Since April we’ve added a variety of hikes to hikingwithmybrother.com, each with something unique to offer. Occasionally we like to take a look back at our recent hikes and highlight some of the best experiences we had. By this third installment we’ve begun warming to the idea that it is unlikely that we will agree on a single hike that we feel was the best, though we can definitely find some common ground on which hikes did not make the cut. The Hall Point and Fuller Mountain were both too short to be considered much of a hike. The treks out to Lodge Lake and Olallie Lake, while good solid hikes, felt a little lackluster once we arrived at our destination. The Kamikaze route up Mt. Teneriffe was great fun, but was so brutal that it is almost inaccessible to most causal hikers. Mt. St. Helens was an amazing experience, but really edged beyond the realm of hiking and into mountaineering. Both Bandera and Granite were hikes we’d recommend, but we’d gone up them several times in recent years.
That left us with just McClellan Butte and Mt. Defiance - Mason Lake to debate over.
Nathan's Pick - McClellan Butte
Sometimes what makes a hike memorable is not simply the dramatic views or the engaging geology, but is instead more wrapped up in the experience itself. For me, the exposed precipice of McClellan Butte had been an alluring goal for many, many months. Its rocky crown stood in stark contrast to every other hike we were planning in the foreseeable future, yet it remained denied to us as snows continued to cling to those heights each time we passed under McClellan on our way to another destination. So it was with immense satisfaction that we began the long trail to the top, following it as it wraps around every side of the mountain, with frequent opportunities to pause and take in the varied landscape. With the snows gone from the top, the final scramble did not pose much of a barrier to reaching the remaining heights.
Mt. Defiance is also a great hike, with a lot of things to see and do along the way. Understandably, there were a lot of folks that wanted to take a dip in Mason Lake, others on their way to Bandera, and others that just wanted to visit the Ira Spring Memorial. While beautiful, the trails to Defiance are also popular. McClellan, on the other hand, with few intermediate destinations along the route, had little in the way of company, while that final scramble tends to keep some the less experienced at bay. I’ll admit that Defiance probably has the better views, but if you’re looking for solitude as well as that satisfaction for pinpointing exactly where you were standing when looking up at a mountainside, go with McClellan.
Jer's Pick - Mt. Defiance
The vibrant meadows and stadium views on the slopes of Defiance made my choice of favorite hike a simple one. As you traipse through forests, past an alpine lake, and into a kaleidoscope of wildflowers, it is hard to imagine a day hike that can offer more. Do not let stories of heat, dust, and steep terrain dissuade you from what is easily one of the most rewarding hikes near Seattle. As with any outdoor experience, timing and preparation are essential to getting the most out of your trip. Sunscreen, bug spray, and hiking poles are a must. Time your trip so you can be on top of the mountain early, to avoid the heat of the day on the open slopes of the mountain. After a climactic summit, hike back down to Mason Lake for lunch and a refreshing swim. Better yet, make a weekend out of it by camping at Mason Lake, which will give you ample time to summit Mt. Defiance and to explore the nearby lakes, Kulla Kulla, Island, and Little Mason.
It is hard to find flaws in a hike like McClellan Butte, but I do think the scramble, while not overly difficult, can greatly limit the enjoyment of this hike if left uncompleted. More than half of what is possible to see is only visible from the summit. If you are hiking alone or are not comfortable scrambling, do nearby Mt. Defiance instead and you will actually end up with superior views because Defiance rises 400ft above McClellan. If you only have time for one hike, make it Mt. Defiance.
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