Mount Defiance, Washington
Date: June 28 & 29, 2018
Miles: 11 miles round trip, from Ira Spring trailhead.
Highest point: 5584ft.
Overnight camping: Mason Lake.
My intent was to start this trip a lot early than I did. Driving from Seattle down the I-90 highway into the Cascade Range pass the previous mountain I climbed, Mount Si. After driving down an old dirt road, I was greeted by the trailhead for Ira Spring Trail. While I sat in the Jeep to hydrate on the last bit of water, a few more groups left the trailhead. I packed more cold, wet weather gear with the forecast in the mountains being in the 40’s while the sea level is in the 70’s.
After stretching and double checking all of my gear, I set off around 3 pm. The hike started off as an easy stroll that crossed over a waterfall and through a highway of ferns. The old logging road soon peeled off and the grade of the climb increased through the forest. I would stop often to catch my breath and to take in the beauty of the rolling clouds over the mountain range. I could still hear the rumbles of the I-90 highway to my right and glimpse of the mountains across the valley being covered like a blanket with the clouds rolling through.
I could sense something amazing was ahead of me. The trees around me begin to open up and I could see big boulders in the distant. I released an audible gasp “Oh, my, god” once I took my first steps up the natural staircase. The trees pulled back to reveal an open rock field with lush pockets of wildflowers. I continue in amazement as I slowly push forward and pass fellow hikers coming back down from the top. In the distance, I could see what appeared to be the summit of Mount Defiance only to be completely covered in a cloud.
After slowly hiking through this section I finally came upon the crest of the basin of Mason Lake. Another 1/4 mile of forest hiking I began to hear the rushing water of a stream to my amazement connected right into Mason Lake. I’ve made it. By this time it was 5:30 pm and I was starving. I set off to explore around the lake to find the best spot to setup up camp and make some delicious freeze-dried dinners. I passed one other campsite that was being used on my way to finding mine. The cloud cover hovered eerily right above the lake. Masking any view of the top of the basin. As I am cooking my dinner the clouds drop down and now I am engulfed in a rain cloud. The mist collects on the trees and creates big raindrops that crash down onto my tent. I call it an early night after I edit some photos and write down my thoughts.
Day 2. I woke up to the sounds of raindrops falling on my tent. The cloud cover has become even thicker and I can’t even see the lake that I once use to from my tent. The temperature dropped even further overnight and the only way to warm up in pack up and start hiking as quickly as possible. Birds chirping in the distances and the sense no one has hiked the trail today. Cutting through cobwebs that spiders during the night must have strung across the paths. I can only see about 100 feet in any direction with the fog never letting up. Peaking through trees I see something white smeared across the forested mountainside. The trail snakes closer and ends right into a small snowfield. Footprints lead me to the other side with the trail opening back up again. After gaining quick elevation while sliding on wet tree roots the forest once again peeled back to a narrow path with meadows around me. I can only assume the dropoffs are spectacular but with the cloud, I can still only see about 100 feet around me. Silhouettes of the Evergreen trees begin to startle me into thinking someone is on the trail ahead of me. The wildflowers through the meadows pop vibrantly off the misty white cloud backdrop.
The final turn up to Mount Defiance summit. Only .2 miles left and around 400-foot climb. Scrambling up rocks, the feeling of the mountain is becoming less and less around me. There isn’t the space around the trail as the “bubble” feels like it’s getting smaller and smaller. The rocks begin to flatten out. I’ve made it to the summit which I was the only one there. The sun keeps trying to break through the clouds and the temperature quickly rises when the sun peaks through. I pull out a well earned Snickers bar as I wait to see if the clouds break. It’s a strange feeling to know you’re on the top of an amazing view but can’t see anything. I wait for 45 minutes before a fellow day hiker came up. We chat for a few minutes about how the last bit was really steep and how we wish the clouds would just open up.
I start my trek back down to the lake where I have lunch and take a nap by the lake which is still covered in the clouds. My trek down was a lot quicker than my trek up. As I start to hear the I-90 highway again I put in some earbuds to drone out the sound of commuting cars and trucks. My calves tighten up as arrive back to the trailhead but the sense of accomplishment masked any pain I had. I did it!