Making tracks on Defiance - 2/18/19

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Bosterson
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Making tracks on Defiance - 2/18/19

Post by Bosterson » February 18th, 2019, 9:31 pm

I got to the Starvation TH at 8am and two guys were walking back to their car. They said the trail was "closed." They encountered maybe a ranger and a Highway Patrol person (??) who told them this, despite there not being any signs noting any kind of closure. This didn't make any sense... maybe the 2 guys were confused, and it was a closure of the bike path west of the trail since they're doing active construction on it? How would they have encountered Hwy Patrol, and how would Hwy Patrol know anything about trail closures?

But first, a PSA. I met another guy in the parking lot. This guy was very nice, so this is not anything about him personally. However, there was snow down to the trailhead. The little path out of the parking lot that goes west along the highway had a fair amount of snow on it. Any forecasts or road conditions updates would make it clear that there is a LOT of snow in the Gorge. Mt. Defiance is 5000 ft above the parking lot, give or take. Until I talked to him, this very nice guy had snowshoes, but was going to leave them in the car. He had microspikes, but was going to leave them in the car. He had a GPS, but he was going to leave it in the car. He did not have a paper map or compass. He did not give the impression of being familiar with the area. His goal was to go "to the top."

In light of the recent rescue on Defiance (in which the unlucky hiker seemed mostly prepared and was plenty tough enough to somehow not get frostbite despite wet feet in a snow bivy?!), the editors of this TR would like to remind everyone (assuming people are actually reading this forum rather than Facebook) that winter conditions are more challenging. It is difficult to navigate normal Gorge trails in the snow. Be prepared! Know what kind of conditions to expect and bring the proper gear! And always carry an analog compass even if your map is on your phone! </PSA>

Anyway, since I'd already driven all the way out there, and had my heart set on wallowing in some powder high on Defiance, I decided to go see if this bizarro closure was legit. Down the way, there were no signs, no rangers, no people whatsoever, so I left the bike path and headed up the trail. Starvation Cutoff is closed due to a landslide, so I took the long way - after passing Hole in the Wall I turned left and headed east to traverse back over to Starvation, because loops are better.

There were moody clouds across the river on Dog.

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There were a couple of exposed seeming spots on the way up to Cabin Creek Ridge, but there was a very beaten in bootpath through the snow, so it was no problem. Crossing Warren Creek was kind of a pain, then more somewhat exposed slopes but with a beaten in bootpath, until I crested Cabin Creek Ridge and found that the trail vanished. Literally. Snow slump over a death cliff.

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The bootpath turned right and headed up Cabin Creek Ridge, so I followed through the soft snow. Up higher it turned left and contoured east around the ridge, at which point I stopped to deploy my ice axe. But looking across at Starvation, it was so far away, and I would still have to drop to cross Cabin Creek before going back up the hill, and this snow was taking forever, and as I had no idea whether the Starvation Cutoff was even passable as a bail route due to potential snow slumps over the narrow parts of the trail over cliffs (the landslide "closure" is almost at the bottom and is a non-event, especially with snow), continuing on seemed like digging deeper into a hole you'd have to extract yourself from, so I decided to descend back to the Defiance trail and go up that way, which is what I should have done originally. (But loops!)

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The snow was both deep and soft, ugh. Snowshoes went on right past Lancaster Falls. There was a nice bootpath to follow up this way as well. Up where the old logging road crosses the trail at ~1300 ft the bootpath and I agreed that it would be best to not try to sidehill on the west side but rather to go straight up the ridge. It's funny - with all the switchbacks on the lower portion of the Defiance trail, you forget it's a ridge! This winter "direttissima" was pretty great.

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The lower part of the direct ridge was icy and crusty, I think from wind. It took a nice line up along the edge of the ridge, which yielded some great views as the sun started to come out.

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Last bit up to the middle flat section of the Defiance trail at 2250 ft.

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I crossed the flat "breather" part of the ridge, after which the bootpath took some weird turns. The actual trail is over here, so I followed it.

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I found myself alongside a viewpoint to the east, and the sun was out. This is looking at the headwall that looms over the end of Starvation Ridge.

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Up around 2300 ft the bootpath gave up the ghost. I wandered back and forth to see if I'd missed a turn, but it looked like the previous group had turned around and headed back. After this I was breaking trail on my own.

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It was brutal. The snow was over my ankles even with snowshoes. Actual depth is multiple feet. The trail is invisible so you have to choose your own adventure. The snow had improved to be a little drier and more powderier, but breaking trail was exhausting. I had to rest every couple dozen steps, then every dozen, then every half dozen. I managed about 1500 ft of progress before I hit my turnaround time of 2pm. The shenanigans at Cabin Creek Ridge had sucked a lot of time, so I was only at 3800 ft. It was getting a lot colder, and the trees were blasted with spindrift and rime. I was trying to at least get to the viewpoint overlooking the Lindsey Gap, but I could see that the sunshine from before was gone and it was getting darker and more ominous. I was totally drained. It was time to go down.

Turnaround spot:

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Following my tracks down. I think without snowshoes I would've sunk above my knees.

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I made it back down to the "breather" flats in 30 minutes, so I guess my turnaround time was a bit too conservative. I'm not sure how much more oomph I had to keep going up there though. There was less sunny weather at the lower viewpoint this time.

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Descending the direct ridge.

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Nothing else to report about the descent - it was a slog, and the lower snow back when the trail heads east had gotten slushier over the course of the day. I got back down to Lancaster Falls in a little under 2 hrs, took off my snowshoes on the bike path cause they were hurting my feet and proceeded to plod slowly through the slippery slush back to the TH.

WHAT WHAT WHAT! This fence was not there at 8am when I left the TH!

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Apparently the 2 guys in the morning weren't pulling my leg. I have no idea what kind of "hazardous materials" one might encounter on the Defiance trail. The only person I encountered on the way back was a guy taking photos of Cabin Creek Falls down at the bottom. No rangers, no Hwy Patrol. As far as I can tell, the Defiance trail was open for business all weekend before this. On the drive back I saw what looked like convicts being made to pick trash out of the plowed snow on the side of eastbound 84, but this was probably a mile west of the Starvation TH at least, and being that they were on the highway itself it's inexplicable that such a thing would be used as justification to close the entire trail. I'm calling BS on this, but caveat emptor. :?

If anyone makes it to the top of Defiance, I am kind of hoping the snow is above the top of the buildings, so please post pictures. The trail is now broken to 3800 ft for you. :D
Will hike off trail for fun.

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Chip Down
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Re: Making tracks on Defiance - 2/18/19

Post by Chip Down » February 19th, 2019, 5:37 am

Aha! When I was there Saturday, I saw something going on across I84. There was a boom in Lindsey Pond, but I wasn't sure it was new. A westbound lane was closed, and many vehicles were on the shoulder. But it looked like it could have been a planned event, rather than an urgent response. Hard to be sure. Whatever it was, it's strange that the trail closure came sometime the next day. Anyway, more later, really have to get off to work.

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retired jerry
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Re: Making tracks on Defiance - 2/18/19

Post by retired jerry » February 19th, 2019, 6:02 am

you guys are very adventurous, thanks for the reports

I'd be like the guy in the parking lot, except in addition to snowshoes, microspikes, and phone, I'd leave myself in the car

At least we're getting a normal amount of snow so next summer we'll have water

Thuja
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Re: Making tracks on Defiance - 2/18/19

Post by Thuja » February 19th, 2019, 8:19 am

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Last edited by Thuja on March 8th, 2019, 7:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Limey
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Re: Making tracks on Defiance - 2/18/19

Post by Limey » February 19th, 2019, 10:04 am

What kind of hazardous material could be spilled on a hiking trail?. Chip, did you spill your beer?

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Don Nelsen
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Re: Making tracks on Defiance - 2/18/19

Post by Don Nelsen » February 19th, 2019, 10:55 am

Hey Bos,

Nice work on Defiance! Hope to get up there soon and check out your route when it's open again and hope it's not closed for long. If it really is a hazardous spill that shouldn't take too long.

Was the parking area plowed?

dn
"Everything works in the planning stage".

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Bosterson
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Re: Making tracks on Defiance - 2/18/19

Post by Bosterson » February 19th, 2019, 11:36 am

Don Nelsen wrote:
February 19th, 2019, 10:55 am
Was the parking area plowed?
Yep. For the most part, at least. There's plenty of parking available.
If it really is a hazardous spill that shouldn't take too long.
I just called Viento State Park (they administer Starvation). Apparently on Tues 2/12 a diesel truck overturned on the westbound lane of I-84 and spilled 4400 gallons of diesel fuel. The fuel is in the water, in the snow (and then the snow was plowed/blown onto the sides of the highway and even over onto the walking path from the TH that goes to the trails), so DEQ wants the whole area closed to limit access to Lindsey Creek while they clean it up. (This explains why there were weird yellow hoses running into Lindsey Pond yesterday.) The State Parks people don't know how long this will last, since it's being determined by DEQ, but they think a couple of weeks! That's a big bummer for going in to do more snowshoeing while conditions are so good up high, and it's kinda laughable that DEQ would suddenly freak out and order a complete closure (why not just close it at the bike path past Hole in the Wall?) almost a week after the incident happened. Sigh. :roll:
Will hike off trail for fun.

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Chip Down
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Re: Making tracks on Defiance - 2/18/19

Post by Chip Down » February 19th, 2019, 6:37 pm

I met another guy in the parking lot... His goal was to go "to the top."
Was he wearing jeans and carrying a big pack?
Anyway, since I'd already driven all the way out there, and had my heart set on wallowing in some powder high on Defiance
Funny, I ended up there by accident, and really didn't want that much snow.
Crossing Warren Creek was kind of a pain
Indeed, probably the sketchiest part of my day.
continuing on seemed like digging deeper into a hole you'd have to extract yourself from, so I decided to descend back
Ah, yes, they joy of loop hikes.
with all the switchbacks on the lower portion of the Defiance trail, you forget it's a ridge!
My first trip up there after the fire I pretty much went ridgecrest. Might as well, there wasn't much of a trail anyway.
direttissima
I learned a new word today!
I made it back down to the "breather" flats in 30 minutes, so I guess my turnaround time was a bit too conservative.
Did you get a Don Nelsen start? No headlamp?
you guys are very adventurous, thanks for the reports.
I'd be like the guy in the parking lot, except in addition to snowshoes, microspikes, and phone, I'd leave myself in the car.
In retrospect, I wish I had spent more time to the west where there was less snow.
What kind of hazardous material could be spilled on a hiking trail?. Chip, did you spill your beer?
My Sunday beer was expensive, rare, and tasty. I exercised great caution.
Was the parking area plowed?
Everything I saw Sunday was nicely plowed. I couldn't find a place to park at Wyeth, and Mitchel was cleared in a perfunctory way, as if it was the guy's last job before quitting time. But overall, I was quite pleased.

Regarding the closure: I wondered why the snow was so dirty, and I do recall an odor that seemed more than the usual exhaust fumes. But yeah, weird that they waited so long to order a closure. Viento ridge could be a good Plan B.

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Sean Thomas
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Re: Making tracks on Defiance - 2/18/19

Post by Sean Thomas » February 23rd, 2019, 12:26 pm

Great report and pics Bos. Looks so beautiful with all that snow down to river level.

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Bosterson
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Re: Making tracks on Defiance - 2/18/19

Post by Bosterson » March 3rd, 2019, 11:19 pm

Part 2: Defied on Defiance (again)

Shop and I went back 3/2/19. Trails are reopened after the diesel cleanup closure, but had been closed until only a day or so prior. Some snowshoe tracks past Hole in the Wall quickly vanished as we climbed to to the junction with the upper waterfall loop trail. Snow consistency was dry non-consolidating powder, like fine sugar. Lancaster Falls was covered in ice:

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Basically zero tracks once we got up into the forest on the Defiance trail. Snowshoes didn't really help much as the loose powder on top wouldn't pack down under your step and your snowshoe would just slide backwards. It appears a lot of the fluffier snow from 2 weeks ago has consolidated and/or melted, and this covering was recent. We got up to the road crossing at 1200 ft and began up the Direttissima ridge:

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Conditions were about a foot of the crappy dry powder on top of more solid snow beneath. Cold wind blowing from the Lindsey Gap: a freezing inversion layer had moved in from the east. Trees here were covered in hoarfrost. A couple hundred feet up the ridge and we bagged it at about the 1400 ft mark: it would only get worse as we went up, and we needed crampons. I enjoyed a little bit of unintentional snowshoe skiing on the way back down to the 1200 ft road crossing saddle. The descent was actually better without snowshoes on the trail below that. Back down in the powerline cutout, this is actually right above the junction with the Old Defiance trail coming from Lindsey Creek to the west.

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Still carrying the ice axe we broke out for the descent.

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The wind had blown the dry snow to the point of almost covering our tracks from only an hour or so before.

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Walking the ice below Lancaster:

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We broke for lunch back in the parking lot (note: 2 weeks ago - plowed and bare, now - packed snow/ice) and then explored a little.

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Disappointing to bring help breaking trail and not get nearly as far as I did the last time solo! I expect conditions on Defiance will possibly get worse as time goes on (more dry layers on top of compacted layers; avi potential coming soon in open spots...) and this snow may persist for a while. Next time the spikes will be replaced by crampons...

Bonus: apparently the sun was out in Portland all day? We started to hit good light around Cascade Locks, and pulled off the road at Ainsworth to eyeball the views. Here is the dramatic north face of Yeon in alpine conditions.

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Will hike off trail for fun.

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