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“A lazy day gone astray””

Dirty Mail Traverse

Mailbox Peak (4841', p121')

Dirtybox Peak (4926', p766') (#97 Homecourt)

Dirty Harry Peak (4720', p200')

Feb 2, 2013


Weather/conditions: Sunshine, Spring feel –upper 40s,  non-skiable crust on north -hip deep. south - thick sun melted, signs of rain runnels.



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The snow conditions of earlier in the year are a thing of good memories.  A long lasting inversion baked the high altitudes.  Some snow on top of the crust, then warming temps and yuk!  Dust on crust turned to a hollow crust and late day white stew.  What to do?  The plans for an overnight Bday trip to The Pinnacles washed down the tubes by late Friday eve.  People dispersed to other ideas and I still felt the need to get into the mountains.  Forecast was for warm sun, temps in the 40’s and clouds with rain coming in by Sunday eve.  Hmmm.   I’ve put 36,000 miles on the car in the last year, I was thinking, maybe something closer, less driving…  Something I’d not done and everyone else had.  Dirtybox came to mind.  I’d heard of some other approach other than from Mailbox, but no other info had been offered.  A quick search gave me the hint to avoid the crest and traverse the north slopes from Box to Box.  Okay, sounds good to me.


Up late and due to lack of energy and complications out the door even later.  The clouds broke as I left North Bend heading up the Middle Fork Road.  Hmmm, sign at the Mailbox gate said State Lands.  I only have a Federal  Lands pass.  A few circles and I drive on.  The pavement ends and the road is so potholed it is in good competition with the Chilliwack Lake road for most potholed.  Just over a quarter mile and I park at the Ganite Lakes road pullout.  This will be good. I can drop off Dirty Box to the Granite Lakes and head back that way. 


A casual hike going astray

10:20a, c756’ I leave the car heading back to the Mailbox gate in the mud.  Things have changed.  Now a first class road leading up to a spacious parking area with a full on new fancy outhouse facility.   Impressive for a trail that was a steep training path.  A half mile from the gate (c950’) a trailhead reader board and the trail.  It’s been a while since my last time here and the trail seems more maintained and trodden. Never the less shortly the only tree fall to crawl over.  Easy enough, though amazing how many people have gone a long route around.  What can I say about the trail?  Stopped for a 10min break to put a few plasters on a very hot heal spot that feels like a blister in the making.  Then on up.  Dang, feeling like a total lack of energy, stopping for many breaks, no rush right?  I passed a few people going up and by snow (c3600’) a couple solo hikers are heading down.  Soon after the snow starts I’m out of the woods to sunny views.


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Finally –views and happy to be above the fog/clouds


It is so warm I’m in my thinnest shirt.  Shirtless would have worked today.  The longjohns weren’t such a good idea  more down-hikers boot glissading the up route.  An obviously experienced hiker catches up to me during a shutter delay moment and I gladly let him re-kick the steps up the rockpile (c4120, 2.3m). 


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The rockpile


On the summit (2.6m, 4841’, 12:50, 2h30min) four people, a dog and a buried mailbox.  Great relaxing and having lunch in the sunshine and slight breeze.  Several people wondered about peaks, I knew a few, and many not.  Out west I wondered how the Everett group was doing on Mt Si.  Probably already out and having lunch.  I heard they were at the trailhead at 5:30a.  At that time I was being lazy -sound asleep.  A short 25 minute break, reloaded the pack and ready to go.  A couple had arrived and were asking questions.  Interested in Dirtybox, they wanted to know how difficult it was.  I really had no idea.  I told them it had been done from Mailbox on the northside.  Ask me in an hour and I’d let them know ;-)


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Looking NE to –Little Comrade, Russian Butte, Revolution, Thompson and Dirtybox


Ask me in an hour

I walked off the north side ridge and dropped hip deep in muck (1:12p).  Okay, plan “B”.  Glissade, more a push.  Reminder to self, shells, gators and gloves!  Brrrr!  Now descended about 300’ and in the shade, I traversed.  Okay, I stood up, took a step and was hip deep.  Plop down on pack and proceeded to empty boots of snow… Now add gators and snowshoes and off I go.  Within a hundred feet I hit unbreakable crust.  Traversing a steepish side angle with snowshoes… boots alone break through, on the steeper sidehilling the shoes hold great til breaking the top crust.  Came across many piles of dime size ice balls.  No traction, a sweep step, then step, sweep step, then step… 


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From below Dirtybox looking back up to Mailbox


I kind of wandered what looked like a possible route to the ridge running north from Dirtybox. Up the ridge into a small stand of dense trees.  Luckily I hit the ridge 20-30’ NW of the high point.

The narrow sloppy snow covered summit was doable.  Warm in the sun, enough room for a short break (3.2m, 4926’, 1:57p, 45min from Mailbox).  Views to the south of McClellan Butte, I-90, Mt Rainier and to the west several more people on Mailbox.


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View east from Dirtybox summit.  Mailbox is the close peak on the right


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Dirtybox summit                                                                   Northside ice blankets


Now what

Now what. Do I cut the beautiful sunny day short and try re-ascending Mailbox in the white muck?  Do I descend to Granit Lake Creek, find the trail and out?  Heck no, I felt like being in the mountains longer. The idea of pulling three peaks into a traverse would be a fun attempt.  I could hear in my mind one of Niko’s email long ago about a triple threat… So be it, I’d venture east.


I descended another 250’ and traversed east again.  Sideways side-hilling with snowshoes.  This was not going to work.  Dang, I felt like a wimp, enjoying stopping a lot to just look around.  Why no energy today?  A traversed to the east ridge for more glorious sunshine and soft narrow ridge snow.  I was reminded how shallow the snowpack is.  It has been easy to forget that the non-pass areas don’t get the depth of the “Pass Effect”.  Boots had worked on the sidehill traverse for kicking steps, not sinking in.


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The east ridge od Dirtybox (looking west)                                                                                        and looking east (Dirty Harry is the low treed peak)


I was ready for shoes again… Til –oops!  A cliff (c4766, 2:36p), dang! It would be a trek (read, “pain in the ass”) to head west and find a way down and around.  I dropped the sloppy south side through small trees, using a modified vegie belay method, then back to the ridge. 


Onward to another drop.  No go for north and south wasn’t a great option.  A little rock downclimbing to a tree and back down to the snow.  Mr H would have liked that one.   Finally at a saddle, this was going good.  I could see a nice route down to west of Granite Lakes.  Then it all stopped (3.8m, c4645, 3:07p)  Impressive   North –cliff, South –gulp, major cliff, East – 200’+ cliff to steep slabs with wet sliding snow. 


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Looking down on slab under saddle –can’t tell from pic I’m on a cliff…


Turn-around or…

Do I return west for retreat?  Up those last two cruxes would not be fun.  East I had a view of Dirty Harrys Peak.  The west ridge was sharp and steep –no go, the west face a cliff –no go. The south steep, but maybe doable if not too steep. Can’t get there from the west without dropping the southside at least 5-600’.  The slab between this cliff and Dirty Harry was an absolute no go.  I was running out of options.  Perhaps that was it?  What if I got there, then what?  The north side looked like a cliff.  The map also showed the north a cliff.  Hmmm, never know.  Don’t cry uncle til you know it doesn’t go.  For now no way to go but back.  Shortly west, I found a pitch that looked possible.  A harrowing ~55 degrees and a break in the snow part way down.  I worked down rocks to a big tree, then kick-stepped, un-burying rocks for holds, past the snow break and about 80’ down the pitch evened out.  Back to traversing.  I stayed well low from the sharp saddle to the west edge of the north side of Dirty Harry.  The west ridge was a no go as expected.  The steep snow lead to vertical rock.  I traversed east to see the cliff growing vertically down.  One chance opened.  A steep runnel between two vertical rocks.  If the snow was firm I could get up it –maybe.



Side-hilling over to the runnel the snow would give way.  I filled in holes, dug the ax in to the arm and worked to the runnel.  Wheh, well, one step at a time.  The runnel was firmer, but the left side rotted under a crust.  I crammed my hand in deep.  Right side had some quality to it for an ax belay.  Sometimes a few attempts to find something half way good.  Never anything that would have been good enough to rely on.  Most steps solid –except the 50%+ that weren’t.  I didn’t hold my breath, and was glad about 50’ up for the  slope to solidify better and level off.  In the middle, standing vertical my hand forward was well into the snow, so I figured at least 60+ deg.  Rotted enough that I’d not want to go down it sans rope.  And I didn’t have a rope.


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The runnel up                                                                                                                                        the approach


I took a break for water, food and to put on snowshoes.  I didn’t know it at the moment, but I had landed on the top of the wide summit ridge.  Heading east it didn’t get much taller, just wider.  Within 100’ I found the high point, dropped the pack and celebrated with the rest of my ham and avocado Dave’s Killer bread sandwich (4.1m, 3:50p, 4720’).


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Dirty Harry Peak –West view -trees                                                                                                   North View (Little Comrade to Thompson


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East View (Web and Putrid Petes Peak)                                                                                            South (McClellan Butte on right (?)


It had taken me an hour forty-five minutes to get here from Dirtybox, how long would it take me to find a way off and to Granite Lakes?  I’d already decided I’d hike out in the dark.  I had enough time to get off the nasty stuff, so not worried.  I was still feeling a lack of energy.  Another option would be down Dirty Harrys Trail, but no idea where it was.  Plan “C” was to the east saddle and drop the easy terrain to the lakes.  About 40’ from the high point I found a mess of posthole prints.  A real party and fresh too.  All that way and they probably didn’t know they’d barely missed the true highpoint.  Maybe doesn’t matter, not much difference anyway.  Now I knew the way back to I-90.  Feeling real lazy, I pulled out the phone.  A few calls and I had a shuttle back to  my car.  This hiking near town and technology was nice.


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Runnels on Web Ridge                                                                                                                        The messed up/postholed Dirty Harry Trail


Post hole heaven

I feel real sorry for the poor hikers heading off this peak.  Constant postholing, looking to be to the groin most the time.  Dang, must be tiring and slow.  Even with snowshoes on, I had to avoid their tracks.  Was like land mines.  By about 3650’ I came upon 5 young hikers.  Some in shorts, no gators, all having a good time –to be young…  It was 4:25.  A long trek down and my guess is it would be dark by 5:30 latest.  I hope they had headlamps.  The trail thinned to a creek in the middle, then snow, then creek with stumbling rocks. 


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The trail/creek at c3600’                                                     Around the corner, back on snow.  I just like this, last sunny pic…


I kept the shoes on til about 5 minutes before Dirty Harrys Balcony.  It was pretty enough walking, but a round rocky road is not my favorite tread.  I figured my ride would arrive by 5:30.  I’d turned the phone off to save the last of the battery.  5:29p (7.3m, c1415’) I turned left on the paved fire department road.  How far to the bridge?  Switched the phone on, and immediately got a call.  Where are you? “Up the road. Can you drive up”?  Nope.  “I’d be right there”.   I tried the walk with eyes closed.  I could feel the pitch of the pavement.  The middle had a very slight ridge.  Either side of it pitched away oh, so slightly.  Fun to walk by feel.  18 minutes of road and I was greeted at the gate –this worked perfect.  If I’d gone the other route, I figured I’d be out by 9-9:30.  This was I could wimp out, and get a dinner without being a zombie.


Technology to the rescue again

The Alpy skiers (Lindsay, Carla and Brian) were at the Brewery.  We were able to catch up with them and share a couple stories.


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The Snoqualmie Brewery Ski Crew                                     Mr H stayed home with treats


I’m not sure how many people have done a winter traverse of those peaks.  It did go, but I wasn’t sure for a while.  Along the way I was trying to figure a name for it.  I could focus more on thoughts once heading down the trail and the combo of the names that hit was “Dirty Mail Traverse”.  Not sure if there is another name for it, but for me, I did the Dirty Mail Traverse in Reverse.


Thanks for reading my rambling.

Happy trails!



Stats: 7h17min, 7.7m, +4938/-4347


Gear:    snowshoes, poles, ice ax, sunshine



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