Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mount Defiance!

This weekend I really wanted to challenge myself physically and with the ski areas still devoid of snow I decided on a challenging hike in the Columbia Gorge for Chris, Emily and I to check out.  At 5,000 feet Mt. Defiance is the high point of the Columbia Gorge and a wicked steep climb starting at the Columbia River at only 200 feet and climbing to the top in just 6 miles.  This essential meant a trail so steep that it felt like climbing a steep building staircase non-stop for over 4 hours to get to the top.  It was just about hiking a vertical mile in just six.  = A challenge.

We were able to reach the trailhead of the hike at Starvation Creek at about 10am in the morning which I thought would give us plenty of time for the 12 mile loop hike up Starvation Ridge to the summit and then back down the Defiance Trail.  Before we left to head down the trail which started along I-84 we took a side trip to check out the beautiful Starvation Falls.  

Once on the steep trail we climbed quickly past moss covered trees up to a clearing of massive power lines with great views down to the Columbia River below.  The shadows of the steep hillside we were ascending could be clearly seen on the river below with the sun rising to the southeast.  We could see tons of small fishing vessels below on the Columbia just north of the massive dam and clouds from the morning fog continued to hug Wind Mountain on the Washington side of the river.  

From there it was a very steep ascent for the next 4 miles with the occasional viewpoint over the gorge to the north for vistas of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams.  It was a great opportunity to test the capabilities of the new 300mm zoom lens Emily had gotten me for Christmas.  Kya seemed to be having a great time on the hike and didn’t seem to be as tired as we were heading up the steep Starvation Ridge.  

Chris had finally decided after years of hiking and skiing with me to try listening to music on the hike.  He and Emily both admitted that it gave them a lot more energy.  After 3 years “I told you so” doesn’t really cut it.  I held off on music for a while because I use Spotify to stream most of my music nowadays.  To my surprise I found that I had reception the entire way up the mountain (probably due to the huge antenna’s we would later find at the summit).  I decided to put on some bluegrass tunes and enjoyed the music for the rest of the hike to the top, only losing the signal a few times.

At about 3,500 feet we hit snow.  Thankfully it was warm enough that the trail hadn’t become a layer of ice and was instead slushy underneath our boot treads.  This allowed us to keep up a good pace all the way up to Warren Lake where we stopped to check out some bear prints headed out across the frozen ice.  We briefly lost the trail there in the snow but then picked it up again.  It was deceiving where we were because the summit looked just ahead of us at every turn but seemed to get further and further away.  Eventually the snow got deep enough for us to put on some gaitors to keep it out of our boots for the rest of the trip to the top.  

We were following the trail of an EveryTrail guide I had downloaded to my phone but at a certain point it became easier to just follow the footprints of a few others who had climbed the day before and earlier the same day than us.  They definitely went off trail but were headed in the right direction so we just followed.  Eventually we popped out onto a wide snow-covered road leading up and around the mountain to the summit.  It was obviously a maintenance road for the towers on top.  We trekked up the road and made it to the summit at about 2:15 which was just over the time I had hoped to be at the top.  There were great views down to Hood River and to the north side of Mt. Hood which was in a haze and shadowed by the sun to the west. 

We snapped a few photos at the top of the mountain, ate some lunch and then started our descent at around 2:30.  We made great time down the mountain at the expense of our knees and legs.  My legs are built for climbing but with a knee injury and descending most of my recent hikes over the past few years on skis my legs really took a beating with my left surgery knee shaking with every step I took.  By the time we got down to the river again it was dark and we had to traverse east back to the parking lot at Starvation Creek.  We passed by a couple more awesome waterfalls but it was far too dark at that point for any photos, although we did get a couple great shots of the full moon rising over the Columbia before reaching the parking lot at around 5:15pm.  

The entire day I had been off my time predictions by just 15 minutes.  All three of us and Kya were all exhausted after the hike with the dog passing out in the back of the Prius immediately upon leaving the lot.  We stopped for some quick food at a Burgerville in Troutdale before the 2 hour ride home.  For 3 days after I would be limping around the office with extremely sore legs but happy I had pushed myself and accomplished my goal.   5,000 feet of ascent and 12 miles in day is nothing to scoff at.

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