Hiking to the Summit of Mt. Defiance

It used to be that one of my annual rites of springtime was hiking the Starvation Ridge/Mt. Defiance Loop Trail in the Columbia River Gorge. It is 12 miles in length with 5,000 feet of elevation gain.

The hike has much to recommend it. There is a lake, several waterfalls, a very good workout and one of the best vistas in Northwest Oregon from the summit. However, hiking experts consider it to be one of the most difficult day hikes in the Pacific Northwest. I have done it many times and the experts wouldn’t get an argument from me. My fellow Mazamas sometimes joke that they climb Mt. Hood to get in shape for the Starvation Ridge/Mt. Defiance hike.

On a pretty day in May a few years back, I arrived at the trailhead with lots of sunshine. The hike began by steeply ascending Starvation Ridge, gaining 3,800 feet in four miles.

Dog Mountain from Starvation Ridge

Looking down the Columbia River Gorge from Starvation Ridge

Spotted Coral Root Orchids

Looking over the Columbia River at the summit of Dog Mountain

Oregon Anemone

For the next three-quarter mile the Trail provides a respite, following the rim of the headbasin west before slightly dropping into a bowl containing Warren Lake. At the west end of the Lake, the Trail begins crossing a vast rockslide before finally meeting the Mt. Defiance Trail. Now the final climb to the summit begins.

Mt. Defiance from the top of Starvation Ridge

Warren Lake

At the 4,000-foot level and above, snow was still in evidence with drifts up to four feet in depth. There was no alternative but to slog up and down through the snow while ascending to the top. Finally, the microwave tower came into view at the last switchback in the maintenance road. (I forgot to mention the summit can be reached from a road accessed in Hood River.)

At the summit I enjoyed the views in all directions with some help from two golden mantled ground squirrels.

Lots of snow near the summit (It’s called Mt. Defiance because it defiantly holds on to snow longer than anyplace nearby)

Microwave towers at the summit of Mt. Defiance

View of Mt. Hood from Mt. Defiance

Hood River Valley from Mt. Defiance

Golden Mantled

Mt. Adams behind the summit of Dog Mountain

Hiking down the Mt. Defiance trail is very steep with lots of pea gravel to contend with. The views make up for the steepness on the descent. And, the lower connector trail back to the trailhead passes several waterfalls.

All in all, a tough but interesting hike.

Into the Wilderness

Steep trail coming down from Mt. Defiance

Lancaster Falls

Orange Honeysuckle and Paintbrush

Looking up at Dog Mountain ( the yellowish tint is from the fields of balsamroot in bloom)



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