Hiking Mt. McLoughlin (sort of)

Editor's note: This article is from the dailytidings.com blog Ecologue.

Last month we went for a tardy hike on Mt. McLoughlin. We got a very late start (hey, it was Saturday), so we didn't make it to the top of the 9,495-foot peak. Not sure exactly what time we set off from the trailhead, but it was at least 3 p.m. As we hiked up we passed scores of hikers straggling back down the path, including too-many-to-count tired teenagers, who must have been part of some wilderness outing or something. Many of the hikers we passed expressed their concern/surprise that we were hiking up, instead of down, at that time in the afternoon.

Of course we wanted to make it to the top, but since we'd never hiked Mt. McLoughlin before, we were more interested in getting some exercise, letting the dogs tire themselves out and seeing what the area was like.

My guidebook described the hike as "difficult," but with nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain and about 11 miles roundtrip, "grueling" is a better word. The path starts out crossing the gushing Cascade Canal — which apparently transports water from Four Mile Lake to Fish Lake — and wanders through the woods at a gentle slope for a couple miles, briefly meeting up with the Pacific Crest Trail.

Then the trail redefines "uphill," turning into a climb/scramble up the mountain. It was sort of like hiking up a rock staircase — an uneven falling-apart one with crevasses between the "stairs." The path gets more difficult to follow as you go up, but orange blazes help keep hikers on track.

At one point, just as my legs were starting to feel the climb, I turned around and caught a glimpse of blue. It was Klamath Lake, lying serenely to the east. The views just got better the higher we climbed, as more and more lakes came into view — Four Mile Lake, Lake of the Woods, Fish Lake, Howard Prairie and Hyatt lakes off in the distance (I'm probably missing a few).

Even higher, the trail brushes against a ridge that, when you peek over to the other side, plummets down the steep incline almost to the "bottom." It's a massive concave slope of rock that looks like it was hewed by glaciers. According to the Forest Service, "the erosive work of Ice Age glaciers removed massive amounts of the mountain's northeast slope." At that elevation, we had left the thicker conifer forest behind, and gnarled whitebark pine were the only trees surviving on the exposed mountainside.

Eventually we turned around, as the sun seemed to be getting too low (although we couldn't see around the mountain to the western side) to ensure a safe return by night. As it was, we reached the car at dusk. I think we made it about 4 miles up the mountain, not bad for such a late start.

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