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.

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