Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Hiking, Running, Solo, Top Trips

Mount Defiance at last

Two days after climbing Mount Adams, I wanted to see if a couple of days spent at high altitude would give me magic powers in the mountains. (It didn’t.)

Old Mason Lake Trail

Every summer I plan to hike to Mount Defiance, and every summer I end up not doing it. Until now! Huzzah!

Wellie and I took the old trail up to Mason Lake, and I must say, it is so much nicer than the Ira Spring Trail. No other hikers (even though the trailhead was almost full – on a Tuesday!), shaded and reasonably cool(ish), thanks to the river, and just really, really pleasant.

Wellie doesn't want to swim

It was hot as Hades out that day, so I had already finished my water by the time I reached Mason Lake. We sat down to have a snack and filter some delicious, cold water before heading up towards Mount Defiance.

It was my first time up there, so of course I took a wrong turn, following the first side trail I found. After sinking up to our ankles and knees (do dogs have knees, though?) in mud, I checked my map and realized I was in a marshy area on the way to Little Mason Lake. I backtracked to the main trail and found the clearly signed fork to Mount Defiance, cursing the microscopic pieces of sand that would grind away at my feet the rest of the hike.

Hot and happy hiking hound

Because I never learn, I timed my hike so that I was sweating my way up the steep, open trail to Defiance during the hottest part of the day. Jill Homer introduced the idea of “Bikram Mountain Biking” last year, and that really is the only way I can describe this trip – it was Bikram Hiking.

Even Wellie, a sun-worshipper if there ever was one (he’s totally the canine version of those 1970s leather-faced women who used tanning oil and reflector boards), hid in every patch of shade he could find.

Tiger Lilies

It was beautiful though. A new perspective on the I90 corridor for me, lakes, volcanoes, and Alpine Lakes Wilderness peaks all around, and a steep meadow blooming with wildflowers.

Hot dog

Unfortunately, there’s a price to pay for wildflowers – bugs. I had been warned about them in the latest trip report on WTA, which is why I didn’t bring Basil, but nothing could prepare me for how fierce they were on the summit. They kept flying up my nose and into my ears, bouncing off my eyeballs and getting stuck behind my sunglasses, and finally kamikazeing down my throat. For a vegetarian, I ate quite a lot of bugs that day.

Lake Kulla Kulla is made up of Wellie's drool

I put on my headnet, but poor Wellie couldn’t find any relief from the little bastards. When giant horse flies appeared and started eating chunks of flesh from my back, I gave up and started hiking down. Another hiker arrived just as I was leaving, and he lasted all of three minutes in the swarm before he came running down behind me, so it wasn’t just me being over-dramatic.

Defiance summit

Thankfully the bugs disappeared once I got out of the open meadow, and they didn’t bother us the rest of the hike.

Beautiful trail

From the Defiance junction, we hiked past some cool, ginormous boulders and a beautiful pond, then stopped at Rainbow Lake to filter more water and cool off with a swim. The water was perfect, and Wellie fought all of his natural urges and jumped in to rescue me, as usual.

Unnamed pond

This look clearly says: “Mother, I shall murder you in your sleep.”

Post-swim grooming

We spent a long time drying off and eating the rest of our lunch (I had attempted to eat some of it through my headnet on Defiance). Eventually I looked at the clock and realized that I was running a little late for my scheduled pick-up, so I packed up my stuff and told my legs that I needed to run the rest of the way.

My legs cooperated beautifully, and after a quick side trip to Island Lake, we made our way around the big Ollalie Lake cirque (including a bunch of uphill switchbacks that I really couldn’t remember from my last trip) and down past Talapus Lake. I felt like I was flying those last four miles.

Lovely Rainbow Lake

JK pulled up a couple of minutes after I made it to the Talapus trailhead, and I was so high on endorphins that, for a moment, I forgot about the heat and the bugs and told him “Best. Day. Ever.” Endorphins rule the world of mind-altering drugs.

– Mount Defiance “Loop” | 13 miles | 4100 feet elevation gain –

Pretty trail towards Talapus Lake

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  • Reply iris July 23, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    The Pacific Northwest. There’s hardly ever any bugs, but when there is, it’s the worst.

  • Reply Brianna July 24, 2013 at 7:34 am

    At first I thought you were talking about the Mt. Defiance in the Columbia Gorge! This one looks more beautiful. I love Oregon but I swear Washington has the more beautiful hikes. Shhh don’t tell anyone I said that :)

  • Reply Ingunn July 24, 2013 at 7:36 am

    A guy on Mount Adams told me about the Defiance in the Columbia Gorge! He was a cool guy – he’s turning 60 this year, so he wanted to see if he could still do Adams as a dayhike. He had used Defiance to train, he said it’s the hardest hike in the area.

  • Reply Rachel July 24, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Wow! Such a pretty hike! Except for the bugs :(

  • Reply Jan July 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Love your pictures and really enjoy reading about your hiking trips, too funny.

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