Dirty Harry's Road

Lots of new snow, a high avalanche danger, and a 1500' to 2000' snow level. Where to go for a snowshoe trip? Suzanne and I settled on Dirty Harry's Peak as our first choice and perhaps Commonwealth Basin as a back up if the weather on the west side looked unpleasant. Last winter I took my first snowshoe trip up Dirty Harry's Peak

We met at 7:30 AM and were soon on the road. I was surprised to see a little snow at the Highway 18 interchange with I-90. The snow level appeeared to be at about 1000'. As we climbed up the valley from North Bend snow started at once. Exit 38 had a small snow berm blocking it and we hesitated before continuing onto the exit. Fortunately the snow was only a few inches deep on old Highway 10. We followed it back under the freeway and to the open gate on the road to the Fire Training Center. The road is narrow and can be hard to turn around on but we chose to see if we could park closer to the trailhead.

We passed on possible spot and continued on. There was no reasonable parking beyond the trailhead. Turning around might have been possible but with snow on both sides of the road it would not be easy. Instead we continued on to the Fire Center and turned around. The road was very slick. We passed the trailhead again and parked just off the road in the snow. A short drop down the road brought us to the start.

The old road/trail. is a jumble of small rocks now covered by a few inches of snow. Footing was not very good as we began the long climb. A couple of Manning/Spring books list the  round trip distance as 11 miles with 3400' of gain. It is not a steep trail though it is a little overgrown. It was snowing lightly and I hoped we would climb fast enough to avoid the snow turning to rain. The start is at about 1350'.

There were no other footprints. We would have to be the trail breakers this day. With only two of us that would likely be a big job higher up. The hike up to the turn off for Dirty Harry's Balcony seemed to take a lot longer than I remembered. The snow was 6 or so inches deep there and getting deeper. I hoped to clamber across the rocks of Museum Creek before we put on snowshoes. The strange part about the snow was the consistency. It was dry powder and easy to walk through. On the west side of the crest and without exceptionally cold temperatures we do not get powder.

We crossed one small creek and just before Museum Creek there is a big tree down across the route. Suzanne scrambled around the right side and I followed with a lot of difficulty. Sadie the golden retriever went underneath the mess. We crossed the creek then walked up the middle of the creek before the route reverted to dry road bed. At this point snowshoes were necessary.

After the next switchback the route is most overgrown and in many places is a creek. At the switchback I fell in to my shoulders last year. This year with much less snow I could see the big rocks that created the trap I fell into. The first part of this leg had some recent brushing done. Much easier travel than last year. Soon we reached the small trees bent down across the trail and anchored in snow. They had 6 or more inches of snow on them creating snow arches across the trail.

We slowly pulled all those trees up and pushed them back to vertical. At least the descent would be much easier. When the route became a deep trench with a creek down the middle we trudged on with our snowshoes on bare rocks. When we lest the creek bed I had a new problem. Snow stuck to my wet snowshoes and turned instantly to ice. I was soon lugging several pounds of ice on each snowshoe. It was like lead weights. Suzanne had the same problem but I think my plastic MSRs were worse.

The route soon became indistinct. I tree filled road seemed to angle up and a road continued ahead. The lower one seemed to be a little bigger. We went straight ahead and dropped a little. Soon the route seemed to split again. This time we went steeply up in much deeper snow. Where the forest was thin the snow quickly became much deeper. In a very short distance we reached what looked to be a talus field. I recalled on from last year and we took a sharp left turn passing below another talus field. This was definitely back on track.

The road was now much more difficult. Many more bent over trees and much deeper snow. Progress was very slow. To add to it we could now feel a strong wind blowing at our backs. We continued on but it began to look very unlikely we would reach the top. We had had one view out near Museum Creek and visibility was about zero. So we had a windy summit with no views to look forward to. At close to 4000' we called it quits. It would take a long time to break trail with only two of us. We stopped for lunch.

Both of us had completely soaked our mittens pulling up all the snow covered trees. numbness set in. Some food, a change of gloves, and some clothing made a huge difference. Coming down was much easier. With our trench in place and most of the trees no longer across the route it was pretty easy walking. We made very good time. We saw nobody else on the route. Just beyond Museum Creek I tried to get around the downed tree on the right side and it worked much better. I expected to get into rain for the last mile but it was snow or sleet instead.

Once back at the car it bean to snow pretty hard. We were well below the forecast snow level but I will take snow over rain any time. Considering the poor conditions everywhere in the mountains this day we did just fine. About 8 miles with 2700' of gain breaking trail in lots of fresh snow is a good workout. The next day our friends Bob, Kolleen, Brad, Joanna, and Joe took advantage of our work and summited the peak. It has now been 21 years since I was up there with clear views. Perhaps next year.

Suzanne's trip report with photos is here:   Dirty Harry's Road Report


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Photo Page 2

Trips - 2007