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.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Meeks Table

Meeks Table, June 11, 2010


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 William O. Douglas 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

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 17.4 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.