Ascent of Mount Defiance on 2010-08-28

Climber: Michael Wanberg

Others in Party:James Robinson
Date:Saturday, August 28, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Defiance
    Elevation:4960 ft / 1511 m

Ascent Trip Report

This hike was a tune-up for my upcoming NE US state highpoint trip, which was going to involve a significant amount of gain in a few days. It also is the peak hike with the most gain in the Columbia River Gorge, and was a beautiful day!

I meet up with James in Portland and we drove out to Starvation Creek SP, which was our TH for the day. We departed the busy-ish parking area and made our way up the Starvation Ridge trail. The gain is very steady to about 3800', then it levels out a bit to Warren Lake. There are a number of campsites around the lake, and the main trail is somewhat difficult to follow through them due to the large number of side trails around the sites.

We found what we believed to be the trail and followed it up around the flank of the talus ridge to the NW of the lake, emerging near a series of very impressive boulders with an even more impressive view. We could see St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, much of the Columbia River, and other lesser peaks, ridges, valleys, etc. for many miles to the north. We climbed up the larger boulders to fully appreciate the view (and because they were too cool not to climb). Be careful if you do so as well, they're big enough (20'?) that a fall from the top of them could result in a broken you.

We attempted to regain the trail in the most likely direction we thought it would be, but we were unable to find it along the edge of rock field we were occupying. We decided to just continue SSW through the brush until we found the trail, and continued along dodging bushes and trees for about 15 minutes until we stepped out into the trail. I think the trail we followed out from Warren Lake wasn't the actual through trail, but I'm not sure. In any event, we headed WSW along it until we intersected the Mt. Defiance trail, then proceeded SW along that, crossed the 4WD road to the radio towers (twice), then came out near the odd little antennae installation at the summit.

We located the summit marker (marked Defiance #2) and relaxed for about 30 minutes while enjoying lunch and the fine weather. The base of Mt. Hood was quite visible, although the upper reaches of the peak were once again shrouded in thick clouds. It was interesting looking down into the Hood River Valley, and seeing how the river comes down through the narrow valley to the east of Hood before opening into the broad fruited plain.

There were two other hikers nearby who we spoke with, talking about favorite trails in the Gorge, etc. I was hoping to find some new out-of-the-way trails, having now hiked almost all of the major ones in the Gorge. Unfortunately it didn't appear they had traveled any trails in the area that I hadn't, but I was interested to learn that their favorite was also Hamilton Mtn. I was glad that they had taken in that trail, and we extolled the virtues of it while collectively wondering why on earth the Dog Mtn. trail is so popular.

We noticed that the wind was beginning to pick up noticeably, and there were some ominously dark clouds to the SW, potentially bearing rain and lightning, so James and I decided that we should be getting down. We made a very brief search for another survey marker (#1?), but were unable to locate it. Perhaps it was an older marker on the location that the buildings and antennae are now located. We headed down off the summit on the trail to the NW, which looped to our earlier trail after skirting some impressive, loose rock cliffs. Don't trip there, it'd be bad. We followed the joined trails until coming to the spot where we had joined up with the Mt. Defiance trail, and here we stayed to the left (North) and followed it all the way down to the main #400 trail.

A note to the wise: If you're planning on making this hike, be sure to go down the Starvation Ridge trail. Whether you go up the Mt. Defiance trail or not depends on how set you are on making this a loop, but it really isn't (or at least wasn't) a safe trail going downhill. The trail sloped off down the side of the hill (not properly cut in), and was made more sketchy by the small pebbles and dirt layered over the hardpan. I've gone down significant ice slopes with far less concern than on this trail, and James had the misfortune of skidding off it in one section. Thankfully there was a fallen tree just below the trail that he was able to catch himself on, but it was a bit scary.

There is also a decent amount of poison oak in some segments (like where I dropped my trekking pole), so be aware of that. There are also some beautiful waterfalls along the way, and at the parking area.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5040 ft / 1535 m
    Total Elevation Loss:5040 ft / 1535 m
    Round-Trip Distance:12 mi / 19.3 km
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Nights Spent:0 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:4990 ft / 1520 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 4840 ft / 1475 m; Extra: 150 ft / 45m
    Loss on way in:150 ft / 45 m
    Distance:6 mi / 9.7 km
    Route:Starvation Ridge / Warren Lake
    Start Trailhead:Starvation Creek Falls TH  120 ft / 36 m
    Time:4 Hours 45 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:4890 ft / 1490 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 4840 ft / 1475 m; Extra: 50 ft / 15m
    Gain on way out:50 ft / 15 m
    Distance:6 mi / 9.7 km
    Route:Mt. Defiance Trail
    End Trailhead:Starvation Creek Falls TH  120 ft / 36 m
    Time:2 Hours 30 Minutes
Ascent Part of Trip: 2010-08 Mt Defiance (0 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Mount Defiance2010-08-285040 ft / 1536 m
2Mount Defiance-Southwest Slope2010-08-28 b 
Total Trip Gain: 5040 ft / 1536 m    Total Trip Loss: 5040 ft / 1536 m

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