Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Harper's Ferry WV/Maryland Heights MD

New Year's Day and finally back to hiking. It's been just about a month, what with Christmas and all, since we have been on a hike. We only had time for a short one in the afternoon of New Year's Day because we had no dog sitter this weekend. Ann decided she wanted to go hike Maryland Heights again because it is close to home and because it's just a beautiful place.

About 11:30 after we got motivated, we headed out for Harper's Ferry and we arrived about noon. Because it was a federal holiday, the park Visitor's Center was closed and the buses weren't running into town. We usually park and ride into town to avoid the congestion in downtown Harper's Ferry, but New Year's Day we continued past the park entrance to Shenandoah Street only to find the parking lot next to the river and under the railroad trestle closed as well.

We continued on to the Amtrak station where everybody else was trying to park. After about 10 minutes, a car left and we were finally able to get a spot. The congestion in the parking lot would be a good indicator of how crowded the trails were: there was no solitude at all. I kind of expected there to be fewer people, but the weather was supremely gorgeous. Everyone on the trail was pleasant and wished us a Happy New Year, but still, I relish my quiet on hikes.

On the way to Harper's Ferry, Ann told me about a hiking challenge that asks people to get out and make 52 hikes in a year, an average rate of one per week. That sounds easy enough, but with my work schedule leaving me about 48 days off a year (not to mention all the other things we have planned for this year), it's going to be a hell of a challenge for us. But why not try? Here then is the saga of hike number one for 2017.

1889 Victorian-Style Amtrak Station, Harper's Ferry

Pilgrim Ganders in HFNHP
From the train station lot, we walked down to the point and crossed the railroad bridge from West Virginia into Maryland and then turned north up the C&O Canal Towpath upriver along the Potomac. Across the river, it is quite an experience standing under the cliffs of Maryland Heights, where the rock climbers were doing their thing and on top of which we would look down on Harper's Ferry towards the end of our hike. Although I took dozens of pictures, because the camera flattens out the perspective, they just don't convey how cool it is to be looking straight up the cliff faces.

Crossing the Potomac, Bridge Plaque

Descending to the C&O Canal Towpath

Tunnel under Maryland Heights

Maryland Heights Cliffs, Lock House, Canal

Bird's Nest in a Sycamore, C&O Canal Towpath

The Abandoned Hilltop House Hotel
This wasn't our first trip to Harper's Ferry and Maryland Heights. Back in the spring, we made the hike from Harpers Ferry to Weverton Cliffs and back. Before that, Ann and I have gone to the Maryland Heights cliff tops and I had also done that hike several times before we met, but never have either of us gone to the top of the hill (technically called Elk Ridge) and the Civil War fortifications looking southeast down the Potomac. I keep returning to this place because it is one of my favorite places on the East Coast. I am not sure I could ever tire of this place where the Shenandoah and the Potomac merge and cross the Blue Ridge Mountains.

It was a truly gorgeous day especially for the first of January, but in spite of that, Ann and I clearly had very different takes on the nearly 50-degree sunny day. She started off in many layers of clothes with hat and gloves, while I wore shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. Ann quickly found herself shedding layers once we started climbing. And climb we did.

Across the Potomac in Maryland, the mountain goes up very quickly and there are a couple really steep sections. As we were climbing one section of very steep terrain on an old wagon road and Annie was finding it hard to get her breath, I mentioned to her that it must have taken some herculean effort to drag cannons up this road during the Civil War. And in crazy coincidence, we saw the sign below beside the trail not 50 yards from where I made my remarks. It reads "Tired and Breathless? ... Try ascending this road hauling a 9700 pound gun..." Take a moment to read it, especially the last part about President Lincoln calling it quits going up to review the troops because it was too steep. Not much of a hiker, I guess.

Ann Was Huffing and Puffing As She Read This.
After the couple of steep ascents, we reached the top of the mountain which is relatively flat and the going became a lot easier as we marched east towards the ruins of the old Stone Fort, the walls of a Union blockhouse that was never completed. The fort commands a view down the Potomac towards Washington.

At the Ridgetop, Stone Fort Plans

The Potomac From Stone Fort

Sitting on Stone Fort Ruins

Brunswick MD and Sugarloaf Mountain
From the ruined fort, we returned west along the crest of the hill past several gun emplacements back to the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac, over which hang the cliffs that we could see from down below. The views on top of the cliffs are northwest up the Potomac towards Shepherdstown, west up the Shenandoah towards Charles Town, and directly below onto the town of Harper's Ferry.

Hilltop House Hotel from Above the Cliffs

Northwest Towards Shepherdstown
Despite shooting directly into the setting sun, I was able to get a few decent shots (thanks Photoshop!) of Harper's Ferry, which is one of the most photogenic little towns that I know. In the photo below, you can see Harper Cemetery along the ridge of the hill, the 4-acre open grass space above town. This might be my favorite place to go and sit and look down at the Shenandoah and Potomac merging and heading off towards the Chesapeake. Alas, our day didn't allow for any time in town this trip.

Harper's Ferry, Always Photogenic

1/1/2017: What's Wrong with This Picture?
Are those trees on the abandoned bridge pillar naturally grown, fake, planted, or maybe Christmas trees for the season? No matter what those trees are or why they are there, I found the high contrast scene compelling enough to want to remember.

Cool, Huh?

Big Kettle of Vultures at the Cliffs

Eye Level Fly By

One of the Brand New CSX ET44s
It was late in the afternoon, with less than an hour of sunlight left in the day, as we returned to Harper's Ferry and the Amtrak station where we left the Jeep. I really couldn't fathom the vast number of people still leaving to make the climb up Maryland Heights. Nowhere did I see a flashlight and most of the people were wearing inappropriate clothes and shoes. I bet sunset atop the cliffs is wonderful, but still it made me shake my head in wonder.

The Armory

St. Peters Rises Above Town at Sunset

Back Where We Started
This hike was my first trail time with my new boots which I got in early December. I've been up to five miles in them on sidewalks around home, but sidewalks are very different from trails. Given my experience breaking in boots in the 1970s, I was very leery of taking boots out for a 5-mile hike with less than 10 miles on them. But these new Oboz boots are supremely comfortable. The steep hills gave them a workout and although my heels were a little tender at the end of the day, no blisters. I still think I am going to need to work up to all-day hikes in them, but what amazing performance right out of the box!

It was without a doubt a really spectacular day to visit one of the most spectacular sites on the East Coast and not a bad hike for getting back into the swing of things after several weekends without getting out. And now for the next 51 hikes this year!

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