Length: ~10 mile loop
Elevation: ~4500 feet
Summits: West Defiance/Web Mtn: 5335 feet, Putrid Pete’s Peak: 5240 feet, Mt. Defiance: 5584 feet
NW Forest Pass required
My planned route was a climber’s path that begins as a spur trail from the Ira Spring trailhead. I started from the trailhead at 11:10 am and quickly came to the spur leading off to the left at the first switchback. The trail is unmarked but well trodden and, if you’re looking for it, you shouldn’t have any trouble seeing it.
The trail immediately heads into some dense second-growth forest, shielding explorers from both the mid-day sun as well as muffling the sounds of the nearby interstate. After a short tease of level meandering, the trail gets mean.
With a whole slew of blowdown peppering the hillside, my route-finding skills were given a warm-up and I picked my way up the trail.
The trail continued to climb and, despite the no-nonsense steepness of the switchbacks, the tread was in pretty decent shape. I opted to leave my trekking poles stowed and kept stair-stepping up the ridge.
At around the 2 mile mark, the trail breaks free of the timberline and makes a beeline for the summit. If you’re not comfortable with a near vertical trail and the occasional hand plant, this is probably not the route for you.
I hadn’t seen a soul since I left the Jeep and finally crossed paths with a woman making her way down the slope. She was off course and I pointed her back in the right direction. She thanked me and continued down – looking over my shoulder 5 minutes later, I saw she was off course again. I hope she made it back!
An hour and 45 minutes after leaving the the trailhead, I found myself atop the knife point of Putrid Pete’s Peak, 5240 feet. Putrid Pete’s Peak (or P3) is named after Pete Schoening, a local mountaineer who saved his team of 6 after they were trapped while attempting to summit K2 in 1953.
Luckily, no emergency belay was required on my part and after spending a little bit perched atop P3, I began the ridge scramble to West Defiance. There isn’t much of a trail and the steep angle of the ridge made the traverse a bit tricky in places. Soon I found myself on the second summit of the day – West Defiance/Web Mountain (depending on the map, this peak is called either), 5335 feet.
With the second summit in the bag, I quickly snagged the nearby geocache and started back along the ridgeline to the east. Next stop, Mt. Defiance!
I made my way back to P3, skirted the peak, and picked my way along the ridge. I could see a bunch of snow in my future, but I was well prepared this time!
Now this is where the real adventure begins. With the snow becoming more substantial, I took a moment to unpack my trekking poles, put the snow baskets on, and don my gaiters. Properly equipped, I took a moment to consult my GPS and eyed the path ahead. There were some old traces of footprints in the snow and I played hide-and-seek with them for a bit. I soon came to a larger snowfield and a pretty steep slope up toward the summit. Luckily, the snow had softened with the recent span of warm days, and I was able to kickstep with my trail runners.
After some serious route-finding, kick-stepping, post-holing, slipping, sliding, and a bit of swearing, I finally made it to the summit of Mt. Defiance, 5584 feet. The summit was mostly snow-covered with a small bare block of boulders I took a break on. Refueling on PB&J and a tasty Fremont IPA, I marveled at the fact that it was a 4-volcano day. From my seat I could see Mt. Baker far to the north, Glacier Peak hiding behind what might be Preacher Mountain, Mt. Adams way, way off to the south, and of course Rainier looming over all.
After spending an appropriate amount of time on the summit, I began the journey back to the Jeep. I had planned on coming out via Mason Lake and the Ira Spring trail instead of backtracking and heading down the scramble below P3. I hadn’t planned on this much snow still littering the hillside.
Nevertheless, I shot straight down off the summit and, relying on my GPS quite a bit, made my way toward Mason Lake. The trail disappeared and reappeared too many times to remember and I post-holed more than I care to admit – the lingering snow was soft, but deep, and it made for a slippery descent. I was able to glissade in a few places which is always fun for me, and before I knew it, I had hit Mason Lake.
By now the afternoon was turning to early evening and I was still a few miles from the Jeep. There was also still quite a bit of snow in the Mason Lake basin obscuring the trail wandering beneath.
Again, through a combination of classic route-finding and GPS checking, I found my way out of the basin and back onto the Ira Spring trail. Once gaining the ridge, the snow abruptly stopped as it was all south facing. I took the opportunity to store my poles and remove my gaiters; the trail from here out is in great condition, and from my previous trip, I knew I’d be able to run the rest of the way to the Jeep. This was a good thing since I had just received a text that a certain somebody had forgotten her keys when she left that morning and wasn’t able to get back into the house. Whoops!
From the ridge above Mason Lake back to the Jeep took me about 40 minutes. I ran most of the way and, to my surprise, passed a few groups of people who were still coming up the trail. Not sure how far they were planning on going but I hope they had headlamps!
I finally reached the Jeep at 6:08pm, a mere 7 hours and about 10 miles from the beginning of my adventure. I definitely enjoyed the climb up to P3 as steep and direct routes are the kind I prefer. The ridgewalk to and from West Defiance was a bit of a chore but the views were spectacular so it wasn’t so bad. Snagging 3 peaks in one outing was a bit of work, but well worth the journey.