10.3 miles, 147.6 overall (Camping, Locust Cove Gap)
I get a great night’s sleep at the NOC. I only wake up when UV’s alarm goes off at 7:15. By 8:00 I am packed and ready to go, but wait on the others. We get to the restaurant for breakfast around 9 and I get the same waitress as yesterday’s breakfast, which I am happy about because besides telling me I didn’t smell when I definitely did, she also was incredibly good and friendly. Instead of copying yesterday’s order, today I go for 2 scrambled eggs with toast and home fries and a short stack (3) of pancakes. Breakfast conversation ranges from sports to plans for the day to what music should be played when we arrive in camp. Indiana Jones theme music and the Imperial Death March from Star Wars emerge as some of the favorite choices. Ninja adds that whenever he eats he wishes the Cantina song from Star Wars would be playing.
UV, Ninja and I are done eating and on the trail by 9:50. Red Fury and Highlife stay behind to go to the outfitter one more time but we know they will catch us Friday in Fontana at the latest. The trail begins with a long, 6 mile climb out of the NOC. It is foggy which is great for us because it keeps the temperature down. I climb ahead of UV and Ninja as usual and stop at a few points to get water, a picture or a snack. Early in the climb Dundee blazes past me, making grunts and noises as he goes by. Later I see him at the shelter at the top of the climb and he can’t sit still. It looks like he is cold, but apparently the real problem is he had 2 cups of coffee for breakfast and isn’t used to the caffeine.
I leapfrog with several hikers today but among them is Zip who is hiking with his 2 21 month old golden retrievers, Mojo and Sky. The best view of the day is from a rock ledge called the Jump Up and provides a view of the Nantahala Gorge. By the time I reach it I have emerged from the fog I began hiking in and have a great view of the valley. The Jump Up immediately precedes the worst part of the climb for the day, which ends just before the first shelter. When I arrive it is around 1:00, meaning the 6 mile climb took about 3 hours – not a bad pace. On the horizon storm clouds threaten and everyone is wondering how far they can get before the rain begins – it turns out it never does.
When UV and Ninja catch up we all agree we can hike longer so we plan to go another 4 miles to a campsite listed in the data book. One of the things we are trying to avoid is camping with a group of hikers called the Wolfpack. We haven’t met them yet, but reputations travel quickly on the trail (always forward of course). Word is the group is about 15 strong and likes to party. They apparently camped on a bald a few nights back and the people at the shelter a half mile away could hear them. The next night they camped by and drank with Grits and Possum, the trail angels we had met. The next day (yesterday) Grits drove their backpacks to the NOC so they could slack pack (hike without full packs) to the NOC. Although some of the accounts of the group’s antics may be exaggerated, nobody wants to be the person to find out for sure. In general the hiker community polices itself, reigning in hikers who get out of control and calling the police when things get especially bad or dangerous. However this group is of sufficient size that they could effectively resist the efforts of other hikers to reign in their behavior. UV, Ninja and I are making a bet that the group won’t target the same campsite and will stop somewhere short of where we are heading. On the way there I find out we were wrong.
Apparently Zip is a member of this Wolfpack. When I mention at one of the balds that we think the Wolfpack will stop here for the night he tells me that they are actually aiming for the same campsite we are. I have come close to sticking my foot in my mouth by unknowingly talking to a member of the Wolfpack about the Wolfpack! Luckily I haven’t said anything of what I have heard of the group.
When we arrive at the campsite there is plenty of space. Being the first to arrive we pick the prime tenting spots, hang a line for our bear bag, and set about getting ready to eat. Only Zip has arrived and he is a nice enough guy. As it starts getting late we think maybe the other members have stopped short. However around 5:30 they begin trickling in. Although a number of them arrive loudly, they quiet down quickly. Fewer than 10 arrive before dark and luckily they all seem “chill” enough. They fix their dinners and are mostly indistinguishable from the other hikers in camp. By 8:30 everyone is in bed, including the Wolfpack members who made it this far.
Perhaps the reports moving along the trail about this group are wrong, or this is an off night for their antics, or the true troublemakers of the group didn’t make it here tonight, or the group didn’t reach a critical mass tonight. It isn’t really important which is the truth. The fact is it is hard to shed a reputation on the trail and one night of calm will probably not erase the perceptions other hikers have already formed of this group. It is a sad but in many ways necessary fact of the trail caused by 2 things:
1) The unidirectional flow of information (always south to north for northbounders) meaning that people in front of the Wolfpack only hear about them from hikers who encounter them and then hike fast enough to get ahead of them, and
2) The importance the community places on good behavior in order to maintain both a pleasurable atmosphere for those on the trail and to maintain a good image toward those outside of the trail community.