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

The devil went down to Georgia

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 today 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.

Hiking 20 miles seemed a little far when we had shorter daylight hours. At any rate, choosing the shorter distance allowed us time to wait for the rain to clear. This also gave us extra time to eat breakfast and pack our gear.

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

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 it.

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

Since yesterday, we have mostly been walking westward. The trail will continue that way until tomorrow when it turns to go in a predominantly north direction.

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.

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 with a day pack. He appeared to be walking toward me, though as we began to talk he told me he had come 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 continued at his pace as we walked 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.

It seemed that he was trying to find a spot where he could get a view from a mountaintop. I explained that all of the mountains in this part of Georgia were covered in trees, so finding a viewpoint was difficult. If he really wanted to see views, I suggested, he should try a hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Then the conversation took an unexpected turn.

"Do you have a belief system?" he asked without any 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 said 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 and try to catch up with my friends. He said nothing else but moved out of the way so I could walk around him.

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, maybe? Did he intend to offer it to me in exchange for my soul?

I chuckled and was glad I didn’t answer his questions the way he expected.

Continuing down 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 had also seen him. It appeared he had been wandering around the mountain for several minutes before I arrived and had climbed to the summit searching for a viewpoint.

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

We continued down to the bottom of the mountain, where the trail left National Forest land and entered private property.

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.

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.

Before long, we had to walk on a road. At least it was narrow and there wasn't any traffic. With leaves covering the road, it almost felt like walking on a trail.

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

One of the properties we passed included a horse barn and other outer buildings. 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.

Soon after 3 p.m., we reached U.S. Highway 76. 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.

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.

When I began researching before this hike, I saw that the trail was surrounded for a long section by private homes. This wasn't something I looked forward to.

Walking through this section today, however, wasn't what I expected. The area was densely wooded, and much of the trail was on a greenbelt separated from homes.

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

In the middle of the subdivision was man-made Cherry Log Lake. 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, so we had no problem making our way through this section.

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 and 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

From "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by Charlie Daniels, Tom Crain, "Taz" DiGregorio, Fred Edwards, Charles Hayward, and James W Marshall (Charlie Daniels Band)


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