11.6 miles, 159.2 overall (Cable Gap shelter)
I get a great night of sleep. The only time I wake up is around 5 when I catch myself talking in my sleep. My neighbor tells me he heard me and got a kick out of it. I slept so well I didn’t even notice the rain we apparently got.
I cook the Mountain House eggs and bacon I got from the NOC for breakfast but I’m not impressed by it. I wash it down with some strong coffee, but I’m not looking forward to eating the same thing again tomorrow. I take the time to once again curse the NOC’s selection of food. Apparently they don’t want to make money because they lacked all the common hiker foods – bagels, tortillas, cheese, ramen, etc.
I hit the trail just after 8. The day looks pretty easy and I make good time to Stecoah Gap where I find a bit of trail magic in the form of Little Debbie snack cakes and sodas. There is a logbook with the food so I take the time to draw a quick cartoon for the angel who left the goodies. UV and Ninja catch up as well as Superstar and Storm while I am partaking.
When I push on I know I am only about a mile away from Jacob’s Ladder, the big climb of the day, but my mind wanders while I’m hiking and I completely forget about it until I start climbing and realize the steepness of the hill in front of me. For 0.3 miles the trail is steep enough to warrant stairs but there are none. I huff and puff up the hill, pouring sweat by the time I reach the top. The reward for the climb is a relatively easy trail for the rest of the day. Shortly after the Ladder I reach the next shelter where I take the chance to have a snack and sign the register. UV and Ninja again catch me and we examine who has been through already. I push on first and don’t see them again until we reach our target shelter 6 miles out of Fontana.
During the day I get to spend some time hiking with Superstar. He is a quiet hiker but pleasant to talk with. I find out he is my age and is from Seattle. We talk a little bit about things we’d like to do after the trail (like running a marathon) before he takes a break and I hike ahead.
Shortly after Superstar stops I hear thunder and notice some dark clouds nearby. I am about 2 miles from the shelter and I don’t want to get rained on. I speed up, attempting to outrun the storm. I don’t know that I outrun it so much as perhaps the trail out-maneuvered it, but I arrive at the shelter having only experienced a few sprinkles. Superstar, Ninja, and UV are all close behind, all having sped up to get away from the storm. We quickly transition into lazy-hiker mode, eating snacks from our food bags, laying things out to dry, and soaking our feet in the stream that runs in front of the shelter. We do take the time to scope out the potential campsites that are available and determine where the Wolfpack should camp (top of the hill with a fire pit and lots of room for tents). I position my tent at the other end of camp, playing it safe since I still don’t know this group and their habits. There is also potential for a different (read louder) dynamic tonight if other members catch up.
While lounging I decide to go ahead and hang a line for our bear bags. There aren’t a lot of great options, but I settle on one near the shelter and about 30 feet up. It is so high that I have to tie my line to UV’s line to make it long enough. With nothing else to do I am dead set on hanging the line from the branch I have chosen. I tie a rock to the line and sling the rock in circles to build momentum in order to sling the rock over the limb. It takes me half an hour but I do end up catching the limb. However in the process I give myself the first blister of the trip – on my finger from the friction of the rope. At least it isn’t on my foot.
It does end up raining a bit in the afternoon but since we have arrived so early we easily manage to stay dry. Members of the Wolfpack trickle in all day. All of them from last night arrive plus a few others. Each time one arrives the whole group howls. It is a fun gesture but we hope it is limited to daylight hours. Red Fury and Highlife arrive late. They have pushed a long day to catch us after going whitewater rafting yesterday before hiking. After dinner Atlas, a Wolfpack member, plays guitar for a while and we join the group to socialize. However as the sun goes down the group shows no signs of turning in. It is a bit of an unwritten rule that sundown is bedtime on the trail. If you want to stay up later you keep the volume down. Apparently this group hasn’t picked up on this yet. As I write in my tent during what is usually a completely quiet time in camp I can hear Atlas still playing the guitar and the group talking and laughing. After each of his songs they howl. I am glad I chose a tent site so far from their camp.
As it turns out this Wolfpack is full of some interesting and friendly people. From my 2 days of observation I could see how, especially with the addition of alcohol, some of their alleged antics could have occurred. I also see how some of their actions may have been misconstrued. Their staying up late socializing could easily seem to others like carrying on and partying. Luckily tonight they are camped far enough away so I can still get to sleep, but if I were camped closer I could easily be kept up by their noise. I don’t want to be kept up by their antics, however harmless they may be. Not every shelter has campsites this far apart, and hikers need their sleep on the Appalachian Trail.