Words and Images from Ed Felker

Loudoun Heights: A Familiar Place From a Fresh Vantage Point

I’ve seen “Loudoun Heights” on hiking trail maps online before, but never could find a clear map that showed me enough to commit to trying it. For some reason, it is not on my favorite hiking web site, Hiking Upward. But part of the Loudoun Heights hike is on the Appalachian Trail, and I finally got this great map from the AT Trail Conservancy. Team Orange and I tried it today and it is an instant favorite. I hope you enjoy the images and memories of a fantastic day…(All photos were taken with the Olympus TG-1, with the exception of the very last one, which is an iPhone 4S photo.)

The best place to park for this hike is across the Shenandoah River on the West Virginia side. The sidewalk along the highway is entirely appropriate and safe, but I’ll be honest, it’s not very fun to be on it. The guardrail seems low, and the jersey wall between you and traffic even lower. It’s all more than a little unnerving to me. But it is a great view of a beautiful stretch of river.

The white blaze on the trees is known up and down the entire east coast: The Appalachian Trail.

Winnie stops and stares at nothing often when we’re hiking. But today she really locked onto something I couldn’t see, and wouldn’t move past it. As I finally noticed, it was a chipmunk.

Turns out Winnie wasn’t the only one watching ol’ Alvin. This black snake had been watching him too, and when he struck, I was reminded of one of the biggest reasons to keep dogs on leash on hiking trails. It’s not just for their safety, but for the safety of the wildlife too. Winnie very much wanted to be involved in the black snake/chipmunk discussion. But I snapped a quick picture and let him be to feed.

I was extremely impressed with the macro setting on this Olympus TG-1. This is not a large flower. That is a very small sweat bee!

One more macro shot, with Winnie’s coat in the background, before we get back to the action.

One of the things I love about this hike is that the hard work is done in about the first two miles. It’s very steep, but once you get to the top of the ridge, you leave the AT and take the blue trail in a comfortable walk along the ridge line. There are three overlooks, this is the first.

This second overlook is pretty uncomfortable, in my opinion. I don’t like looking down 600 feet, and for some reason the wires going all the way down and across the river make it worse. We did not linger at this spot, and I’ll happily skip it next time. But the overlooks are very near the trail.

This rock formation is a pretty imposing landmark, so we stopped for water and a photo here.

The blue trail ends at the last overlook, Split Rock. Between Maryland Heights, Weaverton Cliffs and this, this is my favorite view of the Potomac River and the town of Harpers Ferry. Spectacular, even on a very overcast morning.

Team Orange waiting for me. This photo was actually a mistake, I forgot to set the timer so I could go over and join them for this one. But I love it.

We had some water and snacks and then I was just messing around with the camera. I really love this setting. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s designed to make the photo look like it’s a miniature. And it does! This totally looks like a model for a train set or something. Weird.

On the way back, we took a little detour. What kind of Team Orange would we be if we didn’t take the Orange Trail?

Round trip back to the car was about seven miles, but we felt pretty good so we continued past the car and headed into the town of Harpers Ferry. Along the way, for some reason I felt like this photo had to be staged and taken.

A well earned cool down in the waters of the Shenandoah River.

A well earned cool down on the porch of the Secret Six Tavern! These dogs were so fantastic today, walking politely on leash for nearly nine total miles, passing scores of tourists in town and never once being nosey or rude, just walking in a polite heel. I really feel like I can take them anywhere.

By the time we got to the tavern they were pretty tired, but after a sip of beer and a few french fries each, they were toast. I think all three of us felt like the toughest mile of the day was that last one back to the car after sitting down and relaxing for a bit. But I’m real proud of them today.


23 responses

  1. Wonderful photos and story! They are adorable, and I love the last photo.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:58 pm

  2. I have hiked all over the west, and so really enjoyed seeing what’s out east. Virginia is beautiful.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    • Virginia is beautiful, and so diverse in its terrain, from lakes to mountains to Atlantic beaches, there’s something here for everybody! I will be out west in a couple months and I’m looking forward to some hiking out there.

      July 16, 2012 at 8:32 am

  3. That photograph, at the end of the blue trail, at Split Rock, reminded me just how beautiful your country is – what a revelation it must have been to the early settlers – magnificent! And the dogs – I’m totally impressed, especially that you could leave Winnie like that, and take a photograph of the snake and chipmunk episode. Now, I’ll tell my girls, but they won’t believe me … 🙂

    July 15, 2012 at 12:35 am

    • What part of the world are you from, Wanderlust Gene? Thank you so much for the kind words. And trust me, Winnie’s “Stay” as I got closer to the snake/chipmunk to take a picture was a very fragile thing! It held, but just barely!

      July 16, 2012 at 8:35 am

      • … but the “Stay” held, which is a testament to her character, and trainer. Congratulations to you both.

        Me? I’m an Australian, currently living in Sri Lanka.

        July 16, 2012 at 10:29 pm

  4. James Romanyak

    Enjoyed, Ed. thanks for sharing the hike. My congrats to Team orange on behavior!

    July 15, 2012 at 1:22 am

  5. Fantastic. Great story and wonderful pictures. Am looking forward to more.

    July 15, 2012 at 5:05 am

  6. What a great hike ! Somehow I thought that trail access had been closed as the AT had been moved to the west side of the river due to property issues. LOVE team orange. Particularly how great they are for posing for you. Thanks for sharing your day. Bella

    July 15, 2012 at 8:31 am

    • Thanks Bella. The trail used to continue past Split Rock down to Rt. 340, that part is now closed, making it an out and back hike from the WV side. I guess that’s where the disputes were, because this is an Appalachian Trail Conservancy map I used, and there is no indication that it is not a completely sanctioned public hike.

      July 16, 2012 at 8:39 am

  7. I love this post and all the photos, but especially the one of them on the rocks in sphinx mode, opposite each other! I am fairly envious that I dont have a dog that would accompany me in such an enjoyable way nor am I fit enough for such endeavors. But I love experiencing the adventure through your posts.

    July 15, 2012 at 9:21 am

    • I’m so glad you enjoy our adventures, but keep in mind my fitness level when you’re reading! I am not in good shape at all, but hiking with the dogs is about the only exercise I really enjoy. I see people of ALL fitness levels hiking Maryland Heights, it takes a while in some cases, but you could totally do these things!

      July 16, 2012 at 8:43 am

  8. Julie

    Wow, Ed. Thanks for sharing this beautiful and insightful journey. You really take great advantage of your beautiful surroundings and I love that you share all that incredible nature with your dogs. 🙂

    July 16, 2012 at 1:06 am

    • Thanks so much, Julie. The dogs make it so much more enjoyable for me, and they really love it too! Bonus: They were tired the entire rest of the weekend after this Saturday morning adventure!

      July 16, 2012 at 8:46 am

  9. Your photography is fabulous…you’re encouraging me to do a little more work…I have a great camera and have not been doing what I could to learn more about the settings! Those macro shots of the flowers have me thinking i need to do a lot more! Debra

    July 16, 2012 at 2:21 am

    • Debra, I’m still learning about this little Olympus and what it can do. But now that I’ve discovered how awesome the macro setting is, it just opens up a whole entire universe to photograph!

      July 16, 2012 at 8:47 am

  10. Shelly

    Great write up. I used to hike Loudoun Heights way back in the mid-80s via the old AT. Finally back into hiking and have had a hard time finding much on the new trail route, lots on Maryland Heights which I’ve done a few times this year. Plan on doing Loudoun Heights next week and your post provided wonderful information. Love your pictures. I’ll be bookmarking your site 🙂

    August 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    • Hey thanks, Shelly! I have fun with this blog, but it rarely occurs to me that what I post might actually be useful! We are getting into some beautiful hiking weather! Perhaps I will see you on the trail. If you run into a sweaty guy with two orange dogs, please stop and say hi!

      August 24, 2012 at 6:43 pm

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