BMT 2020: Day 4, Fall Branch to Indian Rock Shelter

The devil went down to Georgia

Tengo Hambre crosses a stream on the Benton MacKaye Trail

Last night's rain continued well into the early morning. After letting up for a few hours, it fell again before ending at 7 a.m.

This resulted in a lot of condensation inside my single-wall tent. It's impossible to keep a tent like mine dry on the inside in these conditions. This time, enough water collected on the walls that I was occasionally spritzed with a mist when raindrops hit the outside.

DateSunday, October 25, 2020
WeatherIntermittent and sometimes heavy rain overnight, then becoming mostly sunny, warm, and humid; temperatures from around 60 to the mid-70s
Trail ConditionsCovered in wet leaves, with long and sometimes steep ups and downs; miles of road walking, and one dangerous highway crossing
Today's Miles10.3
Trip Miles52.4

It was a good day to deal with this kind of weather. We had the luxury of extra time this morning. Today would be a short mileage day.

Much of the trail ahead would traverse through private property. This put a strict limitation on places we could camp tonight. In a stretch of nearly nine miles, there was only one place where camping was allowed. That was 10.3 miles ahead at Indian Rock Shelter.

If we didn't want to make it a short day, we would have to hike all the way through the section of private property. The next available campsite, as best as we could tell, was 20.3 miles away. If there were any other campsites before that, they weren't mentioned in our guidebook or app.

Breakfast in camp

Hiking 20 miles seemed a little far for us with fewer daylight hours. At any rate, choosing the shorter distance allowed us time to wait for the morning's rain to clear. We also had extra time to eat breakfast and pack our gear.

We didn't begin hiking until 10 a.m.

Tall trees on the Benton MacKaye Trail

After leaving Fall Branch, we were immediately launched into a difficult climb of 1,100 feet in 2.5 miles.

The trail remained wet because there was no sun to help dry the leaves that covered it.

Appalachian gentian

A few Appalachian gentian wildflowers dotted the way. Their petals were closed, which is common for the variety that grows in this part of the southeast.

The Benton MacKaye Trail ascends foggy Rocky Mountain

The trail took us to the top of Rocky Mountain, which was shrouded in a low layer of clouds.

We have mostly walked westward since yesterday. The trail will continue that way until tomorrow when it turns to go in a predominantly north direction.

Outcroppings of rock on Rocky Mountain

Near the top, I began to see outcroppings of rock. Now I could see how Rocky Mountain got its name.

This mountain was not the same Rocky Mountain that I climbed on Day 5 of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. As I described then, nine mountains in Georgia have the same name.

More rocks on Rocky Mountain

The top of the climb went near but not over the summit of the mountain. The trail also went around some large rocks before beginning a descent.

In the misty gloom, I saw a young man up the trail. He was carrying a day pack. I thought he was walking toward me, though as we began to talk he said he had hiked up the mountain from the same direction I had come.

He walked slowly. By now I had fallen behind Tengo Hambre and Just Awesome, but I tried to be polite and walk at his pace as we headed together down the mountain

He didn’t have a local accent, so I figured he wasn't from around here. He also seemed confused by his whereabouts. When I asked where he was from, he dodged my question, wanting instead to ask about the views in these mountains.

I gathered from his comments he was trying to find a spot that provided a mountaintop view. I explained that all of the mountains in this part of Georgia are covered in trees. Finding a viewpoint would be difficult. If he really wanted to see views, I suggested, he should find a hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Then our conversation took an unexpected turn.

"Do you have a belief system?" he asked me without context. Taken aback by this, I said I try to be a moral person.

Perhaps I was the one who was dodging now. I wasn't interested in getting into a conversation about religion.

"You don’t believe in God? he pressed.

Curious to see how he would react and hopeful my answer would end the discussion, I answered no.

There was no reaction, just silence.

Then after nearly a minute, he asked, "Do you believe in science?"

"Yes," I said, without further comment.

I had no idea where these questions were going, but he didn't ask anymore. There was just awkward silence.

Finally, I asked him if I could pass around him to catch up with my friends. He said nothing else but moved out of the way so I could walk around him.

Descending Rocky Mountain

On the rest of the way down the mountain, I thought about that odd conversation with the young man. Then I remembered he was carrying a large day pack. What did he have in it? A golden fiddle, I speculated with a smile. Maybe he intended to offer it to me in exchange for my soul.

I chuckled to myself and continued down the trail.

Tengo Hambre and Just Awesome

On the descent from Rocky Mountain, the trail made a short climb over Scroggin Knob. I didn't catch up to Tengo and JA until I found them stopped at a stream.

As we ate our lunch there, I told them about my conversation with the inquisitive day hiker. They said they also saw him. It seemed he wandered around the mountain for several minutes before I arrived and had already tried to find a viewpoint at the summit.

And no, they weren't asked any questions about religion or science, and they weren't offered a golden fiddle in exchange for their souls.

Walking with Tengo Hambre and Just Awesome

We continued down to the bottom of the mountain. From there, the trail left national forest land and entered a trail easement across private property.

Walking along the edge of a meadow

The Benton MacKaye Trail Association has negotiated easement agreements with property owners in this area to give the trail a continuous footpath. Camping isn't allowed on this section, but at least we didn't have to walk on a road.

Crossing Laurel Creek

After crossing a wide meadow, we came to Laurel Creek. A plank of wood that might have been a bridge at one time was sunken in the stream. The water was shallow, though, and we were able to step our way across on rocks.

Walking on a leaf-covered road

Before long, we had to walk on a road. Unlike most of the roads so far, this one was narrow and there wasn't any traffic. With leaves covering the road, it almost felt like we were walking on a trail.

This was an area of expensive homes. A few had signs advertising their availability as vacation rentals.

A fake horse in a farm field

One of the properties we passed included a horse barn and other outbuildings. The only farm animal to be seen was the sculpture of a horse made from tree branches. I guess this is what you do when you buy a farm but don't want to be a farmer.

Crossing U.S. Highway 76

We reached U.S. Highway 76 shortly after 3 p.m. This was a divided, four-lane road with fast traffic. Crossing it felt like playing a game of Frogger. Thankfully, the median in the middle allowed us to cross just one direction of vehicles at a time.

A sign on a road that says 'Watch for hikers.'

On the other side of the highway, the trail entered a residential area called Cherry Lake Subdivision. The Benton MacKaye Trail Association secured permission for the trail to cut through the middle of the development.

The BMT follows a creek

When I began researching this trail before starting my hike, I saw that this section was surrounded by private homes. This wasn't something I looked forward to. I figured it was a typical residential neighborhood.

The area didn't turn out to be what I expected. Instead of walking past several homes, It was densely wooded, with much of the trail in a greenbelt that separated the homes.

A sign that says 'Old man, old dog.'

The route wasn't always that way, though. Some portions of the trail followed roads through the subdivision and directly past vacation homes. At least this wasn't a typical suburban subdivision with look-alike tract houses.

Cherry Log Lake

In the middle of the subdivision was Cherry Log Lake, which was man-made. The few houses that circled it were tucked far back in trees.

The trail crossed a dam and a wooden bridge, then onto another street. This section of the trail was well-marked with the BMT's white diamond blaze. We had no problem making our way through this section.

Just Awesome and Sasquatch chat at Indian Rock Shelter

Our destination was Indian Rock Shelter, the only place within the large area of private property where camping was permitted. The shelter was about the same size as most Appalachian Trail shelters but had a doorway and window instead of being three-sided. It was nestled at the bottom of a gulch where a small stream flowed.

Cabins stood high above the shelter on both sides of the gulch. Seeing these homes so close to the shelter was a little disconcerting. For one thing, noise from activity at the cabins could be heard in the shelter and vice versa.

More weird, however, was that no privy was provided here, nor was there a private spot nearby to dig a cathole. There also were no provisions for safely storing food away from animals, such as a hanging cable or storage box.

When we arrived shortly after 4 p.m., we discovered a hiker named Sasquatch was already in the shelter. He was a veteran of several long hikes. For this hike, he intended to hike only a long section of the trail. As is usual for thru-hikers when they get together, we spent the rest of the day swapping trail stories and opinions about gear.

The ground surrounding the shelter was mostly sloped, so finding a reasonably flat space to pitch our tents was difficult. We ended up spreading out around the shelter.

Because we arrived well before sunset, there was still enough time to dry out my gear from the overnight rain. I set up my tent where it could catch a breeze and hung my quilt on a tree. Both were dry by the time the sun went down.

I went to bed warm, dry, and comforted in knowing I was still in possession of my soul.

The devil went down to Georgia
He was lookin' for a soul to steal
He was in a bind 'cause he was way behind
And he was willin' to make a deal


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