The Whetstone Ridge Trail starts on the Blue Ridge Parkway, not far from where Virginia State Route 56 crosses the parkway on its way to Spy Rock and Crabtree Falls. Allen DeHart's book, The Trails of Virginia, states that this is the longest trail in the Pedlar District of George Washington National Forest. Because it is over 10 miles long, an out and back hike has never seemed feasible, so I always kept an eye out for Potomac Appalachian Trail Club hikes heading out to that trail.
Instead, I ended up signing up for a scheduled hike with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club when they listed it. I joined the RATC at the beginning of the year and have hiked often with them this year as I extended my continuous mileage on the A.T. in Virginia from around 200 miles at the beginning of this year to about 350 miles now. The Whetstone Ridge Trail is the northernmost hike I have done with them, and it didn't make sense to drive south to Roanoke then back north to the trailhead. So I arranged to meet the group at the southern end of the trail, where our hike would end.
The RATC folks met up in Roanoke at 8AM and said they would be on the trail by 9, so I figured that must mean they would be near the end of the hike by 8:30. I left home at 7:15 and was at the trailhead by 8:20. I made sure I knew exactly where the trailhead was as I'd never been on the road before. I entered waypoints in my GPS telling me where to go, from Exit 200 on Interstate 81, to U.S. 11, to Red Hill Road, to South River Road, to Irish Creek Road, to the trailhead parking lot. No problems getting there.
I had extra time, so I looked around a little. Although there was no trailhead sign, the parking area was large, there was a clear trail heading uphill across the road, and that trail was marked by a large plastic yellow diamond on one of the trees. So I waited. And waited.
We were fortunate that Dan had scouted the trail when he stepped forward to lead the hike, as he was right about the trailhead. I followed him 2.5 miles up Irish Creek Road, to a much smaller parking lot that had a brown hiker sign and a trail into the trees.
|The trail's first few miles are on (or closely parallel) an old road,|
and are wide and flat.
I joined a couple of other folks in the back of a covered pickup and 20 nausea-induced minutes later, seven of us found ourselves at the Whetstone Ridge Visitor's Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Big parking lot. Flush toilets (in season). We were on the trail by 10, heading north by northeast. Not exactly the direction I expected, since we had come up from the southwest! But we soon took a sharp left and walked along a ridge for several miles.
|If you keep looking down, there's no doubt you are on the trail,|
despite the overgrowth.
|Looking southeast from Whetstone Ridge, towards the Blue Ridge Parkway, and beyond, the A.T. near the|
|Adams Peak visible through the trees.|
|Group shot from one of the few overlooks on the trail. Thanks to Hike Leader Dan for taking this photo!|
|A new mileage sign at the southern end of the trail.|
|Elevation Profile, Whetstone Ridge Trail|
Coordinates for the southern trailhead: Irish Creek Road. N37 49.152 W79 15.237 (Directions and Map from Charlottesville: Link..)
Coordinates for the northern trailhead: Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 29, Whetstone Ridge Visitor's Center. N37 52.176 W79 08.873 (Directions and Map from Charlottesville: Link.)
My GPS Data:
|PATC Difficulty Factor||264.4|
|Total Altitude Gain||2855||feet|
|Low Point||1435||feet above sea level|
|High Point||3167||feet above sea level|
|Time of Hike||5:34||hours: minutes|