It was also a fun experiment to do with the boys. It worked a treat.

We hung our food bag in the trees to protect it from rodents.

Then it was onto breakfast. I had this hot granola, which was surprisingly good, and a cup of tea.

Making breakfast for Dad

Another family with young boys was camped a few sites down from us (the rest of the sites were empty at this end of the campground), so we stopped and played with them for a while before setting off on the trek home. We stopped for a paddle in the river too.

Last look at the river from our campsite before we began the trek home

We went a slightly different way home and met Lexi along the Armory Trail.

We took the trail that cuts up to East Ridge St, and then home from there. It was another super hot day so I was relieved it was only a short day!

Passing the canal headrace on the way home. Hot already!

Overall, this was a fantastic mini adventure. It wasn’t easy but it also wasn’t too hard. I’m looking forward to more trips with the boys in the future!

North along the A.T. to the Ed Garvey Shelter and return

10th August 2021

16.7 miles / 1,865 ft ascent / 7 hours

I left Harpers Ferry around 7.30am, slightly later than I’d hoped for, given the forecast was for a scorching day. Today’s route was north along the Appalachian Trail, turning around at the Edward Garvey Memorial Shelter, a trip of around 17 miles.

Most of my hiking trips these days are out-and-back hikes, rather than loops, since I live next to the Appalachian Trail. I’ve always enjoyed them. You get to see all the cool scenery again, but from a different perspective.

The view from the point of Harpers Ferry – the confluence of the Potomac (left) and Shenandoah (right) rivers – was majestic, as always. My route took me over the bridge into Maryland and out along the C & O canal, parallel to the Potomac River.

The miles along the canal were relaxing. Surrounded by trees, with glimpses of the river to my right, it’s a good walk to do some thinking. I was in a reflective mood this morning, perhaps because I’m 40 now, or because I had space to think without my kids absorbing all my energy (editor: no ground-breaking insights were discovered though 😂).

The Appalachian Trail turns away from the C&O canal after a few miles to head north up Weverton Cliffs, which I’ve climbed a few times before (incl. with Lexi and the boys).

Weverton Cliffs has tremendous views over the Potomac River, and across to the mountains of Short Hill Tract, Loudon Heights and Maryland Heights.

Looking west up the Potomac River towards Harpers Ferry. Mountains left to right: Short Hill Tract, Loudon Heights and Maryland Heights.
Short Hill Tract from the top of Weverton Cliffs

After a brief rest at the lookout, I continued hiking north along the AT. It climbs for a further 20 minutes or so, but then levels out along the top of the ridge for a relatively easy walk.

Again, the easy miles were conducive to deep thinking. I lost myself in a trance like state. I passed no other walkers and had this whole stretch of the trail to myself.

The shelter is spectacular, perhaps the best lean-to type shelter I’ve seen. It was two story, with a fantastic upstairs. There were plenty of picnic tables and benches, fire pit, latrine, bear box and bear pole, and numerous tent sites.

Definitely need to come back here for a night.
Room with a view! The upstairs was lovely.
Edward Garvey was a former president of the PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club)

After lunch I played around with the new Hennessy backpacking hammock that Pete bought me for my birthday last year. I wanted to practice the setup, so I can spend a night out soon.

It was a little close to the ground but it was super comfortable!
Nice and comfy 😉

I recorded a quick timelapse of the setup:

The return trip was uneventful and considerably hotter and busier than the outward leg this morning.

Of course, I stopped to enjoy a refreshing dip in the Shenandoah river, by the 340 road. Always a great way to finish a long hike (like this one!).

Old Rag Mountain and Robertson Mountain Double Header

13th July 2021

13 miles / 4,000 ft ascent / ~10 hours

Panorama from the summit of Robertson Mountain (click to enlarge)

Lexi’s parents came to stay with us for a few days after the family vacation, which meant we could get away for a few days just the two of us. It was our first adventure together in nearly 18 months, because of the pandemic. We were excited!

I found a cabin on AirBnb near the base of Old Rag mountain. We’ve climbed it before, in 2019, and had such a good experience that we decided to go back. It’s also near Sperryville, a cute town in Virginia with a wonderful coffee shop (another reason to return).

Old Rag is one of the most popular mountain climbs on the East coast (All Trails route), probably on account of the fantastic rock scramble along the summit ridge. We set off early to avoid the crowds and the heat; it was forecast to get to 95 F (35 C). Yikes!

The first part of the walk, from the car park to the ridge line, is a pleasant walk through the forest.

After a couple of hours of walking, and about 3 miles into the hike, we reached the shoulder of Old Rag. We stopped at the lookout here, refueled and readied ourselves for the ridge scramble that follows.

For a flavor of what the ridge scrambling was like, here’s some footage from the scramble up Old Rag:

The scramble is a ton of fun! Never hard but entertaining from start to finish, it’s a real joy. It’s physical: you have to pull yourself up and over blocks and down and through canyons, which is great fun and distracts you from the heat and one’s weariness.

The scramble along the ridge line takes you all the way to the summit. Even with our early start (we were walking by 6.30am) there were already other groups up here.

The views are spectacular from the summit. Shenandoah to the West, Robertson Mountain to the North and the Virginia plains to the East.

Robertson Mountain is the conical, wooded mountain to the right, below the ridge line in the distance. It’s slightly higher than Old Rag.

As we looked across to Robertson Mountain, I asked Lexi “hey we could climb that today if you’re interested?”. Nevermind that it was hot as hell, we had plenty of water. Game on!

We descended off the back of Old Rag, passing Byrd shelter and Old Rag shelter. At the fire road junction where returning hikers turn right to head back to the car park, we continued straight on.

The hike up the fire road, in the heat and blazing sun, felt interminable. Eventually we reached the turn off for the trail up Robertson Mountain.

We’ve climbed this mountain before, on day 3 of this trip.

The summit is tiny and overgrown with trees and brush. A few big boulders and breaks still give tremendous views, including back towards Old Rag where we’d come from that morning.

The descent off Robertson Mountain was the crux of our route. It was a steep, loose trail for 1.6 miles back to the fire road. Easy to follow but hard on one’s knees. We were happy to reach the relative comfort of the fire road!

From there it was a couple of easy miles back to the car, with a quick dip in the river en route to cool off our weary feet.

All in all, it was an amazing day out!