In preparation for the Mount St. Helens summit on Mother's Day, J&J and I decided to do the Starvation-Defiance Loop. This hike, considered one of the hardest in the gorge, did not disappoint. We were all dreading the hike but once it got underway, it wasn't that bad - in fact, the hardest part was the descent!
The trail is mild (paved) at first but quickly becomes rugged and steep. We went up Starvation and down Defiance so we started to go up right away. We trudged up switchback after switchback... It was never ending (at least, that's how it seemed!). While I had been warned that this hike doesn't have any redeeming qualities, I found it to be quite beautiful at points. We got some great views of the gorge at the beginning of the hike and towards the end. We also saw several different types of wildflowers and some HUGE banana slugs! Also, because the hike gains so much elevation (approximately 5,000 ft.), we were able to go from beautiful, warm spring weather to blustery, cold winter weather within a matter of hours - so cool!
|This sign is usually at eye level - the snow was high enough that we were looking down on it!|
We anticipated some snow but weren't prepared for five or more feet we found at the top! When we had about 1,500 more feet to climb before reaching the summit, the snow covered the trail (and everything else) completely. Luckily, it was packed down enough so that we didn't need snowshoes. It's amazing how much more difficult it is to hike in the snow, even when the snow is packed down. There was quite a bit of postholing near trees and on the talus fields but it was such a refreshing change of scenery that I didn't mind!
Speaking of talus fields - these reminded me SO much of hiking in Rothrock in central Pennsylvania. It was so fun packing away my trekking poles and climbing (hand-over-hand in some spots) all over those rocks! The talus field that we scrambled up on Starvation didn't have much snow... but the field we went down on Defiance was completely covered - this actually allowed us to get down Defiance much more quickly than we could have had the talus been uncovered. The three of us jetted down the snow covered field - it was only when we got close to exposed rock or trees that we slowed down to avoid postholing.
We made it to the summit of Mt. Defiance and it started snowing! We didn't get any views but it was still really amazing. At the top, I put on extra layers and my winter gloves. Brr – it was cold up there.
So, the descent was the worst part of the hike - but only after we got out of the snow. I would rather ascend another 5,000 ft. than descend that much, any day. We spent a considerable amount of the descent running; it often seems easier to do this than to walk… also, we were extremely eager to be finished with the hike at that point. I think the descent would have been tolerable but at about 1,500 ft. (approximately 1,200 ft. before finishing the descent) I started getting a blister on my toe. This made things a little less comfortable but considering I was wearing new boots and I was only starting to get a blister after a 12-mile hike… I’d say I lucked out!
Overall, this hike was awesome. I’d like to do it again when the snow is melted to see how much more quickly I could do it. It took us 7 hours – 4.5 to ascend and 2.5 to descend. We kept a steady pace throughout – approximately 2.3 miles per hour. We were moving for 4.5 hours. I never understand how those shorts breaks to change gear and eat snacks add up to as many hours as they do!
To see the rest of the photos, click here.
Oh! After finishing the hike, we drove several more miles to Hood River. We got pizza and beer at Double Mountain. Oh man, it was so delicious. J and I decided that we don’t know if the pizza was really as good as it seemed or if it just seemed so good because we ate it after doing such an exhausting hike… I guess it doesn't really matter!