Total Ascent: 3400ft
Highest Point: 4680ft
Total Distance: 8 miles
Location: N 47° 27.0498, W 121° 37.2336
Required Permit: Discover Pass
On the heels of our Mt. Washington hike, we decided to return to the Exit 38 area to explore a ridge on the opposite side of the I-90 corridor. We had our sights set on an area unofficially known as Dirty Harry's Peak, which promised broad vistas and rusting artifacts from the area's logging past.
Dirty Harry’s Peak sits at the eastern end of a ridge that begins with Mailbox Peak. Back in 1977, Harvey Manning had his first encounter with the logging roads Harry Gault carved into the mountainsides up and down the I-90 corridor. Mr. Gault, or "Dirty Harry" as he was known to his friends, made his living by buying up the right to cut timber in areas where the trees were either too difficult to access or the quality of the wood was too poor to be commercially viable for big logging companies. Dirty Harry cut enough corners by ramming treacherous roads straight up mountainsides and employing now illegal clearcut logging practices that he was able to turn a profit. However, his practices visibly scarred the forests, and Dirty Harry became famous for his clashes with the US Forest Service and Weyerhaeuser. After Manning experienced firsthand the logging roads and logging equipment Gault left behind, he began popularizing the area by naming it in honor of Dirty Harry. Today you can still find plenty of artifacts Harry left behind, including rushing trucks and cables hidden in the underbrush.
The unmarked trail begins directly off the road leading to the State Fire Training Academy. The rough and rocky trail is what remains of Gault's logging road after rain and weather have stripped away much of the soil, exposing the small boulders just beneath the surface. During most of the year, water is a prevalent theme, either cutting across the road or running directly down it, transforming the trail into a streambed. As you progress up the tree-lined trail, logging discards become common; buckets and cable are often found languishing at the trailside. The first mile and a half is very moderate; most hikers will have no problem getting to the junction at 2,500ft, where an old oil drum serves as a marker. From here, follow a side trail to the right for roughly a quarter of a mile to a rocky outcropping that overlooks I-90 known as Dirty Harry's Balcony. McClellan Butte looms large dead ahead, while Mt. Defiance and Bandera Mountain crouch to the east. Many hikers find the views here to be more than satisfying and decide to call it a day here. For those hungry for more elevation, return to the junction and continue upward to the Peak.
As you near the summit, the canopy opens as older trees give way to a swath of young Douglas fir and the lingering evidence of the clear-cutting done by Harry decades earlier. Scramble up some boulders to find yourself on something of a precipice with a sheer drop of a couple hundred feet to the Granite Lakes below. That's Baker to the far north, past Bessemer and Russian Butte. To the east you should be able to make out Glacier Peak. While the view is impressive, one can only imagine the panorama that Harry’s chainsaw may have briefly created. Most of the views in other directions have been reclaimed by the recovering forest, though the shadow of Mt. Rainier looms unobscured to the south.
The roughness of the former logging road -- large rocks, often made slippery by water -- and uncompromising inclines after the Balcony makes this a difficult hike. Definitely attainable by most prepared hikers, just make sure to bring the hiking poles to steady you over water hazards and rock. If the full trip up to the summit is more than you want to tackle, the hike up to the Balcony is a fine hike unto itself. This hike is also less traveled than the more popular hikes nearby, which means you're likely to get these big views all to yourself.
To get there, take Exit 38 off I-90 and take a right. Follow the remnants of old US 10 for two miles past Olallie State Park and back under I-90. Find the gate for the State Fire Training Academy warning you that it closes at 4pm. Park in the paved lot just outside the gates, as the Washington State Patrol which manages the Academy prefers hikers do not attempt to park on the shoulder near the trailhead. From the lot, follow the road over a bridge for about three-quarters of a mile to a bend in the road. The trail is on the right and is unmarked. To find it, look for a trail flanked by a large concrete block. -Nathan
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