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In the list of Oregon volcanoes, Mt. McLoughlin comes in around number 10 at 9,500ft or thereabouts. I had hoped to climb it during the Oregon trip I had done with Matthew and Rick the previous year, but we'd run out of time and extra days. The mountain is also the county highpoint of Jackson County which made it of interest to my son Ryan as well. So we planned to save this for the last of our three days of COHPing in Oregon. At 11mi roundtrip and 4,000ft of gain, it would by far be the hardest hike 10yr-old Ryan had ever done. Mercifully the driving was on fairly straight roads unlike the previous day, and we managed to arrive at the trailhead by 8:30a without getting carsick.
A note about the drive: It's straightforward from Medford on SR140 heading east towards Lake of the Woods. One set of directions said to look for a visitor center before turning left. We found no visitor center and no sign indicating Mt. McLoughlin in the vicinity of Lake of the Woods. The correct road is signed Fourmile Lake which is six miles left off SR140. The McLoughlin TH is halfway along this road and nicely signed. A short left at the three mile mark brings you to the trailhead. The road off SR140 is dusty gravel, suitable for all vehicles.
Just past the start we crossed a bridge and came to a hiker sign-in board. Ryan was impressed by this. "I thought registers were always at the summit?" he said, bewildered. I explained the purpose of helping to check for missing hikers which impressed him further. This was already looking like a serious hike. There were three other parties that had signed in before us, giving us something to look out for on the long trail ahead.
We started off with Ryan in front, Dad following, but when Ryan turned to kicking rocks (and kicking up dust for Dad to choke on), I moved him behind me. We'd been going about an hour now and Ryan was starting to slow down when left to his own pace. So having me in front was better for keeping a steady (but not difficult) pace. The first 2/3 of the hike travel under cover of forest and there are no views at all of the summit we were trying to reach. Finally getting a view of the summit, though still far ahead, gave Ryan a bit of a lift.
Just below treeline we came across a woman with two girls, about 10 and 7 years of age. They were in the process of giving up, ready to turn back. This inspired Ryan to persevere, knowing he had done better than at least three others. In turn we must have been somewhat of an inspiration as well, because Mom was suddenly able to get the girls to hike on a bit further as we passed them. We never did see them the rest of the day, so they must have eventually turned back well short of the top. Once above the trees we followed the sandy trail as it rose up the SE Ridge of McLoughlin. On the east side we could see protected patches of snow far below us, and further below and well to the east could be seen Fourmile Lake - it certainly was beginning to feel like we were getting high.
The trail above treeline travels through piles of volcanic rock that line the hillsides. Someone, or some persons in the past deemed it fitting to mark much of the route with dots and arrows spraypainted on the rocks. It was really a shame to see the trail degraded so. Some of the paint marks were done over older ones of different colors - white, red, green, and blue. It seemed this marking with paint was something of a tradition here. Hopefully one that will die eventually. Despite the numerous markings (some only 10ft apart), the trail breaks up into many threads as it makes its way up the steep ridgeline through the boulders. We saw a large group of eleven descending from the summit as we were still about half an hour away. The party included a dog and a young girl about Ryan's age - further incentive for Ryan that he ought to be able to make it to the top.
And while he did frequently ask for estimates on how high we were and how far we had to go and how long it would take, Ryan did his best to not complain. We took only short breaks of about a minute, perhaps every 15 minutes or so, drinking water and Gatorade to keep hydrated. M&Ms and beef jerky provided additional fuel. After passing the descending party, we spotted a couple about ten minutes ahead of us heading for the summit. We tried to catch up to them (further motivation), but they managed to get up about a minute before Ryan and myself. We felt pretty good when we found they had started more than an hour before us. It had taken us three and half hours to reach the summit, and we felt pretty good. Even better, Ryan didn't seem as worn as I'd expected, and thoroughly enjoyed our half hour stay up there. He signed us into the register, we had some more snacks, we looked around at all the terrain that fell down below us in all directions. The only thing higher that we could see was Mt. Shasta about 100 miles to the south. The views were muted some by haze, but still impressive.
Our return was mostly uneventful, taking a bit under three hours. Ryan was surprised to find the downhill was not as easy as he'd expected based on previous trips. I explained that he was a good deal more tired than he'd been used to, and assured him that the return was indeed easier than going up. He must have been doing pretty good, because a short distance before the end he still had the energy and inquisitiveness to climb up the trunk of a fallen tree that had wedged between some other trees before hitting the ground. Some fifteen feet off the ground standing on a tree was one of his highlights for the day.
Once back at the TH, we drove back to Medford, and then the very long drive south to San Jose and home. Needless to say, Ryan slept quite well during the drive.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. McLoughlin
This page last updated: Thu Apr 3 06:58:48 2008
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