Monday, May 21, 2012

dirty harry's balcony

Round Trip Distance: 3.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 800 feet
High point: 2160
Map:  Green Trails No. 206
Passes:  Discover Pass
If you haven’t been up to Dirty Harry’s Balcony, it’s time to go!  Why, you ask?  Well, it’s simple really.  Dirty Harry’s Balcony boasts great views, is close to North Bend and offers a fantastic place to spread out and picnic without having to be concerned about invading the next picnic over. Named after an iconic Northwest logger, “Dirty Harry”, remains of logging-past can still be found rusted and scattered about in places.  Nature has healed the scars of man, and the trail looks much like any other in the Northwest, only with fewer boot prints.  This little gem is really underused and under-discovered! Hiker friends, meet, Dirty Harry’s Balcony!
Head east on I-90, and take exit 38.  Turn right off the exit (south) and follow the signs to the Fire Training Academy.  The road dead-ends at a gate where you’ll find lots of parking spots and a trailhead.  Hang your Discover Pass and walk the road, past the gate.  Cross over a bridge and immediately look to your right.  That crazy little trail which starts at the end of the guard rail is the trailhead.  There is one further down too, but the guardrail trail is a bit easier on the knees and ticker.

On the trail:
Head up the trail and a few paces in, arrive at the old logging road which is wider and more travelled.  From here, it gets tricky, but very manageable. There are lots of great places to rock climb in this area, and little trails head off everywhere.  The trails here are primitive and not wide cruising lanes, so watch your footing. The best possible advice I can give you is to follow the signs which are warning of underground cables, they will eventually lead you to the turn off for the balcony, so let them guide you. Most trails will eventually connect back up with the main one, so if you make a mistake, you’ll soon enough be back on track. Up, up, up the trail climbs, following the signs and having you climb over a few blowdowns.  Look for cairns (rock stacks) and stick arrows leading you up the correct course and the widest trail in the area.  As you huff it uphill, watch for rusted debris here and there, which speaks of days gone by and escorts you as you get closer to the balcony.  Look up, as sometimes it’s hanging from trees!  
Eventually, the trail reaches a small plateau in the forest understory.  Look for a stack of sticks with a trail arrow pointing you towards the balcony and walk out on the sturdy, wide overlook.  An old milk crate and two rock piles are further up the trail, if you miss the sticks.  Either small trail will get you over to the balcony.  If you make a mistake and keep climbing up Dirty Harry’s Peak, eventually, you’ll be able to look down and see the balcony (large flat rock) and it will dawn on you where you should have turned.  It might sound complicated, but it’s really quite easy to find!  Keep your eyes out for alligator lizards near the rocks and enjoy the floral scented air.  When you’ve had enough, head back the way you came and check Dirty Harry’s Balcony off your ‘must explore’ list.
Late May flowers:  penstemon, bleeding heart, yellow violet, twin flower, spreading phlox, magenta paintbrush, 
Walk through this gate and down the road

After passing this guardrail, look right- this is the trail!

So-green-it-hurts as you hike

Bleeding heart

Follow the "Warning buried cable signs" as you go up, up, up!

Life uncurls from a dormant winter
Keep an eye out for trail markers as you head up, like this arrow and cairn

Find this arrow and pile of sticks, which leads you to the balcony
Campfire remains on the balcony

Looking east from the balcony

Interstate ribbons

More interstate ribbons and the Snoqualmie River

Looking south

Thursday, May 3, 2012

cedar butte

Northwest hikers know to expect crowds on early season, sunny weekends. With so many trails covered in snow, folks are flocking to trails which are accessible, family friendly and known. But, at least one trail still holds a handful of solitude without having to throw 'trail elbows'. So, with a warm e-handshake...Cedar Butte, meet my hiker friends. Hiker Cedar Butte!

With cars backed up on both sides of the Cedar Falls Road, I passed right by Rattlesnake Ledge Trail and headed towards Cedar Butte; a favorite and relatively crowd-free option. Some of you have met Cedar Butte already, but those that haven't deserve to get acquainted with the woodsy trail and peaceful beauty of this hill.

Cedar Butte Loop
R/T distance: 5 miles total (including 2 on the John Wayne Trail/Iron Horse, 3 on Cedar Butte trail)
Elevation gain: 900 feet
Directions: From Seattle drive east on I-90 to exit 32 (436th Avenue SE). Turn right (south) on 436th Avenue SE (Cedar Falls Road SE) and drive about 4.5 miles, passing the Rattlesnake Lake parking area, until you find the Iron Horse/John Wayne Trailhead parking area on the left.

Head east on the John Wayne/Iron Horse Trail for almost one mile. The John Wayne/Iron Horse Trail is biker friendly, so to save time, occasionally I ride my bike and lock it up near the trailhead. Just past the bridge over Boxley Creek, keep a sharp eye out to the right for a well-worn trail. Since this trail is 'unofficial' it doesn't get the signage and promotion of the others. Because of this it also doesn't get the crowds. The trail is skinny, woodsy and inviting; head on in!

In roughly 1/4 of a mile you come upon a fork in the trail, marked by an old sign with an arrow pointing right and a stack of rocks (cairn). You can go either straight or right at this point as it makes a loop. I recommend going straight, which starts climbing through sallal in a decent huff and puff.

Before long, arrive at a flat shelf with signs pointing toward the summit. Head towards the summit (to the left/east) and on the way, get a couple views of Rattlesnake Lake through the trees. Before long, you are standing on a nice flat summit with a beautiful sitting log and a benchmark to prove you are there! Enjoy the limited views to the east and head back down toward the flat shelf. SIDE NOTE: This trail doesn't have postcard views into the valley, but rather peek-a-boo views of the neighboring peaks through the trees. It's a nice place to catch your breath, have a snack, and enjoy standing on top of the butte.

Once back at the shelf, instead of turning right (the way you came), head straight (west) and follow the trail towards the Boxley Blowout, which holds a very interesting, and somewhat tragic story found HERE. Little is left of the Blowout except deciduous trees and a deep ravine, but perhaps even more spectacular as you hike this section of trail, is the beautiful display of vine maple trees. Covered in moss, their fingered limbs reach in all directions making this a perfect setting for a haunting fable. Meander along the well worn trail until you arrive back at the fork and turn left, back towards the John Wayne/Iron Horse.

May flowers: Trillium, Marsh Violet (yellow), Flowering Red Currant, Salmonberry.