My dog & I yesterday did the Mason Lake-Mt. Defiance trail in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This is hike of terrific extremes-you get a maximum of enjoyment from a maximum of pain. The views from Mt. Defiance are among the best in the Snoqualmie area (except for Kendall Catwalk) and they include Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt. Clayton, Mt. Rainer and countless other peaks in a 360 degree view.
But getting there is not easy. This is an extremely strenuous ascent. The trail begins easily enough & the first 1.25 miles are pleasant. But then, at a trail junction unfortunately not noted in 100 Hikes in Washington (the trail Bible I use for my Washington hiking), the trail begins it ascent to heaven or, as I thought to myself hours later while I was still ascending, the ascent to hell. The trail is barely a trail–a “boot-beaten path” as Spring & Manning call it. The trail consists of rolling rocks and sand with very little solid ground beneath your feet. When descending, if you misstep in a place like this you easily end up on your seat or perhaps 10 feet lower than when you took your last step. If you miss the correct trail as I did and take the “wrong” one, you will end up ascending (or bushwhacking) an old stream bed through dense, prickly shrubs which will whip you all over your body. Despite its strenuousness, I almost prefer this ascent to going up the “stairway to hell” which is the other trail.
Besides missing an important trail junction, 100 Hikes makes another serious mistake when it notes that the trail from Mason Lake to Mt. Defiance gains 900 feet (rising from 4,500 to 5,400 feet). In actuality, when I got to the top of Mt. Defiance a fellow hiker told me his GPS told him we were standing at 1,900 meters which comes out to be over 6,000 feet. Perhaps Manning & Spring meant to say “6,200 feet?” At any rate, what I expected to be an easy 2 mile, 900 foot elevation gain hike turned out to be a monstrously difficult and long ascent through exposed terrain and in blinding summer sun.
But when I arrived at the summit, I was richly rewarded by an east-west view from the Olympics across he whole Cascade range and north-south from Rainier to Baker. Who could ask for anything more? And on the way up, the wildflowers were in full, gorgeous bloom. I saw penstemon, lupines, Indian paint brush, toad lilies, butterflies and so much more. I will have pictures to prove it when I develop my film roll (and I will post them here when I do).
Mason Lake is a small, but very attactive alpine lake. It doesn’t have the magnificent cirque surroundings of Rachel or Melakwa, but it is pretty in its own right.
Must haves: bug juice (there were bugs of all kinds including big, stinging black flies), walking poles (preferably two), much water