This week’s hike took place on 7/15/2012 when we tackled the challenging Mt. Defiance Trail in the Columbia Gorge. Unfortunately the area was affected by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire making it’s current status uncertain.
Our hike that day began at the Starvation Creek Trailhead.
Prior to setting off on the Mt. Defiance Trail we made the short walk to Starvation Creek Falls.
After visiting the falls we followed pointers for the Mt. Defiance Trail.
At the time a path followed the shoulder of the freeway for a short distance before veering away into the woods. In 2016 changes were made to the first mile plus of this hike making it wider and putting up a nicer barrier along the freeway section.
Just over a quarter mile from the trailhead we passed our return route, the Starvation Cutoff Trail, and just a bit beyond that we came to a small sign for Cabin Creek Falls.
That small fall was mostly hidden.
A little under a half mile further though was a less obscured waterfall – Hole in the Wall Falls.
This waterfall is not a natural occurrence, it was created in 1938 when the Oregon Highway Department rerouted Warren Creek due to Warren Creek Falls being too close to the old Columbia River Highway. The falls name comes from the waters emergence from the cliff via a man made hole.
A tenth of a mile beyond Hole in the Wall Falls we passed a junction with the Starvation Ridge Trail. A left turn here would have brought us to the upper end of the Starvation Cutoff Trail in a mile allowing for a short two and a half mile loop.
Having loftier goals we continued straight passing below the lower portion of Lancaster Falls after .2 miles.
It seemed like a nice “little” waterfall but interestingly this lower portion was only a small part of a much taller fall as we would discover in 2014 when we spotted the waterfall from across the Columbia River on the Dog Mountain Trail (post).
Another half a mile of fairly level trail brought us to the start of the 4700′ climb to the summit of Mt. Defiance. The trail passed under some powerlines up a fairly open hillside where low clouds only provided a limited view of Wind Mountain across the river.
The trail then entered the trees as it gained 4000′ over approximately three nearly unrelenting miles.
Along the way we passed a Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness sign.
A little further on was a viewpoint along a rocky hillside. Low clouds limited much of the view but a nice rainbow was visible in the valley below.
After gaining those 4000′ we arrived at a junction with the Mitchell Point Trail.
We would be taking that trail on our way back, but first more climbing.
Two tenths of a mile from the Mitchell Point Trail junction a new (at that time) trail led off to the right. The trail was unmarked except for two small rock cairns.
This mile long segment of trail traversed a talus covered hillside above Bear Lake up and around Mt. Defiance to a microwave building at its summit.
Unfortunately for us the clouds had not burned off and Mt. Hood was completely hidden.
The only view we had from the summit was to the SE.
After a nice rest at the summit we opted to head back down to the Mitchell Point Trail via the older summit route which shaved off .2 miles.
When we reached the junction we turned onto the Mitchell Point Trail and headed east toward Warren Lake. The clouds to the east had been breaking up revealing some nice blue skies as we reached a viewpoint above Warren Lake.
We arrived at the lake .8 miles from the junction.
We followed the Mitchell Point Trail another half mile from Warren Lake before turning left onto the unsigned Starvation Ridge Trail.
The Starvation Ridge Trail began heading downhill offering a view back to Mt. Defiance.
It was still a bit cloudy for views in other directions though.
The view of Wind Mountain had greatly improved.
As the ridge narrowed the decent steepened and we were soon barreling downhill. The trail ahead would occasionally vanish as is dropped leaving us wondering if it just dropped off a cliff.
For over three miles the trail dove and yet the Columbia River didn’t seem to be getting all that closer. Then the trail came to an opening at the end of the ridge across from Dog Mountain.
The view was nice except for the one down to the Starvation Creek Trailhead where our car looked smaller than a Hot Wheels.
From the ridge end the trail headed downhill away from the trailhead. We turned right onto the Starvation Cutoff Trail at a signed junction and switchbacked down .3 miles to the Mt. Defiance Trail and followed the freeway back to our car.
Mt. Defiance had lived up to it’s reputation as a challenge and it would have been nice to have had a view at the top but it was rewarding to know that we could accomplish it. It was a boost to our confidence going forward. We look forward to heading back someday when the skies are clearer. Happy Trails!
Flickr: Mt. Defiance