Mt. Defiance via Starvation Creek Loop 

Posted 03 Mar 2020

In the late 1800's a blizzard and numerous snow slides trapped three passanger 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 and 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.

We hiked for a little over a month loving and hating it in equal measure. Both of us had severe foot issues. Kirk had deep, burning blisters in the pads of both his feet. At first, we had moleskin, and when we ran out of that, we found a pair of Dr. Scholl’s foam inserts which we cut in elongated donut shapes to pad the area, taking pressure off the blisters. I had a mystery rash that forced me to hike in sandals for over a week, badly bruising the bottoms of my feet. My weight, combined with the weight of my pack, crushed the bruises with every step. At night sharp pains pulsed through them in a ceaseless rhythm. Three days from the end of the hike, something tore or broke in the top of my right foot. Now the pain is dulled by anecdotal distance.

As we pitched our tent for the last night on the ashy, burnt rim of the Benson Plateau, just before the long, deep descent to the Columbia River below, “a plunge equal to descending from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River,” according to our guidebook. (Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon by Eli Boschetto.) We lay down with mixed feelings. Tomorrow, this would end. We would get to shower, use a flush toilet, sleep in our own bed, eat real food. But we would also leave the peaceful seclusion of the deep woods and reenter the rat race of the cities below.

Around noon, the following day, we pushed across the Bridge of the Gods against a monumental head wind, these last steps ending our 34-day adventure. Six months later, absorbed in the day, I still get random flashes of the trail.

We learned a lot about ourselves, our endurance, our character, the elasticity of our minds that will snap back into old habits despite the intense time out. I expected a great spiritual awakening or some sort of long-lasting, life-altering change. It wasn’t like that, but we did learn the following principles, which can be applied to life as well as backpacking:

  1. It sucks to be so dirty that the dirt will not wash off.

  2. Chicks, Dudes and Dogs can live on ramen.

  3. Water is really heavy, but water is worth its weight in gold.

  4. Every day is filled with hard climbs.

  5. Every evening is filled with steep losses to get to water.

  6. Don’t look too far in the future but take one day’s mileage at a time.

  7. This too shall pass: the mosquitoes, the pain, the hunger. This too shall pass.

  8. Look back at landmarks but look back only to gauge how far you have come.

  9. Stay present and focused so you don’t fall in a hole.

  10. Nothing is ever as important as we think it is.

Happy Hiking!

February 2020

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.     


© 2020 Copyright Wilderness Chick

  • Grey Facebook Icon

All photos by Kirk and Marea Bartram unless otherwise stated.