The next segment of our loop began with a relentless uphill climb, taking us out of the valley and up onto Hughes Ridge. The hike along the ridgeline gave us some great views of the Eastern Smokies, and we didn't pass another hiker all day.
The descent from the ridge down to Cabin Flats was along an old logging road in a deep valley. The wide, flat road was a welcome relief for our legs. A rambling stream accompanied us the whole way, cascading down seemingly endless falls as the sun began to get low on the horizon.
We arrived at Cabin Flats to find the campsite completely full. Our campmate appeared to be college students on spring break, and their sprawling site included hammocks, tents, and coolers. We found a spot isolated by a stand of laurel bushes, and the rushing stream drowned out most of their noise. However, more power to them for seeking out the woods on their vacation.
After dinner, we passed the time by reading Norse mythology and watching the stars. An absent moon gave us one of the starriest nights we've seen in the Smokies.