Posted by: fateaglescout | November 13, 2009

Maryland Heights


Harpers Ferry behind me

288 Pounds.   Good days rarely start on six hours sleep and end in pain, but yesterday was a good day.  The night before last,  my wife was kind enough to drive me to Frederick, MD where we met our friends Matt and Jen at the Double T diner.  After an excellent dinner, she handed me off and made Matt promise that I would come back alive.  We got to Matt’s house around midnight and after a call to Sara I fell right asleep.  After a quick six hours, I woke up to an excellent breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast and we headed out for the day’s activity: a hike up  Maryland Heights.

Since I was a kid, my parents loved to take long weekends in Harpers Ferry.  For them it was about quaint shops and breakfast at the Hilltop House.  For me it was about Civil War and John Brown museums.  One of the indelible landmarks in Harpers Ferry is an old sign painted into a cliff face across the Potomac River.  As a kid I was fascinated by it.  It says something about powder, I think, but is just faded enough that you feel you could make it out if only you looked hard enough.  Every time we visited Harpers Ferry, I would spend time staring at it trying to figure out what it had to sell.  That sign is on Maryland Heights.


The sign on Maryland Heights

Matt, his son Dom, and I arrived at the trail head a little past eight and met Jason, a friend of Matt’s and acquaintance of mine.  I’d read several reviews of the Maryland Heights trail that reported a tough beginning to the hike.  I have to confess, I was not prepared for how difficult it was.  The degree to which I am still out of shape was readily evident.  My heart was pounding in no time and, it seemed to me, my pace slowed to a near crawl.  Fortunately, I had good men with me who offered plenty of encouragement.  Dom ran ahead and Matt kept pace with him, but was nice enough to remind me how far I’d come already.  Jason was kind enough to walk at my pace.  We a lot to talk about.  Jason’s sons are in Cub Scouts and he was getting into Scout leadership, so we swapped stories about scouting.

Soon enough we reached the top of the incline and the going got easier.  I was more able to keep pace and we all walked together.  Around the top of the ridge we saw two white tail deer run through the brush.  They looked like does to me, but I wasn’t able to get a very good look.  We saw them again later but I was never able to get my camera out in time to take a picture.

Maryland Heights was occupied by both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War and the remains of Union artillery emplacements run along the ridge of the heights.  After we reached the top, the remains of stone walls slowly become more and more evident.  Eventually, they became pronounced enough that the National Park Service explained them with a sign.  The fort was designed as a rectangle with two small square emplacements on two corners diagonal from each other.  A set of tiered steps worked their way up the western side of the fort to a ridge above.

For most of the hike we were all pretty warm.  The weather predicted a cool, wet day and we were all dressed for that eventuality.  I was wearing a flannel shirt, vest, and knit cap.  Matt and Dom had on sweatshirts and had ponchos with them and Jason wore a gortex rain jacket.  Still, the strenuousness of the hike up the heights got all of our blood pumping and body temperatures up.  By the time we crested the ridge west of the fort, our heart rates had dropped and so had our temperatures.  Up on the ridge, without the trees breaking the wind, the temperature dropped.  Suddenly all of our jackets were zipped up and our sleeves rolled down.

Still, the sudden cold and drizzly day could not ruin the view we were treated to.  Below us wound the Potomac river through farmland and other hills and heights.  It was a sight and more than worth the work it took getting up to that ridge.  I cannot wait to hike up there again in the spring and take in that sight on a clear, green day.


Even the rain couldn't ruin this view.

We scrambled across the rocks strewn along the ridge and back down the heights.  Along the way we came across a naval gun emplacement behind a slick wooden ramp.  I slipped and fell on my knees.  I’m old and I forgot my boots in the car when Sara dropped me off.  A recipe for falling on slick ramps if I’ve ever heard one.

Down below the naval gun emplacement we reached the trail to the bluffs that overlook Harpers Ferry.  Above us we heard a series of awkward squawks and looked up to see a flock of swans flying in a lazy V formation.  A short hike down the heights and we reached the rocky outcropping that overlooks the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and the town below.  We took some pictures and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Matt and I shared an Odwalla bar I packed from home.  Simple food never tastes better than when eaten on tired legs and accompanied by a hard earned view.  It was still cold and wet, but I barely noticed.

Me, Matt, Jason, and Dom

Me, Matt, Jason, and Dom

We headed back up the hill to the main trail and back to the cars.  The going was easy and quick, but we managed to see some small wonders than we missed on the way up.  Down in a gully Jason noticed a small pool the trickled in a slight waterfull into another pool below.  Soon enough we reached our cars and I took the time to notice just how tired my legs were and how wet my feet were.  Being a good Eagle Scout, I had a pair of dry socks handy and I delighted in putting them on.

It was a good day.  By the time I got home, it was clear exactly how sore I was.  I have a long way to go, but I take that as a challenge.  For the last couple weeks I’ve been hovering around 288.  It’s time for that to change.  Next time I climb those heights, I’ll have a better time of it.

way back from the heights

Talking to Jason as we walk back up from the bluffs


  1. We had a great time. my hiking boots (sneakers) held up just fine! Let me know when you want to do some more hiking in the area.

  2. Cool pics!

    • Thanks. I can really only take credit for the picture overlooking the Potomac River. The rest were taken by Matt or Matt’s camera on a tripod.

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