Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Work Lunch and Climbing Loudoun Heights

On Friday afternoon we had our work Christmas lunch, with most folks sporting awesome Christmas sweaters.
I was really impressed with the sweaters that showed up, I'd not seen any of them before, but I was particularly fond of my own Star Wars version. Love, love, love this sweater and was extremely chuffed when as I was leaving the restaurant, a waiter rushed over and told me that mine was the best Christmas sweater he'd seen so far.
And so on Saturday morning I met up with a group in Harper's Ferry to hike off the calories of the day before.  There was an early morning frost on the ground and even thin ice on the puddles. I passed a couple of guys in a car as we approached Harper's Ferry and shivered as I looked up at their whitewater kayaks on the roof. We were going to hike Loudoun Heights,a pretty challenging climb, but one that would definitely keep us warm.
We met at the Appalachian Trail Headquarters where they were hosting a Holiday House with hot cider and plenty of homemade cookies. I had a small cup of cider and looked longingly at all the plates of goodies before finally succumbing and selecting a tiny almond cookie that was barely an inch across. It was delicious, and I had to walk outside and wait for the others before my hands started grabbing more. A chunky squirrel was scampering among the leaves across the road and looking so well fed that if his coat had had buttons, they would've popped off. He was certainly well prepared for the winter.
Our group was small today, just 6 people, and we soon started off at a brisk pace, heading towards the cemetery at the top of the town.
Harper Cemetery is named after an architect called Robert Harper from PA who founded Harper's Ferry in 1747. The Harper House is the oldest surviving structure in the town. The mountain in the background was our destination, an outcrop of rocks on the left side where we would stop for lunch.
We headed down a steep hill to a rocky ridge that looked over the Potomac. In 1773 Thomas Jefferson said while visiting here, "On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac [Potomac], in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea ... This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic."
The top slab is now balanced upon 4 pillars, placed between 1955 - 1860 as erosion and constant clambering upon it had made it rickety. Ken even mentioned that Jefferson's opponents had pushed the slab off and it had been eventually replaced. We couldn't believe that it had been retrieved from the bottom of that hill if that tale was true.
We hiked down to the river, over the bridge, and then started our ascent. It was a long slog. We stopped for mini breaks just to catch our breath and I soon had my jacket off and my sleeves rolled up. By the time we got to the top, it felt like I'd climbed England Mountain in Marshall twice. There had been a lot of rocks and tree roots too, and slipping on the dry leaves had added to our work.
We had another rest at the top and then Ken told us that if we wanted to see the vistas we'd need to hike back down part of the mountain, which would mean climbing back up again to this point which would be our way out. So off we set at a brisk pace.
A tree had fallen across the trail and some park surveyors were cleaning up the debris, making it easier for folks to scramble under the fallen trunk.
And then we were at the first of our outlooks and the views were amazing.
A panorama of the view and the second photo up shows the tunnel through the mountain with the nose of a train emerging and its cargo trundling behind from the end of the tunnel.
We had to stop and marvel at how this huge chunk of rock stood alone among the trees.
The Potomac River and Maryland Heights. I've never seen Harper's Ferry from this perspective before and the views are definitely worth the hike. I'd like to climb Maryland Heights also, (the hill at the end of the bridge), and see the town from that stand point.
The old Hilltop Hotel was clearly visible and looking very much the worse for wear. What a shame this old building wasn't saved. I'm glad I have my old photos and memories of it. Apparently the rail bridge was rebuilt 9 times during the Civil War, there's an excellent article here.
We sat on the rocks to eat our lunch but it was chilly in the shade with the winds and our rears soon got too cold from our stone perches so after about 15 minutes we gave up and started the climb back up to the top of the mountain.There were lots of groans at the thought of climbing again and Ken mentioned that we had 2 choices. We could hike up or jump off. It would then all be over in a few seconds! We all laughed at that.
Climbing down was slippery in places and everyone had at least one trip over tree roots and hidden rocks or a slide on loose earth and slippery leaves. The water looked cold and angry below us so we took special care. Soon we were back down on level land and walked along the old canal to town.
We were stopped in town by Civil War soldiers who were putting on a re-enactment today. Apparently we didn't have correct paperwork and were bustled into an office to get a pass. My accent didn't go down well, even though I swore I was from Marshall, I was told the British were supporting the other side. But eventually I was released back on to the street and allowed to go on my way.
These delicious looking cakes were in a shop window and as we pushed on the door to enter, we were told that the public weren't fortunate enough to be able to indulge in these particular eats, they were strictly for the actors. Oh well, we couldn't begrudge them that, although I did lick my lips as we passed the window again. We consoled ourselves with a hot coffee in a little cafe but I didn't get any of their pastries to munch on, they didn't hold a candle to those we'd seen earlier...
A little later a very kind Ken drove us up the hill to our cars, all of us grateful to have avoided that last hill. We'd walked about 8.5 miles and I was a very happy bunny to finally take off my hiking boots and sink into Stuart's warm, soft car seat for the journey home.

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