Last Sunday my friend April and I went out to Harper’s Ferry National Park and hiked 9 miles, including the 7.5 mile Loudoun Heights route. We awoke to a blanket of fog, which I assure you was not in the forecast the night before. And since I’ve never known meteorologists to inaccurately predict the weather (hyuck hyuck), I was most astounded indeed. The drive out to Harper’s Ferry was equally foggy, and I alternated between wondering why we got up so early to drive blindly through a cloud and feeling pretty darn awesome for braving the weather. Fog! Ah! Not your average hikers, no sirree. We stare fog in the face. The face, I tell you!
Harper’s Ferry, in West Virginia at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, is best known for its role in the U.S. Civil War. The town is within spitting distance of Maryland and Virginia. In fact, on the drive there, we popped into all three states within a matter of five minutes. And branching off from the town are several hikes overlapping the three states – all with significant elevation change.
Actually, the Appalachian Trail runs directly through the town, tracing its way up a set of centuries old stone steps and eventually leaving town to cross a bridge into Virginia and beyond.
Upon arrival, we paid the $10 entrance fee and parked in the main visitor’s lot. After getting our acts together, we caught the shuttle bus to the preserved historic town and began our hike. We made our way to the old stone steps and approached our first climb. The temperature was 35 degrees with the persistent fog and wind. I was keenly aware of my fingers and wondering why I’d left my heavy mittens in the car in favor of my lighter pair.
Oh well. Sometimes you just have to put one foot in front of the other and hum holiday songs. April and I had tuned into the holiday radio station on the way over, so luckily I had many in my head from which to choose. And I don’t want to hear any of you Scrooges out there bah-humbugging holiday music. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
After having gained our stride, we left the confines of the town and passed Jefferson Rock on our left. We trod the A.T. over a wide vehicle bridge with a pedestrian walk along the side, passing over the Shenandoah River and regaining tree cover on the other side. The path quickly gained elevation, climbing about 800 feet in less than a mile before intersecting with a side trail, blazed orange. We followed the orange trail a ways until it met up with the blue trail, which we followed for a couple of miles. As we descended in our pursuit of the Split Rock overlook, both April and I hesitated – and then stubbornly pressed on – at the thought of the return ascent.
When we reached the end of the blue trail at Split Rock, the sky was finally beginning to clear and the sun to peek through the haze. From the precipice, I could see the town of Harper’s Ferry on the other side of the Shenandoah River and the bridge leading trains over the Potomac River. We sat for a few minutes enjoying the view and quiet moment. Within about ten minutes, we became stiff from the cold and decided to move on before we became hike-cicles.
On the trek back, our chatter must have startled a herd (pack? gaggle? google?) of deer because a couple of bucks sped across the trail in front of us, and another half dozen bounded past us on the right. It was so exciting! As much as I’ve seen plenty of deer in my time, I often don’t see any animals larger than squirrels when hiking. They tend to be shy. And to see so many deer at once, well by golly, that there done did make my day.
Once we crossed back over the Shenandoah River via the vehicle bridge, we saw a sign directing us .6 miles back to town or – in the opposite direction – 1.6 miles to the visitor center where we had parked. I must tell you that this hike beat the crudoodles out of me. I guess I should be grateful because it’s better than carrying extra crudoodles around unnecessarily (crudoodles are so heavy!), but the thought of going another 1.6 miles made me utter an audible whimper. Nonetheless, we walked over a mile on the side of the road and then veered right for the last .3 miles to face several sets of stone steps. I literally took each step as a separate challenge, not up to the task of approaching a set of steps collectively.
I don’t know what came over me. My best guess is that the cold weather sapped me of energy. Also, I was carrying a (30 pound) weighted pack as usual, but it was an older one without a supportive frame. And I guess it has been a while since I’ve hiked much more than five miles. Maybe next time, we should move the celebratory bbq meal at Red, Hot, and Blue (restaurant) to before the hike. No wait, that wouldn’t make sense. Talk about crudoodles; I’m pretty sure I’d just want to sleep after a glorious meal like that. Exhausted or not, at least we got the order right and didn’t forget the yummy food.