A dreaded hike to say the least, but one that needed to be done...a 37 mile march in the 90+ degree heat of summer at the lowest elevations along Lakeshore.  Fontana to "The Tunnel" with stops at every creek crossing and swimming hole in order to cool off.
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One of many car's left to nature within the first few miles east of Fontana Dam, some beside the old road, others smashed into trees, some on their backs in the valley below.
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The early morning light beginning to shine down on the mouth of Eagle Creek.
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The emerald waters where Hazel Creek empties into Fontana Lake.
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Shades of blue from sea to sky as seen from the Ollie Cove trailhead at water's edge.

The rest of the day was spent not taking pictures but rather surviving the brutal heat of the day and finding reprieve the few times the trail crossed creeks or skirted the shoreline.
 
With one last hiker friendly horse trail left to do, it was time to finally knock out Tow String that connects the namesake horse camp with Bradley Fork Trail out of Smokemont.
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Looking across one of the open fields near the Tow String horse camp early on in the hike.  For a horse trail, the conditions were superb minus one blowdown.  Well graded, smooth stone surfaces at times, no mud pits, a job well done by the park service on this one!
 
          With the number of hikes left to do in the park reaching single digits, I was yet to really explore the heart of Cataloochee.  That was to change today with two hikes, the first around the Boogerman Loop, and the second up and back Palmer Creek.
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The drive from Gatlinburg to the southern entrance to Cataloochee is an interesting one...through the city, then the countryside, then over the Foothills Parkway, then winding through narrow gorges at high speeds on I-40, then up and over the Cataloochee Divide on narrow, unpaved, windy roads.
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View of the ridges that surround Cataloochee from an overlook on the way in.
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One of a great number of footbridges along Caldwell Fork, though this one has seen better days.  It required a leap and bear hug to make it across without getting wet.
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The upper reaches of the Boogerman Trail take one through some old growth forest dominated by massive Tulip Poplars.  This one was unique because of its hollowed out interior, large enough to house a few people.
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The higher part of Palmer Creek Trail follows the ridgeline through a Rosebay Rhododendron tunnel, in which the blooms blanketed the floor.
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Upon reaching trail's end atop Balsam Mountain Road, a backhoe was just finishing some road maintenance by smoothing out surfaces.
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I was finished with hiking, but I still had plenty of sights to see along the roads that cut through the heart of Cataloochee.  Here's looking across the field toward the Caldwell Barn.
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Fortunately, I was able to at least see one Bull Elk before leaving the valley, this guy hanging out in the yard of Palmer Place.
 
          A daunting yet beautiful climb up Gunter Fork turns hairy when I stumble across a trio of fresh landslides, causing me to change my plans on the fly.  Instead of an up and back hike, I circled around to Mount Sterling and back down to Big Creek.
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The deep green waters of Midnight Hole were very appealing to jump in.  I would look to take a dip on the return trip when it would get super hot.
Here's a look at the location of Midnight Hole in relation to the waters of Big Creek.
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Gunter Fork is the only trail in the park that possesses such a sign, and for good reason.
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The deepest crossing was the first at Big Creek, with water rising above my knees.  And that was with streams at low water.  This picture is one of many crossings of Gunter Fork, one of the easier ones at that.  Some were over boulder fields, others through log jams, and a few required tip-toeing the edges of small waterfalls.
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For much of the way the trail follows its namesake stream.  There was a great deal of evidence of recent flash floods with Gunter Fork overriding its banks to flood the trail and low lying areas. 
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About 100 feet below the trail sits a magnificent pool along Gunter Fork fed by a peaceful cascade.  The pool is deeper, more serene, and obviously more isolated than the very popular Midnight Hole.
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This is Gunter Fork at low levels, but you can see much more ground it covers after heavy rains and snow melts.  To say it's a beast of a stream would be an understatement.
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Standing at the base of Gunter Fork Cascade which sits before the last of the stream crossings.  At this point it was starting to sprinkle, and with all the signs of recent and potential flooding, I was beginning to wonder if I wanted to come back this way.
Here's a look up at the tall expanse of Gunter Fork Cascade.
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Everything changed about a half mile before the junction with Balsam Mountain.  I stumbled upon a massive landslide that wiped out the trail and the rest of the major drainage.  From what I could gather, it was a recent slide that probably happened within the last week due to the great deal of rain we've been getting.  There were no signs along the way giving hikers warning, so it was safe to assume the park service knew nothing about it, and the I was the first to discover it.  To try and go directly across the slide to reach the trail was impossible because the dirt pack was as slick as ice.
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This is the view from trail's edge looking directly down the slide.  The drainage wraps around the corner so I couldn't tell exactly where the massive pile up of dirt, rock, and trees would be.  I had to weigh my options.  Since I had to come ten miles just to get here, and only had a half mile to go, I began to look for a way up and around the slide.  Where the earth gave way was but a hundred feet above the trail, but it didn't go all the way to the top of the ridge.  So I deliberated one last time about turning around, then decided to bushwack my way up to the ridge, across, then back down through some of the thickest rhododendron you ever did see.  I took me about forty five minutes to complete.  It wasn't the most pleasant bushwack I've ever done, and it cost me the screen of my phone.  Oops.  I dusted off, gathered my thoughts, then pressed on.  Amazingly, I came across a second slide, this one about fifteen yards across.  It was as steep and fresh as the first, but there were more rocks sticking out of the earth to offer good footholds.  I made it halfway out before I had to turn up the slide then bushwack down through the woods.  Guess what? The fun didn't stop there, because I came to find yet another slide.  This one being the smallest of the three at all but ten yards across.  It was much broader and was an easy walk straight across.  I finally arrived at the junction with Balsam Mountain in a daze of frustration and exhaustion.  I ate some food and sat down for a bit thinking the situation over.  There was no way I was going back that way to Big Creek, so I chose to add a few more miles and circle around Mount Sterling Ridge and down Baxter Creek.  It lengthened my day but I knew it would be safer, especially if rain was in the forecast.  Apart from the slides, Gunter Fork was overgrown with nettles and other thorny tangles that clawed me up.  The trail was eroding in places, and there were numerous blowdowns.  My suggestion to the park service as soon as I could reach them would be to close the trail for sure.
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It took a while, and was not where I was expecting to end up today, but I made a trip to Mount Sterling none the less.  Not much in the way of views, but it felt nice to sit up top and feel the cool breeze and relax.  I needed it after a day like that.
 
        Took the time for an early morning jaunt out of Tremont up Panther Creek and down Lynn Camp Prong before returning to work.
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One of the more beautiful and serene settings in the park, the Middle Prong Trail circles hikers right around the Lower Lynn Camp Prong Cascades.
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After a good deal of ascending, I was grateful to arrive at Jakes Gap.
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The Rosebay Rhododendron at the mid to upper elevations were adding beauty to the landscape much of the day.
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The trip down Lynn Camp Prong was dotted with mud pits that required some fancy footwork on my part.
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Looking back at the rickity old steel beam bridge over Thunderhead Prong.
 
          I finally made my way out to the Albright Grove Loop to explore one of the park's sacred stands of old growth forest.  Completed the remainder of the Maddron Bald Trail in the process and soared down Snake Den Ridge before the storms hit.
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Peering up at one of the first in an overwhelming number of gargantuan Tulip Poplars along the lower reaches of Maddron Bald Trail.
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One of the prettier stream crossings, this with a footbridge unlike those later in the hike.
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A dead Hemlock still stands tall in Albright Grove.  Most of the Hemlocks were dead, more were dying, and only a handful were still alive.  A sad reality across the park.
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Throughout the mid elevations of the hike, there was Rosebay Rhododendron as far as the eye could see, covering the mountains in white and pink puffs.
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Standing atop an overlook a ways below Maddron Bald, looking out at two Sourwoods in bloom.
 
          By condensing two originally planned hikes into one, I completed a roundabout 25 mile trek in the shape of an "M" from the Tunnel to Nowhere, up and around Springhouse Branch, ascending Noland Creek, then strolling down the Divide to Deep Creek.  A long haul but well worth it!
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The day's hike began with the long walk down the dark, damp tunnel...
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It is the season for many mushrooms, some crazier looking than others.  This massive red one was about the size of a basketball, found along the crest of Forney Ridge.
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Looking back at one of the first crossings of Noland Creek.  The cool waters were refreshing to the feet!
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One of the park's more unique flowers in my opinion, the Yellow Gerardia was coming out in force along the Noland Divide.
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Looking down the knife edge spine of the Noland Divide from the Lonesome Pine Overlook.  I was blown away when I got there, for this overlook may just be one of the most impressive in the entire park, but so little known.
A brief video I took in an attempt to give justice to the grandeur of Lonesome Pine.
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My drive back across the park was enhanced by a bright rainbow that stretched form the base of Mount Ambler to the Thomas Divide.  I was able to drive under it then circle back around it.  By the time I took this picture from Newfound Gap, the colors were starting to fade.