Gaining nearly 5,000 feet in 6 miles, the Mount Defiance Loop trail, which begins with an ascent up to Starvation Ridge, is as steep as the route that leads from Timberline to the top of Mount Hood, a fact that makes Defiance one of the Gorge’s toughest hikes. Still, the canopies of Douglas fir, western red cedar and hemlock—and slopes lit by chartreuse moss—provide regular visual relief, though the scenery admittedly does little to ease searing muscular pain.
ROUTE: Once atop Starvation Ridge, which ends in a broad plateau after 3 miles and 3,300 feet of ascent, skirt the edge of the sky-blue glacial remnant Warren Lake to meet up with Mount Defiance Trail. Here the landscape becomes a thinner forest of lodgepole and white-bark pine spackled with talus, old snags and wiry alpine fir. Note that you’ll find snow through June, and that route-finding can be difficult year-round (watch for cairns and surveyor’s tape). Once at the radio towers, you’ve made it to the roof of the Gorge, 4,960 feet. On the way down, follow Mount Defiance Trail through a zillion switchbacks to Lancaster Falls, a perfect place to soak yourself in the water’s cooling mist.
DIRECTIONS: From eastbound I-84, take Exit 54 to Starvation Creek State Park.