Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams
Mt. Defiance via Starvation Creek Loop
Posted 03 Mar 2020
In the late 1800's a blizzard and numerous snow slides trapped three passenger trains for three weeks near a small creek in the Columbia Gorge just west of the current city of Hood River. (Hood River wouldn't be incorporated for another ten years after the event.) Although no lives were lost, food ran low, men were asked to leave the train and hoof it to Portland, anything made of wood inside the train was burned for warmth and the creek became known as Starvation Creek.
Mt. Defiance rise 5,010 feet above the river. It is topped with radar equipment that boasts an unhindered view of Mount Hood, except during the infamous angry gorge weather that still obstructs travel several times a year.
The hike starts in Starvation Creek Park at Hole-In-The-Wall Falls which were man-made in the 30's to help prevent road washouts.
At some point on our drive, when we were almost to the trail head, we realized that we had left Misha's beef jerky at home. Misha is always too excited to eat before we leave the house on hike days, so he had an empty stomach. I wasn't going to ask him to climb that mountain on empty. We were loaded with snacks: M&M's, peanut butter cups, Hershey's kisses...So much chocolate. We turned around and bought jerky in Cascade Locks. We got started around 9:30.
As with most hikes in the Gorge, it begins with a moderate climb to the power line corridor which runs parallel to the river.
At first we switchbacked with great views to the river and the mountains on the Washington side. We moved away from the river and the woods closed in around us blocking all but the rare view. After that, the climb takes on a more challenging aspect.
It always looks like the summit is a few switchbacks away, but this is an illusion. There are always more and more hill-covered trees ahead.
You learn a lot about yourself while hiking, especially on a hike that tests the endurance with length, elevation gain, and terrain obstacles or all of these together. Hiking is as much psychological as it is physical. Even more so in my experience. Once the mind decides that the body is done, the body shuts down, but even when the body is screaming in agony, the mind can make it go another mile or three.
As we climbed, we saw sporadic signs of the 2017 Eagle Creek fire. It looked like the tree tried to crawl out of the ground to get away from the destructive flames.
It is always a struggle to show elevation in a photo. Something that is nearly vertical and extremely difficult in real time looks like a gentle ascent in my photos. I will keep working on perspective.
About halfway on our upward journey, the trail switchbacked past a wide open talus slope, a nice break in the trees with sweeping views to the northwest highlighting Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams. At the time, climbing Mt. Adams was a vague plan or perhaps more of a dream than a definite.
I didn't want Misha on the steep, slippery slope so we took turns taking in the view while the other one of us held Misha who waited impatiently for us to move on. Misha doesn't like to stop for anything on the trail, not views or compliments from other hikers or to wait for us to tie our shoes. Nothing short of lunch makes our Beagle pause mid-hike.
I love fungus. I love the variety, the way something so delicate shoves aside the earth to pop out. I love how fungus lives and thrives everywhere.
Misha knows that we stop for photos, but I have to be quick or he pulls as like a steam locomotive. A couple seconds more and he begins to bark and/or bay which reverberates through the mountains.
At last we cross a talus slope with Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Rainier behind us. We circle around the Mt. Defiance to the southeast side and climb the last quarter mile to the top.
Now that we have arrived at our destination and drop our day packs, Misha knows that it is time for a break, the view and more photos with Mt. Hood behind us.
Kirk and Misha posed with the equipment behind them. It seems so odd to see all that ugly manmade stuff and a road on top of such a challenging hike.
We ate lunch near a geodetic survey marker from the 1930's.
It took a bit to locate the return trail on the other side of the buildings.
The steep trail kept us focused until at last it flattened out and we spotted Warren Lake through the autumn color.
We made plans to hike back one day to camp at this isolated, charming lake, with plenty of discussion about how difficult that steep hike would be with fully loaded packs.
After the lake, we climbed up again briefly and then found the spine of the ridge that would lead us down, down, down to the river below. This view reminded me of the last day of our Oregon PCT hike. But on the PCT, the trail descended through blackened earth and skeletal trees.
Hot, dirty, hungry and tired, with an aching fractured foot, I sank to the ground, and finding that I had cell service at last, I called my daughter and sobbed my misery into the phone while she comforted me and then promptly told me that she was out for ice cream!
"Are you kidding me?" I had cried and then we both laughed.
We kept descending (so much easier to do without a fracture), until the land jutted out over the Columbia under those ever persistent Gorge powerlines.
We were still high enough to make my stomach drop as I stood at the edge of the cliffs.
The trail did a sharp 180° through a grassy area with oak trees and yellow sunrays.
We have yet to strap on our packs for an overnighter by Warren Lake, but I am looking forward to it.
Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.