Early-season splendor from Dirtyface Lookout

In the Pacific Northwest we often find ourselves driving long distances or endlessly repeating the same low-country hikes (Mount Si, PooPoo Point, Tiger Mountain, repeat!) to satisfy our desire to get a good hiking workout while we wait for the snow to melt in the high country.

I discovered the Dirtyface Lookout hike a couple of years ago with one of the first hiking groups I ever led with the Mountaineers – and recalling a fantastic 360-panoramic view, I posted it again to lead in late May of this year. We were rewarded yet again with a fantastic experience – this will be one of my annual conditioning ‘standards!’

A strong, congenial group of 9 of us set out from the trailhead behind the Lake Wenatchee at a little after 9AM.  The rangers hadn’t received any trip reports yet, nor had trail crews been out;  the most recent WTA trip reports showed snow starting above 4000’, so we brought our microspikes and hoped for the best.

Stream Crossing ©Mikhael Llenitsyn

After climbing steeply out of the blocks through dense forest, and crossing a briskly-flowing creek at about ¾ mile, the way opened into a large burn from the Dirty Face Fire from August of 2005. Though this would have made for a very hot exposure on a warmer day, on this day the sun and open views were welcome, and we enjoyed a great wildflower display as we looked out across Lake Wenatchee below. The trail switch-backed relentlessly up the south face of the ridge. We encountered snow patches first around 4500 feet, and by about 5300 feet we found it difficult to follow the trail through the snow so we set our sights on the now-visible high point above us and began to climb straight up through the snow.  Snow conditions were perfect for kicking steps and we made excellent time, though some of the snow slopes would be a hazard for avalanche and long run-outs if conditions had been icy.  By a bit after 12 noon, we crested the ridge and could see the lookout (now just a signal tower) ahead. A final burst of adrenaline surged us to the open rocky area at the top.

Straight up the final two miles ©Mikhael Lenitsyn

Just as I recalled from my previous visit, the panorama was spectacular.  Mount Stuart peeked above Nason Ridge to the south, with Lake Wenatchee and the Wenatchee River Valley stretching away below, Mt Mastiff (6741’) and Mt Howard (7063’) looming near. To the northwest and north we could follow snow-covered Cady Ridge to its junction with magnificent Glacier Peak (10,541’), that magical shy giant so hard to reach since the 2008 floods. To the northeast we could follow the peaks of the Entiat Range and Chelan including that behemoth Bonanza Peak (at 9511’, the tallest non-volcanic peak in Washington).  East and southeast the Highway-2 corridor stretched verdant below innumerable smaller snow-granite-flecked peaks.  Our group just stood there awhile, mouths agape and clicking photos, before draping ourselves on rocks to soak up the blessed sun.  As a special punctuation mark on our experience, a previous summiter belted out a yodel of joy before setting out on his way back down.

A fine perch for lunch ©Cheryl Talbert

Finally, after consuming all available food and beginning to chill in the breeze, we reluctantly gathered ourselves for the journey back down.  Much of the route favored a rapid plunge-stepping descent in the soft snow, then winding through the trees and snow patches before again regaining the trail. We were able to make short work of the last section, the sun by now quite warm on the south slope. Making it back to the cars by 2:30PM, we high-fived one another for our success not only in scaling the lookout but in catching a rare five-star day in the capricious northwest spring.

View of Lake Wenatchee from midway ©Cheryl Talbert
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