BMT 2020: Day 3, Payne Gap to Fall Branch

Your eyes tell more than you mean them to

A weathered sign marking the Benton MacKaye Trail

The rain expected overnight didn't arrive until 4 a.m. and didn't last more than a few minutes. The forecast had called for more rain later today, but I hoped this morning's little shower was all we would get.

That hope ended just as I finished putting on my shoes and prepared to exit my tent. Rain began falling again, and this time it was much heavier.

DateSaturday, October 24, 2020
WeatherRain and thunderstorms early, variable cloudiness through the day; more rain late in the day and becoming heavier after dark
Trail ConditionsSteep climbs and descents, followed by a long road walk; finished with a short section of a well-maintained trail
Today's Miles15.0
Trip Miles42.1

The sun wasn't up yet, so I needed my headlamp as I walked to the tree where my food bag was hanging. Something caught my attention before I got there.

At first, I thought the light had illuminated a reflective sign. Turning my head in its direction, though, I saw two white dots low to the ground.

I stopped and stared at the dots. Then they blinked, so I knew they were the eyes of an animal and not reflectors on a signpost.

I couldn't make out in the darkness and rain what kind of animal I was seeing. It probably wasn't a bear, but I still didn't want to confront it. We continued to stare at each other for several seconds before I clapped my hands once and shouted, “Get out of here!”

And like that, the eyes disappeared.

I knew eyes of different species will reflect a different color. Similar to this morning's encounter, I think I saw a mountain lion one night on the PCT. Some sources I found say a white reflection from eyes come from a coyote, deer, or tiger.

It seems reasonable to eliminate a tiger as the possible owner of the eyes I saw. Strictly guessing because of their height from the ground, I think they may have been from a coyote, though perhaps they were the eyes of a small deer.

Preparing to leave our campsite at Payne Gap

I ate breakfast in my tent. The rain began to lessen at 7:40 a.m. but continued for another hour as we packed our gear and left camp.

Climbing from Payne Gap

The rain finally stopped 15 minutes after we started our climb from Payne Gap.

Low clouds seen through trees

Shortly after the rain stopped, rays of sunlight began to extend between broken clouds. We didn't get far up the climb before we could stop to remove our rain gear.

Leaves on the ground remained wet, however, and that made the trail slippery and the climb more difficult.

Sun filtering through fog and trees

Though steep, the first climb was less than a mile to the top of a hill. On the way up, we entered a layer of clouds. This made any chance of a view impossible.

The trail then made a short drop down to a Forest Service road before beginning another climb. This one was also short but steep.

Humidity from this morning's rain made me sweaty on the climbs. The downhill sections provided a chance to cool off.

Approaching the summit of Deadennen Mountain

As on the first climb, clouds surrounded the top, which was at the summit of Deadennen Mountain. This time, the clouds were beginning to thin out.

In his now-out-of-print book Hiking the Benton MacKaye Trail, author Tim Homan suggests the name Deadennen may have come from a method used by white settlers to kill unwanted trees without felling them.

Sun shining ahead through trees

The trail made a pair of switchbacks as it went down the other side of the mountain. I wasn't paying much attention when it doubled back, then noticed the sun was shining in front of me. This confused me because a short time earlier it was shining behind my back.

I stopped to check my position on the navigation app and was relieved to see I was still heading in the correct direction. With all of the ups and downs this trail makes, I was in no mood for "bonus" miles.

Wilscot Gap

After cresting Wilscot Mountain, the trail headed down to Wilscot Gap. Their names may have come from a man named Will Scot, a settler with Native American and European heritage who lived in the area in the 1800s.

A town named Wilscot also stood not far from here for a time. It now only exists as spot on some old maps.

Georgia Highway 60 crossed the trail at Wilscot Gap. This was the second time the trail crossed that road.

A power line cut provides a short space for a view

I began to hear gunfire on the climb out of the gap and continued to hear it occasionally throughout the rest of the morning.

This land was at one time a hunting ground for the Cherokee who lived in a village near the gap. It's now apparently used by guys spending their Saturday afternoon shooting up bottles and cans.

After crossing the highway, the trail made the day's longest and steepest climb as it went up Tipton Mountain. After a short distance into the climb, it passed a cut in the trees for a power line. This gave the least-obstructed view of the day.

The Benton MacKaye Trail on an old logging road

By this time, I had fallen behind Tengo and JA. The climb probably caused me to lose more time. I was sweating once again on this climb and even more so because the temperature was rising into the 70s.

The descent started easier because the trail followed an old logging road.

Blowdowns on the Benton MacKaye Trail

Before long, however, the footpath became tricky, thanks to downed trees, rocks, and wet, overgrown weeds.

Ledford Gap

The footing improved again once I reached the bottom of the descent at Ledford Gap. From there, the trail followed a dirt road, but only for a short distance before turning to make yet another climb.

I almost caught up to Tengo on this climb, which only gained about 400 feet. I could see him ahead of me but couldn't make up the distance before he reached the top of Brawley Mountain.

Just Awesome and Tengo Hambre relaxing on Brawley Mountain

I got to the top of the mountain a few minutes past noon. JA and Tengo were taking a break when I arrived. Instead of eating lunch, though, we only ate snacks. We were saving our appetites because we weren't far from Iron Bridge General Store and Café.

Brawley Mountain fire tower

An old fire tower was located on top of Brawley Mountain. It was no longer used to watch for forest fires and the public was prohibited from climbing it. Now, the tower was only used by government agencies for communication antennas.

Just Awesome and Tengo Hambre leave Brawley Mountain

After a 30-minute break, we were beckoned on by thoughts of cheeseburgers. We tried to walk swiftly for the remaining 4.5 miles to the restaurant. The first section down to Garland Gap was sometimes steep.

Two large teepees without their outer skin

The trail made another short climb, then dropped further to where it crossed two intersecting roads. One of those was Shallowford Bridge Road, which could have taken us to the restaurant. For better or worse, we remained instead on the BMT.

The "for worse" part of this section was a tedious series of short ups and downs. At least we weren't walking on a road, though there would be plenty of that ahead.

Weirdly, we passed what appeared to be two large teepees without their outer skin. Though undoubtedly not an example of Leave No Trace, they may have been standing on private property. It was hard to tell around here sometimes where the national forest boundary began and ended.

Descending to the Toccoa River

The final drop to the Toccoa River was also steep. A few switchbacks made the descent a little easier. The trail bottomed out where it met up again with Shallowford Bridge Road.

The river was the same one we crossed yesterday on the suspension bridge. We'll cross it again in a few days, though at that point, the river will have a different name. It is only called the Toccoa in Georgia. Once it flows into Tennessee, it becomes the Ocoee.

Shallowford Bridge Road along the Toccoa River

We next began the first of four miles of road walking. I feared we might lose Tengo here. He was taking great interest in the fishermen standing on the river bank. Tengo is an avid fisherman and is active in his local chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Nevertheless, the allure of cheeseburgers must have convinced him to keep going because he soon caught up.

Just Awesome crosses the Shallowford Bridge

To reach Iron Bridge General Store and Café, we first had to cross the river on Shallowford Bridge.

The bridge is more than 100 years old. Cars still drive over the bridge, but it is in serious need of replacement and maybe is beyond repair.

Residents have voiced a desire to keep it for foot traffic once a new one is built. A state transportation official said it may cost more than $1.5 million just to restore it as a footbridge, and at this point, the integrity of the foundation is unknown.

Iron Bridge General Store and Café

At least for our crossing, the bridge didn't fall into the river. The restaurant was directly on the other side.

A steady stream of customers came in and out of the restaurant. They were a mix of locals and tourists. We were the only customers to wear face masks, even though COVID-19 cases were on the rise again.

The store owners and staff were helpful and friendly. After retrieving our resupply boxes, we ordered cheeseburgers, then went outside to some picnic tables. As we waited for our food to be prepared, we packed the food from our resupply boxes and ate some of the lunch we skipped earlier.

Inside Iron Bridge General Store and Café

It would have been possible to purchase what we needed at the small general store, so dropping off resupply boxes may have been unnecessary. Still, the options would have been limited and not ideal for backpacking.

As it was, we ended up with too much food. When our cheeseburgers were delivered, we discovered they were large.

There's no such thing as too much food during a long-distance hike that lasts several weeks. The third day of a hike is too soon for hiker hunger to kick in, though.

Just Awesome on Stanley Creek Road

With full bellies, we resumed our walk. The BMT stayed on Asaka Road as it followed the river for another four-tenths of a mile before turning onto Stanley Creek Road.

The roads were narrow, mostly with no shoulder, but there wasn't much traffic. In all, this road section was 4.1 miles long.

Walking past a meadow

We hadn't walked far before a light rain began to fall. It fell so lightly it was barely noticeable at first. We didn't bother to stop and put on our rain jackets.

Tengo Hambre on Stanley Creek Road

The scenery on the road through the Georgia countryside was pretty. Still, walking on the asphalt road quickly became tiresome, especially for Tengo.

Fall Branch Falls

Where the trail left the road, it turned to begin a modest climb to Fall Branch Falls. We arrived at the falls just before 6 p.m.

Seeing the falls, I thought they looked like a miniature version of Amicalola Falls, which are part of the approach trail to the start of the AT.

Although the Guthook app didn't show a marker for a campsite near here, some comments posted by hikers said there was room for tents a short distance upstream of the falls. The campsite was also mentioned in a trail guidebook.

Even then, the description of its location was unclear. It took us a few minutes to find a spur trail that went along the creek. The campsite was on this trail.

As soon as we set up our tents, we hung our food bags. There was no need for dinner tonight because we were still full from our late lunch.

Almost immediately after I crawled into my tent, the light rain that fell for most of the evening became a downpour. This was a good time to be in a dry tent.

Inside you're burning
I can see clear through
Your eyes tell more than you mean them to

Lit up and flashing
Like the reds and blues
Out there on the neon avenue

But I feel like a stranger
Feel like a stranger


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.