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Friday, June 10, 2016

Mount Defiance via Pratt Lake Trail and Thompson Lake Trail

Circumstances allowed me another day out this week, and Wednesday I set myself a good challenge. The most common approach to Mt Defiance is via the Ira Spring Trail to Mason Lake, 11 miles roundtrip and 3900 ft cumulative climbing. What I had in mind was a 14 mi jaunt among the Pratt Basin lakes and then up Defiance, for a cumulative 4750 ft of climbing. I had the additional constraint of a late afternoon appointment in the city, so there could be no dawdling.

I returned to the Pratt Lake / Granite Mtn Lookout Trailhead where I began Monday's hike (lower right on the topo map, hard by the highway intersection), 1900 ft elevation, at 5:30 a.m. The trail ascends steadily on a remarkable miles-long traverse through deep forest filled at this hour with the dawn chorus of birdsong, across numerous falling streams. And much of the time crossing a slope so steep that to stumble off would be a tumble. But it's a broad, well-engineered trail and one rolls along at a pretty good pace, uphill or down.

When an opening finally appears in the forest, this is the view: Ollalie Lake and across the South Fork Snoqualmie River valley, and Rainier melding with the clouds.

The trail rounds the lake and splits at the Pratt Saddle. Down to the right is Pratt Lake, and forward is the Thompson Lake Trail which sidehills across Pratt Mtn and into the basin.

This trail is in good shape but is significantly less traveled. There are excellent views of Lake Talapus, and waterfalls on the back of Bandera Mtn. From elevation 4560 the trail descends a steep 300 ft that I knew would be a lot harder coming back up. This was also the farthest I had come before on this trail so I wasn't completely sure of my way. A look at the map shows it could be a little confusing. I began to encounter vagrant tatters of the snowpack that a month ago completely filled the basin, and got my first view of Mt Defiance. It still seemed far away.

Down in the Pratt Basin I kept right toward Rainbow Lake and followed a wet and at times muddy and slushy path down to the lake. The last of the snow was melting and the trail was often a running stream with a thin bridge of snow over it, so I had to keep to the side or break through, which I did anyway.

Rainbow Lake.

 And a little farther to this small shallow unnamed lake and sunshine.

From that same lake, the back of Bandera Mtn and Little Bandera. These look like good camping spots later in the year but on this day the ground was spongy.

After climbing up and over a ridge I was in the Mason Lake basin and at this major junction returned to familiar territory. Now the final push, 1300 ft of steep to the summit, with long sections of roots and running water down the trail. Dense forest defies any wide views until it gives way all at once to a spectacular meadow.

And this view to the south.

Forward, one of my favorite little sections of trail anywhere. Hike across as far as the eye can see, then turn sharply right and climb straight up to the top.

And to 5584 ft up on the summit, at 10:00. Again, I had it all to myself. Again, there was barely a breeze. I took a little breather, made hot chocolate, and sighed again and again at the beauty and magnificence of the surroundings.

Looking east to Lake Kulla Kulla, then Pratt Mtn, then Granite. I could make out the fire lookout cabin. Lakes Blazer, Rainbow, Island, and Mason are also visible in this photo.

The view north. Volcanoes Baker and Glacier are out there on the horizon.

But I was only half-way, so after 20 minutes I started back down. I stopped at the unnamed lake to pump water and not again until I'd climbed out of Pratt Basin to encounter this view south, out above Lake Talapus. From here at 4560 ft it was a steady downhill to 1900 ft and my beginning. I was mighty glad it was all downhill.

And here is some video I collected along the way. Remember HD & fullscreen!

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