The Summit Shelter is nestled in the forest southeast of Mount McLoughlin, the most striking peak in Southern Oregon. In winter, the shelter can be accessed via a network of old roads converted to nordic trails. The last time we visited the shelter was during the BIG snow winter of 2017. Snowfall thus far this year hasn’t been nearly that epic, but the Billie Creek Divide snow telemetry site (the closest one to the shelter) currently shows 30 inches on the ground. Plenty for snowshoeing if we stayed on the trails. So when the weather gurus promised us a full-on bluebird day, we had little choice but to unlimber the shoes and head for the forest.
We parked at the Summit Sno-Park (thus starting the amortization process for our annual permit) and started up the Lower Canal Trail. The snow had a crunchy surface but had settled enough underneath to nicely float our shoes. The first quarter-mile or so of the trail was well trampled but by the time we passed the McLoughlin Trail, only a nordic ski track remained. We turned east on the Big Mac Trail but left that to continue on old Forest Road 3650-160. That was pretty much a straight shot to the other end of the McLoughlin Trail and the shelter. The shelter has a wood stove and wood but we have yet to reach it when the stove is lit, much less warm.
So, after a cold snack in the warm sun, we headed back via the Petunia and McLoughlin Trails, stopping only to check-out the Forest Service’s seed plantation. We even caught a glimpse of Mount McLoughlin! We saw no one else on the trails during our 5.5 mile loop under amazingly perfect blue skies! 😎 😀
After two partially successful attempts – hikes of Aspen Butte and Mount Ashland – to get above the wildfire smoke that has been choking Southern Oregon and Northern California for several weeks, we were finally faced with Mount McLoughlin, the sixth highest Cascade peak in Oregon. At 9,495 feet, it just had to be high enough to be above the smoke. It just had to be (sob)! If I (the LovedOne having demurred on a grueling ascent in favor of air conditioning at home) got above the smoke, I would (hopefully) be rewarded for the nearly 4,000 of elevation gain this summit demands (making it one of the toughest hikes in Southern Oregon) with BIG VIEWS in all directions. It would also be the first time in many years that I’d climbed it under totally snow-free conditions – which, to me, makes the climb both easier and harder for different reasons.
It took a few days following the Great Storm for the weather to return to being abundantly clear and sunny and for us to feel the urge to try out the volumes of snow the Storm had dumped on us. Having made the short snowshoe out-and-back to the South Brown Mountain Shelter before the Great Storm, we thought we’d try a little longer trip to the Summit Shelter. This shelter sits in a cluster of nordic trails (more details here) just north of Highway 140 near Lake of the Woods, Oregon; trails that are readily accessible from the deluxe (it has ample parking AND a pit toilet) Summit Sno-Park. It was clear, sunny, and about 12ºF when we pulled in to the sno-park, with its great view of Brown Mountain to the south.
Here the nordic trail maps are not much more than simple sketches showing the names and approximate alignments of the various trails. Fortunately, the trails themselves are well signed and marked with the usual blue plastic diamonds. The Powerline Trail leaves going east right from the sno-park and we took that trail for 0.25 miles over to its junction with the Lower Canal Trail, the major north-south connector trail.
Pretty soon, we came to a junction with the McLoughlin Trail and turned east (right) on to that trail. There had been ski and snowshoe tracks (this area is closed to snowmobiles) on the Lower Canal Trail, which made travel easier, but once we got on the less-tracked McLoughlin, we quickly found out just how soft, deep, and unconsolidated the snow was. Even with snowshoes, we would sink-in at least 8 inches all the time and much, much deeper in selected spots. Snowshoeing is SOOO much more aerobic than just hiking on dirt! Soon the word consolidated lost all meaning…
It was work, but the day was clear, sunny, and bright, and the forest was amazingly quiet and fully decorated in all manner of snow fittings and sculptures. Truly stunningly beautiful!
We passed a junction with the Petunia Trail and stomped on to where the McLoughlin Trail crosses the Pitt View Trail. Here we turned north (left) on to the Pitt View and were almost immediately rewarded with the only clear view we’d get of Mount McLoughlin all day.
The Pitt View Trail climbs a bit, and gently at that, but with the snowshoes it felt a lot steeper (still, we’d gain only 500 feet the whole day). About 0.5 miles up the Pitt View, we came to its junction with the Petunia Trail and after consulting our sketch map,
we turned northeast (right) and headed up the Petunia,
past the Big Mac Trail junction, and on to the junction of the Petunia and McLoughlin Trails (the McLoughlin continues past where we left it earlier in the day and curves around to this junction and beyond),
and then swung south (right) on the McLoughlin for the last 0.25 miles to the shelter.
Local snowmobile and nordic clubs maintain the Brown Mountain, Summit, Four Mile, and Big Meadow shelters, making sure they are stocked yearly with firewood for use by snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, hikers, and snowshoers. The shelters are open winter months to use to warm-up or in case of an emergency. The layer of snow on the shelter’s roof gives you an idea of what the Great Storm brought us!
The shelter was clean, neat, and fully stocked with wood but the stove was, sadly, not lit, otherwise we might have lingered for awhile. But, nay, after a cold snack, we started the return stomp, back down the Petunia to the Pitt View, and then northwest (right) on to the Pitt View Trail toward the Lower Canal Trail. On the way down the Petunia, we passed some other snowshoers coming up, so our track going down was considerably firmer than it had been coming up. The tracks of the other snowshoers made it easier for us all the way back to the Lower Canal Trail and then along it all the way back to the Summit Sno-Park.
Hard, but rewarding, work (6.3 miles; 500 feet of elevation gain) on a beautiful day through snow-blanketed, quiet forests, with a visit to a classic snow cabin thrown in for good measure. A long stretch of rainy, gloomy weather is forecast for the days ahead, so it felt good to get out and enjoy a full bluebird day!
Brown Mountain is a small, youthful looking, basaltic andesite shield volcano located in Oregon’s Klamath and Jackson counties, directly south of its more prominent neighbor, Mount McLoughlin. Brown Mountain is only between 12,000 and 60,000 years old with the last eruption taking place about 15,000 years ago. Much of it is bare, unweathered, dark-colored, block-lava, with a glacial valley carved into its northeast flank. Having already been to its summit (snowshoe to the top), we looked around for another way to enjoy the mountain. While doing so, we came across a report (post) of an out-and-back hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) along the west side of the mountain. A quick look at the map showed that we could circumnavigate the mountain by going south and east on the PCT from the Summit Sno-Park (details), then north on the Brown Mountain Trail (USFS #1005 [on the Rogue-Siskiyou NF; it’s #3724 on the Fremont-Winema NF]), and then east back to the Sno-Park on the High Lakes Trail (USFS #6200). And so it was.
Mount McLoughlin, at 9,495 feet, is the lowest in Oregon’s chain of six major Cascade Range volcanic peaks (the others are Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and the Three Sisters, all above 10,000 feet). Viewed from the northwest (i.e., from Interstate-5), Mount McLoughlin’s strikingly symmetrical shape is the dominant landmark of the Rogue River Valley. After waiting out this year’s truculent El Niño-driven weather, I got myself back up there yesterday. Thanks to the heavy snowfall we had this winter, today’s climb was on dirt to about 8,000 feet and then on Spring snow from there to the top. An interesting mix of summer and winter conditions, all on a near perfect bluebird day. Continue reading “Mount McLoughlin (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 19-Jun-2016”→
The 113,849 acre Sky Lakes Wilderness stretches south along the crest of the Cascades from the southern boundary of Crater Lake National Park to State Highway 140 (details, USFS). The numerous lakes in this wilderness divide somewhat in to three basins – the Seven Lakes Basin north of Devils Peak (accessible via the Seven Lakes trailhead), the Sky Lakes Area (accessible from the east via the Nannie Creek trailhead and from the south via the Cold Springs trailhead), and the Blue Lake Basin just north of Fourmile Lake (accessible from the south via the Fourmile Lake trailhead and from the west via the Blue Lakes trailhead). Basically, if you like lakes, good trails, easy backpacking, the option of dayhikes, overnight or longer trips, and a choice of campsites, along with ready access to water, then this is the wilderness for you.
The Sky Lakes Wilderness (not to be confused with the Mountain Lakes Wilderness further south) stretches from Crater Lake National Park south to Highway 140. The numerous lakes in this wilderness divide somewhat in to three sections – the Seven Lakes Basin northwest of Devils Peak, the Dwarf Lakes Area accessible from the Nannie Creek and Cold Springs Trailheads, and the Blue Lake Basin just north of Fourmile Lake. Owing to all of this open water, this wilderness is infamous for hoards of mosquitos in July and August. Still, I’d wanted to check out the Blue Lake Basin for some time and it was hot enough in the valley (100+º F for days) to make desanguination by flying syringes seem acceptable. Note: This is a loop for folks who like lakes – lots of lakes – because 95% of it is through forest (the famous Oregon “green tunnel”) and views are minimal at best.Continue reading “Fourmile Lake Loop (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 03-Jul-2015”→