The weather forecast looked to be very good for late
October. I chose to return to an old close in favorite hike. The new trail
has made Mason Lake a very popular destination but I figured with an early
start I would miss the crowds, at least until returning to the lake. I was
in the Ira Spring Trail lot by 8:25 and was surprised to see that there were
already 5 cars in the lot. It was cool but the sky was clear. One reason I
chose this trail was for the long section out in the sun on the face of Bandera
Mountain. Blue skies will be rare over the next six (or more) months. When
I reached the old Mason Lake trail it was unmarked but still easy to see.
Before long openings occurred through the trees. McClellan Butte loomed high
above across the valley. I made good time in the cool morning air.
After a few long switchbacks the forest was left behind. I could see the
summit of Mt. Defiance in the distance. I met the owners of one of those five
cars at the Bandera Mountain intersection. They were going up Bandera and
I continued on towards Mason Lake. A few minutes later I reached the high
point and then reentered forest for the drop down to the lake. I reached the
lake in 67 minutes. No need to feel like I was speeding down the trail as
at the lake a much faster hiker passed me and was soon out of sight. Before
reaching the Defiance Trail I passed two backpackers heading towards Rainbow
and Blazer Lakes. I didn't expect three groups in close proximity at 9:45
am near Mason Lake in October.
At the junction I turned left toward Mt. Defiance. Where the trail began
to climb I passed a solo hiker. Soon after I passed a hiker coming down. At
least I had accounted for the occupants of those cars. Now I was finally alone.
I could hear wind in the tree tops and when I came out onto the open south
face of Defiance I felt it. Not too bad but I expected it to be blowing harder
on the summit. The meadow on the side of Defiance was mostly brown but with
some yellow leaves still holding on. I soon reached the unmarked intersection
with the summit spur trail and headed up. It's steep but relatively short.
In 14 minutes I was on the summit. It's about 6 miles up and it took me 2:22.
I was correct regarding the wind. It was blowing a steady 10-15 mph. The
sun was out and it was warming up nicely but the wind was very cold. I put
on several layers, gloves, and a hat and was still a little cold. The low
sun put a blinding glare on Mason and Little Mason Lakes. The summit is one
of the few places from which you can clearly see Lake Kulla Kulla. It seems
to be directly below the summit. Rainier was washed out as was Baker. Glacier
Peak is partly visible and it was bright and white. Downtown Seattle was very
clear. Last Sunday I had 50 feet of visibility. This day it was more than
50 miles. It's interesting that on this relatively low summit both Seattle
and Mt. Stuart can be seen clearly.
It was cold but the view was so nice that I spent a full hour on top. The
hiker I passed on the Defiance Trail reached the top 35 minutes after me.
We had a good time talking about hiking. Heading down I passed one hiker on
the summit spur. I passed another hiking along the side of Defiance. I passed
two more after reentering the forest. I have not seen this many folks going
up Defiance in mid summer. It seemed like the place to be this day. I didn't
plan to stop at Mason Lake but... it was just too nice. I found a big boulder
near the shore and laid down in the bright sunshine. There was no wind and
it was warm. Next thing I knew another hour passed by.
Finally I began the last 3 1/2 mile hike out. At the lake outlet a hiker
inquired about my Golite Dawn pack and a long discussion on lightweight hiking
ensued. That's the first time someone has stopped me to ask about equipment
while on the trail. Hopefully she found some value in my rambling answers.
Now I was on the way out. A quick climb and I was back out in the open on
the side of Bandera Mountain. At this point it was time to unzip my pants
legs. It will likely be a long time before I'm out in short sleeves and shorts
again. My speed now slowed way down. I was in no hurry to get back. I hate
to say good-bye to sun and warm but I do love getting out in the snow. It's
coming up soon.
Once I was back in the forest I speeded up and was all too soon back at
the car. A quick count showed an even 40 other cars in the lot. It looks
like this trail will now be among the busiest on the I-90 corridor. The trail
is nicely graded and with the near perfect weather the 12 miles seemed to
go by with little effort. With ups and downs the elevation gain turned out
to be a very respectable 3800'. This is a great trip and one I'll return to
on a regular basis.