Monday, March 05, 2018

Hiking Maryland Heights: The Overdue Sequel

Nearly 12 years ago we hiked Loudoun Heights, which is located near Harpers Ferry. Only recently did I discover that across the river was an equally impressive and similarly named hike: Maryland Heights. It took us over a decade, but this past weekend, we finally knocked out this companion hike.

Maryland Heights promised views and civil war remnants, and delivered on both of these. We started the hike in Harpers Ferry, which meant we got to walk across the very cool foot bridge, and then made our way down the C&O canal a bit to the trail entrance. From there it was a slog up hill, but one totally worth it. We stopped at various annotated sites to try to imagine the troop activities and infrastructure that was in place during the Civil War.

Every time I felt a bit winded, I imagined the herculean effort it would take to drag the massive guns and ammunition into position. Consider the 9,700lb(!!) Dahlgren gun that was positioned on the top ridge of the mountain. Each round it fired weighed nearly 100lbs and had a range of 2 miles. That's a lot of schlepping.

The stone fort and surrounding walls are in pretty good shape considering they're left to the mercy of the elements and hikers. The view from the cliffs, however, has to be the true highlight. It's like you've been scaled down to HO size and been dropped into a picturesque train model. The view into Harpers Ferry from the cliffs is just too perfect.

We finished up our hike at around 3pm and the crowds still seemed to only be growing. I can't imagine how overrun this hike is on a warm Spring day. It's no surprise this is a popular destination, so keep that in mind when scheduling this hike.

We finished up our hike in Harpers Ferry and spent some time trying to soak in the local history, of which there is an obscene amount to digest. I'm sure I was taught the details of John Brown's Raid at Harpers Ferry, but re-reading them, I'm left with only more questions. Was his violence based campaign just? Was he a hero or a terrorist? Was his action a spark that led to a greater good? Was it OK for figures like Emerson and Thoreau to gloss over Brown's violence and portray him as a martyr?

So many questions and so few answers. I think a quote from this article, penned a few days after John Brown's raid, bears repeating:

Never before was such an uproar raised by twenty men as by Old Brown and his confederates in this deplorable affair.

There will be enough to heap excoriation on-the memory of these mistaken men. We leave this work to the fit hands and tongues of those who regard the fundamental axioms of the Declaration of Independence as "glittering generalities."

Believing that the way to Universal Emancipation lies not through insurrection, civil war and bloodshed, but through peace, discussion, and the quiet diffusion of sentiments of humanity and justice, we deeply regret this outbreak; but remembering that, if their fault was grievous, grievously have they answered it, we will not, by one reproachful word, disturb the bloody shroud wherein John Brown and his compatriots are sleeping. They dared and died for what they felt to be the right, though in a manner which seems to us fatally wrong. Let their epitaphs remain unwritten until the not distant day. When no slave shall clank his chains in the shades of Monticello or by the graves of Mount Vernon.

History, views and a delightful day in the woods. What more could you ask for?!

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