I climbed Mt. Defiance last week.
Yeah, we’re just going to let that sentence stand alone, because it was a fairly big deal for me. I’ve had Mt. Defiance on my bucket list for the past several years. After working in progressively harder and steeper hikes this year, my goal was to complete Defiance before going to Ireland, as I knew it would be an excellent training exercise for the hiking I’d be doing there (in particular for summiting Carrauntoohil, the highest peak in Ireland).
But then the sprained ankle incident happened, and I was forced to rest for two weeks prior to Ireland. Upon returning, Defiance was top on my list of things to get done this fall, before the weather turned dark and rainy, and before my endurance waned significantly.
So I set out from the Starvation Creek Trailhead last Thursday around 10 am (which turned out to be entirely too late) and started climbing. And huffing. And puffing. The saving grace was the beauty of the day - a clear, cool fall one, with autumn’s colors springing up everywhere in the woods. I remember cresting one ridge and hiking into the start of a beautiful green and gold forest, a place where the unrelenting steepness of the tail evened out a bit… but not for long. That forest turned into the bane of my existence as it soon switched from a gentle grade to a quad-quivering, calf-cramping assault. The climb through that forest was as tough as the last third of a Mt. St. Helens ascent - as with Helens, I was forced to rest for ten seconds after every 80 feet or so of hiking. It was ridiculous. At one point, thinking I had to be close to four (out of about 5.5) miles, I stopped to lean against a tree and catch my breath. Looking over to the other side of the trail, my gaze happened upon a metal plate that had been secured to a tree trunk there. And on the plate, the number “3”.
Really? Only three miles? I was admittedly a bit devastated by that. I sat down in a spot of sunlight, in that rather creepy, endless and dark forest (most of the hike was a bit dim, as the sun stayed to the south side of the mountain, while I climbed the north), had part of my sandwich, another granola bar, and after a few minutes of contemplation decided to just get on with it.
So up I went. The forest eventually ended and I emerged finally into the open. The radio tower atop Defiance could be seen from there, and was a welcome sight. Also noted, in the opposite direction, was Dog Mountain… but I did a double-take, because Dog Mountain looked absolutely puny from that height. Jaw-droppingly puny.
It didn’t take long from there to summit. The way back was nearly as brutal (my knees are very grateful for trekking poles and Ibuprofen), and unfortunately I had to push faster than I would have liked, because I was quickly running out of daylight (and had stupidly forgotten a flashlight). The last 0.4 miles of trail (very steep trail at that) were done in the near-dark, but without incident.
To put the climb into a bit more perspective, Mt. Defiance gains 5,000 feet during that hike. By comparison, the highest peak in Ireland gains less than 3,500. Dog Mountain is about 2,800 feet (so it’s like climbing Dog Mountain, twice) and even the Mt. St. Helens climb is less at 4,500 feet of elevation gained. People looking to climb Mt. Hood use Defiance as a training hike. That’s crazy. Just crazy.
But then again, pretty much anything is possible if you’re just able to put one foot in front of the other, over and over again.
This image was taken during a very brief break on the way back down. The forest was exploding with color, but I sadly only had time to make a few images, due to the time crunch. I’d like to make it back up to this ridge trail soon.