Ruts are for roads getting to trailheads. Unfortunately, my Sunday morning hikes had become a rut I couldn't break free of. Turn the wheel as hard as I could, I kept returning to the slog that is Mailbox Peak.
It's a great conditioner to be sure. And it's quick. Five miles and 4,000 feet of gain. The only problem is the only good part is in the last 600 feet when you finally emerge from the trees into the upper meadow. And by that time, I'm so destroyed that it's all I can do to put one foot in front of the other and not fall down.
How deep was the rut? Last year I hiked it 28 times. I'm not on the same pace as last year (only 14 trips so far), but that's a lot of checking the mail.
It was a relief when my frequent hiking partner, Mr. Mailbox himself, agreed to try somewhere different. Not "different" as in somewhere we'd never been, but "different" as in not Mailbox. We chose Mt. Defiance.
If we start at an unofficial trailhead we can get almost the same elevation gain so our conditioning won't suffer. However, Defiance has several features that differentiate it from Mailbox's forested slog.
Duffy trails. Wow. In my barefoot shoes I felt like I was hiking on a cushion of air. There are two sections of our route that aren't officially maintained. The tread is clear and easy to follow, but not compacted into concrete like other trails. It was like walking barefoot on a really plush carpet. I wanted to take off my shoes and curl my toes.
Lakes and streams. Mason Creek flows out of... Mason Lake and tumbles down the mountain. Its path is steep and full of short drops into beckoning pools of refreshment. Had we not started at 6am we most definitely wouldn't have dipped a bit.
Meadows. While it's true that Mailbox has a meadow near the summit, the trail cilmbs straight through it without giving the sense you're actually in it. Pikas cried out as we traversed under the summit. Although the flowers were well past their prime and completely spent there were...
BERRIES! They all looked like blueberries, but clearly not all berries are created equal. These tasted sweet or sour or like bananas (really!). Big, little, and everywhere in between. The best were in the meadow. We likely lost about 10 minutes to berry picking.
Even the views are better on Defiance. It's right on the edge of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and it's clear why that name has been assigned to this area. Lakes dot the landscape to the north and each looks glorious. (Except Spider Lake which is a terrible name for a lake except it's a brushy little hole and maybe they called it Spider Lake to save people the trouble of going there.)
On the way down we defied common sense and took a quick dip in Mason Lake. If only we could have laid out and relaxed a bit, but Sunday mornings aren't about resting in the mountains. At least we defied the rut and had a great trip.