It's been years and years since I've climbed Mt. Defiance. Heck, back then I only had one kid! I've always seemed to miss Defiance when TNAB did it, but this time the schedules lined up so I met Scott at the bottom of the hill for a ride in his trail-worthy truck. (The road has suffered a ton of damage and is still closed short of the actual trailhead.)
The weather was much better than on my previous trip, though that shouldn't be a surprise since that was the end of October right before my shoulder surgery. Not to say the weather was perfect, but at least it wasn't as hot as on some of the earlier trips this year.
Scott waited while I dutifully filled out an Alpine Lakes Wilderness pass and then we hustled to catch up. We did just as TNAB left the new trail, but then fell behind again and lost the crew as the old trail split. We determined that it was actually Zeus' fault we took the high trail (straight up the spine) instead of the low trail (along the creek) since he was in the lead, but we got to the lake all the same. Of course, Zeus (and Athena) really paid for it since they were none to happy crossing a big talus field we could have skirted had we gone the low route. (Tokul? She was with the leaders, of course.)
At the Mason Lake we saw a few of our fellow TNAB hikers and heard one who jumped into the still partially frozen lake. It's not like me to pass judgement, but that guy is nuts! We got turned around and followed some others into a basin full of snow, but realized our mistake and picked up the trail on the ridge between Little Mason Lake and Lake Kula Kula anyway. We made good time until we missed a switchback hidden under snow and had to climb the steep northern slope of the ridge we had previously been on.
Think I'm just lousy at navigation? Consider that the fastest hikers got off route on the way up, we saw a bunch of folks wandering around aimlessly looking for someone to follow (too bad they chose us), and a long-time TNAB hiker spent 45 minutes bushwhacking through devil's club on the way down. I think we got off lucky!
The best part of the Mt. Defiance trail is just below the summit where the trail traverses through an open meadow. It was full of glacier lilies in full bloom and phlox among the rox... er... rocks on the final climb. (The traverse lulled us into a comfortable lope, but the steep, rooty nasty climb up to the actual summit reminded us not to be too pleased with ourselves.)
Up top Tokul welcomed me with a grass stain on her forehead. I never did figure out why it was there except she might have spent some time in the slide alder thickets down low. On the way down I hoped to keep her with me, but she decided to hang back, inexplicably, until we met up with the trailing pair at the lake.
Tokul, and all the labs, had a tough time even swinging low below the talus near the creek, but soon we were racing through the darkness toward the sound of the freeway well below us. It took about two hours to get up, but only and hour and a half to get down. (I always aim for an even up:down ratio. That signals I'm not too badly out of shape.)
It was already 11:15 when I got back on the freeway (after we waited a bit for the last devil's club hiker to get back to his truck) so I called it a night after only a short stop at the Pour House.
Total distance was about 8.7 miles and 4,059 feet according to the GPS. Hopefully, it won't be as long between visits in the future. It's a great hike and one that would be awesome for the girls in a few years.