Jackson County Highpoint Trip Report

Mount McLoughlin

Date: August 9, 2008
Author: Peter Maurer

I had some personal business to attend to over the weekend in Northern California but having bagged all of the NoCal peaks, thought I'd climb a Southern Oregon peak and which better than the volcanic landmark of the region! At the last minute my 11-year-old daughter wanted to join me and, while I felt it would be a challenge for her, thought that she could do it. So we drove up Friday night and met some folks camping at Fourmile Lake, a few miles north of the trail head. The turnoff from Highway 140, east of Medford is a little difficult to see, especially at night. There is a small sign that says "Summit Trailhead", which leads to a snow park by the highway and quickly turns into a one-lane gravel road (Forest Road 3650). This turns to dirt after about 1/2 a mile but leads directly to a well marked trail head parking area. Just past the trailhead, the road widens, then joins the main road leading to Fourmile Lake, coming in from Highway 140 further east, near Lake of the Woods. Either way will get you to the trail head.

We awoke about 5:45, cooked breakfast, packed up our gear, and were at the trailhead by 7:15. The smoke from several northern California wildfires had drifted into the area and conditions were pretty bad, with visibility probably less than a mile. We were hoping that as we climbed we would get out of the smoke, which we eventually did, but it made for unpleasant conditions to begin with.

The trail, well used and easy to follow, climbs steadily for about a mile through forest then meets the Pacific Crest Trail. The route follows the PCT for a 1/2 mile then continues east while the PCT veers north. This part of the trail climbs gradually as it rolls through the forest, then at about the 2.5- or 3-mile mark, starts to climb in earnest. The trail becomes steep and rocky but still in the forest, with only a few rare glimpses of the peak. A steady climb for about a mile finally leads to timberline and after a few switchbacks and steep pitches, leads to the south east ridge which is the main route to the top. For the first time you get a clear view of the summit. It looks pretty daunting, especially for an 11-year-old, but is really not as bad as it looks from that vantage point. From here it is a mile or so, picking one of several routes through the boulder field and talus.

My recommendation is to stay close to the ridgeline and a little to the left. Just right of the ridge is a trail through scree but save that for the decent. The trail seemed to be a virtual freeway, with several dozen hikers making their way to the summit and everyone seeming to be picking out their own route. We tried different tactics, including the scree, but keeping to the ridgeline proved to be the best. We reached the summit at 11:30 and enjoyed an hour lunch, chatting with the numerous groups already at the top, or reaching it after us.

As we began our descent, the winds finally began to clear the smoke from the area and we were finally able to get clear views of the nearby lakes, peaks off to the north, and a rolling see of clouds coming in from the west. It was still very smoky to the south. We could see Shasta poking up above the smoke layer, though. We followed the trail through the scree until it ended at some rock outcrops, then scrambled down the boulders to tree line where the well-used trail made the going easier. Made it back to the start by 3:45.

Total distance is 11 miles; 3800 feet of elevation gain; 4 hours, 15 minutes up, and 3:15 on the descent. Not bad for my daughter's first major mountain!