Dog Mountain, Mt. Defiance & Angel's Rest

by Regis Krug

On Saturday June 7, I am treated to fantastic orange and red hues in the predawn sky as I head east in Columbia River Gorge to attempt the Triple-D hike: Dog, Defiance, and Devils Rest. It’s an epic hike to beat all hikes in the northwest.

I shake the remainder of the cobwebs from my uncaffeinated brain after several deer bolt across the road just before the Dog Mountain trailhead, nearly causing me to crash. Shortly after sunrise, I am off and making good time going up the first set of switchbacks. Through the scrub oaks, I can see Mt. Defiance across the river and hear it calling my name. At the split, I take the “More Difficult” trail because I am interested in the shortest time possible to the summit and back. By the time the trails join again, I am engulfed in clouds swirling through the trees. I break out above timberline just below Puppy Dog, with the fields of Balsam Root disappearing into the mist.
Summit of Dog Mountain.

I quickly climb the remaining quarter mile to the barely visible true summit of Dog. With one down and two to go, I grab a snack and head back down the same way I came up – the hard way.

By 8:15 I am at the car and on my way back across the Columbia River via the Bridge of the Gods. Going east on I-84, it isn't long until I reach the Starvation Creek trailhead exit, change into a dry shirt, and add more water, food, Gatorade, and bear spray to my pack for the next stage of this adventure. 

I also find Mazama Climb Leader Andrew Bodien at the Starvation Creek trailhead with a group that he was taking up Defiance. They leave 10 minutes ahead of me and I follow about a quarter mile behind for the first couple of miles, making sure to avoid the rampant poison oak that borders the lower section of the trail. In a little over a mile and a half, I am on a very narrow ridge 1,200 feet directly above the trailhead with amazing views of the Columbia River and Wind Mountain; clouds are still hiding the summit of Dog Mountain.

The easy part isover. Turning south, I begin the grueling climb up the next 3,000 feet as the trail follows the steep, rocky spine of the densely forested Starvation Ridge. At 2,400 feet, I catch a glimpse of Mount St. Helens to the northwest and my goal, Mt. Defiance to the south. I am only halfway there. The summit is another 2,500 feet and 2½ miles away. My right calf and hamstring are cramping now and I wonder about the (in)sanity of this plan. I can hear Andrew and his group just above me on the trail, which gives me some incentive to push on at least to the saddle at about 3,300 feet. Just before the talus slope I encounter a deer on the trail that seems totally unafraid of me, letting me pass within about 15 feet. I finish slogging up to the saddle where I am rewarded with great views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier to the north. At the saddle, I also keep an eye out for bears, but am glad that I don't need my bear spray today - I had encountered bears the last two times that I was up here. 
Christmas on Defiance.

A small Douglas fir tree decorated with Christmas ornaments cheers me up and I slowly make my way up to Warren Lake, where I spend half an hour for lunch and take my first real break since hitting the Dog Mountain trail at sunrise. 

My right leg is still cramping up and I contemplate throwing in the towel at this point. I’ve already climbed and descended 3,000 feet, then climbed another 3,300 feet, and it is only 1:00 p.m.

If nothing else, I have to reach the Starvation Ridge/Mt. Defiance trail junction about half a mile further and 500 feet above the lake. Turning around at Warren Lake means going back down Starvation Ridge, which is not fun. The Mt. Defiance trail is the lesser of two very nasty options when descending Mt. Defiance. From the junction, it is only ¾ of a mile to the summit with 700 feet of elevation gain – not even a climb to the top of Multnomah Falls. So, it’s onward, upward, and one foot above the other. 

Mt. Defiance Summit
Just below the Defiance summit, I meet Andrew and his hiking group coming down. They must have spent quite a bit of time on the summit because I’ve been moving pretty slowly for the last hour. It is nice to know that I am close. I finally reach the second trail and road junction, which means it is only a tenth of a mile to the summit. It is a welcome sight when I soon spy the communications towers. Summit number 2 is now under my boots. Double-D - 15 miles and 8,000 feet so far!

After spending a few short minutes enjoying the view of Mt. Hood and grabbing a snack, I begin the grueling descent to the trailhead. The Mt. Defiance trail is better than the Starvation Ridge trail, but not by much. Without taking any breaks, I break out of the trees 2½ hours later and just a half a mile from the trailhead. A lone Osprey overhead keeps me company as I hike toward Lancaster Falls and indulge myself with a long, delicious drink of cold water and enjoy the fresh, cool air. By the time I get to Hole in the Wall Falls, I catch up to Andrew and his group. I must have been flying down the trail, which seems impossible if you've ever actually hiked it.

By the time I get back to the car, it is 6 p.m. I contemplate whether there will be enough time to go after leg 3 of this epic. It will be well after 7 by the time I drive to the trailhead and sunset is before 9. It’s five miles or at least 2 hours of hiking to Devil's Rest, but I decide to give it a shot. I head east to the next exit on I-84, then west to the Rooster Rock exit, then east again to Bridal Veil. After refilling my water, Gatorade, and snacks, I pull my hiking boots on over my still sweat-soaked socks and up the trail I go. My muscles are aching and my legs feel like lead. However, it is onward, upward, and one foot in front of the other. By 1,200 feet though, I have a splitting headache, am sweating buckets and feeling nauseated. I don't think I am dehydrated – I’d consumed 8 liters of water and Gatorade throughout the day - I am just exhausted and hungry. But I push on and reach Angel’s Rest just before the sun drops below the horizon. The only other hiker has just headed down. At this point, I am running on empty and I don't relish the thought of navigating the unmarked trails up to Devil’s Rest and back in the dark. Except for the 2½ mile return hike, I decide that this is the end of the trail for me today.

Sunset from Angel's Rest.
I thoroughly enjoy the solitude at Angel's Rest, relaxing and watching the sun slowly sink below the western hills. It is such a fitting end to a day that had begun long before sunrise. I have hiked twenty five miles with more than 9,500 feet of elevation gain in a single day. I don't get any blisters or suffer any injuries, but I've lost 5 pounds. I am completely exhausted and I know I am going to be pretty sore the next day. I stayed well hydrated throughout the day, but now realize that for this type of epic; you need more than one high carb meal. The next time, I will start several days in advance.

Could I have hiked another 2½ miles? Maybe. Making it through this epic hike is as much mental as it is physical, and I wasn’t fully prepared mentally. If I had been, I would have done Devil's Rest regardless of the time or energy required. However, there will be a next time.

During the hour long descent by headlamp to the car, I shared the dark trail with salamanders, scorpions, and bats darting in and out of the light. I’m home by 11, and pass out on the bed within minutes.

That’s a hike!

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