12.6 miles on day 3. Although there were plenty of ups and downs (this is the mountains, people) we ended the day at the exact same elevation as we started it: 5,920 feet. The weather was beautiful and the views were becoming spectacular. Since this was the first day without precipitation, I was a picture taking lunatic... I even took a video.
The highlight of the day was probably Charlie's Bunion, a 5,565 foot mountain named after the large rocky protrusion on the northern face (I guess someone thought it looked like a bunion...). There aren't too many bar-rock summits in the Smokies, so the views were a real treat, as were the signs suggesting that you "Closely Control Children".
It's amazing that the Icewater Spring shelter is at the same elevation as Tricorner. It felt so much higher because of the lack of protection from the wind (Tricorner was nestled on the side of a mountain with trees all around). Doug arrived first and immediately began building a fire - he was addicted after the previous night, and this shelter was MUCH colder. Including the three of us there were a total of 8 people in the shelter that night.
After Doug showed up at the shelter, Ken and Sheryl were the next to arrive. They were pleasan and we chatted with them quite a bit. They had hiked the 3 miles up from Newfound Gap to camp for just one night. It was Sheryl's first time hiking/camping, so Ken was determined to make it comfortable. They had wine and all sorts of food and gear. Ken was extremely generous and let us boil on his stove once, and when we were leaving the next morning he gave us the rest of his fuel since he was done cooking for the trip.
Before it got dark an older man showed up at the shelter whom, I swear, looked at first like someone who had just bitten off more than he could chew and was limping into camp, freezing (he was wearing shorts). It turned out he was a thru-hiker who had just hiked 30 miles that day! Just to put it in perspective: he hiked longer in 1 day than we had in 3! When he arrived he immediately hopped up to the upper sleeping level and put his legs in his sleeping bag. He got situated and stayed there until the next morning (he boiled and ate up there as well). He was nice, but kept to himself. He hummed a lot - as in, for hours straight until he went to sleep. He was gone the next morning before any of us were even up.
After dark a couple showed up wearing headlamps. We never really got to know them at all (we were going to bed by the time they showed up) but we all just felt bad for this poor girl who had just been dragged 3 miles up a mountain in the dark by her idiot boyfriend. She had a miserable time and said that she'd never do anything like that again. Had he thought things through a little more they might have had a good time.
So Doug had built a fire, and to try to preserve it over night we threw a number of larger logs on top of the coals in hopes that they would still be hot in the morning. All night the wind whipped by the face of the shelter and wafted the smoke into the sleeping area. It was a cold and smokey night...