Mt. Defiance – Starvation Loop Hike – 6/11/17

The Oregon Hiker’s Field Guide gives these details about this hike:

  • Start point: Starvation Creek Trailhead
  • End point: Mount Defiance
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 11.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4940 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult (and that’s only because we don’t have anything harder)
  • Seasons: June-October
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

“And that’s only because we don’t have anything harder.” Apparently this is the “hardest” hike in the Gorge. I hadn’t heard about it until about 2 weeks prior. In an effort to keep up my hill training, I slapped it on the calendar, rounded up my best adventure buddies, and off to Defiance we went.

There are 2 things I have PTSD about: sunburns and poison oak. I have become terrified of both and will go to great lengths to avoid them. This hike was sure to bring both and I was prepared: long pants and SPF 70. The downside to this? It was freaking hot, which make both a terrible idea.

The first section of the hike was exposed, steep, and noisy, due to the freeway. We just came off the flat and paved path, enjoying a quick waterfall before starting up the trail, so I was spoiled from the gate. The struggle in the heat was real and I told the boys to go on ahead so the pressure was off to keep up.

Eventually we hit the woods and felt the nice relief of a breeze. There were a few pockets with a view and took the opportunity to rest and enjoy them.

After cooling down (and slowing down slightly), the hike seemed less daunting. I received a text message from Jesse that he made it to the summit and warned us of the “fork in the road”. When we came upon it, the choice was obvious: ‘more difficult’.

We hit some snow and eventually the summit (it was tempting to cut up the gravel road to the radio towers, but my inner hiker stuck to the singletrack). Our view was a bit clouded and there were a few other groups up there, but we sat and enjoyed our lunch, mapping out the route down. We looped back around the ‘easiest’ way, just to mix things up, and decided to descend on Starvation Ridge, rather than just back down the way we came.

Quick pit stop at Warren Lake

This was easily the best part of the hike. It was a steep descent (after a bit my left knee started to argue with me about the decision we’d made), but it was quite a cool ridge in the middle of the trees.

Our group of 4 was all hiking together at this point and we spent the bulk of the time trying to figure out which plants were poison oak. We came across one hiker who shared his “wisdom”, but as we continued on, we still weren’t convinced.

The switchbacks down to the car were unrelenting, but we had such a good mix of terrain throughout the day I was happy to enjoy it all.

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It was an all day excursion and I was glad to check it off the “to-hike” list. Also, no one suffered any poison oak outbreaks…win-win!

Mailbox Peak – 6/3/17

I love this photo. Everything about it is my favorite. Laughter. Girlfriends. The moody Pacific Northwest. Novelty. Precariousness. Pink. Adventure.

I heard about Mailbox Peak from a woman at the Green Monster Duathlon a few months ago. She told us she uses the hike as a training route and I knew I had to visit it. My favorite Washington ladies and I had been planning this hike ever since and the day finally arrived. I added one of my best Portland friends to the mission and at a very dark 4 AM, we made our way up to the trailhead some 3 hours away.

We took up the last of the parking spots at the trailhead and started up the Old Trail. “Non-trivial” is going to be my description: 2.5 miles and 4,000 ft of elevation gain.

The actual trail wasn’t always obvious and we took turns being the trailblazer, not wanting to claim responsibility for getting the group lost in the woods! It was foggy and cool and I wasn’t complaining. It was steep and root-y. I was amazed at how different this forest in northern Washington looked from other nearby hikes I’d been on. I enjoyed every grueling second of our ascent.

After passing the intersection of the Old and New trail (and teasing the man with the enviably luscious locks), we hit the rock scramble and I scoffed. “These are basically stairs!” we all thought. The path was clear as day and easy to navigate. The trip reports warned of it being a bit technical, so I was surprised at how basic it seemed.

Eventually, the boulders turned to rocks and then turned to stones and then pebbles, and indeed the hiking guides were right. It was a short but vertical climb to the summit.

As the photos show, we were socked in all day. Our views should have been of Seattle, Rainier, and various other mountain ranges all around. Just a few hundred yards from the summit we stopped to see just the tip of Rainier peeking out. Within about a minute it was gone and never popped out again.

We reached the top, elbowed our way through the crowd to the mailbox, wrote our letters to Santa, took a few photos, then plopped down to eat some snacks. I was thankful I put on some bug spray at the car, as we were swatting mosquitoes away.

The mailbox’s contents are ever-changing. This particular day there was a Costco-sized bottle of ibuprofen, a hiker’s log, stuffed animals, some foreign currency, a water jug, and many other random items. It is such a unique destination and a fun way to leave behind a piece of yourself at the summit.

On the descent, we took the New trail, which was much less rough, but twice as long and had relentless switchbacks. It was a beautifully maintained trail and I was wishing I could run (or sprint) all the way down.

At some point, I had to pee so badly I couldn’t stand it. The new trail was relatively busy, so I hussed up the side of the trail behind a tree, telling my buddies to keep watch. No sooner had I dropped my pants, did a fellow (male) hiker come walking up and then sat down on a tree stump directly in front of me, just feet away from my “watchwomen”! Mortified, I aborted my mission and jogged down the hill. “You people had ONE job!” I teased. Laughing, they were distracted by a bag of candy. I think the male hiker was more embarrassed than I was. “I didn’t see anything, I promise!” he assured me. I conceded I’d have to wait until we were out of the woods (no pun intended).

It was such a lovely adventure and after reaching the cars and changing clothes and shoes, we picked a nearby brewery to convene for lunch. Over a few homemade chicken strips and french fries, we planned our next ladies hike. I can’t wait!

Mt. St. Helens – 5/20/17

Jesse & I were offered permits to hike up Mt. St. Helens with our friend, his wife, and their 2 former neighbors. We’d been planning it for a few months and just a few days before our permit day, our friend’s wife could no longer join us and their neighbors told us they had company visiting from Michigan. The downside was that they wouldn’t be joining us, either. The confusing upside was that they were sending their friends in their stead.

A few days of questionable planning ensued and we all decided to caravan up together at 3 AM so we could begin hiking before sunrise. We [mostly] stuck to the plan, though it was light enough at the trailhead that we didn’t need headlamps. We were just about 1/2 hour behind schedule.

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The sun coming up over the mountain was beautiful. We were hiking in snow right away, but it was warm. It was unclear what sort of conditions we’d have to trek through, so we all packed all the options: snowshoes, crampons, ice axes, poles, layers…the works. It was a much different experience than our summer ascent from last year.

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Our hike was slow going, as we sorted out the appropriate gear as we climbed. Some hikers we saw had nothing but YakTrax on, others began with crampons right away. Some were skinning up with skis on and we all knew what that meant – they would have an incredible ride back down! One particular skiing group brought their border collie along. My day is always improved with a dog sighting!

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We stopped for photos and lunch before the final push to the top and we were almost blown away by the wind. Once we got going again, I counted my steps in increments of 20 to pass the time. It seemed to take ages.

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Once we reached the false summit, I threw down my pack and smiled to the north at Rainier, who was there to greet us. Mt. Adams to the east only peeked out a few times that day, Mt. Hood just the tip, and no Jefferson this time. You can’t win ’em all.

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The rest of our group joined us and we relaxed on the top for about an hour, eating some, reapplying sunscreen, taking photos, and preparing for the descent. We wandered over to see the summit and after chatting with a few other groups, decided it wasn’t safe or wise to venture to it. No one had done it that day and it would take quite a bit more time. We just gazed from afar.

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Jesse & I brought garbage bags for glissading and made pseudo-diapers out of them. (Note: it does not work as well as one would think).

Of the 5 mile descent, we were able to do about 3 miles on our butts. The chutes were well worn and it was easy to find a track and take off. The problem was all the gear we brought! I had to figure out how to hold my body so my feet were off the ground, my snowshoes wouldn’t drag behind me, my ice axe was at the ready, and also that I wouldn’t impale myself. It took most of the afternoon to sort it out, but it was such great fun!

At some point we put our snowshoes back on and were back on our feet. We arrived at the car and made plans to stop at Burgerville just down the road a bit. We were all famished, sunburned, and sleepy.

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Never have I ever been so badly burned. The next morning, my nostrils had blistered and my lips were swollen from it. I went on a 7 mile run with a friend in Forest Park and she politely didn’t say a word!

Tom Dick & Harry Mountain – 1/7/17

More fun in the snow. More adventures with friends. More crazy weather. One particularly questionable day, we were invited on a snowshoe adventure with a friend and a others up Tom Dick & Harry Mountain. It’s an easy enough trail and we opted to bring RileyDog with us this time, too.

In the winter, the main trailhead is blocked by the massive snowbank the plows create along the highway, so hikers must park at the ski hill and walk along the road nearly a mile. Riley insisted on relieving himself several times before we even began the roadside walk, so several trips back to the car were in order, but finally, we could take off.

We strapped on our snowshoes at the trailhead and entered the woods. The trail features a couple of wooden bridges and then climbs up the mountain with plenty of switchbacks. We reached Mirror Lake in no time and decided to keep heading up to the summit.

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After traversing an exposed part of the mountain through the wind and blinding snow, Jesse and two others decided to trudge on ahead to the summit, while I and another turned back toward the lake, knowing they wouldn’t make it too much farther anyway. Here’s where the adventure began: my group got lost. With the wind and snow, our tracks were quickly covered, even in the forest. We knew where the lake was, and where the intersection of the loop trail was, but we didn’t know where exactly we were. So we went left. Then went back and went right. Then went back and went down the hill. Then turned around and went straight. And finally, the literal sign we had been searching for! Also, a few run-ins with other dogs and a lost bootie (Riley’s, not mine) added to the stress of the day.

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We stood at the intersection, chatting away, after 20 minutes or so, the others showed up. We headed back down the hill, working up the courage to trudge up the highway to the car; the thought of pizza motivating our quick descent.

Poor RileyDog struggled on the last mile. His poor paws (well, 3 of the 4) became ice packed and he was desperate to lie down on the trail to gnaw at them. It took some coaxing to finish the trek and once he was in the car, he was neither seen nor heard from again. There’s “dog park” tired and then there’s “hiking” tired. Dogs are on their best behavior after the latter.

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I hope to return to this trail in the summer for the lake views and a proper summit adventure. Until then, I’ll enjoy this frosty selfie:

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Mt. Rainier – 8/7/16

You remember my 50k buddy Sybil, right? We finally got around to running together again and planned out a weekend on Mt. Rainier. Well, it was less of a weekend and more of a Sunday-Monday adventure. But then I started a new job on August 1st and it turned into just a day trip. But still – it was a fantastic day!

I woke up insanely early, as running tends to require, and drove 3 hours to the mountain to meet up with Sybil & Belia for a day of exploring the Wonderland Trail.

I was in awe of Rainier the entire time. Mt. Hood is a great mountain right in our backyard but Rainier is Hood’s bigger sister and I fell in love instantly. Driving into the park had a very grand feel to it; the top of the mountain barely visible, expansive forests and valleys, and other daunting peaks cropping up along the way. I guess that’s why it’s a National Park!

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Our route took us from Fryingpan Creek up to the Panhandle Gap and as you can see, it was not a beautiful sunny day! Our views were limited but the trail (and the company) were spectacular!

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It was a decent hike up to Panhandle Gap; around 3,000 ft of climbing in 5.5 miles. We traversed some sketchy snow patches, fun bridges and water crossings, and enjoyed the marmots scurrying about. Although we were climbing, it cooled off quite quickly and hats, gloves, and jackets came out. It didn’t stop of from playing in the glacial pool, though!

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I could have watched the marmots play all day!

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“If that lady can hike this with a baby on her back…!”

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Sybil was certain this hole would be the death of us

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Photo courtesy of guy in Saucony’s and school backpack

We ran most of the 5.5 mile descent and it felt great to get in some mountain running with my badass lady friends.

Mt. St. Helens – 06/27/16

A few years ago Jesse climbed Mt. St. Helens (as a winter ascent) with some friends and while we looked through the incredibly beautiful photos, I began cultivating an interest in mountaineering myself. The summer hike of St. Helens seemed like a good place to start and I added it to my to-do list. The problem with the summer route is that everyone and their dog wants to do it and because it’s by permit only over 4,800′, it’s hard to do.

For 2016 though, I had it dialed in. I had a calendar reminder set in February to get a permit on the day it opened before they sold out (it only takes a few hours before they’re gone). Still, by the time I logged on, the weekends were all taken. So we picked the Monday after Jesse’s birthday, hit “add to cart” and called it good.

The months ticked by and Jesse’s birthday arrived (we were incredibly busy: a few concerts, a pavlova, dinner, a waffle date, bouldering..!) and then Mt. St. Helens day was here already! Crap!

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We dropped off the dog at his friend’s place, drove to Climber’s Bivouac, and were on the trail by 7:15 AM. Along with the other 100 permit holders.

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It was a beautiful, clear day. Blue sky, a light breeze, a good temperature. Up and up we climbed; the boulders relentless, Monitor Ridge unforgiving on the quads. Mt. Hood stood tall behind us and Mt. Jefferson just beyond that. Mt. Adams to the right, wearing a cloud as a toupée all day. After a few hours, we reached the top and Rainier was there to greet us.

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We traversed over some snow and ice to a less crowded spot where we could see into the crater. It was steaming a bit and we enjoyed our lunch overlooking Spirit Lake. We met an interesting ecologist who filled us in on the mountain goat population in the region and then began our descent.

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“Aren’t you going to play in the snow with me?” Jesse asked, sitting down, ice axe at the ready. With several onlookers encouraging the glissade, I caved and down we went. On our butts we slid, laughing all the way!

By “all the way” I mean only a few hundred meters. We didn’t make it very far – the snow was wet and heavy; not ideal. Not wanting to risk ending up in the wrong valley, we returned to the trail for more boulder scrambling.

We chatted with other hikers as our paths crossed and I was surprised at the number of people who were sad-faced about the day. Many said they’d never do it again and that the view wasn’t worth it. It’s a difficult, all-day adventure to be sure, but I hope after they got home, showered, reminisced about surviving, and posted all of their photos on social media that they changed their minds. I am proud of all of them for summiting that mountain!

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We ended our own adventure around 3:45 PM. My boots were shed immediately (small toes still intact, but just barely) and headed for home. Monday peak bagging: done.

Mt. Bailey – 5/28/16

(To the the tune of Hank Williams’ ‘On Top of Old Smokey’ – sing along!)

On top of Mt. Bailey, all covered with scree

To find some adventure, I went with Jesse

To summit Mt. Bailey, we stomped through the snow

We skirted the crater, and swatted mosquitoes

We followed blue blazes, and made our way to the top

“We’re nearly there” he’d say, and I tried not to stop

The day was so pleasant, warm with blue skies

I’d gaze east to Mt. Thielsen, with awe in my eyes

We traversed a few snow fields, Jesse cut us a path

I was nervous at first, “I’ll do what with this axe!?”

We had snacks at the summit, and took in the view

“I love this”, I told him, “adventuring with you”.

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San Diego – 12/6/15

One of my best friends has lived in San Diego for over a year and I had yet to go visit her. Granted, I was halfway around the world for a good chunk of that, but still. The time had come. I needed to go.

So in early December I left my boys at home and flew to sunny San Diego for a fabulous girls weekend of diner breakfast, hiking (and post-hiking milkshakes), running, refrigerator maintenance, movies, Christmas tree decorating, new car mischief, and, my favorite, girl talk. It was the best of times.

I still have trouble with warm weather, sun dresses, and outdoor seating when it’s December, but I was happy to escape the cold and rainy Pacific Northwest for a few days. A favorite memory of mine from that weekend will be the street tacos, chips and salsa, and Christmas decorations on the patio. So delicious…and so bizarre. (A close 2nd memory of the weekend is forgetting to bring money for our hike and having to park a mile away from the trailhead in a residential area.)

I didn’t get pictures of most of my time there because we weren’t up to much, adventure-wise. But on Sunday morning we hiked to “Potato Chip Rock” – which was perfect for photo ops. Here are some of the highlights:

 

Our matching outfits were an accident, I swear!

Looks great, right? It was, and while I maintain both are beautiful, I’ve concluded I prefer lush green forests and snowy mountain ranges to the beautiful beaches and desert-y boulder fields. But to continuously appreciate one, you must visit the other sometimes. I won’t say no that!

Table Mountain – 9/13/15

Holy moly, our hike to Table Mountain was almost two months ago already!? Seriously, where did September and October go? Ugh.

In any case, it was a big adventure and I highly recommend it for excellent views of the Gorge and surrounding mountains!

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Our plan was to meet Jesse’s colleague and his hiking buddies somewhere on the trail since they were doing the shorter version and started a little later than we did. We began at the Bonneville Trailhead and ran past Gillette Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail and took the west trail up to the summit. (I couldn’t get enough of the PCT. So, so pretty!)

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Someone needed to find their way back, I guess

It was a beautiful (almost) fall day and the views at the top were spectacular, albeit slightly windy. We found a secluded spot to eat our “lunch” (Nutella and Cookie Butter sandwiches, mandarins, applesauce, and granola bars) and enjoyed our rest while we waited for the others.

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Yup, gotta get all the way up there!

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Mt. Hood, Bonneville Dam, and the Bridge of the Gods in the distance…

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Might be hard to see, but Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Saint Helens made appearances in this view.

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The others made it to the top about an hour later and we chatted while they had THEIR lunches and then we all began the descent together. Our hike ended up being a lollipop and we had a good time sliding with the scree on the way down.

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When we reached the fork where we parted ways, it was getting pretty late in the day and Jesse and I were losing daylight. We had about 7 miles left to go and so we ran.

Eventually we pulled out our headlamps and were reaching the end of our energy levels (and Jesse’s headlamp was reaching the end of its battery life) so we slowed to a brisk walk. We were about 3/4 of a mile from the car and encountered a hiker setting up his sleeping spot. He had “skipped town” and was “headed to Canada” he told us. He made me nervous.

Back at the car after a 10 hour day, I was stretching my legs out and I noticed glowing eyes in the bushes watching me. I was on edge already and was certain it was a mountain lion so I jumped in the car and and we sped away toward the city lights.