Dirty Harry’s Balcony

The name alone was my inspiration for wanting to hike this sucker. There’s also Putrid Pete’s Peak that’s on my list. There are hike names that are to the point, like Twin Falls. Because you hike to Twin Falls. Then there are hikes named to sound super ethereal, like The Enchantments. Which is also on my list long-term, and likely lives up to its name. And then there are the Harrys and Petes—the hikes with personality and a story behind them. I like personality.

Apparently Dirty Harry was a questionable guy. Harry Gault. He was a logger in the 1940s. In looking to find out more about him, I found this in a journal from the North Cascades Conservation Council:

“For many years his business and pleasure was purchasing cutting rights to timber on private land that didn’t interest big operators and chainsawing scraggly, next-to-worthless forests to desolation, practicing logging methods subsequently outlawed, thanks in no small part to the horrors he committed in full view of travelers on the Main Street of the Northwest. He was the despair of the Forest Service and Weyerhaeuser, which tried in vain to shunt him off to out-of-the-way places where he wouldn’t give the timber industry such a flagrant black eye.”

The Wild Cascades, Summer 2004

I’ll have to research Pete when the time comes to hike his peak. But Harry, I checked off his balcony for the first time in early June. It wasn’t until I went back in early August that I truly appreciated the hike. The first time was more about hiking to the balcony and back, checking it off the list to get back home in time for Brian to start work (we had started at 6am). It was appreciated but in a different way.

The August hike, we started later. Well, later in my book at 9am. I read a tweet somewhere along the line last month that said, “Do you get anxiety going new places not knowing the parking situation or are you normal?” Haha. This is me. Especially going hiking. And even more so during a pandemic, when everyone works from home. Or works from a hike. And on beautiful days. If I’m not at a trailhead before 7am, I irrationally worry about parking. So of course when we decided to hike at 9am on a beautiful Saturday, I was concerned about parking. Even though I had been already. Driving a big ass Suburban is great, and I can maneuver that thing like it’s a sporty BMW. But parking at trailheads—where there are, what feels like, no rules—I worry about being boxed in when the time comes to leave. Luckily Karann suggested we meet in North Bend, drop off my car, and head to the trailhead in her car. And as longtime resident of Queen Anne, she is a master parker in any situation.

Like always, I worried about nothing. My mom always says the things you worry about never happen. I should know this by now. There were plenty of parking options when we arrived just after 9am. All parallel options outside of the official parking lot, but enough options to be the beginning or end—my parallel parking preferences—if I had driven the Suburban. She easily parked and we hit the trail.

I’m glad I had been before. I knew where to go. The trail from the parking lot goes to a road. It feels like you should go straight, but that’s just a riverbank. When you get to the road, you turn left, cross over, and hit the Dirty Harry trail on the other side of the river. The group of guys ahead of us—one was wearing jeans—went to the riverbank. Jeans are cool and all, and if that’s your hiking clothing preference, more power to you. But I always think that the one guy wearing jeans in the group, his buddies texted him morning of asking if he wants to go hiking. And already being ready for the day wearing jeans, he says sure. I’ve also seen a few college-aged gals wearing sandals while hiking. Same thing. No plan to hike, buddies ask, so they hike.

The trail signage is probably the best trail signage I’ve seen. And bonus, as a former graphic designer back in my working days, it’s attractive. The trail feels roomy. If that can be a hiking thing? It’s like walking in a large canopy of trees. They aren’t right above you, but you feel enclosed in a large, spacious forest. This feeling last most of the way, until about 15 minutes from the balcony. That’s when the trail feels more trail-like, hiking along the side of raised forest with open air above… no longer the feeling of walking in a canopy. Still beautiful.

Nice signage and a well-maintained trail.

That roomy feeling.

Something I didn’t notice when I hiked here back in June, rock climbing galore. Apparently it’s a popular rock climbing area. Which may explain why the parking lot was so full yet the trail felt empty for a Saturday. We watched some people climb different rock formations.

Before getting to the balcony, there are some pretty views of the surrounding mountains. Mostly trees. Green for days. This was where we stopped to take pictures when an off-leash dog ran past. A super cute German Shepard. Now, I’m a huge dog lover. Mel hikes with me often. We hit the trails for runs and walks daily. He’s my go-to partner. But he is always on a leash. This is a major thing of mine. Dogs belong on leashes in public places.

There are those few and far between, amazing off-leash dogs who act as though they are on leashes. These dogs, sure, forgo the leash. Most off-leash dogs, they are questionable. Not bad dogs but here’s the thing, take Mel: Mel doesn’t want dogs in his space. This is why he is on a leash. He’s harmless but if a dog gets in his space, he makes noises. If other dogs are on a leash, then they can’t get in his space. Problem solved. You’d think it’s this easy. But no, the German Shepard’s parents—whom we didn’t even see until after the German Shepard ran past. He ran past and stopped to get in the space of a smaller pup, on a leash, with his mom and her friend. The German Shepard’s dad yells to the small dog’s mom, “It’s okay, he’s friendly!” To which—I like this lady—the small dog’s mom says, pointing to her dog, “He’s not.” Sure enough, there was barking and commotion until the German Shepard’s dad caught up with him to pull him away from the not-so-happy small dog.

Karann and I were still standing on the side of the trail, waiting for the dog debacle to resolve, when the two ladies and the small pup walked past. They weren’t the happiest, expressing their frustration with the German Shepard situation. I wanted to tell them I’m with them. But I avoid confrontation at any cost, so I kept my nose out of that situation. Karann and I powered on, passing the German Shepard and his parents who had pulled over to a lookout… where other people were and the German Shepard was not minding his manners. Shocker.

Preview view.

The balcony isn’t that big of a deal. I imagined something different at first, back in June. I still felt the same way again in August. I mean, it’s beautiful and views for miles, but it’s nothing to write home about. Maybe if you like views overlooking the 90 freeway? Or is it a highway? I have never looked up the difference. If there is one? If you like views of freeways (or highways), then Dirty Harry’s Balcony is right up your alley. I wanted 100% nature and got a freeway thrown in. I know, I shouldn’t be so particular. Especially since we live in such a gorgeous area, with hiking trails galore. Like Dirty Harry.

We balconied (anything can be a verb) and decided we’d veer back on Dirty Harry’s Peak trail, attempting to find the museum. Which I hear isn’t actually a museum but Harry’s car that was abandoned on the mountain back in his logging days.

Man, the trail heading up to the peak is absolutely beautiful. Parts look like it’s out of a fairy tale, maybe heading to a wicked witch’s house? You think you’re heading into euphoria but nope, you’re about to be killed. Pictures don’t do it justice. Lush greenery, colorful flowers, rocky trails… hell, there were even a few adorable chipmunks along the trail whom you’d think should start singing a feel-good song.

Euphoria. Much better in person.

Past the fairy tale trail, there is a lookout. Complete with a bench. We stopped to take it all in. And we started to wonder if we were heading in the wrong direction for the museum. Turns out we were going the right way but we decided to turn around and head back after trekking up the trail a bit more. Time is always a thing. We stopped back at the bench for a bit, chatting and admiring the area one last time before heading down.

The end of the bench—a log with a carved seat—was an ant haven. So freaking cool. They were working hard. Each ant was pushing sawdust off the edge of the log. I’m not up on ants, so I don’t know if the carvings were made by them? Whatever was going on, it was really interesting to observe. I’d love to know why they were clearing the sawdust, what was going on inside the log, what the longterm plans are… so many questions.

The ant haven, at the end of the log bench.

Nothing terribly exciting, but I wanted to get the ants in action. There were loads more ants around the log and on the ground. I was able to catch a few working hard.

The short video doesn’t showcase what all was going on. There were many, working hard!

Back down we went, still not passing enough people to account for all the cars parked. Even more cars than when we arrived. As we crossed the road above the river before making our way to the parking lot, there were two women who have life figured out. They parked their folding chairs in the river… not on the riverbank, literally in the river. Maybe 12 inches deep? I’m not one who can just sit but I think I could sit like that for a little while.

We drove back to North Bend where my car was parked and went our separate ways. This time hiking Dirty Harry’s Balcony, I feel like I was able to truly appreciate what surrounded me. The goal to get to the balcony was met, but it wasn’t the main goal like it was in June. I’m sure I’ll be back again. Because I’m a creature of habit… and I kind of want to check in on the ants. And maybe make it to the museum, car, whatever.

Karann and I have another hike on the books for the end of August, and four more in September and October. And I’m already looking forward to the future hikes. With a field guide. We decided we need to get a plant field guide for our future hikes. Which I’m just now remembering as I type this. To Amazon I go…

One comment

  1. BIT|Hiker 65

    Great looking hike – thanks!

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