Bill and I have been trying to do more trail runs in the last year, and we have received a lot of inspiration from local running groups and friends posting on Instagram. There are some good trails and even mountains a relatively short drive away. After seeing some photos of a local group running Maryland Heights last week, Bill drove to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia to run the mountain.
Years ago, and I mean years ago, Bill and I hiked to Maryland Heights while spending a day as tourists in Harper’s Ferry. Or so he says. I have absolutely no recollection of the hike or the town. Unless I took pictures of a specific hike, I don’t remember it – it’s only a fuzzy hiking memory blended in with many other hikes.
Back during those days when we were young, we hiked up mountains. Now that we’re older and wiser, we run up them! We both think that the current Bill and Deb would have flown past the much younger Bill and Deb, and they wouldn’t have been able to keep up with us!
With GoPro in hand, Bill took off early Friday morning when the temperature was only 21° at the start of his run along the Potomac River. The following is Bill’s recap of his run, complete with a few history lessons woven in…
Harper’s Ferry is at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, and the Potomac thence flows eastward to Leesburg and Washington. Harper’s Ferry was established after the Revolution by Congress as an arms manufacturer and George Washington recommended it’s location in the mountains to safeguard it from foreign invasion. Meriwether Lewis stopped here on the way west in order to stock up on armanents for the Lewis and Clark trip. And of course, the armory, muskets, rifles, and munitions store are what attracted John Brown here before the Civil War as the fuel to start his revolution.
This time of year, the Potomac is frozen around the edges and freezing cold but still moving fast. The C&O Canal runs along the Maryland side and there is a parking area for about a dozen cars near the trailhead for the heights.
The trail started out frozen dirt and leaf covered, but within only a half mile of elevation change, the trail became icy.
There are several loop trails on the mountain and I, of course, chose the longer loop or it wouldn’t have been worth the trip. Running the blue blaze loop and then the shorter loop and to the overlook, and finally through the town of Harper’s Ferry and back was probably around 11 miles.
Up on Maryland Heights, about a mile and half above the C&O Canal, the blue blaze loop separates from the other loop with the sign warning the day hiker to be prepared for three hours round trip.
There were plenty of places to stop and read National Park signs on the history of the area. The trail is pretty well signed and there are lots of fortifications and gun emplacements from the Civil War when the Union controlled the artillery on Maryland Heights overlooking the town of Harper’s Ferry and the hills beyond it, Loudoun and Bolivar Heights. Stonewall Jackson’s Confederate brigades had to storm the heights with 8000 men to take it from the Union forces in order to help Lee as he invaded Maryland and headed to Boonsboro for the battle of Antietam. The Union defense was done poorly allowing Jackon’s troops to rapidly cross the Potomac and take Loudoun Heights uncontested. But Jackson’s delay in reaching Sharpsburg almost caused a major disaster for Lee at the battle of Antietam.
One fascinating detail is that Stonewall Jackson was actually the commander of Harper’s Ferry at the outbreak of the Civil War. He quickly realized that he would have to control Maryland Heights in order to protect his position so he stationed men and artillery on the mountain. However, the heights were actually in Maryland – effectively a neutral state – thus causing an international incident at the time the Confederates were working hard to gain England’s recognition and support.
The fortification at the base of these steps protected and supported the largest gun on the mountain, a huge artillery piece that required 2000 men to pull up the mountain. The gun emplacement was at the top of the steps which leads to the top of the mountain…
…and a magnificent run along the ridge. Not only was the sun out now, but the ridge to the west provided some buffer to the biting cold wind and it was absolutely beautiful.
One has to run way back down the mountain to get the truly spectacular view of Harper’s Ferry, but it is well worth the time. The overlook is only several hundred feet above the town – and another run back up the mountain to return. The long blue blaze trail is a climb of 1600 feet.
It’s always worth a trip into Harper’s Ferry itself which is a quaint little town mostly full of reconstructed historic buildings maintained by the National Park Service. There’s also a commuter train station and some restaurants and shops.
Harper’s Ferry is also a key crossing point for the Appalachian Trail which comes through the town and crosses the same railroad bridge as in the video below. You can see Maryland Heights at the end of the video when I hold the camera up above the railroad tunnel.
I will be back here again in the winter and spring for more runs on the mountain! And next time I hope to have Deb running along side of me!
And finally, congrats to Jessie, the winner of a pair of Yaktrax Run! She was very happy to receive an email from me earlier today telling her that Rafflecopter had picked her name in my giveaway. I can’t wait for her to receive her Yaktrax, and take them for a run!
- Have you visited Harper’s Ferry?
- Do you enjoy hiking?
- Who raced this past weekend?