Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Rainier Quest - Days 9 & 10: The Final Adventures

June 25, 2009

Well, it was the final day of the trip. And I had a full day ahead of me before I caught the red-eye back to Baltimore.

Karyn took me down to the little town of Edmonds for breakfast and a jaunt through the local farmer's market. Which was quite a busy place! Did a little final souvenir shopping, then back to her and Bob's place. I packed the car with my gear, said my farewells, then headed out. Today's adventure was to hike up some of the Iron Horse State Park, a rails-to-trails park, hit a few geocaches along the way, then meet up with my friend Karen later in the afternoon, have dinner, then off to the airport to catch my 10:55pm flight, which would land me back in B'more around 7am.

But before I had taken off I had checked the geocaching website to see what caches were about. I noticed that not terribly far (horizontal distance-wise) there were a few caches from where Francesca and I had climbed yesterday. One of them had been placed out several days prior, and no one had even attempted it yet. Well, heck, that drew my attention. Given the number of geocachers around (especially back East), it is extremely rare to get a "first to find" (FTF) on a geocache. This particular cache had been sitting partway up this mountain for four days. It was a beautiful day out today, and it was a weekend - surely someone was probably already doing it! But on some slim chance no one had yet...I altered my plans. I would go for this cache first, then if time allowed try for the hike on the Iron Horse Trail.

The caches up on the mountainside above The Far Side climbing area are all pretty much dedicated to Harry Gault. In fact, the peak and the trail leading to the summit, as well as an overlook (Dirty Harry's Balcony), bear his name.

Historical sidebar note: Harry was a local independent logger who, in the late 1970s, who was in the business of buying cutting rights to next-to-worthless timber on private land that didn’t interest larger operators. He gained a reputation for relentless logging near North Bend, Washington, employing logging methods (that were subsequently outlawed) to chainsaw these forests into oblivion. He was known for his uncanny ability to build roads and log trees in places thought by other loggers to be too inaccessible to attempt. This reputation eventually led people to give him the nickname of "Dirty Harry". For years he was a thorn in the side of the Forest Service and local timber companies, who tried in vain to convince him to practice his craft in less conspicuous areas.

Photo right is one of Dirty Harry's victims, but with a new sapling growing out of the old trunk.

Anyway, many years after Dirty Harry stopped his tree-clearing practices, the occasional rusty artifact from his logging past can still be found along and near his old logging road (photo left of one such artifact). Harry had even left behind an old truck and some other logging artifacts at an undisclosed location he called the "Museum", also known as "Dirty Harry's Museum". Most hikers looking for this "Museum" never find it, as every year it becomes more hidden by brush and trees. I would soon learn why people don't always find it.

The cache I was growing interested in was called "Dirty Harry's Stash", which was where his "museum" was located.

I pulled off of I-90 at Exit 38, and went to the same parking area. I forgot to mention, the area where The Far Side climbing is located is the Washington State Fire Training Center. The road up the mountain (partway up the mountain) is open from sometime in the morning until 4pm in the afternoon. At least that's what the sign says. Yesterday when Francesca and I came out, it was past 4:30p and the gate was still open. But we didn't know it would be, didn't want to take any chances, so had parked in the parking area outside the gate. Where most people parked.

However, because it was still early-ish today (11am), the gate was open. I decided to chance it. I knew that the cache (having done some coordinate calculations) was 0.8 miles (as the crow flies) from where we were climbing yesterday. How long that would be on the trails....anyone's guess. The cache page said it was a 4 mile round trip hike from parking lot to cache and back. I opted to drive half a mile up the road and park at the trailhead. Save myself a little time. I was already figuring that I would not be doing any hiking on the Iron Horse Trail. Which was okay. This hike was going to kick my butt. The temps were rising (and were forecasted to be in the 90s), and the heat of the day was just coming.

From the trailhead I followed the old road that Dirty Harry had carved into the mountainside. Followed it for quite a while. Watching the GPS, the distance to the cache dropped very slowly, as the road switchbacked up the mountain. Lot of walking back and forth! And the day was just getting warmer and warmer.

Found a side trail that split off from the main road. I suspected that would lead me to an overlook called Dirty Harry's Balcony. I opted to not try for it right now, keeping focus on heading up to the Museum.

The views along the road were few and far between. In fact, only saw the valley twice through gaps in the tree line. But they were enough to let me know I had come up quite a ways in altitude! In the photo right, you can see a bridge on the Iron Horse Trail to the lower right across the valley. This is directly between where two of the Deception Crags climbing areas are located.

Finally I got to a point on the trail where the GPS said I was "only" 300' away. But it pointed straight into extra-dense foliage which was masking a steep hill, where a stream was coming from. 300' horizontally - how far vertically? I decided to not get sucked in by cutting off the trail, and continued to follow the road, anticipating that it would swing me around again and back closer to the Museum.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Oh, the road switched back alright. But not far enough, and then the road promptly vanished beneath the debris of an old land slide to became a foot trail that continued up the mountainside. And the Museum...didn't get any closer than 0.12 miles. Urg! I had to go back.

Once I returned to the stream the GPS had me 300' away again. Sighing, and not looking forward to the bushwhack, I went downhill 50' to a likely opening in the foliage, plowed into the jungle, over rotted deadfall, and up the dirt and rock embankment - only to find another road.

....wait, what?

Looking at the GPS map screen, I saw the track where I had been. And this new road, very overgrown with slide alders (a thin but tough type of tree that doesn't grow so much straight up as it does in a wide 'blossom' of trunks) and other growth, and very very rocky, went away from the trail I had been following. Forging ahead, I began to follow the newly discovered road.

It was difficult going, but occasionally I'd hit a small 20-30' stretch where no slide alders or other growth existed and was able to relax for a moment.

Then the road became extremely rocky (actually, turned from rocks to boulders), and grew worse as I went higher. Finally, with 100' to go, what was left of the road blended with the jungle and mountainside. I inhaled, bent my head down, and pushed my way through. Then I looked up...

Ahead of me there was some non-jungle object, obviously manmade, and almost subsumed by the trees and other foliage. As I pushed closer (getting whacked in the head at one point by an ornery slide alder branch), I realized - I was here! This was Dirty Harry's Museum!

Rusted throughout, with baseboards rotting and tires disintegrating, Harry's logging truck has seen better days. And perhaps Bonnie and Clyde made it here at one point, too, as evidenced by the photo to the right.

I quickly made the cache find - and discovered a fresh and clean log book - no one has been up here yet! The cache has been here for four days, and no one's come up to find it - I got the "first to find". Sweeeeet!

Side note: it is now nearly a month later as I write this, and no one else has succeeded it getting up to the cache; for all I know no one has even bothered trying - maybe it's too hard for the local cachers out there to deal with. Wusses... ;-)

But I was hot, tired, and already had used half my water getting up here. I had a quick lunch, then started down. Back through the slide alders, and over to where the creek was running. Instead of dropping down the embankment, through the rotted deadfall and the foliage, I decided just to follow the creek.

Proved to be a much better plan. There was a faint trail that paralleled the creek - but it was completely obscured by the foliage from the main trail. Heh.

On the hike out I decided to take the side trail I saw earlier and check out Dirty Harry's Balcony. Glad I did, as the overlook was pretty nice. The cliffs at my feet appeared to have been unclimbed, and held great promise for the future. Maybe next time I'm back there'll be some established routes to play on...

It was growing late. In fact, it was rapidly closing in on 4pm. I had to hustle.

I got back to the car, it was already after 4pm. Would I get locked in?? I sincerely hoped not. I quickly drove (as quickly as reasonable, given the twisty-turny road) the half mile back down the mountain, over the Snoqualamie (pssing other parked cars by the bridge), and to the gate - which was open! Wahoo! Free to go!

I jumped onto I-90 and dashed off to Western Seattle.

Now, before I continue, a few observations have to be made.

First, Washingtonians (or maybe it's Seattleans?) love their left lane! I saw more than a few cars enter the highway, beeline it straight over to the left lane, and sit. Then in nearly 3/4 of the cases, whenever someone traveling faster came up behind the left-laners, the slower driver would pull over one lane right, let the faster one go by, then drop back over into the left lane again, even if there was no other traffic around. It was odd to watch. The few who didn't move over were either out-of-staters or appeared to be teenagers or young 20-somethings. Then you'd get a huge line of cars in the left lane who wanted to go faster, but were unwilling to pass on the right. Eventually someone would.

Another thing I noticed was litter. Or the lack thereof. Apparently if you litter, Bad Things will happen to you in this state!

Eventually I made it over to Karyn's. Her husband, Pete (whose new hobby is apparently making zombie movies; license plate photo left), had just left town for Hawaii, so I missed seeing him. Karen graciously let me take a shower to wash off the trail grime from earlier, then took me on a walk down to the waterfront of Lincoln Park, half mile or so from their place. There, through the haze, heat, and intervening clouds, I would catch my last glimpse of Rainier on this trip. In the photo right, you can b-a-r-e-l-y see Rainier's snowy flanks, just left of center along the horizon.

After the walk we drove over to Hamilton Point Park of Alki Point to check out West Seattle's answer to Venice Beach, California, (photo left) and grab some dinner. From strolling along the beach, got a long view of Seattle proper (photo left). We also came to the marker for the birthplace of Seattle, where the Denny Party first landed and settled on November 13, 1851, and then had a pretty hard time of it. Karen told me a story that after the Denny party landed the women cried. She then said that when she and Pete first moved to Seattle, it was also November, and she understood perfectly why the Denny party women had cried. Karyn is originally from the extra-warm, humid and sunny Eastern Shore. Now transplanted to Seattle. And November is her antithesis: a miserable, dreary, chilly month.

BTW, the original name of the Denny party settlement was "New York Alki", where "Alki" is a Chinook word meaning "eventually".

Dinner was good. Don't remember the place we ate, but it had good seafood. Then we started hiking back to the car, enjoying the back-lit Olympics as the sun was setting (photo left).

We didn't realize just how far away we had parked until the rain started. Karen's car is a small two-seat convertible, and during the few nice, warm months of the year, the top is down and stays down. Wellll...we drove over with the top down, and left it down when we started walking. Now it was raining.

By the time I ran back to the car to put the top up, the rain had already stopped. The inside of the car was...a wee bit damp. Karen fortunately keeps a towel available to try and dry off the interior as best as possible, but it can only do so much with the soaked-in water. We had wet butts on the drive back to her house.

After that I said my good-byes and headed to the rental car place. Dropped off the rental, shuttled over to the airport - and completely spaced that I still had my pocket knife in my pocket when I went through security. Wasn't even thinking about it. Was just tired, wanted on the plane to go home.

The security guard took great pleasure in yelling very loudly at me about the penalties and dangers of bringing a pocket knife through the security gate. He then gave me the option to go back and either check it as baggage or mail it to myself. The pocket knife, however, was old, some parts in disrepair, and the blades were nicked from years of use. I'd been meaning to replace it anyhow. Tired, and not wanting to deal with him or the other hassle options he presented, I told him to just keep it, it wasn't worth it. I just wanted to get on the plane and go home. I grabbed my stuff and left him standing there.

At the gate I found a comfy corner to sequester myself in and waited to board. Half hour later, when boarding time came, we got an announcement that our plane hadn't come in yet, and wasn't expected in for another 45 minutes. Urg. Well. Whatever. I had downloaded some old Outer Limits episodes to my iPod before leaving on this adventure, for just this eventuality.

The plane finally came, the passengers there filed out, and we filed on. An hour turnaround and we were in the air, on the way home. Seattle and Tacoma were readily visible. I had a window seat on the right side of the plane, and given that it was after midnight, I knew climbers would be going up Rainier. I wasn't sure how close or far we were going to get to the mountain, but I strained my eyes to see if I could catch a glimmer of lights as climbers were making their way up the flanks of the mountain. I saw nothing. After 15 minutes of watching darkness, I finally passed out.

June 26, 2009

Some hours later I awoke to a brightening sky as the plane began to prepare for landing at BWI. I looked out and saw Liberty Reservoir just outside the window (photo left; the bridge across the lake is MD26, Liberty Road). Second thing I noticed after identifying the lake was just how hazy it was out there - the humidity must be dreadful!

We circled around the north end of Baltimore, over Pikesville and Towson, down along the Bay, and then came at BWI from the East. I got one clear(ish) view of the airport before we turned to land (photo right). I put the camera away for the rest of the trip (i.e., if you came here for the pictures, you're done now ;-) ).

We landed without fanfare and taxied to the gate. Out of the plane and down to baggage claim to get our luggage. I had called Lisa to let her know I was back so she could come get me at her leisure, and waited for my bags to appear.

We all stood there a while. I noticed that the baggage carousel we were at had three AirTran flights listed, one of them ours. Bags began to appear, but none of them ours.

Suddenly there was an announcement over the PA.

"Would ALL passengers from AirTran Flight #231 please report to the baggage claim office. Would ALL passengers from AirTran Flight #231 please report to the baggage claim office. Thank you. {click}"

...wait...ALL passengers?? Ohhh, I did not like the sound of this...

Slowly understanding sank into the tired people standing around. I was already moving, so ended up near the front of the pack that would slowly grow. At the baggage claim office we would learn that our checked luggage never made it on the plane. None of it. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. In fact, the baggage still on our plane was supposed to have been transferred to a plane bound for Milwaukee - where our bags apparently ended up!

Oh, and the earliest they'd be able to get our bags back to BWI would not be for another 10-12 hours, due to their flight schedules. 3-4 hours after that to deliver.

Needless to say, there were quite a few very unhappy people - esp those who had connecting flights to catch in the next few hours (one unfortunate guy was being deployed to Germany, had a 6 hour layover here at BWI before continuing on; I hope he eventually got his luggage).

We all filled out info forms, then slowly dissipated, many grumbling. Me, I was lucky. I was now home. My bags could come eventually (little did I know they wouldn't come for another 18 hours). I went out to meet Lisa and headed home.

Adventure done.

But the quest is not over. See also the comment under Day 5 Part 1. Close enough isn't. {sigh} :-(


  1. "I brake for zombies"? Ryan says you should run them over. (He is a member of the PA ZRT - PA Zombie Response Team, Sector 4. Seriously.)

  2. I lost a leatherman micra at the Frankfort airport in a similar situation. I forgot it was in my bathroom case.

    Bill Baxter