Hiking Mount McLoughlin - Part 1
Here is probably more background information than you probably want to know about Mount Thiesen from the best source I know...> Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_McLoughlin
Pearl and I drove down from Mount Thiesen along the east side of Crater lake, and took a wrong turn and drove about a half hour out of my way because I didn't have any cell reception, and I didn't think I'd need a roadmap for the area for coarse navigation, figured the signs would steer me right.......unfortunately that was not the case. Ug.
So I got to the trailhead on hwy 140 and looked around. I had captured a map for fine navigation from the trailhead to the other "better" trailhead on my phone. So I pulled it up and looked at the FS TOPO map, and I drove to the "better" trailhead. Unfortunately the FS road dead-ended with a sign pointing to the dead end as the trailhead. Well it wasn't. But given that it was 10PM, I just found a spot on the FS road that was extra wide, and pulled the toyota off to the side so as not to block other traffic..... if there was any. There wasn't....until the next morning after I ate breakfast.
Guy came by and rolled his window down and I asked him where he was headed he said the McLoughlin trailhead. So I told him that even though the topo said it went through, it dead-ended about a half mile down the way. He probably thought I didn't know what I was talking about, and thanked me and continued on.
Along comes another car, he rolled his window down, said he was with the other car. I said they went that-a-way.
About ten minutes later they came back and stopped again, and had come to the same conclusion that I had, but said maybe the road was open from the four-mile lake road, just down the highway. I said it's worth a look, he said he thought it was too. So Pearl and I jumped in the car and we followed them forming a 3-car caravan.
We went back down hwy 140 about 5 miles to the 4 mile lake forest road (by the way, in the picture the lake to the east that's about 4 miles long is 4 mile lake), and after driving about ten minutes on the forest road, we discovered that the FS TOPO map lied, and the road does not go through, but that the "better" trailhead is on the east stubb of the road that was supposed to go through. Only thing I can figure is that they have a limited budget, and making the road go through was a future development, not a current snapshot, which is very misleading.
The people in the other two cars pile out and head off down the trail. By the time I got my water loaded into my pack, got my shoes changed, got my trekking poles, use the bathroom and got the car locked, they were on up the trail out of sight.
So Pearl and I headed up the trail by ourselves.
The trail goes along gaining modest elevation as it goes for the first 3.5 or so miles, and then you reach where the trail dumps off to the base of a boulder field.
Dotting the boulder field are these funny stumpy and stubby looking pine trees that have short stubby trunks and knarled limbs that look like something you'd see either in a Japanese garden or on a Halloween cartoon. Not sure what kind of pine it is, but it' not your everyday looking lodgepole pine...... that's for sure. I found out later that these trees are called "Krumholtz" pines.
When I set out on the trail I looked at the garmin, and I had what appeared to be a full battery charge. Turns out I had the Lithiums in the unit, but I had it set for the Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, and I wonder if that confused the power management function. Bottom line..... fortunately it didn't quit until after I captured the hike up the mountain in a GPX datafile.
I'm thinking that I'm going to put in NiMH batteries in there next time and bring my solar charger and hike with that furled and charging. Maybe change out the NiMH's every time I go out with a fresh set of batteries. I just haven't got the hang of how to manage the battery charge in that unit yet. But I'll figure it out.
Anyway the last third or so of the trail you can see on the gps track that the elevation goes up at a much steeper slope, and my speed drops right down. That's where the hiking got quite a bit harder. I'm pretty sure once I entered the boulder field that the slope went up to somewhere between 35 and 50 degrees. It was VERY steep in spots, and just really steep the rest of that section of trail.
Seems like I could go on up about 3 flights of stairs is what I would compare it to, and stop and catch my breath, and then go up another 3 flights.....etc.
The trail follows the ridgeline, very much like Mt. Thiesen. Apparently quite a few people get lost in the boulder field to the right on the way down, because the forest service put up signs to warn people off from hiking through the boulder field to the right (on the way down).
They probably need to do more, because I got off the trail twice on the way up and once on the way down, although they have white dots painted on some boulders on the way up, and they have wire strung to help keep people on the trail in places.(but not enough apparently). I'm usually pretty good at finding and staying on a trail, but there's no way to stay on this trail.
The Mt. McLoughlin trail joins the PCT about 1 Mile up the trail, and then splits with the PCT about 2.5 miles up the trail. I get the impression that the PCT hike in Oregon is a very nice hike for about 500 miles, because they try not to subject the hikers to too much up and down, but rather keeping the trail mostly up on the ridge.
In a few of the pictures you can see Mount Shasta, with it's snow cap, down in northern California, about 60 miles to the south. You can also see a heavy haze, because the wildfires in the national forest down there are still burning, although not with the intensity that they have been burning. More smoldering than burning. We met a couple up from California today on the beach, and I asked them about the fires, and they said they had a really heavy rain on day last week, and one day earlier this week which really dampened down the intensity of the fires in northern California from what they were 2 weeks ago.
On some of the pictures you can see where the caldera had blown out a long long time ago, leaving, like with Mt. Thiesen, a rubble and boulder field in the middle of the caldera.
Just looking at the pictures, you don't get a true sense of how crazy steep the mountain slope is in the upper section. It's really steep, much steeper than even that mountain in washington, Mt. Ellinor, which had a 25 degree slope. The trail gained about 2250 feet in the last mile, that gives you a better feel of how steep that sucker is.
I had to lift pearl up over about 4 or 5 boulders, because she couldn't jump up on them, and she can leap more than 30 inches vertical normally, more like 36 inches or so. So she was even not sure about jumping up the boulders when it was so steep. It was really more of a class 2 scramble than a hike past about mile 3.5.
In one picture, Pearl was laying down trying to get out of the sun, shaded by part of a rock, to catch her breath. I was just sitting on a boulder doing the same thing.
From time to time the haze / smoke levels in the air would spike up, and then would clear off, you can see in a couple of pictures it was pretty smoky some times.
In a few of the pictures looking up and looking down the ridge, you can see how steep it really is. It was enough to curl the hairs on my arms. You can see a hint of snow in the shadowed side of the mountain in some of the pictures.
If you look in the distance up past and around the panorama, but looking north, in the distance about 80 miles away, you can see the southern sister of the 3 sisters mountains.
It was a good hike, but I think I probably should have started 2 hours earlier. We left the car at about 10:30AM, and got back at about 6:30PM. Then I could have hiked a little more of the mountain, maybe gone up another 500 feet or so, although two guys that went to the summit said I probably didn't want to take the dog up, because it becomes even steeper and more bouldery, and less trail-ish, and were discouraging in that way.
Next year, unless they are too snowy, I plan to climb Mt. Bachelor and the 3 sisters mountains. They ski on many years as late as May and some years June, so I don't know if the snow will be gone yet or not. But I don't plan to fight slush like I did in Flagstaff on Mount Humphreys. That wasn't very much fun.
Trekking poles are useful on all mountain trails, and should be used on this one. Poles will reduce the stress on your knees on this trail.
The trailhead is large, and big enough for probably about 20 cars or so. It was about half full when I drove up in the late morning.
The good panoramas can't be seen until nearly the treeline. So wait for it, it's definitely worth the wait. I never planned to hike all the way to the summit, but I would imagine if one had the guts / foolhardiness to climb up on that spikey summit, one would be rewarded with an amazing panoramic view in every direction.
The trail crosses the PCT, on the east side of Mount McLoughlin, as the PCT continues northward to west of Crater lake.
I averaged a little over 1.3 MPH hiking up the mountain, and about 3 MPH hiking down the mountain, so it took most of the day with the driving, and I like to take a lot of pictures (about 250) and from time to time I stop and rest maybe 3 or 4 times on a hike this long for 5 minutes. I stopped on top for a snack and took quite a few pictures. The hike took about 4.5 hours to go the 4.5 miles up the mountain, and took about 2.3 hours to hike back down that distance, clearly at a faster pace heading down the mountain.
I recommend doing this trail on a day when it doesn't rain in the late spring, summer, or early fall. The views are pretty good depending on the haze on any given day, but it's good exercise and the forest is pretty with lots of trees. Be sure and take lunch with you and plan to make a day of it. Bring plenty of water, say 3 liters per person should be enough for most folks, depending on how much elevation you plan to bag. The summit is over 3,600 feet, and quite a bit of it is in the last very steep 15% of the trail distance.
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Last Update: October 19, 2015
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