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.
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.
Gunter Fork is the only trail in the park that possesses such a sign, and for good reason.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.