The opportunity to explore the backcountry during the work week does not come often. When it does, it’s wise to maximize your time out in the wild. Even the most popular tracks and campsites will likely be empty and available for someone to claim, if for only an afternoon.
On this occasion, my buddy and I headed to a very popular track early in morning, meeting at 7 AM, and not returning until after 1:30 AM. We headed towards Fortune Creek Trail 4W301, and the end-of-the-trail reward: Gallagher Head Lake. It seems this trail has become an annual “must-do” trail for locals and overlanding internet personalities alike.
Fortune Creek Trail (4W301) has definitely earned it’s affection; being a moderate, narrow off road trail with plenty of switchbacks, ruts, large rocks, and tree roots to keep things interesting. One occasionally pops out of the trees to catch some views of the valleys and the Cle Elum river a thousand feet below. Fortune Creek trail has definitely been visited by quite a lot of people this year as the wear-and-tear was obvious compared to last year. It used to be an easy, if bumpy, drive. Not so any longer.
Fortune creek trail runs into and becomes NF-160 about a third of the way up the trail if one is to continue on to the famous Gallagher Head Lake. NF-160 is much easier than 4W301 but don’t let that lull you into complacency. There are still several sections that have been eroded by the drainage of melting winter snow earlier this spring so expect more exposed rock, small drainage ravines and almost-washouts along the way.
The final prize for making it to the top of the mountain is Gallagher Head Lake, the most picturesque camp site in all of Washington state. (Not exactly the very top of the mountain. Hawkins Mine trail will take you even higher). This camp area is a level field with a small alpine lake, surrounded by rocky mountains. Being that is at a high elevation, 5600 feet, spring is still in effect as evidenced by the huge number of different colored flowers all over the meadow. We stayed at camp for a few hours as we enjoyed the scenery and had a meal. There are some very strange, curious, huge, black flying insects around Gallagher Head Lake, as well as some biting fly’s and lazy butterfly’s, so be prepared for them as they will definitely come over to check out any visitor.
Wanting to get a better view of the sunset, we headed back down NF-160 as dusk was coming on. A good ten miles south on Cle Elum Valley Road is NF-128. This trail quickly ascends from 2400 feet to almost 4800 in just a few miles. The trail is mostly easy but can be pretty narrow in some sections, which gives you some stunning views that look back down into the valley and over the western mountains. My buddy and I stayed at the spot we had found at the very end of the trail until well after sunset. The sun went down amazingly fast, it seemed. We got a good sense of how well all our off road driving lights work in the pitch dark, which was good enough, but still disturbingly insufficient against the vast darkness of this Washington outback.