Warren Lake/Defiance loop, winter, mixed trail & offtrail

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Chip Down
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Warren Lake/Defiance loop, winter, mixed trail & offtrail

Post by Chip Down » January 12th, 2019, 10:26 pm

After two failed attempts to reach Warren Lake (due to offtrail routes that didn't work out as well as planned) I was determined to pull it off, even if it meant having to walk on a stupid trail to get it done.

On my way to Starvation TH it started raining (misty). Not expected! I was prepared for extreme wind (gusts up to 50 at Cascade Locks) but there was no precip in the forecast. Well, I had no Plan B, so up I went. I encountered snow (on ground, not falling) even before I arrived at the crest of Starvation Ridge (1200'). I wasn't expecting that. I was ambivalent, but mostly pleased.

Hiking up Starvation Ridge in the misty dark was fun. I'd rather not have mist, and I was worried about it turning to rain, but I was in good spirits anyway. Somewhere along the way (maybe about 2000'), it got really cold, and everything was frosty. I didn't mind, as I figured that meant I'd stay somewhat dry, and it was pretty (sparkly).

As dawn arrived, I arrived at the rocky basin where Starvation Ridge fades at 2600'-2800' and the trail takes a sharp turn to the east. I continued SW into some talus slopes and ridges that looked like fun. It was horrible. Fresh snow over rocks and brush. Miserable. I decided to veer west and ascend until I was out of the garbage. Then decided to go further west until I met up with upper Cabin Creek Ridge. Did that a week ago, wanted to see it snowy. Arrived at Pablo's Gate (aka Twin Towers of Pablo, I think). Then up to the plateau.

What an abrupt change in my hike. The technical challenges of the ridge were behind me; now it was all about routefinding. I went west, staying at the north edge of the plateau, until I ran into the trail where it descends to Warren Lake. I looked east/uphill and saw a plain signpost. Great luck, I was on Mitchel Point Trail just barely west of the junction with Warren Lake Trail. I descended to Warren Lake, which was totally socked in with clouds. Could barely see that there was a lake. Everything was coated in rime on the north side.

Lost the trail here. XC to the warren Rock Garden. Fantastic, exceeded expectations. Finding westbound Mitchel Point Trail was difficult. I considered just hiking west until I ran into Defiance trail, but that seemed slightly unnerving. I was about to give up when I spotted a cairn, then another. Trudging up to the Defiance junction was extremely difficult, tiring, demoralizing. I might have given up if not for blazes. They didn't help me find my way, but they offered confirmation I was on-route.

Finally, I arrived at Defiance trail, tired, getting anxious about time. Dropped down Defiance trail, which I assumed would be easier to follow than Mitchel Point Trail, because it's a major trail with lots of traffic. It was virgin though, no footprints to follow. At first it was easy, but then I lost the trail, found it, lost it, etc. Blazes on this trail are yellow paint. Like Mitchel Point Trail, the blazes here didn't help me find my way, but they offered confirmation I was on-route. Came to the viewpoint around 4200', where the trail braids a bit, but I had no trouble following the trail. But then it faded. Again, I lost the trail, found it, lost it, etc. Passed by the downhill side of one of those entering-burn-zone signs. Amazing I spotted it. That offered confidence I was on trail again, but then I lost it. Well damn, there was no way I was going back to Warren/Starvation, so I just gave up on the trail and dropped on my own route. Although I was slightly anxious, it was fun and liberating. Nice open forest through the burn zone. By luck, I passed just a few feet from a switchback, with boot prints (3200'). Didn't look fresh, so probably not today. Apparently a few people had given up. I followed the trail until I passed some sawcuts, and then knew I was definitely on trail. As you can imagine, I was ambivalent; relieved but also disappointed that my adventure had come to an end.

other parties: Not long after I found the trail on my way down Defiance, I was surprised to meet a group of 5 (4 humans + 1 dog) on their way up. Much lower, I encountered a solo hiker who was headed up, possibly as far as Defiance summit. I told him it was impossible. Postholing in jeans in the dark with temps below freezing and high winds is pretty much a recipe for hypothermia, getting lost, never coming down. I suspect he took my advice; he didn't seem entirely crazy (Bosterson: Yes, it was him! Again! Small world, eh?). Got back to TH before dark (no small feat, this time of year).

Overall: Wow, what a crazy fun exciting day. This was so much better than it possibly could have been on my last two failed attempts. Weather was just about perfect. Less wind than expected, colder than expected. I didn't mind the clouds too much. I prefer that to a bluebird day. Was glad to have the virgin snow. I guess the main regret was the difficulty of postholing above 4000'. It would have been a better day if the snow was no more than 6-8" deep.
Attachments
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Was here a week ago, but it was bare. Almost to the 3800' plateau.
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Bosterson said I'd be disappointed by Warren Lake. Indeed, it wasn't what I expected.
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I'm calling this the highlight of the day.
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Tough pic: two glass vessels on a slippery uneven surface in high wind. And stinging fingers.
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Where the heck am I? about to give up and head back to Starvation Ridge.
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Ah, there we go.
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sample blaze on Mitchel Point Trail.
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viewpoint at 4200"
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only color I saw all day, except a bit of green
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XC travel down through the burn zone.

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Bosterson
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Re: Warren Lake/Defiance loop, winter, mixed trail & offtrail

Post by Bosterson » January 12th, 2019, 11:25 pm

Was this today, 1/12? I was up on Silver Star getting a sunburn! I could see an inversion in the Gorge but jeez. And surprising to see that much new snow up there. Snow on the pillars looks cool though, I'll have to check that out this winter.
Much lower, I encountered a solo hiker who was headed up, possibly as far as Defiance summit.... (Bosterson: Yes, it was him! Again! Small world, eh?)
WHAT. When I saw that guy last weekend, he said he had done Defiance the previous weekend! And he was also headed up into the dark in jeans! Did he have the same oversize pack?

Chip, I have to confess extreme bafflement with the timelines of your TRs. You must have gotten a super early start to be at the 2800 top of Starvation Ridge at "dawn" (7am tops?). So after some mucking around, you eventually reached the Defiance junction, at which point you were anxious about time, meaning it was getting late? Except the mucking about couldn't have taken more than a couple hours at most to cover that distance, making it like 9am? You can see my confusion...

The section of the Defiance trail below the Lindsey Gap viewpoint at 4200 ft is a pain to follow in the snow cause the trail is so steep and less defined on the slope, but previously when I've postholed up Defiance there was an obvious channel in the snow where the trail was (especially from Warren Lake to the Defiance junction). Maybe it's less defined with the burn now though. Surprising you didn't opt to conquer the summit on such a glorious day...
Will hike off trail for fun.

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Chip Down
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Re: Warren Lake/Defiance loop, winter, mixed trail & offtrail

Post by Chip Down » January 13th, 2019, 7:33 am

Hey Bosterson, I was hoping you'd see this.

Yeah, it was 1/12.

Can't say I noticed the size of his pack. It featured a elaborate suspension, but these days I see that on smaller packs too.

Yes, there was a bit of a channel in the fresh snow between the lake and Defiance trail. It was faint in spots, so I wasn't always sure I was going the right way. But coming down Defiance it was much harder to follow, in spots. Had to do some searching and guessing.

I might have headed to the top if there were people ahead of me breaking trail. Weather was actually worse when I was up there in May. Yesterday I kept my serious gloves in the pack and wore my $5 Target clearance gloves.

Regarding time, I predicted you would roll your eyes. :lol: My anxiety was because I was on a loop, and I was worried about leaving sufficient time to backtrack if necessary. Also, if I did have to backtrack, I wanted to allow time for a new variant, not following my ascent the whole way. And once I gave up on following Defiance and just decided to pick my own route down, that only added to the time anxiety.

Anyway, here's my timeline:

5:35 start
7:30 end of Starvation Ridge, left trail
10:00 plateau (lost time on snowy talus slope and brush, also lost time by taking difficult direct ascents over fun tricky spots instead of going around)
10:30 Warren Lake Trail junction (lost some time postholing through clearings, poked around the junction and Warren Lake Trail a bit, just to enjoy seeing familiar places with snow)
10:50 - 11:35 lake and rock garden
11:50 found trail (cairns) between lake and Defiance.
12:20 Defiance junction (that was only 30 mins? exhausting postholing, felt like an hour)
12:40 gave up on following Defiance down, found my own way
1:00 safely on trail at 3200' (only 20 mins? maybe seemed longer because I was worried about where I'd end up)
After 1:00 there was no point in watching time

From the end (top) of Starvation Ridge to the Defiance junction would be a couple hours on bare trail, but with bushwhacking and scrambling and postholing and searching for trail and side trips, that's not realistic. Interesting to note that google maps says 1 hour, but they use that imaginary shortcut trail that doesn't exist, and also it appears they don't take elevation into account.

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Bosterson
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Re: Warren Lake/Defiance loop, winter, mixed trail & offtrail

Post by Bosterson » January 13th, 2019, 12:35 pm

Chip Down wrote:
January 13th, 2019, 7:33 am
From the end (top) of Starvation Ridge to the Defiance junction would be a couple hours on bare trail, but with bushwhacking and scrambling and postholing and searching for trail and side trips, that's not realistic.
Chip, Starvation Ridge from the parking lot to the summit is only a "couple of hours" (2.5-3) on bare trail. :D

Why would you need to backtrack if you couldn't find the trail down? Very few places in the Gorge would require this, since north takes you back towards the river. I know you only bring your GPS as training weight and don't turn it on or whatever, but presuming you were at the Warren/Defiance junction and followed the trail northwest as far as you could, you would presumably be on the upper bit of the ridge that abuts the Lindsey Creek drainage. You can then use that as a handrail, and once you got down to 3000 ft shoot a bearing true north and eventually you will either drop below the snow line or hit the Defiance trail or both. The upper part of that area burned so it actually is probably easier to travel through. Even if you'd deviated east and ended up on Wonder Ridge, you still would have gotten back to the trail eventually, you just would have had to thrash through blowdown and poison oak. (Wonder Ridge is the worst ridge.)
Will hike off trail for fun.

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Chip Down
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Re: Warren Lake/Defiance loop, winter, mixed trail & offtrail

Post by Chip Down » January 13th, 2019, 6:34 pm

Chip, Starvation Ridge from the parking lot to the summit is only a "couple of hours" (2.5-3) on bare trail. :D
Yeah, from the south TH at 3800'! For many years, here's the rule of thumb I've followed: 1k'/hr is a sensible sustainable pace for an extended hike, or with a heavy load. Two thousand feet per hour is sensible for shorter hikes with a light load. Three thousand feet per hour is what I could do on a Stairmaster when I was younger. For Defiance, I'd budget at least three hours on a good day, probably more. For reference, I've never been able to get to Devil's Rest in less than an hour. Incidentally, I once spent more than 6 hours getting to the top of Defiance. Seriously. What a hike that was.
Why would you need to backtrack if you couldn't find the trail down? Very few places in the Gorge would require this, since north takes you back towards the river.
There are countless horror stories of hikers saying "I'll just go north, it will surely take me back to the river". Admittedly, this is a little different. Even without map, I know the terrain well enough to have some idea what to expect.
I know you only bring your GPS as training weight and don't turn it on or whatever
Nah, I don't even carry it anymore. I've determined a barometric altimeter is enough. I will admit my phone has helped a time or two, but obviously that's limited. Anyway, my favorite training weight is water, because it's useful, and can be safely jettisoned. Oh, and beer, of course (which is mostly water).
presuming you were at the Warren/Defiance junction and followed the trail northwest as far as you could, you would presumably be on the upper bit of the ridge that abuts the Lindsey Creek drainage. You can then use that as a handrail, and once you got down to 3000 ft shoot a bearing true north and eventually you will either drop below the snow line or hit the Defiance trail or both. The upper part of that area burned so it actually is probably easier to travel through. Even if you'd deviated east and ended up on Wonder Ridge, you still would have gotten back to the trail eventually, you just would have had to thrash through blowdown and poison oak. (Wonder Ridge is the worst ridge.)
Funny you mentioned that. Although the scenery to the west was more interesting, I made a sacrifice and veered east, because I've been in the Warren drainage, and knew what to expect, somewhat.

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