Mount McLoughlin (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 17-Apr-2015

Mount McLoughlin Oregon

A recent query from OregonHikers about conditions on Mount McLoughlin got me thinking that it’s been a long while since I last climbed it and, on that occassion, I did so only to stand in a viewless cloud shrouding the summit . Of course, just after that query, our “early” Spring was overtaken by a series of low pressure fronts, the last of which passed last Tuesday, to be followed by a nice high pressure area. Since I’m opposed to viewlessness, I waited until yesterday to have another go at the summit under absolutely bluebird conditions. The LovedOne opted for further library volunteering rather than another 4,000-foot trudge up this 9,495-foot high mountain.

Before the snow melts, the best way to approach the peak is from the plowed Summit Sno-Park on Highway 140, which has ample parking, a pit toilet, and a $5/day use fee. Some guides/blogs suggest parking on the highway and hiking in from there. This is not a good idea for at least three reasons: (1) There is often little shoulder left after the snowplows have cleared the road, (2) There’s the possibility of your car being side-swipped by one of the many large trucks (and snowplows) that use the highway, and (3) There are now No Parking signs on the Fremont-Winema National Forest part of the highway. Parking on the highway seems like taking on a lot of downside risk just to save $5.

After the snows melts, the best trailhead is just off the Fourmile Lake Road on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, which, unlike the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest, is a fee area. There’s a nice parking lot and vault toilet and the Mount McLoughlin Trail (USFS #3716) starts at the west end of the lot. There used to be a trail sign (shown above) here but some douchebag stole it years ago (probably for firewood). There are, however, two other large signs – one in the parking lot, the other at the wilderness boundary – which try to keep hikers from heading into obscurity down the deceptively indirect south side rather than following the ridge down.

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
It’s a good idea to read this sign before heading up the trail

Our last snow storm had dusted the trail with about 6 inches of new, fluffy snow, which melted off in a day, leaving a solid base.

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
Walkable snow at the start of the trail

About a mile in, I reached the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), followed it for about 0.5 miles, before turning left (west) back on to the summit trail. I could follow that trail fairly easily (and with only boots) up to about 6,400 feet, where it completely disappeared under snow. I put on my snowshoes at this point and kept them on all the way to the summit. The snow wasn’t very soft but the shoes did help with flotation and their claws were useful on some of the slicker, steeper spots higher up. I caught a glimpse of the summit just as the terrain steepened.

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
The summit from low on the trail

Snow currently covers all of the switchbacks on the trail, so I just went straight up the slope, which makes for a shorter, but steeper, hike.

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
Snowshoeing up through the trees

After about 2 miles of largely viewless trudging uphill, I got to the saddle at 8,200 feet where the trail ends and, in summer, scrambling up boulders and scree begins.

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
The distant summit from the snow-covered saddle
Mount McLoughlin Oregon
A very tough old trees clings to life on the saddle

Today, all of the boulders and scree higher up were covered in a thick blanket of snow,

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
The route swings to the left (south) from the saddle

From the saddle, I swung a little to the left (west) and continued on up the smooth snow on the increasingly treeless ridge.

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
On the south side of the summit ridge
Mount McLoughlin Oregon
Further up the summit ridge

At about 9,000 feet, the trees were now below me, and the steepest part of the hike ensued – and also the most exposed since I was now passing above the expanse of the south slope. Fortunately the snow was getting a bit soft by this point, so a slip wouldn’t have amounted to too much (and, sadly, neither did my later attempts at a glissade).

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
Nearing the summit

And, then, the summit! With a view east to Pelican Butte and Fourmile Lake nearby and Klamath Lake in the distance,

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
Pelican Butte (L) above Fourmile Lake, with Klamath Lake beyond

the peaks forming the entire Mountain Lakes Wilderness above Lake of the Woods,

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
The snow-capped peaks in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness

and, to the north, all of the peaks in and around Crater Lake National Park.

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
The snow-capped peaks in Crater Lake National Park

I could make out Mount Shasta to the south but haze made photographing it difficult. Still this is one of the greatest unobstructed views in Southern Oregon! After soaking up the view, the sun, and lunch on the summit, I headed back the way I’d come up. I took the snowshoes off for the descent but had no significant problems with post holes or soft snow. A really great snow hike – 9 miles roundtrip (about a mile shorter than the summer trail thanks to the snow-covered switchbacks) and 3,900 feet of elevation – under awesome bluebird conditions. The snow is slowly retreating up the trail and there is some melting out around the boulders higher up but I’m guessing that this will be a good snow hike at least through mid-May.

Mount McLoughlin Oregon
My snowy track to the summit

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