Ice and frost covered the large camp when the sun rose. The temperature dropped well below freezing stealing sleep from most hikers. There are a good amount of folks that don’t sound prepared to go below freezing. The truth around going ultralight is that it leaves open spots for the weather to expose weakness. I say this as wild speculation by a man with a zero degree down bag that’s almost too hot above freezing. I slept like a teenager on a weekend. Deep and late. As I peeped out from the friendly warmth of Caboose’s tent I caught Rockman (Rock Kelly?) just before he got on trail. He slept cold in his hammock while I kept it cozy.
The truth around going ultralight is that it leaves open spots for the weather to expose weakness.
Our group trickled out of Wayah shelter as we were ready, looking forward to some solid cruiser miles. Its nice to feel strong and enjoy the time in your head, thinking about everything that got you to the trail. I spent the day hiking solo, catching some hikers and scaring them when they realize a man with a mustache is a yard behind them. If I was a hungry bear I could feast.
We had a meet up point at the shelter 1 mile south of the Nantahala Outdoor Center. I stopped a few times to chat with some new folks and catch up with snuggles and Caboose. We ran up a side trail and checked out the view from the wayah observation tower.
By the time we got to the shelter wings, Tesla, and Rockman had already run to the NOC for dinner and brought back beer. Thank God they had beer, for they would have been cannibalized out of sheer jealousy by the other hikers for eating a meal with meat and greens.
I got up fast and furious at 7am with the full intent to be the first person to eat breakfast at the real restaurant at the NOC. Our group packed up and ran. Delicious animals and draft beverages awaited.
Feasting commenced. I always want to get a picture before and after but I blackout everytime I get food in front of me and don’t regain motor control until its gone. Luckily Caboose snapped one of us enjoying our after breakfast beers. Very common on the trail (Don’t judge! It’s a quick 200 calories!).
My NOC pitstop of 1500 calories of bacon, French toast, and a dark stout gave me just what I needed for the climb.
After breakfast we hit the Nantahala Outdoor Center outfitter for odds and ends. Snuggles went right to shoes so he could try hiking in shoes his size (2 sizes too big is too big) while the rest of us filed upstairs to a free computer to register for hiking in the Smokies. This is the second year backcountry users, including thru-hikers, have to get a permit that costs money. Twenty dollars buys you a month window to hike through the smokes as a thru hiker (hell of a bargain and easily attainable). Of course it gets a lot of complaints and some just don’t do it. I wish parks were free but too often they are starving. I’m happy to throw them a Jackson. The process was easy and the NOC didn’t even charge us to print.
The climb out of the NOC is one of the largest and longest. We decided to hike the monster 2600 feet and camp at the first shelter. A short day but certainly not a soft one.
Rockman, Snuggles and I hiked together with Caboose trailing (fitting, no?). Its been amazing getting to know them and forming a trail family. I hope we stay together a bit longer.
My NOC pitstop of 1500 calories of bacon, French toast, and a dark stout gave me just what I needed for the climb. we got to the sassafras shelter around 5 o’clock and called it a day. Tomorrow we take a few steps closer to the smokies and the next real test.