0.0 At the junction of the blue-blazed access trail with the AT, turn left and go south on the white-blazed AT. (North and south of Ashby Gap, builders cut the original path east or west of the current route. As private homes sprang up along the original route and some of the federal land was placed off limits during World War II, the trail had to be relocated. See accompanying map for details.)
0.2 Cross US 50/17 in Ashby Gap. (Here, the 1928 and current trail alignments nearly converge. To the south, they soon diverge again. The gap was named for Col. John Ashby, a leader in colonial battles with Indians. Historic Ashby Tavern was just west of the crest, according to “A Footpath in the Wilderness,” but it had disappeared by the time PATC’s volunteers scouted and cut trail here.)
Bear slightly west, follow the white-blazed path into woods, cross a stone wall, and turn right onto an old roadbed to begin a long ascent.
1.3 Go straight at the junction with the purple-blazed “Old” AT, which loops west. (Wherever possible, the 1928 trail builders used old forest roads built much earlier by loggers and charcoal makers. In some cases, private landowners later blocked access on PATC-built trails, forcing relocations to active roads and other alternatives.)
Ahead, cross the north boundary of the Ovoka Tract. (Acquired by the National Park Service in 1983, Ovoka includes 100 acres of open ground around the crest of the Blue Ridge, offering fine vistas. The current AT alignment here was opened in 2003, after some particularly harsh local resistance.)
2.0 Pass the junction with Ambassador Whitehouse Trail, which goes left (southeast) toward Sky Meadows State Park. (The trail is named for Charles Whitehouse, a native of nearby Paris, VA, who served as US ambassador in Southeast Asia during the 1970s and later helped relocate the AT to its current setting.)
2.7 Cross a gas pipeline clearing at the south boundary of the Ovoka Tract and the north boundary of Sky Meadows. (Acquisition of the Ovoka Tract and creation of Sky Meadows SP and Thompson WMA helped PATC overcome long-running problems with landowners who closed off sections of the trail in this area.)
Just beyond the clearing, pass the south end of the “Old Trail” loop, which leads west (right). In another tenth of a mile, pass the junction with the blue-blazed North Ridge Trail, which leads east (left) to a campground and other trails in Sky Meadows.
|Campsite marker on the Appalachian Trail in the north section of Thompson
Wildlife Management Area
3.1 Cross into the north section of Thompson WMA.
3.9 Pass a spur trail that leads 0.1 mile west to 10-car lot on Signal Knob. (The knob was used by Confederates as a signal station during the Civil War. Some old war trails in this area were likely still discernible in 1928.)
4.1 Pass a spring on the east side of the trail and follow an old roadbed into forest.
4.6 Leaving the north section of Thompson WMA, begin a steep descent into Whiskey Hollow.
|The unusual design and materials of Dick's Dome have lured backpackers off the
Appalachian Trail into Whiskey Hollow for decades.
5.1 Turn around at the creek in Whiskey Hollow, or turn left for a short downhill on an old forest road to PATC’s newest shelter. (The south section of Thompson WMA begins beyond the old road. Dick’s Dome, the original PATC shelter in Whiskey Hollow, was built by Dick George in 1987 on his land and transferred to NPS ownership. Its dome architecture – unlike the usual lean-to design – makes it stand out from other stops along the AT. As Whiskey Hollow Shelter, now in the final stages of work, replaces Dick’s Dome, the latter will likely move to a distant site.)
Retrace steps back north on the AT to the junction at the south end of the “Old Trail.”
8.2 Back at the 2.7-mile point, go left at the junction onto the purple-blazed “Old” AT. (Shortly, cross the Fire Road that hosted the AT from 1928 to 1941 and again from 1955 to 1986. The “Old” AT served from 1986 to 2003.)
10.1 At the junction, turn left onto the white-blazed AT and retrace the route to the start.
11.4 Turn right onto the blue-blazed connector trail to end the hike at VA 601.
After completing work on the AT from Harpers Ferry through Ashby Gap to Linden at what is now I-66, the founders invited hiking groups to try the new trail. A celebratory trek led to recruitment of more volunteers, and the work moved south into what is now Shenandoah National Park, where the next entry in this series takes up the story.