Defiance Ridge Run

Putrid Pete’s Peak – Mt. Defiance ridge traverse

GPS track (partial – lost reception on the climb to P3)

~10 miles

~5100′ gain

It’s November – the gloom has finally arrived, and temps are starting to drop in the mountains. I had run many well-traveled peaks in September and October and I wanted to try something off the beaten track before snow forces a switch to skiing instead of running.

After weighing a number of considerations (safety on a solo run, exposure with wet rock, driving time, familiarity with the area) I ended up selecting Putrid Pete’s Peak as an objective and figured I’d improvise a way down once I made my way back into terrain I have seen before. Arriving at the Ira Spring Trailhead along the customarily potholed road, the temperature lingered at around 37F. This was going to be a chilly day. It was also raining, so I was concerned about temperature management, especially if I got injured and took longer than expected to make my way out or wait for rescue. I threw in an extra puffy jacket into my running pack just to be safe.

Route map (black is off trail running and scrambling, red is established forest service trails)

I started off running and kept going straight instead of taking the first marked switchback (the Ira Spring trail). These Summitpost instructions got me started on the faint use trail to the summit of P3:

“Begin at the Ira Spring / Mason Lake trail. Follow the trail 1/10 of a mile to the first switchback. Instead of turning to the right, continue forward over the sticks meant to block the way onto a faint path which quickly becomes well pronounced. After 1/3 of mile the trail begins switching back as it climbs steeply along the mellow ridge leading up towards the east summit.”

Much of the lower half of the route was sort of brushy – with the recent rain and dew, I was totally soaked to the skin from brushing against all the vegetation. It was going to be a long, chilly day.

From there, the route steepens considerably and ascends virtually direct to the summit. The last ~30′ to the summit block is low third-class scrambling which was quite secure. At the top there is a very steep dropoff to the north and a waterproof canister for the summit register.

The visibility was… not great

P3 summit view (not sure which direction – does it matter?)

The next portion of the route was a bit of an unknown quantity – I just knew I needed to follow the ridge ESE to Mt. Defiance. The ground here was pretty rugged for the first half of the traverse, with potential for dangerous falls in both directions, so I proceeded with a lot of caution.

Wet, sloping rock on the P3 – Defiance traverse

This section of the route had no identifiable trails so I generally tried to stick right to the crest of the ridge and the whole thing went at Class 2 with a bit of  minor exposure in some points. My biggest challenge was simply the temperature. I was dressed for trail running with minimal insulation, and the temperature was probably 33F or so. After I stopped climbing, my aerobic output didn’t help keep me warm and I soon started to shiver.

After reaching the low point in the ridge, the vegetation cover starts to increase as the slope climbs toward Mt. Defiance. Eventually the ridge crest becomes indistinct and I contoured to the south side of the west ridge of Defiance where I linked up with a defined foot trail. I ran it at a pretty good clip to try to get my body temperature up.

West Ridge of Defiance. Head right (south) of the ridge to link up with the main Mt. Defiance trail

From here, I knew exactly where I was going and it was a matter of continuing to run efficiently and safely in the wet conditions. I took the spur trail north to the summit of Defiance where I snapped a rare view of the valley below as the clouds lifted.

The trail to Mason Lake from Defiance was a slip and slide – I had to slow down quite a bit to avoid falling down in the mud. I climbed out of the Mason Lake valley to the pass, tagged Little Bandera Mountain for my third time, and then ran down the nicely graded Ira Spring trail to the car.

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