Hiking to Loudon Heights

It was finally, finally time to get out of the city and into the woods. I’d been biking and baseballing and graduating and concerting for weeks and my brain needed a long solo hike in the woods.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Alas, the Shenandoah gives it up and from here to the Chesapeake Bay the river is known as the Potomac. Just southeast of Harpers Ferry the Potomac passes through mountains. On the northern side of the river there are two overlooks. I hiked 19 miles in one day to check them out. Today I explored the overlook on the southern side of the river on a ridge known as Loudon Heights. I got the idea for this hike from a fellow blogger who did a shorter, steeper version of this hike in January 2016. Her hike began in Harpers Ferry, crossed the Shenandoah and climbed up to the ridge about 1 1/2 miles from the overlook.

It was my intent to do this same hike but then I found another hike that was longer and more gradual. This hike begins at Keys Pass 5 1/2 miles to the south of the overlook. It follows the Appalachian Trail for about 4 miles along the ridge line then switches to the Loudon Heights Trail to get to the overlook.

The skies were overcast. Temperatures were in high 50Fs when I set out. There was so much green. The path was somewhat muddy. Then it became rocky. Then smooth. Then rockier. Then smooth. Then ludicrously rocky. Then not so much. Did I mention that it was rocky.

The AT is rocky. How anybody with a full pack gets through the Virginia portion of the trail without breaking an ankle is beyond me. I am a tenderfoot. Literally. I hate rocky trails. I came to a kind of truce with this one out of necessity. There are so many rocks that you have to look down nearly the entire time you are hiking. You lose track of time. I couldn’t believe that 90 minutes had passed since the start. Focusing on the rocks is meditative, annoyingly so. It had a rather interesting benefit for me. I noticed that my tenderfootedness was caused by me tensing my feet up as I walked among the rocks. Walking on them instead and focusing on keeping my feet relaxed made for much easier walking. I didn’t exactly end the hike with happy feet but I managed to enjoy what would otherwise have been a miserable experience.

Since I was spending so much time looking down, I had to consciously stop and take in the scenery. Most of the hike is through a forest on a ridge line. And I looked up at the through the canopy to the clouds above. Ahh.

Being at the top of things also meant that many old trees succumbed to winds. The trail is obstructed by a few dozen downed giants. They are easy enough to get past though.

For the first 3 1/2 miles I didn’t see or hear a single person. Not one. For the next 2 miles I did encounter a few people here and there but, thankfully, none of them were loud.

Getting to the overlook actually involves hiking down from the ridge. When I got there I had it all to myself for about 3 minutes. I was all set to just park my butt on a rock for a half hour. Then another hiker showed up. Yeah, well….

After taking some pictures of Harpers Ferry (the view of town is much better from Maryland Heights, by the way) I started back. Good thing I left. More and more people were heading my way. I group of young men came by. The last of them was actually talking business. I resisted the urge to dope slap him.

When I got back on the AT, I started encountering serious backpackers heading north. These dudes were in tip top hiking shape. A solo hiker and I stopped to chat. He was a large human, 6 foot 4 or so and easily 250 pounds. He was hiking 20 miles or so today on his way to Harpers Ferry.  His pack looked hefty. He was all smiles. Nice guy.

The last three miles were a bit of a slog. I really need to learn to ease into these things; 11 miles was a bit much. I stopped to stretch my hamstrings from time to time. The last half mile was mercifully light on rocks and was nearly flat. I needed that.

Unlike most hikes I’ve done, I had very good cell service on this one so I instagrammed my ass off. I posted all the pictures on my Flickr page.

Two Hikes near Harper’s Ferry

A friend of mine used to hold health retreats near Harper’s Ferry. If the weather was good, she’d take her guests for a hike. I honestly don’t know where she took them but when I started hiking I search for hikes near Harper’s Ferry. There are two hikes that are very popular. They each include an overlook with spectacular views of the Harper’s Ferry area.

I began at the Harper’s Ferry train station. My year pass for all national parks allowed me to avoid the $10 parking fee. Thanks again, Ultrarunnergirl.

Off I hoofed across the railroad bridge from Harper’s Ferry to the C&O Canal towpath, all the while looking at Maryland Heights across the way. I am going up there?  I headed northwest along the path for a half mile, crossed the empty canal, and a two-lane road and the climbing began on the Maryland Heights hike.

Up, up, up. This trail is relentlessly up. And steep in some sections. I was breathing pretty heavily until my lungs caught up with my legs. I took a side path to what I thought was the overlook but it was just an old battery. The Heights were strategically important in the Civil War. There are batteries and a fort along the trail.

Up some more. The trail began to narrow and become rockier. I hate rocks in a trail but that’s what most of the trails in this area are like.

#hike #Marylandheights #harpersferry overlook

I crested the hill and now found myself winding back down to the overlook. More rocks. The leaves on the ground made footing slippery. Soon I was at the overlook. Well worth the effort, especially on this beautiful fall day. A young couple was canoodling so I decided to take a couple of pictures and head back up to the main trail. On the way up I must have passed 20 people coming down. So much for canoodling in peace.

Back on the main trail I took a right to climb to a ridge line. It was really steep and rocky but I just kept at it. Soon I arrived at an old stone fort. I would have hate to have had to build this thing. There’s no structure to the fort, just stone walls.

During my hike I twice was passed by a group of ultramarathon runners. Essentially these people are speed hikers. How they managed to move so fast without turning an ankle is beyond me. They were apparently doing and out and back run because I saw them again about 30 minutes later.

I headed back down on a mercifully smoother trail paralleling the ridge. Judging from the number of people coming up, this must be one of the most popular trails in the area. I was grateful to have arrived before the crowds.

Back on the towpath I headed south east for about 3 miles. The views of the river were magnificent and the sound of the water rushing over the rocks was incredibly calming.

I was now on the Weverton Cliff hike. This also the Appalachian Trail. I ate my apple and watched a parade of 20 fully loaded hikers coming my way as I walked to the steep trail to the cliff. This sucker is tough going. I would not want to do it with a full backpack. The backpackers that I saw were pretty scruffy but they moved with deliberate speed. Not fast, exactly, but they were relentless and focused.

Across the railroad tracks, up a side trail, under a highway, up some more trail, across a street and the real fun began.

Up into a seemingly endless series of switchbacks. The bigger trees had all dropped their leaves but the undergrowth was bright yellow and orange in the slanting fall sunlight. It’s good to have pretty when you are suffering.

On the Maryland Heights descent I fell when the leaves gave way under my feet. I just landed on my butt and slid. As I climbed up to the cliff and woman did the same thing right in front of me. She just laughed it off.

Switchback after switchback then finally a sign pointing the AT to the north and the overlook to the south.

I had to hike down a few extremely hundred yards to the overlook but the view was really excellent. The sun had come out and I basked in its warmth for a few minutes as I watched the sunlight glittering over the Potomac River.

View from #wevertoncliffs #hike #harpersferry

I dreaded the hike down but found it to be surprisingly easy. I passed a woman who looked to be well into her seventies. I sure hope I am that fit when I am her age.

I made it back to the towpath in good shape and headed for Harper’s Ferry. At this point I was wishing I had brought more than one apple. I was hoping I wasn’t going to hit the wall. I started following a guy with a backpack on. He didn’t seem to be putting any effort into his stride but I still could not keep up with him.

So I looked at the sunlit yellow leaves, watched a bunch of vultures soaring next to the rock face of Maryland Heights and enjoyed the final two miles as much as my tired body would allow.

If I were to come back to Harper’s Ferry I think I’d park at the base of Weverton Cliff, hike up to the overlook turnoff and take the AT north. Despite all the rocks, it was a pretty damned nice hike. Maryland Heights was just as hard but the crowds would put me off a return.

My Flickr page has all the pix I took.