Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mt. Defiance - The Easy Way

At 4,959 feet Mt. Defiance takes the honor of highest point in the Columbia River Gorge.  From the Columbia River, nearly at sea level, the path to the summit gains 4800 feet in six miles.  It's the toughest hiking trail in the Gorge. 

Huckleberry leaves displaying fall color

I hiked this Mt. Defiance trail once - and only once.  Back in 2000, a soccer mom friend of mine and I made the trek to the summit.  Back then, I wasn't a very experienced hiker, and the hike nearly did me in.  I remember the steep descent, down endless switchbacks, seemed to take forever.  The cramping calves and aching quads.  The multiple blisters on my toes.  It took my body nearly a week to recover.  I haven't hiked this trail since.

Yep - I love the trail sign photos!

But one of the remaining 100 hikes in Mr. Sullivan's book was a shortcut to the top of Mt. Defiance.  Only 1.6 miles and 1500 feet of climbing would get you there.  The only catch - reaching the trailhead meant a long drive on a bumpy gravel road, the main reason this hike was still unchecked in my book.

Mt. Defiance towers over Bear Lake

So on a hot Sunday of Labor Day weekend, I set out to tackle this trail.  Yes, the drive was arduous - 10 miles of bumpy gravel road is not a fun way to travel.  But finally, I spotted the trailhead sign next to a wide spot in the road. 

Unknown red berries

Since the actual path to the summit wasn't very long, I tacked on a side trip to nearby Bear Lake.  A pretty mountain pond, ringed by lodgepole pine and huckleberry bushes, it made a nice snack stop.  Only 0.8 miles off the main trail, definitely worth the diversion. 

Bear Lake west side

Some of the huckleberry leaves were already beginning to sport fall colors.  And a nearby bush showed off bright red berries (I have no idea what type).

Rock patterns on the lake bottom

The Mt. Defiance summit, radio towers and all, was plainly visible from the lakeshore.  Gazing at the towering wall of mountain, it looked a long ways up!  (I've got to climb up to there??)

Mt. Adams peeping through the trees

But Defiance was the day's goal, so back to the main trail I headed.  And the climbing began in earnest.  Never super-steep, it was nonetheless a consistent up.  But the path was not without its rewards.  I did spot a nice glimpse of Mt. Adams through the trees.

The trail went through a large rockslide

And I got to walk through this cool talus slope.  Complete with a huge cairn and a view of Mt. Hood.

Old weathered wood

And I passed by some really cool old weathered tree trunks.  The interesting patterns in the wood made great photo subjects.

Trailside fall color

Approaching Defiance from the southwest took me around the summit, through another rockslide, and back into the forest.  I thought at first I'd missed the top, until I saw one of the radio towers through a gap in the trees.

Summit selfie

Yahoo!  I made it to the top!  This was by far my easiest mountain summit.  After a couple self-portraits, I perched upon a large rock to have lunch.

Mt. Hood view from Mt. Defiance summit

The view couldn't have been finer.  To the south, Mt. Hood rose from the Hood River valley.  To the east, I could see the brown hills of the Badger Creek wilderness.  And to the north, I got a view of the ugly radio towers that reside on top of Mt. Defiance.  Not exactly a pristine wilderness experience!

Mt. Defiance summit is quite ugly!

A few hiking parties straggled out of the woods while I sat on top.  They had all climbed from the Gorge trailhead, and everyone of them looked beat.  I felt mighty smug sitting on top of Defiance, knowing I'd only had to cover a third of the distance and elevation gain.

More lovely fall leaves

After enjoying my lunch with a view, I packed up and headed across the summit proper.  Sullivan's book described a loop around the very top of Defiance that was a recommended return trip.  All I had to do was hike a short distance down the Gorge trail and look for an unmarked side path.

Mt. Adams and the Columbia River

The trail to the Gorge was super duper steep!  It dropped down immediately, losing lots of hard-won elevation.  I kept a sharp eye out for the connector trail.  I was afraid of missing the trail, traveling down too far, and having to hike this steep trail back up.

Mt. St. Helens on the horizon

But I didn't have to worry.  After descending nearly a mile, I spotted a trail heading back to the west.  Some nice person had marked it with a large arrow made out of sticks.  The trail began in a thick forest, but soon led me into an area cleared by rockslides.  And boy oh boy were the views fabulous!

Bear lake is wayyy down there!

First of all, I was treated a nice shot of Mt. Adams.  The mountain rose from the surrounding foothills, towering above the blue waters of the Columbia River.  Traveling further west, Mt. St. Helens came into view.  Contouring around the mountain far enough brought me looking down into the forested valley where Bear Lake resided.  The wide-open vistas on this trail were by far the best part of my hike.

Mt. Hood parting view

But all good things must come to an end, and this scenic path finally rendezvoused with the trail back to the car.   Sigh....back into the viewless woods.  But not before I crossed a final talus slope with a gorgeous view of Mt. Hood.

Fall is in the air

This was definitely an easier way to reach the summit of Mt. Defiance.  The entire hike, including my Bear Lake side trip, was about 6.5 miles and only 1900 feet total elevation gain.  If I ever get the urge to see the top of Defiance again, it's nice to know I have options.

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot


  1. Beautiful pics as always! And I think our trails are tough when there is a 3,000 ascent over five miles. LOL! Looks like you left Bear at home for this one.

  2. I think those might be Mountain Ash berries...

    Anyhoodles, gorgeous scenery and always love the details you include Linda. And the chicken did get a few pieces of kibble. :)

  3. Such lovely views! Any pain from the hike would be worth it to see sights like this :)

  4. You go girl.
    I love peeking at the mountain !

  5. Linda~
    Those views from up top are amazing! Love seeing autumn leaves again:)
    PS: Those talus slopes look a bit scary.

  6. Like Nancy, I was thinking Mountain Ash berries. The birds have all eaten ours already a few weeks ago.

    These views are outstanding!
    I imagined putting myself in your shoes, and just soaking them up! :)
    Wow. Nice work!

  7. That weathered wood looked amazing. what views you had from that hike. Looks like your leaves are on the turn already, no doubt some great autumnal views to come.

  8. What a gorgeous hike, and a perfect day for it.

  9. Beautiful, gorgeous views and look at how clear and clean that water is.

  10. What beautiful views from up there! Glad you've found a trail you would like to repeat sometime. ;)

  11. Oh gosh Linda, some beautiful views! And you made it to the top!

  12. I hiked the Starvation Creek Trail to the summit of Mount Defiance, which was a lot of fun. I like the challenge. But if you just want the views without the challenge, then this is a great way to go. Beautiful photo of Mount Hood!

  13. Thanks for taking me along cuz that's the only way I hike--vicariously! Lovely photos along the way and I'm sure the view was so much better than photos can ever tell.

  14. Wonderful series of shots, love that one of Mt. Adams... it is in my header shot as well... Thank you for coming by sharing your creative photography on Weekly Top Shot #101!

  15. Love the view of the mountain!
    I admire your passion for hiking. Very rewarding views.

  16. What beauty you got to experience, Linda. I am sure the views were even more stunning in person. Thank You for sharing nature at its best.

  17. Gorgeous shots. It is so nice to see the seasons change. Where I live in Texas we really don't see that. We may get a few yellow and red leaves that are just a tease of the beauty others around the country see.

  18. Have just spent a wonderful evening catching up with all your adventures of the past month. Never a dull moment in Linda's world! Fantastic writing and photography as always.

  19. Hi Linda, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris

  20. Pretty country- more nice close-ups


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