Despite having packed the night before, Beast and I didn't actually get going much faster than usual. The morning brought an almost 4000 ft climb over seven miles. Most of it was not too difficult (except for the length), but there were some difficult sections over rocks and a few very steep sections. Thank goodness for switchbacks!
There were, however, a few awesome vistas, including one of Nantahala Gorge.
Yesterday, I bought a new (and slightly larger — 3 L vs 2 L) Camelbak water bladder, to replace my old one, after its hanging hook broke off. Being awhile since I've had a new Camelbak, I forgot to thoroughly rinse it out, so my first sip of water today had that oh-so-delicious new-plastic taste. I'll also need to shorten the tube; the full length tube, plus the quick-connect adapters I adapted for my old bladder, make the tube too long, and it's rather awkward to drink from now, especially when moving.
Shortly after starting, the trail passed by a memorial for Wade Sutton, a firefighter who died fighting a forest fire in 1968. The memorial, a plaque resting on a small stone pillar, was adorned with a flag, coins, and small keepsakes.
We managed to catch up with Loon and Verge, who continue to be fast hikers, while they were taking a break, and then traded places with them a few times until we reached Cheoah Bald, the day's highest elevation. (I am somewhat envious of the fact that they're traveling together, which allows them to share a lot of equipment between the two of them, which cuts their pack weights significantly.)
At the bald, I mentioned that it'd be nice to have a picture of the four of us, and wouldn't it be nice if someone would just come down the trail now who could take our picture. Not 15 seconds later, a pair of day-hikers did just that, and we got a nice (if badly illuminated) photo of the four of us.
Beast and I left them at the bald while they were taking lunch and relaxing, and continued on. When we reached Locust Cove Gap, we elected to deviate from our original plan (pushing about 13 miles to Stecoah Gap) to instead make camp at Locust Cove Gap, about 10 miles from where we started. Beast was worried about his foot (feeling the pain he felt last year before his foot broke), and frankly, though we probably could have made it, we were both tired after the long climb. Loon and Verge arrived after we took a very long break and set up both of our tents in high winds. (Well, winds high enough to turn tents into kites, anyway.)
We were the first to set up our tents in what became a tent city, with another group of hikers showing up about an hour or two after us. Loon and Verge elected to continue on the original plan, pushing a further three miles. (They were relatively less tired than us, having gone a mile or two up the mountain yesterday.)
I was apparently really hungry; I ate an entire block of cheese along with my dinner.
Feeling tired, I'm retiring to my tent early to try and find energy for tomorrow's 0.6 mile climb up the 600 ft elevation gain of "Jacob's Ladder". Plan for tomorrow is about 11 miles to the Cable Gap Shelter; Fontana and possibly entry into the Smokies the day after that.