Carpool Ratio (people/cars): 2
Excursion Time: 8.5 hours car-to-car
Roundtrip Distance: 9.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3800 ft
A Santiam Alpine Club team ascended Mount McLoughlin on August 22, 2010, and lived to tell the tale! The team consisted of leader Fritz Capell, 2010 climb school student Mike Wilson, veteran Rick Matula, and guest George Burgess. George found us on the website and joined as part of his quest to tag all 74 Oregon summits of 2000-foot prominence.
Rick, Mike and myself had traveled together for the weekend, joining the Thielsen climb the day before. For us, the story was as much about the journey as the climbs, especially all the strange people we met on the way: the deli-counter cook in Chemult who would only serve ice cream and coffee, and recommended that we not eat at "Crapway" (aka Subway) or the Chalet, but rather to go somewhere that might not be open; the friendly waitress at the Chalet who recommended everything and was generally correct; the mini-store operator who complained that the Laotians and Croatians bought all the food out of his deli; the chubby waitress who also pumped our gas at some far-flung store/restaurant on the way; the Fort Klamath store owner who let us wash our hands in the kitchen and then told us about the Great Colton Gunfight that had led to his moving away those twelve years long ago.
By the time we arrived at the McLoughlin trailhead, we already had many stories behind us, and had enjoyed a peaceful night camping at the beautiful Lake of the Woods, at Aspen Point campground. George met us at the trailhead, and we hit the trail shortly after 8am.
A forest service volunteer waited at the trailhead to warn everyone about the difficulties with getting lost on this mountain, which was apparently a fairly common occurrence. The route follows a ridge which joins other ridges on the way up; when ascending, it is very obvious, but when descending, it can become confusing and you can follow the wrong ridge down to nowhere, feeling quite convinced of your track by the well-worn trails of other wayward hikers. Craig Faiman had already warned me about this in pre-climb beta. They were correct, as we would see.
The lower part of the trail is obvious and well-marked, often with very labor-intensive curved rock walls marking turns in the trail. After about 2.5 hours you emerge at a pass, which gives the first full view of the ridge and summit ahead of you. From there, the terrain becomes mostly rock scrambling, the trails winding and various. There are painted marks on the rocks, but they are difficult to track. It doesn't matter too much, as you just follow the ridge. We reached the summit right around noon.
It was a beautiful sunny day, with a nice cool breeze. Scattered clouds obscured the view intermittently, but we stayed on the summit nearly an hour, enjoying the afternoon, and talking to the "Boot Camp Girls", a fitness group from Medford and Ashland that had reached the summit shortly after us, and were starting their training in the hopes of eventually climbing Kilimanjaro. We gathered that they had a GPS, but didn't know how to use it very well, and had some concerns about finding the descent route.
The descent can truly be deceptive. Your inclination is to walk down the side of the ridge, which is sandy and soft, instead of the rough rock scrambling along the spine. As other ridges diverge, from this lower perspective, it all looks like one ridge on the horizon, and gradually pulls you off in the wrong direction. Indeed, as we passed over one such deceptive ridge, Rick looked back and noticed the Boot Camp Girls beginning to descend in the wrong direction. He immediately ran back, flagged them down, and waved them into the right direction, possibly saving them from a rather uncomfortable night in the woods.
Mike and George went on ahead, and though the trail was pretty obvious by that point, Rick and I joined the main group of Boot Camp Girls and descended with them, just for the company. They were an interesting and dynamic group, and good fun for conversation.
We reached the trailhead around 4:30pm, said our goodbyes and loaded up for the car ride home, which was pleasant, but - compared to the rest of the weekend - relatively uneventful.