North Carolina! C’mon and Raise up!

What’s better than hitting a state line early in your day? The GA/NC border was my first real milestone and I got to take some of those ubiquitous selfies and eat some snacks with the gathered hikers. Thankfully, cell reception was decent enough to send out some texts and move on.

The weather continued to warm up and after some decent climbs, it became apparent that I would need to refill at a questionable water source according to alarmists in the Guthook comments.

For the record, the stream at mile 78.2 is likely safe to drink from. An ALL CAPS bulletin had claimed that someone got norovirus from the water source a week earlier. People were still shying away despite the next reliable source not being for several miles.

Anyway, I filtered water there, drank it, and had no ill effects. I updated Guthook accordingly, as have others.

Muskrat Shelter was in a nice spot with a gentle stream passing nearby. I arrived too early, but you gotta stick with the tram.

This shelter served as my introduction to my first mile bragger and my first rambunctious group. The former lit up for 420, talked about his yet-to-come FKTs, and finally left, much to everyone’s relief.

The latter, a group we’ve come to call the Cult, were a fun bunch we would hike with the rest of the way to Franklin. This night, a few stayed in the shelter as the temperature began to drop. They stayed up by their fire after dark, and while this annoyed me at Muskrat, they quickly won me over. And no, I didn’t drink the literal Kool-Aid they had.

The next day saw a cool, misty morning, and the hiking took us over Standing Indian Mountain. I had no views.

The streams afterward were flowing well and held some great refill and relaxation spots for everyone. Carter Gap Shelter was home for the night, and once everyone got in, plans for a fire were made quickly.

The temperature was expected to drop to the mid-20s, with strong gusts of wind. Unfortunately, we were in a gap that funneled the wind right through most of the campsite. Huddling around the fire became necessary within a few hours. Some of us quickly scarfed down food in the shelter which was shaded from the sun but not the wind.

The Cult gladly continued to gather wood and keep the fire alive until the sun set and the rest of us wandered off to bed, hoping our tent pitches would keep out the wind. The Cult almost all slept in the shelter and had to play some Tetris to figure out the arrangement. They also rigged up some windbreaks to try to keep the icy air out of their home for the night.

Rules for sub-freezing nights: wear all your clothes, put that hat on, slap on those fleece liner gloves, and tuck yourself into your quilt properly. My 20-degree bag kept me warm enough and the warmth from a hand warmer I cracked at 4 am helped me fall right back to sleep.

I started my trek in mid-April to hopefully avoid nights that cold, but oh well. Water bottles were mostly frozen in the morning, so another thank you is due to the Cult for starting up that fire again so we could huddle around it and thaw.

After getting moving, the next day turned into some great hiking. Everyone had to stop to take off more clothes, but the morning was still literally frozen. The biggest highlight came at Mt. Albert, which had some actual rock scramble on the steepest incline to date. This also brought us to the 100-mile mark, so that made two huge milestones in as many days.

After getting over Mt. Albert, it’s mostly downhill towards the next shelter or a hitch into Franklin, NC. We stopped at Rock Gap Shelter, which has amazing water, terrible tent sites, and a privy from which you can make eye contact with hikers on the trail. Good planning there. The new one looks like it will be installed soon.

The tramily hiked out the next early the next morning to catch the $5 shuttle into Franklin. The Cult stayed behind, slept in, got trail magic, but had to cram into the few remaining seats after the shuttle looped back from Winding Stair.

Franklin awaited us below, and we were ready for some huge plates of food and a shower.

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