Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mount Washington, December 18, 2010

Mount Washington, December 18, 2010

You never really know what the trail to Mount Washington will be like until you’re on the trail. This time of year the snow-line is fickle and the weather capricious. All we knew for sure is that we’d be hiking in snow at some point before we turned around - we didn’t feel like toting snowshoes (a necessity if the summit is your destination).

There was about an inch of snow at the trailhead (Exit No. 38) and it was a chilly, albeit sunny day. Most hikers know how to find the trail by now (it’s not signed but hard to miss) a little west of where the spur trail from the parking lot connects to the Iron Horse Trail. If you get to the spur down to Twin Falls you’ve gone a little too far!

Surprisingly there were only a couple other vehicles at the trailhead – hard to believe on such a beautiful day. We were equipped with Stabilicers, Yak Trax and ice axes but nothing would have helped much on the first stretch of the trail once it left the Iron Horse Trail. A very thin layer of snow concealed loose rocks/pebbles on the trail and it was slow going – the trail providing a great opportunity to sprain an ankle. Not enough snow for traction devices but just enough to make it entertaining.

I’d hoped there’d be a good crop of icicles to photograph and though they were beginning to melt we found several “batches” to play with (photography, not climbing!). It didn’t occur to me until later but it might have been interesting to shoot a short video of the ice as it melted. We passed the overhang (cave) where hardware dangles from the ceiling tempting climbers to practice their skills (no one was practicing).

About 2/3 of the way to the Owl Spot we hit enough snow that hiking became a joyful experience rather than a balancing act. The snow was beautiful but in dappled light, hard to get decent photos. Instead, we just enjoyed walking through the Christmas-y scene.

There was about 4 inches or so of snow at the Owl Spot (the view from the Owl Spot shrinks a little more each year as the trees grow) – we usually stop for a bite to eat but we weren’t hungry so continued hiking, making the stream our next potential turnaround. Strangely enough the snow deepened significantly as we made our way to the “designated” junction with the Mount Washington/Great Wall trail though we weren’t gaining much elevation. Just beyond the junction is the stream; not a problem to cross whatsoever but we turned around – the snow was more than deep enough to warrant snowshoes (the snowshoes were in Seattle). We bare-booted the Great Wall trail a short way just out of curiosity then retraced our route back to the car. En route we checked out a few of the “unofficial” trails.

We met a few hikers coming up on our way out, including a friendly gal who asked us where the trail went – she’d forgotten her map and was pretty sure she was on the Mount Washington trail. She’d started from Twin Falls so had already hiked quite a way. We told her she’d need snowshoes if she went beyond the Owl Spot – like us, she’d left her snowshoes behind.

There was still an inch or so of snow on the loose pebbles/rocks so though it looked odd we used our ice axes to keep our balance until we were on the Iron Horse trail.

As for photographs – I am not an expert photographer nor do I have high-end photo-gear but I get annoyed at what I call the “blue factor”. Snow and icicles that look white to us appear blue in photographs unless we’re out in bright sunshine. It is undoubtedly the color of evergreens reflected back onto the surface of the snow but it’s disappointing to get home, download the photos and find that most of the snow/ice shots are “blue”. Gives me the blues, in fact!

I do utilize my digital camera program and can either turn the blue shots into black and whites or play with the color a bit, adding a bit of red and yellow to brighten the snow.

A great day – is there any other kind of day in the mountains?

Stats: About 6 miles round trip with 2,400 feet of gain including side-trips.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Indian Bar, Mount Rainier National Park

September 12, 2010

We did this as a day hike from Box Canyon (on the Wonderland Trail) to Indian Bar. It made for a long day but a good one - we hiked 14-1/2 miles round trip and gained 4,850 feet of elevation.

The first few miles along the Cowlitz Divide on the Wonderland Trail are mostly in the forest, no big views unless you enjoy looking at big evergreens like we do. There are some giants! The Wonderland trail transitions to meadows as it climbs to the first of several "high points" - on a clear day there would be views of Mount Rainier. Today we admired corn lilies (hellebore) as their green leaves transitioned to gold.

The last few miles of that stretch of The Wonderland Trail are along an undulating ridge with views on both sides. Views of what? Tarns, outcroppings, hints of other peaks hard to define in the mist and clouds. That part of the trail is heavy on meadows and everywhere you look you want to stop and take photos (we did).

Of course, every time we reached the top of another meadowy knoll we thought we'd see Indian Bar in the distance. We began to wonder if Indian Bar even existed but the terrain was beautiful enough that we were under its spell and kept on hiking.

Finally the rock shelter came into view below us at the edge of a meadow near the start of the Ohanapecosh River. We had it to ourselves, there was no one there. I'd only been there once before, a long, long time ago. It must have been about 25 years ago!!

We lingered as long as we could - we didn't want to hurry back or race the darkness. Neither words nor photographs (perhaps poetry?) can do justice to this magical place. It almost breaks your heart to leave and you cannot help but wonder as you climb away - will I see Indian Bar again?

I certainly hope so!

A major error on my part

I've made a major error - I apologize to anyone who has written comments to me. Because they did not appear on my blog (and my blog page says I have zero comments) I did not think I was getting any comments.

Now I have several comments I'd like to address but it will take me some time to catch up. I am very sorry this happened - I'm pretty inexperienced at the ins and outs of blogging.


August and September hikes

If you've been following my blog it may appear I've given up hiking. I haven't. I've just been hiking more than anything else but now that the rain has returned I can do better about keeping up. I prefer to write about my hikes shortly after completing them but it's been a busy summer.

Here are a few of the places I've been over the last few weeks ....

Backbone Ridge

Indian Henry's Hunting Ground

Camp Muir

Indian Bar (as a day hike from Box Canyon)

Blue Lake (North Cascades)

Lake Ann (Teanaway)

Tamanos Mountain (via Owyhigh Lakes)

I still have a busy hiking schedule!! (That's good, not bad).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summerland, Panhandle Gap

Panhandle Gap via Summerland (Wonderland Trail) August 20, 2010

Curses, foiled again!

Yet I can’t whine too much about that last 80 feet to Panhandle Gap. The snow at that point was steeper and icier than we were comfortable with; poor run out too. Instead we backtracked to a rocky saddle and watched other hikers cope down-climbing that pitch with trekking poles (does anyone use an ice axe anymore?).

If not for the snow the hike is not all that arduous – about 3,000 feet gain and just under 12 miles. The scenery is well, uh pretty scenic, especially after you cross Fryingpan Creek on a not-so-robust ridge.

From that point it’s a flower show all the way to the moraine. A short, steep climb from the creek to the Summerland shelter (no occupants) – here the trail switchbacks through cliffs mainly composed of wildflowers. Well, you get the idea. Just some of the flowers we saw: avalanche lilies (hanging on in shady areas), magenta paintbrush, western anemone, bistort, Sitka valerian, Veronica and at higher elevations monkey flowers and small ground-hugging plants we weren’t able to identify – lots of heather, both pink and white.

One of the most amazing things about this hike are the colors – the blazing white of Mount Rainier, the moraines (gray, dun, burnt sienna), the almost phony-looking shades of blue and green in melting tarns (perhaps the Creator used Photoshop when he got around to making mountains?). The blue sky which later in the day were broken up a bit by odd cloud forms (no adjectives come to mind), the daubs of primary colors provided by hikers and backpackers on the trail, especially against the dull moraines and the flashy white snow.

Snow that refuses to melt – still a cornice above Panhandle Gap. From our rocky saddle there were some intriguing “trails” that went hither and yon, we suspect to some of the nearby peaks and a couple of trails on the other side of the gap that especially intrigued us. Too bad we didn’t have time to explore those because we had the energy. It was one of those days you felt you could hike forever.

Did I mention the neon, lime-green shades of moss near the stream? Incredibly beautiful. Nestled inside one mound of moss was a perfect arrangement of flowers so tiny we weren’t able to get a decent photo of them. I’m keeping the photo anyway – as a reminder of a beautiful day.

We met some interesting people on the trail – Beth Rossow, who also goes by the name of Bogachiel Betty, currently working on measuring and photographing the Wonderland Trail (she has worked with Bette Filley on Bette’s books on the Wonderland Trail). By the way Bette was at Wapiti Woolies yesterday signing books – wish we’d known, I’d love to meet her.

On the bridge at Fryingpan Creek we met an elderly gentleman with his middle-aged son (gotta be careful with the word “elderly” these days, I’m not a spring chicken). They were also bound for Panhandle Gap.

On our way back we ran into the most laid-back marmot imaginable – he lives in the forest (at least this time of year) between Fryingpan Creek and the shelter at Summerland. He was more interested in eating something under fallen branches than worrying about us – he looked to be on the vintage side and gazed back at us with a “well?” expression.

On our way down we ran into the two men again we’d met earlier and chatted a bit – it turns out the son of the middle aged man (and the grandson of the elder gentleman) was storming up Muir at the same time we were visually grazing on the scenery near Summerland. Today he plans to summit Rainier and tomorrow (Sunday) he plans to run The Wonderland Trail. The whole thing. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that this youth rode his bike to Mount Rainier on his bicycle. Well, that gives one some perspective. The word “awe” comes to mind. I wish we’d asked for his name, maybe you’ve encountered him.


Thursday, August 19, 2010


I might be skilled when it comes to hiking but not when it comes to "computer stuff". Sometimes I can post photos on this site, other times nothing happens even though I go through the same steps.

But you can view my photos on flickr - (see previous post for the linky)

August Hikes to date (more to come, stay tuned)

August Hikes to date:

Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karenseyes/

August hikes to date:

Mount Washington (North Bend, 2010)

Red Mountain (Salmon la Sac via Little Joe Lake)

Red Mountain (Salmon la Sac via Cooper Road)

Nisqually Vista/Moraine Trail (MRNP)

Alta Vista (MRNP)

Stevens Creek/Box Canyon (MRNP)

Sauk Mountain (SR 20)

Indian Bar via Wonderland Trail (almost!) (MRNP)

Dewey Lakes (Naches Loop Trail) (MRNP and Pacific Crest Trail)

Chinook Pass to Bear Gap (Pacific Crest Trail)

Lake Valhalla

Monday, July 19, 2010

July hikes

July Hikes (A few in June too)

As I wrote a few days ago, I’ve been hiking more than writing. I’ll try to fill in some of these blanks soon!

Thorp Lake and Lookout ) July 18)

Surprise Lake/Trap Pass (July 14)

Mount Defiance (July 16)

Marten Lake (July)

Sasse Mt/Hex (July)

Summerland (July)

Iron Bear (June)

Doe Falls (July)

Heather Lake (July)

Edgar Rock/Boulder Cave (late June)

Plus “conditioning” hikes in the Issaquah Alps/Mount Si Recreation Area

This is to let followers know that for reasons I can't decipher I am unable to post photographs. When I figure it out, things will return as normal.In the meantime you can view photographs of my recent hikes at:http://www.flickr.com/photos/karenseyes/

Monday, July 5, 2010


This is to let readers know that I am unable to post photographs of my hikes on this blog - I have no clue why.

If you'd like to view photographs of my latest hikes you can view them at

Hopefully, I will resolve this problem soon.


Easton Ridge, early June, 2010

Easton Ridge – June 5, 2010

I meant to post this last month but I’ve been doing more hiking than writing!!
This was probably my 10th visit over the years, ranging from brutally cold Mountaineer snowshoes trips to solo hikes in spring when wildflowers are at their best.

However the days of having this trail to yourself are probably history unless you hike mid-week. Our hike took place on Saturday and while we expected to share the trail with others, we weren’t psychologically prepared for the crowd gathering at the trailhead for a Mountaineers-related Naturalist hike.

We waited for the group to get ahead of us before we started out. Despite our relaxed pace we soon caught up with them as a faster trio of hikers caught up with us. We guessed we’d have to lollygag for a measure of solitude (we don’t mind an easy-going shamble from time to time) so we tarried and then some. We stopped for photographs of wildflowers along the lower stretch of the trail between the creek and the unsigned junction where the trail meets a gravel road.

There isn’t a trail sign there so when you get to the road head left and pick up the trail at the first, big switchback in the road. It’s hard to miss.

Flowers were aplenty – Hooker’s fairy bells, Solomon’s Seal, waterleaf, vanilla leaf, flowering current, trilliums and at higher elevation lots of spring beauties and golden glacier lilies, always a sight for sore eyes. We also saw serviceberry, vine maple with new, bright green leaves and Luina (not yet in bloom).

The next stretch between the road and the Domerie Peak trail junction is steep but the trail is in good shape. We stopped briefly at the junction (signed Easton Ridge, Thomas Mountain and Domerie Peak) discussing where to go. That was an easy decision - we knew most of the hikers were heading toward Domerie Peak so we opted for Easton Ridge instead.

At this major junction there are two obvious trails. The trail to left goes to Thomas Mountain and Domerie Peak. The trail to the right is the Easton Ridge trail but after a few paces you’ll come to another junction that is not signed or as obvious as the first junction. Take the uphill fork. The other trail contours above the logging road and soon ends (I know, I’ve hiked it).

Though the Easton Ridge trail is not as distinct as the first stretch it’s not all that hard to follow. When in doubt – go up. The trail improves as it approaches the ridge and skirts a rocky outcropping. That first outcropping makes a good spot for a break or a photograph of Kachess Lake below.

From the first outcropping the way now is mostly airy as it continues toward the ridgeline; there are a few more outcroppings along the way. Each outcropping provides a more expansive view of Kachess Lake, Easton Lake and Easton below. On a clear day there’s also a good view of Mount Rainier.

After the third or so outcropping we left the trail, taking a shortcut to the top of the ridge – this makes a nice ridge-run (a phrase often used by hikers who enjoy following ridgelines.) There are several outcroppings that make outstanding turnarounds or lunch spots with views in all directions – here you can view the path not taken, the forested summits of minor peaks including Mount Baldy.

Here is where we picked up one tick – not nearly as prevalent here as they are in other sites east of the crest (Umtanum Ridge and Creek is teeming with ticks). Other than the tick we had the ridge to ourselves and enjoyed a lazy, leisurely lunch.

We dropped back down to the trail and continued (east) for another half mile or so before turning around. My memory is not foolproof – I seem to remember a few years ago we hiked the trail until it ended at a rock outcropping but today we stopped shy of that.

This was our first warm day hike in a long time; it was nice not to have to bundle up and wonderful to bask in sunlight. We retraced our route back to the trailhead. The big group was still on the mountain so there were still a lot of cars at the trailhead, more than I’ve ever seen. We also met more hikers on the trail, getting a late start.

On our way back we stopped at Turtle Bar in Easton for milkshakes and for me, a hot-spiced cider with a cinnamon stick. The Turtle Bar used to be a funky place with delicious but greasy grub. It’s been spruced up, the prices are a little higher than they were but the food is better. In the past the old restaurant was mostly used by snowmobilers or cold and wet Mountaineers in need of sugar, caffeine and grease - now it’s become a more popular spot for residents and visitors to stop.

We hiked about 5.2 miles round trip with 1,859 feet of elevation gain per the GPS. The map is Green Trails No. 208 Kachess Lake.

To get there: From Seattle take I-90 east and turn off at Exit 70. Drive over the freeway and turn left onto a frontage road signed Kachess Dam Road and proceed to Forest Service Road No. 4818 and turn right. Stay on Road No. 4818 to an unsigned road junction and turn right – follow that road about ½ mile to the trailhead, elevation 2,400 feet, no facilities. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Howson Creek trail, July 4, 2010

Howson Creek Trail (July 4, 2010)

What better way to celebrate July 4th than hiking? Given it was raining on the west side of Snoqualmie Pass we headed east (as usual).

This trail has been on my agenda (again) for some time. I first wrote about the trail in “Hidden Hikes” and wanted to find out for myself how “hidden” it was after a few years have passed.

The hike is just as steep as it ever was; finding the trailhead is harder. Unless, of course, you hike this trail every year – a few years ago a sign made finding the trail pretty easy. Now – the sign is missing. Therefore we drove right past it and had to backtrack to find it again (the map and “Hidden Hikes” helped). The driving directions in “Hidden Hikes” is just about right on – the odometer reads 6.1 miles from the Last Resort on the highway heading toward Salmon la Sac.

The trailhead (as you head toward Salmon la Sac) is on the right-hand side of the highway at an elevation of 2,246 feet. There’s plenty of roadside parking on the other side of the highway. The trail – an old jeep track – once you spot it soon becomes genuine trail though there are no signs to clue you in. In a short mile or so (elevation 2,663 feet) Howson Creek is crossed – an easy crossing in early July.

After this gentle start the trail gets down to business – it starts to climb steeply and doesn’t relent. Despite the lack of signage we found the trail easier to follow than it was a few years ago – though faint in spots we were always able to find our way. Someone (the forest service? A friend?) has blocked off the game trails with branches and placed a couple of flags where the trail is a little confusing. We would have been able to follow the trail without the flags but I’d been there before and recognized some of the terrain. If you find the flags leave them – for first-time visitors who could be confused. The game trails are many and some are almost as good as the trail. Or would it be better to say the trail is almost as good as the game trails? You can be the judge of that.

The trail falls roughly into “thirds” – the first third climbs through an old clear-cut, the second third through mostly mellow forest with a few wildflowers (not very many) and the last third a long contour on talus below a rocky ridge. The steep grade does not relent; it is a thigh-burner so we paced ourselves accordingly.

It was a cloudy day so the views we anticipated never materialized – other than a sliver of Cle Elum Lake on the way down that was about the extent of our views. We were a little disappointed not to see Lemah Mt, Mt Stuart and others but we were gratefully for the cool, cloudy day. It was perfect hiking weather for a steep trail.

Our favorite part of the trail was the “third” – here the trail is mostly on talus and rocky, a few “pointy” evergreens anchor the trail in place. Once you are on the trail that contours below a rocky ridge (left) you will see Hex Mountain (just a little bump on this cloudy day) and Sasse Mountain (a forested summit a half mile from the “end” of the Howson Creek trail).

Stay on the main trail – a couple of rocky spurs lead to the ridge (left) and another trail drops into the valley below (right). I have no clue where the lower trail goes – if anywhere – some time we’ll go back and explore it.

We stopped where the trail meets the rocky ridge (saddle) at about 5,422 feet. You can continue to Sasse Mountain from this point. There is a faint trail juncture just a bit below the saddle to the right. A faded flag marks the continuation of the trail to forested Sasse Mountain, a half mile away (the left uphill fork is the correct path). We skipped Sasse there’s no view – however, you can hike from Sasse over to Hex. That would make a dandy one-way hike via the Sasse Mountain trail with a car shuttle. Hmmmm – maybe one of these days!

On our way back the clouds had cleared enough we got a better view of Cle Elum Lake; the water is very high. Some of the trees along the shoreline appear to be inundated. We heard muffled fireworks as we descended the steep trail but were not surprised we had the trail to ourselves. I have yet to meet another hiker on this trail.

There are reasons why this trail is not as popular as many in the region – for starters it’s hard to find. It’s a steep, difficult trail. There are easier trails that lead to better views. But if you like lonesome trails and like to explore this one is fun.

We checked out one of the spurs on our way back down and climbed to the ridgeline we’d contoured below. From where we clambered the ridge was narrow and other than a glimpse of Red Mountain there were no outstanding views. If we had accessed the ridge closer to the saddle it would probably have been more interesting – looking back at the ridge it “fattens” as it approaches the saddle.

I bet there are some nice views up there.

Stats: 8 miles round trip with 3,381 feet of gain (including our side trip). The map is Green Trails No. 208 Kachess Lake.

Flowers: Indian paintbrush, vanilla leaf, lomatiums, penstemon, phlox, lupine, thimbleberry – with the exception of vanilla leaf the flowers were few and far between.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dirty Harry's Truck

The Damned Truck (Dirty Harry’s Deuce and a half)

Early June, 2010

How many times have I tramped up Dirty Harry’s Road near North Bend to look for that rumored truck? Friends had found it, other hikers posted photographs of it on their web pages yet I met with failure every time I tried.

Until last week – thanks to a friend - we found the truck. We hiked the rocky, miserable road again, ignoring the turn off to Dirty Harry’s balcony, bypassing the crumpled, rusted artifacts from Dirty Harry’s legendary days of gyppo logging along the road – after all, we’d seen those many times before.

It is surprising how close it is to Dirty Harry’s Road and Museum Creek. The mistake we made before was crossing the creek, THEN looking for an old road where the truck can be found. This might have been true once upon a time but that truck has been sitting there a long time and alders have grown, making the snippet of old road difficult to spot let alone follow.

This time we didn’t cross Museum Creek; we looked for a path a few paces below creek. It took us a couple tries to find the path - it is hard to distinguish the path from thick vegetation. So - the easiest way to find the truck – at least for us befuddled geezers – is to hike to the creek, turn around, backtrack a few paces and spot the trail on the uphill side of the road (left).

A much as we enjoy exploring this path does not invite exploration; it’s a mess. Don’t look for flagging – it doesn’t exist. If you miss it, try again. The path is short and claustrophobic with obstacles of small, downed trees, brush and an almost impenetrable wall of crowded cedars.

We did eventually spot a ribbon and knew we were on the right track. You could tell that this old road had been a working road but it has been taken over by alders. We were only a few feet away from Museum Creek. Per instructions we followed the road (easterly direction) to a switchback marked with a large boulder; here the road heads back toward the creek.

The road (if one could call it that) veered into a thicket of cedars and dense brush; a few ribbons guided the way and after a wrestling match with ferocious cedars we spotted the rusting hulk of the Deuce and a half through the vegetation.

There lay an old radiator in the stream, the truck itself still mostly in one piece, the doors riddled with bullet holes, the smashed, headlights, the engine block, the flatbed, the whole mess. Peering into the cab we saw a jumble of leaves and clutter; someone had left a Rainier beer can on the driver’s seat. The windows of the cab are long gone and there are holes in the roof of the cab where daylight trickles in.

At first glance it looks like it had run into a boulder come to rest against near the creek. We don’t know – of course – how the truck got there or why – one can only speculate. We spent a lot of time photographing the truck though photographs can’t capture the mood of the place. It’s odd – it’s almost like the truck doesn’t want to be “found” or perhaps Harry knew he’d come to the end of the line and left his truck there to quietly rust away and slowly disappear over time.

We’ve been hiking for over 30 years and never met anyone who met Dirty Harry, not even Harvey Manning. Last I heard he was in a retirement home – and the old place where he used to live amidst a clutter of aging trucks is gone, likely to become someone’s moneyed “dream home” near the river.

When – and if – you find the truck sit down for a moment in the silence and ponder the man who drove this vehicle up and down cliff-hanging roads and put in roads where others feared to tread. Dirty Harry’s roads are all over the place though they are slowly being taken over by alders. Some day there will be little evidence so if you find a mangled piece of metal along the road or trail, let it be – it has a right to rest.

(I think even Harvey Manning had grudging admiration for Dirty Harry – they were both curmudgeons and they both loved the land in their own, fierce way.)

To find it (or not): Exit 38 (I-90), head toward the fire training center (don’t park outside the gate you might get locked in if you’re late). After parking walk up the road, cross the Snoqualmie River and in roughly 1/3 to ¼ of a mile find the hard-to-miss path on the right-hand side of the road. There is no sign. The path is Dirty Harry’s Road, follow that until you get to Museum Creek and good luck finding the path.

Dirty Harry's Truck

The Damned Truck - early June, 2010

The Damned Truck (Dirty Harry’s Deuce and a half)

Early June, 2010

How many times have I tramped up Dirty Harry’s Road near North Bend to look for that rumored truck? Friends had found it, other hikers posted photographs of it on their web pages yet I met with failure every time I tried.

Until last week – thanks to a friend - we found the truck. We hiked the rocky, miserable road again, ignoring the turn off to Dirty Harry’s balcony, bypassing the crumpled, rusted artifacts from Dirty Harry’s legendary days of gyppo logging along the road – after all, we’d seen those many times before.

It is surprising how close it is to Dirty Harry’s Road and Museum Creek. The mistake we made before was crossing the creek, THEN looking for an old road where the truck can be found. This might have been true once upon a time but that truck has been sitting there a long time and alders have grown, making the snippet of old road difficult to spot let alone follow.

This time we didn’t cross Museum Creek; we looked for a path a few paces below creek. It took us a couple tries to find the path - it is hard to distinguish the path from thick vegetation. So - the easiest way to find the truck – at least for us befuddled geezers – is to hike to the creek, turn around, backtrack a few paces and spot the trail on the uphill side of the road (left).

A much as we enjoy exploring this path does not invite exploration; it’s a mess. Don’t look for flagging – it doesn’t exist. If you miss it, try again. The path is short and claustrophobic with obstacles of small, downed trees, brush and an almost impenetrable wall of crowded cedars.

We did eventually spot a ribbon and knew we were on the right track. You could tell that this old road had been a working road but it has been taken over by alders. We were only a few feet away from Museum Creek. Per instructions we followed the road (easterly direction) to a switchback marked with a large boulder; here the road heads back toward the creek.

The road (if one could call it that) veered into a thicket of cedars and dense brush; a few ribbons guided the way and after a wrestling match with ferocious cedars we spotted the rusting hulk of the Deuce and a half through the vegetation.

There lay an old radiator in the stream, the truck itself still mostly in one piece, the doors riddled with bullet holes, the smashed, headlights, the engine block, the flatbed, the whole mess. Peering into the cab we saw a jumble of leaves and clutter; someone had left a Rainier beer can on the driver’s seat. The windows of the cab are long gone and there are holes in the roof of the cab where daylight trickles in.

At first glance it looks like it had run into a boulder come to rest against near the creek. We don’t know – of course – how the truck got there or why – one can only speculate. We spent a lot of time photographing the truck though photographs can’t capture the mood of the place. It’s odd – it’s almost like the truck doesn’t want to be “found” or perhaps Harry knew he’d come to the end of the line and left his truck there to quietly rust away and slowly disappear over time.

We’ve been hiking for over 30 years and never met anyone who met Dirty Harry, not even Harvey Manning. Last I heard he was in a retirement home – and the old place where he used to live amidst a clutter of aging trucks is gone, likely to become someone’s moneyed “dream home” near the river.

When – and if – you find the truck sit down for a moment in the silence and ponder the man who drove this vehicle up and down cliff-hanging roads and put in roads where others feared to tread. Dirty Harry’s roads are all over the place though they are slowly being taken over by alders. Some day there will be little evidence so if you find a mangled piece of metal along the road or trail, let it be – it has a right to rest.

(I think even Harvey Manning had grudging admiration for Dirty Harry – they were both curmudgeons and they both loved the land in their own, fierce way.)

To find it (or not): Exit 38 (I-90), head toward the fire training center (don’t park outside the gate you might get locked in if you’re late). After parking walk up the road, cross the Snoqualmie River and in roughly 1/3 to ¼ of a mile find the hard-to-miss path on the right-hand side of the road. There is no sign. The path is Dirty Harry’s Road, follow that until you get to Museum Creek and good luck finding the path.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Meeks Table


Meeks Table was hard to find in the early 1980s – it’s still hard to find. And more than worth it.

It’s a long drive to Meeks Table and a short hike. I’d hardly call it a hike. Perhaps “experience” is a better description.

Meeks Table is just inside the Douglas O. Williams Wilderness – be thankful for that because logging is breathing down Meeks neck. The trail was short to Meeks in the 1980s, now it’s shorter still as the once-forested path to the table has been logged to practically its edge. This is a sensitive environmental area; please keep your party-size small and tread carefully. Meeks table has never been commercially grazed by livestock and is an interesting area for ecologists and botanists to explore. The table is home to old stands of Ponderosa pine and wildflowers; some rare.

The most unusual flower is Giant Frasera or green gentian (century plant). It is one of the few places (perhaps the only place) it grows in Washington. Do bring a wildflower guide – there are too many flowers to list. In June we saw Giant Frasera (some of the frasera was getting ready to bloom), grass widows, death camas, stonecrop, bitterroot, spreading phlox, penstemon, lomatiums and more.

The mileage? Not much – about 3.82 miles (maximum) with 735 feet of elevation gain. Again - the challenge is finding the trailhead.

Getting there: From Seattle drive to Chinook Pass on Highway 410. Continue down from Chinook Pass on Highway 410 to a signed bypass around a landslide. The road is in good condition. Turn onto Bethel Ridge Road (Forest Service Road 1500) – the sign is partially blocked from view by vegetation until you are actually on the road. If you find yourself back on Highway 410 you’ve gone a little too far. The road is paved part of the way then becomes gravel; it is narrow and steep with turnouts (proceed with caution). When you get to a junction turn onto Road No. 1502 – you will pass McDaniel Lake, your clue that you are not too far from the next junction (Spur No. 1502-130). We missed it the first time and ended up at the Mount Aix trailhead (a hike we also want to do), turned around and looked again for the spur (look hard for it). The spur is short and rough, the parking spot obvious where the spur is blocked by large boulders (coming from McDaniel Lake the spur will be on the right-hand side of the road, marked by a metal post).

You can either walk up the blocked spur a way or follow a faint, flagged path to the talus field, the “start” of the hike. Either way, you’ll spot the “table”. We followed the flagged path to the edge of the talus slope – according to another source if you walk the road that leads to a path that avoids most of the talus. Once you are on the table you can hike around the rim in either direction – don’t miss the parklands or the quiet stands of Ponderosa pines or views of the South Cascades, including Mount Aix.

We suggest you dedicate at least a weekend to explore this region; it’s too long a drive for a day-hike and there are other nearby gems to explore.

We also recommend a stop at the Naches Ranger Station in Naches – not only do they offer a wealth of information to hikers and other recreational uses but this is also the site of the Three Mile Fire where several firefighters lost their lives only a few years ago.

Granite Lakes, Thompson Lake

June 16, 2010

Granite Lake(s) and Thompson Lake

Granite Lake, Thompson Lake (June 16, 2010)

I’ve been doing more hiking than writing lately so in order to stay more up-to-date on this blogs most entries will be shorter than my recent Barclay, Eagle Lake description.

We’ve gazed at the guidebooks and maps often, drooling over the possibility of getting to Thompson Lake, a hard-to-get-to lake no matter how you approach it.

Basically there are two approaches – one starting at the Ira Spring trailhead (the Mason Lake trail), continuing to Mount Defiance then dropping down to Thompson Lake. A lot of mileage and elevation gain. The other approach – and ours, is from the Granite Lakes road off the Snoqualmie Middle Fork road near North Bend. This is also a long, strenuous route.

We’d only intended to visit Granite Lakes on this cool but rare sunny day in June. The hike starts out on the Granite Lakes road (just past the Mailbox Peak trailhead) on the Middle Fork road. The road is a gated DNR road – there is room to leave a car or two there if you prefer starting from there. No trailhead pass required.

The guidebooks say it is about 11 miles round trip to Granite Lakes and that’s probably pretty accurate (PDA). Most of that mileage is on the road but it’s not an unpleasant walk. We passed stumps from past logging eras, Granite Creek (with a bridge) and all along the roadside, wildflowers. This also makes a good snowshoe walk in winter as there is no avalanche danger along the road.

In about 4-1/2 miles we came to a junction on the road, now with trail signs for Granite Lakes and Thompson Lake. This was the first time I’ve seen signs at this junction; they are a definite advantage.

For Granite Lakes, you hike downhill (right) onto an old road to where it ends. It is – roughly – a half mile from the junction. We stopped to admire violets and our first marsh marigolds of the season on our way. At the road end – no sign - look for flagging or if that is gone find an opening in the vegetation - that’s the trail.

The “trail” is probably less than ¼ of a mile to Upper Granite Lake but it’s a bit of a challenge. Crossing the outlet stream took a little cunning to keep feet dry but we managed (rock hop and vegetation belay). Not far from the stream crossing is Upper Granite Lake and it is a beauty. Since adjectives fail to describe such a pretty lake we’ll leave it at that. It’s damned pretty and larger than you might expect. Explore dim paths – some lead to secret campsites and one eventually takes you to Lower Granite Lake (we didn’t look for Lower Granite today). The ground cover is a glory of marsh marigolds, false lily-of-the-valley and Canadian dogwood just coming into bloom. Hellebore is just beginning to appear and beargrass will also bloom soon.

Back at the junction we had enough energy to hike further. I’d always wanted to explore the left branch from the junction – call it an old road or cat track, it’s rocky and lined with alders at lower elevations. Someone’s been lopping the encroaching vegetation (thanks!).

At about a mile – eureka! Another trail sign, this one for Thompson Lake – this, too, is a handy sign. Having never been to Thompson before we found it useful. The Green Trails map indicated it being about a mile to the lake.

We started out and soon came to the original sign for Thompson Lake, so weathered you could almost mistake it for a tree. A short steep stretch followed a level stretch, a couple of tributaries are crossed (not a problem), then the trail climbs to a ridge where you might expect a view of Thompson Lake. It’s only a partial view – trees obscure most of the lake and the trail continues on.

Silverback decided to take a break at the ridge while I continued, still hoping to get down to the lake. The last bit of trail is steep – it’s about 450 feet down to the lake and it’s steep, seemingly not often traveled. I had hoped to get to a viewpoint above the lake (it was too chilly to keep Silverback waiting for long) and I finally did where the trail breaks out into a boulder field with a stunning view of the lake, much larger than I thought it would be. To my surprise the lake was almost completely snow free (the trail was too) and I took several photos before turning around.

I dreaded the climb back to the ridge but I took it slow and easy; soon we were back on the road and on our way home. We both felt pretty good until about the last couple of miles on the Granite Lakes road; then, the fatigue caught up with us.

The stats: according to the GPS I hiked 17 miles (round trip) and Silverback 16. The elevation gain was about 3,800 feet (for me). The map is Green Trails No. 206 Bandera. If you skip Granite Lakes it’s closer to 16 miles round trip with less elevation gain.

Getting there: From Seattle take I-90 east past North Bend to Exit 34, pass the convenience stores and turn right onto the SE Middle Fork Road (Dorothy Lake road), continue about 3 miles to the trailhead for Mailbox Peak (left), park. Hike the road about ¼ mile to the Granite Lakes Road (a gated DNR road).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Barclay Lake and beyond

Barclay Lake and Beyond (May 27, 2010)

It had been about 10 years since my last visit to Barclay Lake; that was on snowshoes. Prior to that I’d been beyond Barclay Lake to Eagle Lake on an old, rugged trail on a summer day. How different would the trail and lakes look after this 10-year hiatus? This being a dreary we weren’t sure what to expect nor did we know how far we’d be able to get – that damned late-season snow would pop up sooner than later (it always seem to pop up sooner on late spring, early summer hikes).

The 4-mile forest service road (No. 6034) was in great shape, even for passenger cars. Even the trailhead is in good shape with two clean portable toilets, a kiosk and a box with wilderness permits for hikers venturing beyond Barclay Lake into the new Wild Sky Wilderness.

Then, there was the footbridge over Barclay Lake, about half way to Barclay Lake. In the past the bridge was broken, missing or so deep in snow you had to side-step across it on snowshoes as you clung to the rail.

Readers know by now that stream crossings are my least favorite aspect of hiking; I dread them unless I am 100 percent certain the body of water either has a bridge or can be easily boulder-hopped without risk of drowning or soaking the camera. I kept my dread to myself, recalling the time I’d forded the knee-deep Stillaguamish River rather than balance on the footlog that spanned it (everyone else walked the log but me). Perhaps this is because I never learned to swim. Yes, I know I could have been swept away but I still feel safer IN the water as opposed to FALLING into the water.

The first half of the trail is in recovering forest; a victim of past clear-cuts though the forest is recovering nicely. The old stumps with springboard notches are hosting new seedlings and groundcover is carpeting the ground with false lily-of-the-valley, moss, lichen and ferns. Mixed in with early season greenery are sprinkles of yellow violets, bleeding hearts and trilliums. In a word, it’s lovely.

After the gentle promenade through the forest we reached Barclay Creek and the bridge was in excellent shape; not only wide but with a good handrail. No sweat!

The trail between the creek and the lake is through deep, dark delicious forest, much of it old growth. The trail crosses a blowout (no water in it) a little before the lake. There are views of Mount Baring from the lake (I can attest to that having seen them in the past) but we were denied the views on this cloudy day - you’d never know the mountain was there. Nevertheless the lake is pretty, provides several, spacious campsites and many spots where one can leave the main trail and bask in an isolated pocket away from crowds on a sunny weekend.

We continued on the trail but since my memory was dim as to where the “old” trail to Eagle Lake began I’d done a bit of research on The Internet, clinging to the nugget of wisdom suggesting that as long as you kept the creek on your left you’d get to the lake.

My companions, Silverback and Florida Bob, were depending on me not to get them lost – neither had ever been to Barclay Lake. We did have the appropriate map, compass and a GPS though I can usually find my way around without needing to use them. Oddly, I seem to have a photographic memory of terrain, routes and trails including particular trees and oddly shaped boulders.

On our way around the lake we noted two signs for toilets (away from the lake) and empty campsites. We noted – and ignored – a couple of dim trails that headed uphill – they didn’t “feel” right. Too, we wondered – which creek do we keep to our left? We concluded it was probably near the inlet of the lake and sure enough, it was. After a stretch of old puncheon we found a “better” trail heading uphill and the creek was on our left.

Up we went and I do mean up. Though steep the trail was mostly easy to follow as it spurted uphill, weaving between stumps the size of prehistoric beasts, old growth trees and downed trees hosting small armies of seedlings. Occasional boulders rested or balanced between the trees; some seemingly held in place by roots.

An occasional cairn or ribbon came in handy along this stretch; purists might sneer at those of us who are grateful for cairns. Many purists dismantle them when they find them or tear down flags that mark an obscure route. I will never dismantle a cairn; on a foggy day they are helpful and not all hikers are wizards of the technological gadgets hikers use today (some seasoned hikers do just fine with map, compass and memory).

As for flagging, I have only flagged a route a couple of times but taken the flags down on my return. There seem to be two schools of thought regarding flags and cairns: destroy them or appreciate them – that is unlikely to change. We like cairns; we consider them old friends. All in all we found only a few cairns and only in the most strategic places.

Still keeping on the left side of the creek we climbed through the forest to the first of several boulder fields. In the mist it was hard to see ahead so here we relied somewhat on the cairns and the lay of the land. I enjoy negotiating boulder fields; it feels like “play” as I decipher a route through the maze of rocks, holes, blowdowns, emerging vegetation.

The cloudy day brought out many shades of green ranging from somber forest green to cheerful lime. The best time to explore this route is spring or in the fall (sans vegetation). Later in the year the boulder fields will become more challenging -- Devils club will soon leaf out as will soldiering alders at lower elevations.

We were just getting into gear for the fun of the boulder field when Silverback said “We have a problem”. A lens had popped out of his glasses and he didn’t have a spare set. Luckily, he found the lens but he is legally blind without both lenses in place (Florida Bob and I share Silverback’s unfortunate vision – without our glasses none of us would have “evolved”) - we’d have dropped out of the gene pool long ago eaten by tigers or by falling off a cliff.

I volunteered my spare set of glasses but mine were not strong enough. What to do? He was able to put the lens back in place but it soon popped out again. This necessitated either turning around (with the lens tucked safely away in a pocket) or coming up with a better fix. Silverback found a rock, sat down and set about making a temporary fix with items from his first aid kit. Somewhat carefully, we kept on going.

At the end of another steep stretch on boulders Silverback decided to call it quits; his vision was still partially obstructed by the “fix” to his glasses, it was getting cold and we were hungry. He’d wait for us there, bundle up and enjoy his lunch.

Florida Bob and I continued on, pleasantly surprised to find the route almost immediately left the boulders onto a state-of-the-art trail through the forest. We thought we were probably close enough to Stone Pond to keep going but we were denied the goal. After that pleasant stretch on honest-to-God trail we stalled at a snow-covered plateau with sets of old tracks going every which way. This was a good turnaround - we don’t like leaving a companion behind and it was getting colder.

Had we the time and better conditions we would have continued to Stone Pond, turned left and gone on to Eagle Lake but this was not the right time to pursue this. It didn’t take us long to get back to Silverback (he was just finishing his lunch). From there we made good time going down and as often is the case were surprised at how “short” the route is between Barclay Lake and Stone Pond - the route uphill feels “long” because it’s so steep!!

The hike back to the lake was uneventful – soon we were crossing Barclay Creek again and faster than you could say “Barclay Lake, Stone Pond and Eagle Lake” we were back at the car. Silverback’s glasses held up the entire jarring way much to everyone’s relief.

I forgot to mention that shortly after we left Barclay Lake we encountered our first “Wild Sky Wilderness” sign, our first sighting of a sign designating this wilderness area. Barclay Lake is not within the wilderness.

We will return – hopefully after the snow melts and before the worst of Devil’s club leafs out. Eagle Lake is still on the TBD list as is Mount Townsend. We’ll wait for a long, summer day and blue skies. Plus, we are still pining for that view of Mount Baring at the lake.

To get there: From Seattle head east on SR 2, turn left onto Forest Road No. 6034 (signed 635th Place NE), cross the railroad tracks, continue about 4 miles to the designated trailhead. A Northwest Forest Pass is required. The map is Green Trails No. 143 Monte Cristo.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost Lake, South Cascades, May 16, 2010

Lost Lake, South Cascades (May 16, 2010)

It’s always fun to “get away with something” by hiking a trail earlier in the season than guidebooks suggest. Such an experience was our recent hike to Lost Lake from Greenwater Lakes in the South Cascades. Generally considered a summer/fall hike this less-seldom-hiked trail can sometimes be hiked earlier for those wishing to push the envelope a bit. Well, that’s us for sure!

The trail to upper Greenwater Lake is in good condition - bridges are in and with beefy railings. It’s only about 2 miles to Greenwater Lakes with 200 feet or so of elevation gain. Since I’ve blogged about Greenwater Lakes already this year I don’t have much to add except that I always enjoy this trail, especially the green, green, green lakes.

The Greenwater Lakes trail is popular so Lost Lake is a good hike to consider either in the spring or in the fall when there’s room to park at the popular trailhead. On this spring-like day in May, there were a few other cars at the trailhead.

Our hike to Greenwater Lakes, the first “leg” of the trail was without difficulty and not that busy despite it being a sunny day. We hiked at a moderate and steady pace – not too fast to miss out on the beauty of Greenwater Lakes but fast enough that we’d be able to get to Lost Lake without feeling hurried.

After crossing the Greenwater River for the last time (on a double bridge) the trail begins its gradual climb through old-growth forest with occasional views down to the Greenwater River the first mile or so. At about 3 miles from the trailhead we reached the junction for Echo/Lost Lake (elevation about 3,028 feet). For Echo Lake, take the left fork – otherwise stay straight for Echo Lake.

As is so often the case in spring we mostly had the trail to ourselves – past the junction we crossed several small tributaries (none of the crossings warranted a bridge) and noted that Devil’s club is beginning to leaf out as well as nettles. The spring flowers are out – stream violets, trilliums, flowering currant, vanilla leaf (not yet in bloom). Everything looks brand new!

As the trail pulled further away from the river we began to encounter snow. At first it wasn’t a problem; a few hikers had beaten a path into the snow and it was chilly enough in the forest that the snow hadn’t melted. A few stretches were a little on the icy side but we managed to get through that without an ignominious pratfall. You might want to take trekking poles in case you run into an icy, stubborn patch. Fortunately for us the icy stretches were layered with pine needles; we did OK without Yak Trax.

About a half mile from Lost Lake we heard voices and met a group of youngsters who had made it to the lake with their dogs. They said the snow was “worse” above the lake but that we should be able to follow their tracks the rest of the way. About ½ mile from the lake we passed lovely Quinn Lake (left), notorious for its turquoise-colored water and sense of solitude. A short spur leads down to the lakeshore – we don’t know whether or not there is a campsite there, we didn’t hike around the lake (we were on a mission to get to Lost Lake).

What the hikers meant by “worse” was that within ¼ mile or so from the lake the snow was deep, soft and we began to post-hole. This is exhausting and exasperating after a while – not enough snow to warrant snowshoes but just enough to make a hiker crabby. Well, I should only speak for myself.

I recognized the semi-open terrain from a previous hike to the lake (about the same time of year) so we carried on and am glad we did because I knew we were close. Where snow has melted beargrass is beginning to appear, a good sign of warmer days to come.

After a bit more of wallowing in soft snow we reached the lakeshore (4,007 feet). The lakeshore was snow-free and there was a good selection of logs to sit upon for lunch. The light was not good for photography (white sky) but we simply delighted in being there and having a whole lake to ourselves. There are some dandy campsites near the lakeshore but alas, we were only out for the day.

Noble Knob (and Lost Lake) can be reached from Corral Pass but getting to that trailhead is no easy task for passenger cars. Most hikers will be content with the view of Noble Knob from Lost Lake, Noble Knob is further away than it looks through a strong hiker with route-finding skills could probably get up to the knob and back down before darkness on a long, summer day. You can also get to Noble Knob from the Ranger Creek trail or the Deep Creek trail (two long, steep trails accessed from SR 410).

The snow had softened up some on our way out; that made walking easier on the icy sections but a little more challenging on the snow (more post-holing). We made good time heading back to Greenwater Lakes; where only a few hikers remained, like us, reluctant to end the pleasant, spring day.

The hike to Lost Lake is 12 miles round trip with 1,800 feet of elevation gain. The maps are Green Trails No. 238 Greenwater and No. 239 Lester.

From Greenwater continue east on SR 410 to Forest Service Road No. 70, turn left and continue about 9 miles to the trailhead (right). A Northwest Forest Pass is required. You will need a wilderness permit if you are camping at Echo or Lost Lake.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Barlow Point, Old Government trail

Barlow Point, Old Government Trail, Railroad Grade (May, 2010)

The first time I hiked to Barlow Point was in the early 1980s with the late Archie Wright, his wife, Margie and Silverback (Silverback and I go back a long way but that’s a long story). It was a crisp, autumn day – Margie brought apples and an iced cake for our summit lunch and knowing Archie, he probably carried up a thermos of “cowboy” coffee.

Barlow Point is the site of a former lookout – there was little trace of it on that long ago fall day and even less in 2010 – just a mere twinkle of broken glass was all we could find and that may or may not have had anything to do with the lookout.

Either the mountains have grown taller or someone’s been taking down some of the trees because we saw many more Monte Cristo peaks than we did on that hike in the 1980s.

Just like my first visit I get all turned around on Barlow Point, even with the map and am never 100 percent sure of what peaks I’m looking at. To the best of my knowledge we saw Big Four (I initially had it confused with Del Campo, good grief!) and Mount Pugh (other peaks I won’t even attempt to name). It’s weird too – I’ve climbed several of those peaks yet they can look so different depending on where you are standing in relation to the peak.

At some angles Sloan and Pugh look like brothers, one’s just bigger than the other. But from another vantage point, they don’t look like they are related at all. In any event, the views from Barlow Point are – for lack of a better word, inspirational. If you’ve never wanted to take up climbing before you might develop an interest upon viewing these monstrously beautiful peaks from Barlow Point.

The trailhead for Barlow Point (and the Government Trail) is accessed from the upper parking lot at Barlow Pass. We prefer to park at Barlow Pass per se because we perhaps misguidedly believe we are less apt to get the car broken into along the Mountain Loop.
As for the Barlow Point trail there isn’t a sign for the trail at the trailhead kiosk.

Behind the restroom is a dim network of trails in dark forest. Look about for the “best” path; that’s the beginning of the Barlow Point trail. If you veer off too much to the left (toward the Mountain Loop Highway) you’ll find yourself on the Railroad Grade – that’s OK too if that’s what you’re looking for.

Keep on the main trail, you’ll soon come to a signed junction (2,335 feet) for Barlow Point (right) – the Old Government Trail continues straight.

After a bit of up and down the trail wraps rounds a rocky outcropping on decaying puncheon. Here we found trilliums and violets blooming like crazy anywhere there was a bit of earth to cling to. From the outcroppings the trail continues through forest. Boulders have come to rest and over time trees have embraced the boulders with their roots as if to hold them in place. The boulders came down some time ago, some under a fine sheen of moss. Old stumps rear up like the remains of bombed buildings, stark but lovely to behold and difficult to photograph in the dappled light. The forest is a pastiche of new evergreens, old evergreens and snags. We also spotted yellow cedar.

As the trail climbed our attention was drawn to growing views of what I mistakenly took to be Del Campo (it’s Silvertip Peak). We also found evidence of trail work here and there - piles of sawdust beside the trail attest to recently cut downed trees. En route to the summit there are openings in the forest where one could spend an afternoon dawdling on a mossy outcropping and enjoying the view.

We spent quite a long time on the summit (at 3,134 feet) gazing at the surrounding peaks and enjoying the sun. It felt like spring had finally arrived; there was no need to hurry, we had the place to ourselves (not uncommon). Silverback looked around for an old brace that held the lookout in place he remembered from our 1980 hike but no trace remained.

When we hiked down o the junction for the Government Trail we were surprised to run into a friend and fellow hiker, Kim, who loves abandoned, seldom-hiked trails as much as we do. Kim was on her way to Barlow Point – she had never been there. Before we parted company we talked about the historical trails in the area. When I mentioned remnants of old puncheon on the Government Trail she said her feet get all “tingly” even thinking about hiking on old puncheon. We know the feeling!

She continued on her way to Barlow Point, we set off to follow the Old Government as far as we could, perhaps as far as Buck Creek or at least to a tributary I remembered from my first visit long ago when I came upon a mink or a river otter at the seasonal waterfall that occurs there in spring.

The Old Government trail is a gentle one for the most part; with a few blowdowns and ancient puncheon. We found a few boot prints here and there though this trail doesn’t get much use. We encountered historic puncheon here and there, some of it broken and a broken bridge where someone had nailed wire to make for easier walking. However, it hadn’t rained much and it was a just a big step to cross the tributary the bridge once spanned.

At times we could see the old Monte Cristo railroad grade below the trail, a little further on we could see the Mountain Loop Highway and beaver ponds near the road. From the Mountain Loop Highway you’d never know there was a trail.

We called it quits at the tributary; it wasn’t as pretty as it was back in the late 1980s. There have been blowouts over the years and where the seasonal waterfall once fanned out over an outcropping there’s a mess of downed trees and rubble. Though you wouldn’t think so the trail continues to Buck Creek – cross the creek and pick up the trail on the other side. We turned around at that point so couldn’t vouch for what shape the trail is in beyond the tributary.

On our way back we looked for the railroad grade and when we spotted it we left the Old Government trail and dropped down to hike it back to the trailhead. We dropped down a bit too soon and had to work through some pesky alders before getting to the Railroad Grade. However, if you want to visit the railroad grade instead of heading to Barlow Point continue on the Old Government trail to an obvious trail that cuts down to the railroad grade (it’s not very far from the trailhead).

Barlow Cut is not as obvious as it used to be; we passed right through it without my recognizing it. The old kiosk that tells about Barlow Cut and the Monte Cristo railroad is gone, you’d be hard-pressed now to identify it.

The Barlow Point trail is about 2.4 miles round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead (per our GPS). To get there: drive from Granite Falls about 31 miles to Barlow Pass - park in the upper lot (left) or along the highway. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Glacial Heritage Preserve, Prairie Appreciation Day

Glacial Heritage Preserve - May 8, 2010

Two Wildflower Hikes: Glacial Heritage Preserve (May 8, 2010) and the Westberg Trail (May 9, 2010)

After a couple of cloudy-rainy-day hikes on Tiger Mountain I was in need of sun and wildflowers. It so happened that my friend Lola was free on May 8th; happily that was also Prairie Appreciation Day at the Glacial Heritage Preserve. Since the preserve is open to the public only ONE day out of the year we weren’t going to miss it.

The preserve is one of the last remnants of a prairie system that once covered large areas of our state. The camas-covered prairies also provided food-gathering areas for Native Americans; today the preserve serves as an outdoor classroom for students to study the plants and ecology.

Only a few years ago the entire area was covered in Scots broom but volunteers have spent thousands of hours restoring the area to it’s natural habitat – thanks to funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Forest Foundation and the Nature Conservancy. Volunteers have removed and continue to remove Scots broom and plant native plants. The Scotch broom is removed by pulling, burning, mowing, controlled fire and some use of herbicides.

The preserve is owned by Thurston County Parks and Recreation – the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manages a portion as well. The land was purchased in the late 1980s when private citizens realized the importance of prairies and their role in human and natural history

The Preserve is not only a sanctuary for wildflowers, it is also a home to over a hundred bird species ranging from peregrine falcons to western bluebirds. Several species of butterflies can also be seen here; there are even herds of black tail deer and elk.

When we arrived the parking area was rapidly filling up with visitors but we managed to squeeze in. First we picked up a brochure at the Welcome Booth designed for the self-guided trail (a loop) with designated areas of interest (marked by numbers). There was also a shorter loop for visitors wanting an easier walk – the long loop was just under four miles. There were also activities for children including a hay ride.

Even on our way into the preserve we’d noticed camas growing in nearby fields and along the road. Inside the preserve the grassy mounds and swales were a sea of blue – from the edge of the road all the way to the horizon. Common camas was an important food of Native Americans. Bulbs were dug up in the spring and then cooked in pits dug into the ground. In addition to common camas we saw a bit of death camas as well as western buttercup and spring gold. The brochure said we’d spot chocolate lilies though we failed to spot them.

There were 38 “stops” along the self-guided trail, each with an explanation in the accompanying brochure. In one area Garry oak trees are being released from the shade of Douglas fir and shore pine. The conifers grow faster than the oak trees and have a high tolerance for shade. Prior to settlements fires destroyed some of the conifers but the oak trees withstand fires better than the conifers. Some of the oaks here are over 150 years old; the conifers are much younger. Today controlled burns and cutting are used to maintain the presence of the oak trees.

There were several displays to visit as well; one dedicated to butterflies, another to birds, another to bats, another to native plants and more. We got a kick out of the wildflower displays where volunteers had set up giant homemade plants and fashioned bee wings for children to wear so they could go out and pollinate the flowers. They were, of course, encouraged to buzz as they pollinated the flowers. It was fun to watch them; they never had stuff like that for kids when I was growing up!

I could dedicate more pages to this event but better yet – for a taste of the prairie you can visit nearby Mima Mounds year-round. Right now would be a good time to go – here you will see mounds in the earth; no one can say for sure how the mounds were created. The mystery of the mounds continues to mystify the experts. We stopped by nearby Mima Mounds after our walk through the Glacial Heritage Preserve; there were fewer people here so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We saw more common camas and flowers we’d seen in the nearby Preserve but there were tons of violets here as well.

Mima Mounds Natural Area: To get there: From Seattle go south via I-5 to 10 miles south of Olympia, get off at Exit 95, then go west on Maytown Road SW about 4 miles through the little town of Littlerock to a T intersection turn right onto Waddell Creek Road SW, continue 0.8 miles north and turn left. To get to the Glacial Heritage Preserve you’d turn left at the T intersection but the preserve will not be open to the public again until next year – UNLESS you’d like to volunteer some time to helping various organizations on their ongoing work in maintaining the preserve. If so, visit the website for The Nature Conservancy at http://www.nature.org/ or http://www.southsoundprairies.org/ for additional information. .

Westberg Trail – May 9, 2010

Last year I blogged about the Westberg Trail, a favorite trail that has become an annual event. The Westberg Trail is near Thorp on the east side of the mountains (see driving directions below). The trail is named to honor a popular high school coach (Ray Westberg) who died too young. There are memorials on the high point of the hike in addition to a memorial for Westberg. There’s even a summit register! The views of Mount Stuart from the trail are breathtaking, especially with clumps of golden balsamroot in the foreground and a green checkerboard of fields below. We made the mistake of not bringing a wildflower guide; never again!

In addition to “cow” clover and balsamroot we saw sagebrush violets, a variety of lomatiums, lupine, larkspur, sagebrush, serviceberry and flowers we could not identify. We missed out on seeing bitterroot this year – we were either too early or too late to see them.

After the climb to the memorial we continued hiking on a Green Dot DNR road (these roads are open to motorized vehicles) to a high point with views of Mount Rainier and a partial view of Mount Adams (in the distance). There’s a network of these Green Dot roads; one goes to an observatory but that is not open to the public.

It was the first “hot” hike of the year; shirt-sleeve weather has finally arrived! But if it’s flowers you want to see, go soon. The displays will soon be over.

Getting there: From Seattle head east on I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass and get off I-90 at Exit 110 (Thorp Highway) and turn right. In about two miles turn right again on Cove Road, go straight at two stop signs. Just past the second stop sign find parking on the right hand side of the road, just before a gravel road and the beginning of the hike, about six miles from I-90, elevation 1,850 feet. There are no facilities. No permits or passes required.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Two hikes on Tiger Mountain, May 2010

Two Hikes on Tiger Mountain – May 2010 (Cable Line Trail, Middle Tiger via West Side Road, TMT, Artifacts trail)

This is May? What happened to spring?

This has been an odd spring but the work of getting (or staying) in shape continues no matter the weather or the number of birthdays (I wish I could slow those down!). .

I’ve become fond of the Cable Line Trail; it’s a great opportunity to get into or stay in shape. Though I am long in the tooth I get a little faster every time I tackle it and feel I could climb forever.

We arrived at the Cable Line trailhead on a rainy Saturday morning; despite the nasty weather there were already other hikers on the Cable Line. I passed a few hikers on the trail; a few passed me. It used to be that everyone passed me so I have no complaints. Besides, it’s not about ego – it’s about feeling fit because being fit feels good.

This trail simply gets down to the business of getting to the summit of West Tiger 3 as efficiently as possible; mostly straight up. When it’s muddy, care is needed to keep from slipping in the mud whether climbing or descending. When it’s dry care is needed to keep from skidding on the packed dirt, especially descending. It was muddy though we managed to stay upright, coming and going.

It was too cold to spend time on the summit; we elected to hike down via the Section Line trail, another favorite trail. We’ve hiked the Section Line trail often enough now that we have “favorite” trees and always give them a pat in passing; seeing our pet trees is almost like running into old friends.

At lower elevations spring is springing into action – woodland flowers are blooming. We spotted trilliums, bleeding hearts, violets, fringe-cup, vanilla leaf (no flowers yet), wild ginger, false lily-of-the-valley.

By the time we got back to Tradition Plateau we still felt like hiking so hiked the Swamp Trail, the Ruth Kees Big Tree trail and the Adventure Trail. These trails are more lonesome than many trails at Tiger though we did run into a few other hikers.

This reminds me -- a woman was recently assaulted on a trail near Tradition Plateau (a potential sexual assault) but she fought back and the man ran off. We were surprised to hear of this – that happened on a Saturday morning, generally a busy time on Tiger Mountain. Since then a sketch has been released of the assailant; if you haven’t already done so take a look at The Seattle Times for the sketch. And be on the alert.

As we hiked the lower elevation trails we noted how beautiful horsetails are when they are in their proper place; (not our yard thank you!). We’ve been battling horsetails for two years now and are slowly making progress. They’re ugly in the yard but beautiful in the forest.

The second hike on Tiger was yesterday (May 5, 2010). The weather was – well, awful. The forecast was for showers with partial clearing but it never cleared, at least not in Issaquah. We drove to the trailhead on SR 18; we wanted to start out on the Iverson Railroad Trail.

The Iverson Railroad trail was closed so instead we hiked the West Side Road to access the TMT; but soon after we started hiking we got side-tracked by the old “Artifacts Trail” and followed that instead, pausing at the site of a fatal train crash in 1925; mangled ties and contorted metal tell a sad story.

Though we had the map with us we were so wet that we elected to hike until we reached a high point or the next trail junction, whichever came first. Big mistake! After passing more artifacts we were unable to identify the trail grew steeper as the rain intensified. It wasn’t too much longer before the rain turned to snow – we kept on going.

As we climbed the trail grew even steeper and the snow deeper, not enough to warrant an ice axe or traction devices but enough to render the trail slippery, making it more difficult to follow the trail. When we could climb no higher we deduced we’d reached Middle Tiger (a summit without a view, even on a nice day).

Then we made another mistake. Rather than hike back the way we came we followed a more discernible trail we believed would connect to the TMT. We soon came to a signed junction (whew!) and only had to hike another mile to the West Side Road. This stretch was gorgeous but we were too cold to stop for photography; the precipitation intensified, turning from snow to rain.

Finally we reached the West Side Road but did not stop other than to gulp down an energy drink before the final stretch back to the trailhead. We were so wet that despite good rain gear, boots, hats and gloves we were getting cold, hungry and tired. That’s never a good combination - it seemed to take forever before we got back to the trailhead.

We were overjoyed to reach the car, a hot thermos of coffee and dry clothing. It was only after we’d changed into dry clothes we were able to eat our lunch – our fingers (despite our wool gloves) had grown so cold while hiking down from Middle Tiger that they were unwilling to grapple with packs and get our lunch out. It’s all too easy to see how hypothermia can get hikers into trouble.

It rained all the way back to Seattle despite a forecast of “showers” with a few sun breaks. We were happy to get home and dry out our gear.

In retrospect we should have turned around sooner than we did and putting ourselves at the risk of hypothermia. We had good gear but on such a wet hike it never holds up as well as we’d like it to; plus, I made the same mistake I have made over and over again, not bringing enough extra food. I don’t eat much when I hike; another mistake. I get so interested in what I am doing I just don’t think about food!! For that reason I carry a protein drink along and that has come in handy several times over the years (GU packets work well too when your fingers refuse to cooperate).

We are eager to repeat our loop on a dry day so we can enjoy this hike, rather than merely survive it. According to the GPS we hiked about 11 miles with roughly 2,800 feet of gain (taking into account numerous ups and downs).

Monday, May 3, 2010

West Fork Miller River, hiking

West Fork Miller River (mid-April, 2010)

Hikers with cross-country hiking and route-finding skills will get a kick out of this hike as will history buffs; it’s not a hike for a novice.

It’s not the mileage or the elevation gain that make it a challenge; it’s the rugged terrain. The “hike” is an old road that it is becoming trail-like over time; this road will never be repaired – it is the kind of place where likely the only other people you might run into are fishermen, hunters and those looking for old mines.

For some, a place like this is a hiker’s paradise. The terrain is so scenic it’s hard to take it all in. For starters, the road parallels the West Fork of the Miller River for quite a way (nothing but clich├ęs come close to describing the essence of a wild river), huge old growth trees, wildflowers (in season), boulders dripping with beaded moss and ferns, some with overhangs deep enough to provide shade for bears and such. The biggest tree we saw was a cedar tree; you can’t miss it, it’s on the right-hand side of the road, not very far from the trailhead.

Did I say trailhead? There is not a designated trailhead per se; nor is there a sign, not even a road number. However, it is easy to find if you want to find it (see driving directions below).

The scenery is not the only thing that will slow a hiker down – watching where you place your feet will also take concentration. Parts of the road resemble a stream; in fact, are a stream, especially the first mile or so. In April we did not have to cross raging torrents or resort to wading shoes but rock-hopping on slippery rock skills will come in handy. You might want to bring poles - again, nothing dangerous, just painstaking.

In late April flowers are becoming to bloom; trilliums, bleeding hearts, yellow violets were prevalent, especially along the first mile or so. There is also an ideal campsite a few steps from the “trailhead” above the river with a campfire ring.

There are several blowouts where streams came down and tore up the road. Avalanche activity, stream blowouts and floods have completely taken out sections of the road but again, not impassible.

When the fall rains return (or the spring snow melt) you may not be able to safely negotiate crossing these gullies and streams. You’ll have to check that out yourself; you won’t find trail conditions of this place at ranger stations or in guidebooks.

As the forest opens up cliffs comes into view on the right-hand side of the road. These are impressive cliffs indeed. A little further along a waterfall comes into view (right); to the best of our knowledge it is without a name.

The Cascade Mountain massif comes into view on the left side of the road as elevation is gained. At about our half-way point the road climbs above the river where you can see an enormous landslide or avalanche has taken a huge bite out of the landscape; it must have been a devastating climatic event to cause that amount of chaos. The slope all the way down to the river is composed of nothing but downed trees and debris. Past the avalanche debris the road returns to forest and is road-like for a while. We soon began to encounter snow with fresh boot prints (there had been one other car at the trailhead) and wondered if we would encounter other hikers before turnaround. Later we did meet the other hikers – they turned out to be a couple of young fishermen.

We also noticed a few cairns beside the road – where do they lead? Old mines? Secret campsites? Seldom-climbed summits?? Following the cairns is no easy task for a hiker; such temptations are best left to those with scrambling skills and in-depth knowledge of the topography.

Those who know how to do so safely can ferret out mines that can be accessed from the West Fork Miller River Road but proceed with caution – entering old mines can be dangerous and the terrain rugged. Hiking cross-country above the old road is about as far away as you can get from even a strenuous hike. According to what we have read from other sources, none of the mines are easily accessible.

Past the big landslide the road pulled away from the river through forest; here the road was in relatively good shape and out of harm’s way. The last mile or so was mostly in snow; not deep enough for snowshoes.

When we got to Coney Creek there was no safe way to get across. The creek was running high and wild; rock hopping would be impossible (upon more research we read an account where someone almost got swept down the creek while attempting to ford). This, Coney Creek is probably the logical turnaround point for most hikers.

Another caution; watch out for the resident bear. We almost met him on our way back to the trailhead. About ½ mile from the trailhead we stopped at a large boulder with an overhang; an ideal spot to pose a friend for a photograph. Silverback agreed to pose – I could not hear him about the sound of the river but just before getting into a sitting position under the overhang he yelled “Pinocchio!” to make sure there wasn’t an animal inside.

He reasoned that if there was an echo, there was “nobody” home. Much to his surprise he heard muffled snarls and snorts (which I could not hear) so I couldn’t understand why he was backing away from the overhang until he said there was a bear inside. We backed away slowly from the cave then picked up our pace, turning around every so often to make sure we weren’t being followed. We weren’t.

Don’t make the mistake we did – we should have known better. Make sure there’s “nobody” home if you think crawling under an overhang is a good idea.

6.7 miles round trip to Coney Creek, elevation gain about 1,000 feet

To get there head east on US 2 toward Stevens Pass and in about 1.9 miles past Skykomish and just past the Skykomish Ranger Station turn right onto Money Creek Road. The road is in good condition for passenger cars as of late April 2010. In about 3.5 miles from US 2, look for a green gate barring vehicular access to an old forest service road (right) and park in the unofficial parking area near the gate (no Northwest Forest Pass required). The old road that serves as “trail” is not signed.

Marten Creek trail - April 25, 2010


Marten Creek Trail to View of Three Fingers

The Marten Creek trail is a lonesome trail; perhaps it always has been except when miners worked the region in hopes of striking it rich. Mines remain today but are known only to a few but their handiwork remains – old puncheon, wooden bridges. The area around Marten Creek is riddled with old trails/roads, baffling to hikers over the years as they did their best to get to rumored-Granite Pass with views of Three Fingers, Liberty and Anaconda Peaks. Did one of the old roads once extend to the Darrington region? There are questions to be raised; questions, perhaps, that may never be answered.

What is true about Marten Creek is the beautiful, deep forest, site of the first experimental forest plantation (established in 1915) after a major forest fire destroyed much of Long Mountain. Signs along the first mile of the trail designate the year and place seedlings were planted.

A sign at the trailhead informs visitors that an Eagle Scout Project has worked or is working on a trail project. Details are unknown to us (the sign was mostly blank) though we suspect trail maintenance because this is the best shape the trail (road) has been in since my first visit back in the 1980s..

A road-bridge project on The Mountain Loop (from Granite Falls) makes parking a little difficult; find a wide place near to park near the highway, don’t block road equipment. Hopefully the trailhead sign will be back in place in the near future. Though the trailhead sign is not visible display the NW Forest Pass just in case the Forest Service takes a gander at vehicles parked at trailheads.

The hike starts out on an old road that once led to mines and passes the designated Experimental Forest Plantation by the Forest Service, the first of its kind in the country. Between evergreens of various ages/origins are boulders that broke away from peaks above before the trees took root.

We looked for and found a bus-sized boulder on the road/trail where a tree is growing on top. The boulder has been described in the out-of-print “Monte Cristo Area” by Harry M. Majors and Richard McCollum. It’s fun to find points of interest others have written about; we also found the remains of an old wooden bridge also mentioned in the book.

Marten Creek is on the west (downhill side) and at times can be glimpsed through the trees. Vague paths – mostly game trails – veer off into the green-gray glooms of the forest where they either die in brush or lead to forgotten campsites.

At about 3 miles the trail breaks out of the forest and the summit ridge of Three Fingers comes into view through the thinning evergreens. The forested peak beside it is Anaconda Peak (a high point of Gordon Ridge).

The trail was in fair condition to that point; we hoped to be able to follow it all the way to Granite Pass but our hopes were dashed. At about 3-1/4 miles from the trailhead we lost the trail altogether in a Rorschach mess of snow, downed trees, rocks and brush. We satisfied ourselves with the fine view of Three Fingers (3,875 feet) and resolved to return – when the snow melts, before the shrubs leaf out.

There were (are?) old trails – or wagon roads – on both sides of the Marten Creek valley. I remember years ago the trail crossed Marten Creek and dead-ended in brush. My memory might not be correct but it felt like we got closer to Granite Pass this time than in the mid to late 1980’s when we followed the “other” trail that ran up the valley closer to the creek. More recent trail reports indicate that the road (trail) we were on does cross Marten Creek before getting to Granite Pass. That makes sense but just how to get to that crossing is another matter.

The hike to our turnaround point is 6-1/2 miles round trip with 1,400 feet of elevation gain.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hypothermia Hills, April 6, 2010


Q: Where the heck is Hypothermia Hills? A: Just about any trail near North Bend on a rainy day.

This was just about the most entertaining but frustrating hike we’ve done lately. The trail is not really a trail, rather it is a route that has sprung up like weeds that lead to any number of destinations, none of them sane or easily described. Add rain, sleet and mud and you’ve got Hypothermia Hills.

This trail (for lack of a better word) is undoubtedly nothing to a rock climber but a hiker will have their work cut out for them. It could be considered one of the climbers’ trails off Exit No. 38 and you might be able to find more information about this trail by researching The Internet or a bookstore, especially a used bookstore.

Of greater interest to some: you can look up “Dirty Harry” on The Internet but this Dirty Harry is not to be confused with Clint Eastwood. Dirty Harry was a gyppo logger who put in logging roads where other road-builders refused to tread. Let’s just say the foothills around North Bend were his cathedral, a place where his used-up trucks and equipment could forever rest.

A hike called “Dirty Harry’s Balcony” should also give you some idea of what to expect of the terrain and though guidebook author Harvey Manning was not fond of the logging industry (especially gyppo loggers), I believe he had a grudging admiration for wily Dirty Harry who built roads too stubborn to die. Legend has it that Harry is still around and if he’s not, his ghost is. Every time I come across a cable in the brush, I get a shiver thinking of Dirty Harry and the way he shaped the land up around North Bend. I also believe that though he used the land he loved it fiercely.

There’s also a place where a stream crosses Dirty Harry’s road where persistent hikers find and photograph the slow death of one of Dirty Harry’s trucks. I’ve looked but haven’t found it yet; like Harry, it eludes me.

I may have met his ghost. Recently on our way to Mount Si we screeched to a halt along the Mount Si Road where elk had just crossed and were disappearing into a field, silent as shadows. A few other vehicles braked to a stop and pulled off to the side for a closer look. A fiftyish fellow in a beat-up pickup had pulled over and rolled his window down – he was holding on to a cup of coffee with one hand and his lower denture in the other as he expounded to us on how “great” it is to see elk so close. We were as fascinated by this local as we were the elk – he was so amazingly unself-conscious about how he looked. I almost asked his name but didn’t. I’m basically shy. It’s one of the reasons I write.

When I was writing for The Seattle Post Intelligencer I got a handwritten letter from a reader who was a child when she encountered him on a logging road in North Bend. Her family had gone for a picnic and a Sunday drive on the back roads when their car broke down. It was getting on toward twilight and it was too far for the father to hike down to North Bend. As they sat in the car trying to think what to do a couple of rough-looking fellows pulled up in a beat-up truck. This was back in the days before cell phones; the men offered to drive the father down to North Bend for help. The woman continued her story describing how long it felt to sit in the car with her mother as darkness fell, waiting for her father to return. The story had a happy ending – obviously the ruffians were good men and did not harm anyone in the family.

Back to the present: Instead of going to North Bend we continued east, turning off I-90 at Exit 38; from there we continued east along the frontage road (Old US 10) to the east end of the exit (to head back west you have to drive back along the frontage road for the west-bound on-ramp). Parking is limited but there are a few spaces where you can park without blocking roads used by the Fire Training Center or land-management agencies. To find the beginning of the trail hike up the road as if you were going to the state Fire Training Center. Cross the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River on a bridge. Just after you cross the river on the bridge spot the trail heading east along the river.

Some hikers call this the “bird box trail” and I find this name agreeable despite the unpleasantness of the route on a rainy day. There are actually bird boxes on trees at several points along the trail. Nope, I don’t know who put them there but it’s nice to spot one (that way, you know you are “somewhere” at least).

We found the Bird Box trail by accident (we had planned to visit Dirty Harry’s Balcony) a few years ago. We’d planned to hike to Dirty Harry’s Balcony (further up the road past the state Fire Training Center) but spotted an obvious trail at the bridge. We’d been to the “balcony” before and since the trail near the bridge wasn’t signed we had to find out where it went.

That turned out to be a route-finding romp but the weather was good and my companions were jolly. The crafty path wove between boulders in forest gloom before finally climbing to grassy, bald knolls with views down to I-90, the surrounding foothills and ridges. After gaining 1,300 feet or so the trail came out on an old road with a sign and arrow pointing to Dirty Harry’s Balcony (you can also get to this spur from Dirty Harry’s Road). From there it only took a few minutes to reach the Balcony. After the visit to the Balcony we followed the spur road back to Dirty Harry’s Road and hiked back to the car – that made a nice loop.

Silverback and I attempted to repeat that loop yesterday; we were raring to go despite the rain. After crossing the South Fork of the Snoqualmie I looked for the start of the trail and spotted it immediately (it is on the east side of the bridge).

Off we went in the spirit of optimism despite the rain. The trail is level for a bit as it parallels the river and gradually becomes an old road. The next stretch of the hike is part of a cable line road. Signs prohibit “digging” because of the buried cable but who would want to dig here anyway? After a bit of this and that we paused at an unsigned fork in deep woods interspersed with boulders. You will encounter several forks on this trail system, each one more vague than the one before.

Memory kicked in; I recognized a tugboat-sized boulder pinned to earth by a chain mail of steely roots. While the surrounding forest is dark and gloomy the outcroppings, are graced with the yellow-green sheen of moss that illustrates how long the boulders have been there (a very long time).

Meanwhile, back at the “junction” I couldn’t remember the correct “spur” to continue on the Bird Box Trail. First we tried the east fork; but that was wrong – the east “fork” does lead to another jumble of boulders but that wasn’t where we wanted to go.

We tried the other path; the correct one (this is actually the old road that is marked with buried cable signs). From that junction it was up, up and up. Occasionally we’d spot a bird-box or a cairn to help us find our way though once you are on the correct trail, it’s easy enough to follow.

The buried cable signs disappeared; the trail climbed steeply, through pockets of forest, skirting rocky promontories with what are wonderful views on clear days. Today the views were of fog in shades of white and gray, obscuring the ridgelines across the freeway. From time to time I-90 would partially materialize before disappearing again into the void.

Of course, we were dealing with Harry’s weather; rain, drizzle and fog. Worse, we began to encounter snow. Initially the snow wasn’t a problem though we had to watch our step where the path skirted an outcropping with nothing below but fog. After skirting about the 5th or 6th outcropping (we weren’t counting, we were too busy hiking) we lost the trail in a forested section where snow had covered the ground. We gamely carried on a while because we knew we were close to the road that provides egress to Dirty Harry’s Balcony.

We were ever certain of success when we spotted a wooden arrow pointing the way on a tree but Dirty Harry had a trick or two up his sleeve. He wasn’t going to allow these city slickers into the Balcony today; we spent quite a bit of time looking for the trail, always returning to the arrow so as not to get lost.

Lest you think we are idiots without route-finding skills give us a break; the GPS is broken and our only assistance was my less-than-perfect memory and our ability to follow the trail as the snow continued to erase the tread. It was getting late, we were getting wet and after bungling about on what “might” have been the “trail” we had to admit defeat and start back down the way we’d come (earlier in the day we’d gaily remarked how nice it would be to hike back down on Dirty Harry’s Road rather than the Bird Box trail). Be careful what you say!

Descending the trail was not pleasant; where there wasn’t a thin layer of snow there was mud. Then, of course, add rocky outcroppings looming over a foggy void where a haphazard slip could lead to Certain Unpleasantness. While this descent could hardly qualify as having a good time it went quickly, much more quickly than we’d anticipated. Fantasies of dry clothes and coffee back at the car added inspiration to our somewhat reckless and speedy descent (we managed to descend without slipping, a minor miracle).
We were chilled to the bone by the time we got back to the car; even the best raingear and boots will fail to some extent on such a wet day. Sound miserable? It was; but it was also a lot of fun.

As for the weather we call it hypothermia weather; hence, Hypothermia Hills. So rest guaranteed that just about any place you hike around North Bend on a wet day might put you at for hypothermia – go prepared. Watch out for Dirty Harry’s ghost, allow time to sleuth the way and if you ever do find the connection of the Bird Box trail to the Balcony drop me a note!

Last but not least I’d love to say we’d climbed a couple thousand feet for a 10-mile hike but it appears we’d gained only about 1,300 feet of elevation per my ancient altimeter; and I’ll guess at the mileage. Three to 3-1/2 miles the at most; it felt like more.