Climbing Mount McLoughlin—one of the lesser known Cascade volcanoes

Mount McLoughlin is located 63 kilometers (38 miles) east of Ashland, Oregon, where I now live. As shown on this map by the U.S. Geological Survey, Mount McLoughlin is located between the volcanoes of Mount Shasta and Crater Lake, which is the remnant of Mount Mazama that exploded to become a caldera 7,700 years ago. All of the Cascade Range volcanoes have been formed as a result of the Juan de Fuca plate (offshore oceanic crust) subducting beneath the North American continental plate.

Mount McLoughlin is a volcano with primarily basaltic andesite lava that has been built within the past 200,000 years or so; the most recent flows occurred within the past 20,000 years. Glacial action during late Pleistocene glaciations (last one 18,000 years ago) left an imprint on the north side of the mountain, which is eroded and very steep.

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The mountain is most impressive in the winter when it is capped by snow. Here is a photo from the 2015-16 winter, when Jay and I were cross-country skiing along the Buck Prairie trails that have excellent views of Mount McLoughlin to the east.

IMG_3067.JPGAt any time of year, though, the volcano is a prominent feature on the landscape. This photo is a view to the north from the Indian Memorial Highway. Note the smooth, symmetrical sides of the volcano on the south flank.

P1070924.jpgAnita, a friend who has accompanied me on previous adventures (see January and February 2012 posts of our explorations in Argentina), accompanied me on a climb to the top of Mount McLoughlin on 22 August 2016. At 2894 meters (9495 feet), Mount McLoughlin is one of the lowest Cascade peaks and one of the most accessible, although it’s still a grueling climb, with an elevation gain of nearly 4000 feet (12oo meters) from the parking lot trail head to the peak’s summit. On the photo above, the trail extends up the right (east) side of the cone.

P1070883.jpgThe path is clearly visible through the pine trees and lava boulders up to an elevation of about 2400 meters (8000 feet). At this point, the hiker is above tree line and the summit is visible. This is a good psychological boost, because the trail gets harder to follow and rougher. But the views keep getting better and better…

P1070903.jpgMount Shasta is visible along most of the upper part of the climb. It is at the right side of this photo (looking southwest), although haze obscures the view. Fish Lake, where we camped, is in the foreground; Howard Prairie Lake is a thin sliver in the photo’s center. Pilot Rock is also visible, if you know where to look.

P1070910.jpgOnce at the top, there is a stunning 360-degree view of surrounding mountain ranges. This view, at the summit, is toward the west, with the northern part of the Rogue Valley visible in the upper left part of the photo.

IMG_1553.jpgAnother view from the summit looks eastward, toward Klamath Lake in the distance; the smaller lakes are Lake of the Woods (right side) and Fourmile Lake (left side).

P1070914.jpgHeading east, looking down from the summit, it’s possible to see the contrast between the south side of the volcano, which is less steep and forested, and the north side, which is very steep and eroded from glacial scouring. The upper part of the trail parallels this prominent east–west-trending ridge.

P1070921.jpgAnother view of the steep, eroded north flank gives a sense of how much of the volcano’s mass has been removed by glaciers. Mount McLoughlin is within the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area that includes these ranges north of the peak. With binoculars we could see in the far distance the Two Sisters and Mount Bachelor volcanoes that are located west of Bend.

P1070916.jpgSome hikers speed hike the peak, making it up and down in less than 6 hours. We took our time, pausing to rest and savor the views, taking 9.5 hours in total. It was satisfying to “bag” this peak that is such a distinctive part of the local landscape.

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