May 10, 2012
- Type of Outing
- Day hike
To find the trail, hike up the Mason Lake/ Ira Spring trail less than a quarter mile, to the first curve. The unmarked "Balcony Traverse" trail branches off here, heading west on a level contour. Well used by scramblers heading for West Defiance Ridge, the Balcony Traverse is in surprisingly good condition. It heads through dry, open forest and a rocky area hit by a debris flow. In about a half mile, the trail reaches an unmarked junction with another old trail coming up the valley from I-90.
This side trail is interesting as it was once well-built and may have been constructed by professional trail crews as a route to West Defiance Ridge. Was the trail built to serve a proposed fire lookout? I don't know, I can't find any history on the old trail. I followed the old trail downhill a bit, and found it to be quite hikeable. The trail never did make it to the top of West Defiance, the trail crew for unknown reasons quit partway up the mountain. Above the end of the old trail, the current route to West Defiance becomes a steep scramble.
Beyond this junction, the Balcony Traverse, now utilizing the tread of the old trail, starts ascending the slope at a moderate grade, along the way making two switchbacks. There are a number of logs that need clearing in this section. Eventually the trail levels out and crosses a gully with a lively snowmelt stream tumbling down it. Just beyond the creek, near a mossy ledge, the trail arrives at another unmarked junction.
Here, the old trail heading toward West Defiance/ Putrid Pete's Peak switchbacks hard to the right to recross the creek higher up the slope. The Balcony Traverse heads straight ahead on a much more primitive tread, basically an unimproved boot path. This adventuresome, fun path climbs and dips through several ravines with little creeks. After a half mile, the path levels out in a deeply forested flat. The trail is hard to follow here: look for blazes (a double notch), cairns, and sticks lined up along the trail. As the path, approaches a rock ridge at the south edge of the flat, leave the trail and follow a vague side path to the edge of a cliff with an impressive view.
I lingered here awhile enjoying enjoying the view from this point, which may be called the Upper Balcony. It overlooks the main mass of Dirty Harry's Balcony, a short distance to the west.
I didn't do it today, but one may continue following the Balcony Traverse Trail over a rockslide and down into a ravine. Shortly beyond the ravine, the trail arrives near Dirty Harry's Balcony, joining the more normal route coming up from the fire training center road.