Mount Defiance

Trail Highlights:Panoramic and mountain views; wildflowers
Round-trip Distance:11.00 miles / 17.70 km
Location:Alpine Lakes Wilderness and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest,
Snoqualmie Pass / Snoqualmie Valley, Washington Central Cascades

Ancestral lands of the Snoqualmie
  • From east- and westbound Interstate 90, take Exit 45
  • From Exit 45, turn left from eastbound/right from westbound onto Forest Road 9030 (road name may not be posted)
  • At 0.70 miles/1.10 km, stay left at the fork to proceed onto Forest Road 9031, as indicated by signage for the Ira Spring Trail
  • Proceed 3.60 miles/5.80 km to the parking lot at the end of the road

  • Pavement ends at 0.30 miles/0.50 km from the off-ramp and the remainder of the road is gravel and can be quite potholed

    The Mount Defiance Trail branches from the Ira Spring Trail approximately 3.60 miles/5.80 km from the trailhead
    Required Pass:Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent for U.S. Forest Service sites
    Additional Trail Info:Washington Trails Association
    U.S. Forest Service

    Mount Defiance and its lower neighbor, Putrid Pete’s Peak, recline westward from Bandera Mountain‘s flower-clad flanks.
    Ira Spring Trail, Washington.

    In a quiet glade just beyond the popular Mason Lake, the trail to Mount Defiance departs the Ira Spring Trail and begins its steady climb up the mountain’s heavily forested spine, only relenting in its ascent to cross a high alpine meadow before redoubling its upward thrust in its final approach to the summit.  Few others venture this far or this high.  From the mountain’s stone pinnacle, views take flight in every direction, encompassing thumbprint lakes nestling about its feet, the South Fork Snoqualmie River Valley riven along its southern flank, and snow-tipped Cascade peaks stretching northward, eastward, and southward as far as the eye can see. Like Bandera Mountain, its neighbor to the east, Mount Defiance hosts a brief, early summer spectacle of wildflowers in the steeply pitched meadow that spans its upper swath.

    The trail commences at the Ira Spring trailhead, which also provides access to Bandera Mountain, Mason Lakes, Rainbow Lake, Island Lake, and other destinations by connecting trails.  This profile begins approximately a quarter mile/0.40 km beyond Mason Lake, where the trail branches southwest from the Ira Spring Trail, as indicated by a small sign.  The trail’s round-trip distance to and from the Ira Spring trailhead is approximately 11.00 miles/17.70 km.  Beyond Mason Lake, throngs of hikers thin to very few, affording rare opportunity for wilderness quietude not far from civilization.  Some may find trekking poles helpful in navigating the trail’s steep grade, especially near the summit where the terrain is loose and rocky and when snow is present.

    Along much of the trail, Mount Defiance is clad in a dense forest of mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) that supports layers of life from carpet to canopy. Mount Defiance Trail, Washington.
    Occasional windows in the heavy forest afford glimpses of the vistas to come. Here, Kaleetan and Chair peaks top the northeastern horizon. Mount Defiance Trail, Washington.
    Midway up the trail, Lake Kulla Kulla’s sheen appears just beyond the forest fringe, although it never comes fully into sight. However, in preparation for the bird’s-eye views to come, take note of how near it seems now. (And, do not attempt a detour to Lake Kulla Kulla, as it is walled by cliffs and treacherous boulderfields with no trail access.)
    Mount Defiance Trail, Washington.
    Nearing the summit, the trail departs the relentlessly steep eastern ridge and traverses the massive meadow on the mountain’s southern flank, providing welcome relief before it resumes its ascent up the western spine.
    Mount Defiance Trail, Washington.
    Mount Defiance’s alpine meadow hosts a kaleidoscopic array of other early summer blooms, including, clockwise from top left, subalpine spiraea (Spiraea splendens), Sitka valerians (Valeriana sitchensis), spreading, or, Cascade stonecrop (Sedum divergens), spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa), heart-leaf arnicas (Arnica cordifolia), wandering daisies, or, subalpine fleabane (Erigeron glacialis), hookedspur violets (Viola adunca), pincushion penstemons (Penstemon procerus), Davidson’s beardtongues (Penstemon davidsonii), broadleaf lupines (Lupinus latifolius), and Columbia lilies (Lilium columbianum), and, in the center, scarlet paintbrushes (Castilleja miniata). Mount Defiance Trail, Washington.
    At the far end of the meadow, watch for an easily missed fork in the trail and be sure to take the rightward path, sometimes marked by a small cairn, that veers almost backward and up a short but steep incline of boulders and loose gravel to the summit of Mount Defiance. Continuing straight, the left fork leads approximately 4.00 miles/6.40 km to Thompson Lake. Mount Defiance Trail, Washington.
    Mt. Rainier rides the southern horizon beyond the meadow’s floral fringe. Mount Defiance Trail, Washington.
    From the cloud-rooved summit, the altitude achieved is proven by the view back down upon the thumbprints of the now faraway lakes passed along the way: Lake Kulla Kulla, Little Mason Lake, and Mason Lake.
    Mount Defiance Trail, Washington.
    Snowy peaks crowd the view northward from Mount Defiance. Mount Defiance Trail, Washington.
    A sunburst spotlights the South Fork Snoqualmie River Valley below the lower western ridge of Mount Defiance. The prominent point at the far end of the ridge that slopes west of Mount Defiance is Putrid Pete’s Peak, reportedly named in honor of Pete Schoening, a local mountaineer famous for quick action that saved five fellow climbers from certain death on K2 in 1953.
    Mount Defiance Trail, Washington.

    © 2014-2024 Anthony Colburn. Images may not be used or reproduced in any form without express written consent.


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