Day 10 (April 16): Our morning started with a steep climb and I was brown blazing most of the way to Muskrat Creek Shelter. Stopped for a short snack at Deep Gap before starting our ascent up Standing Indian Mountain. Had lunch with Johnny, Sam, Charlie, and Alex at the Standing Indian Shelter, half way up the mountain (we had camped there a year ago when we hiked this section). The rest of the climb was a nice gradual uphill with many switchbacks. Wasn’t too hard of a climb. I guess we must be getting stronger. Had to navigate past a troop of boy scouts dragging their feet. Dropped our packs at the top so we could climb the rest of the way to the summit and snap a few pictures of the view.
This time we had clear skies and a great view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Found a nice rock ledge to enjoy the view by ourselves. The rest of our hike was a long downhill to Beech Gap (90.7m) where we setup camp. Boy scouts pushed on after trampling through the water source. Enjoyed some moonshine that Derek had packed in around the campfire before calling it a night.
Day 11 (April 17): Nadine and I were the first ones out of camp. Refilled water at the first stream so we could dump the brown water from Beech. Brown blazed to Carter Gap Shelter and had our “second breakfast”. Took a nice, long break at Betty Creek Gap and had a hot lunch (Ramen and tuna wrap) to gain extra energy for climbing Albert Mountain. Decided we should carry a pack of cigarettes for bartering with other hikers. Cigs are going for Snickers bars since most are at the end of their supply. The climb up Albert was gradual but hot. Soaked my handkerchief in water dripping off the mountain to cool off. The trail followed the cliffs edge and the view made it easy to forget you were tired and climbing uphill. The last quarter mile up Albert was the steepest climb yet and took a lot out of me, but we made it. Had a long break at the top and enjoyed the view from the fire tower.
The summit of Albert also marked 100 miles on the trail.
A stranger had left beaded bracelets for thru hikers with 100 beads for each mile we’ve hiked. Met Schnitzel, from Germany, and he talked Nadine’s ear off. Ended our day at Long Branch Shelter (102.5m), which we remembered was one of the newer shelters along the trail (built in 2012). Met Strawberry Fairy and his dad, who clapped as thru hikers arrived at the shelter and awarded each with a fresh strawberry. Thor showed up moments after me commenting that it would be great if he caught up. The shelter filled up quickly and Nadine enjoyed an orchestra of snoring that night. Her best sleep yet, she says. Spent the night with Thor, Dead Weight, Pyro, Strawberry Fairy and Dad, Trailname, Alex, Sam, Johnny, Charlie, Schnitzel, Derek, and the creepy, camo guy in the woods.
Day 12 (April 18): Started the day off trying to use up the rest of our fuel making coffee. Hit the trail running since we were excited get into town and visit the brewery. Hiked the 7 miles to Winding Stair Gap (109.8m) before 10:30 and caught a hitch to the Budget Inn. Dead Weight was already there and had a room for us since he caught the shuttle to town from Rock Gap. Met Dead Weight’s cousin, Jimbo, who drove from Asheville to visit. Grabbed a 6-pack, showered (cold), and headed to The Lazy Hiker Brewery. Chowed down on an awesome turkey reuben and burger from the food truck and enjoyed some cold IPAs. Jimbo took us by the liquor store so that Johny could get ingredients for margaritas. I grabbed a pint of fireball for the trail.
Enjoyed our margs and drank in the Budget Inn parking lot all day/night. Iron butterfly and Renee joined us later that evening. Mitch Rider, the hiking dentisit, bought pizza for the group. Baltimore Jack, a nine time thru hiker, told us his tales of the trail and out in his chair after emptying his flask. Rest in peace.
Day 13 (April 19): Slept in and enjoyed wifi and TV. Grabbed lunch on Main Street and visited the outdoor store to buy fuel, print our Smokies permits, and drink a few beers. Stopped by Ratherskeller for another round and a cheese scone. Caught the 4pm shuttle to resupply at Walmart. Nadine enjoyed some fresh avocados and hard boiled eggs. Got dropped of at Fat Buddies BBQ for dinner. Nadine did our laundry next door while I order the Pig Out Platter for 2. Deja Vu from our roadtrip. Enjoyed our meal with Pyro, Johnny, Sam, Derek, Dead Weight, and Thor. Johnny got the waitresses to give Dead Weight a birthday surprise. It was not his birthday. Later, Nadine iced her knees while I stopped by the local pub with the guys for a $5 pitcher and a tequila shot.