On the third day, I awoke at 4:30 and drove 50 miles south to the trailhead. On the way I noticed the top half of the mountain was obscured by dark angry looking clouds. I was putting my odds of making the climb at about 50%, but this was my only shot. The last 4 miles were up a dirt road, and when I got there I was the only car at the trailhead. This didn't give me a real warm feeling, but I didn't dwell on it and started the 4000'+ climb under light gray skies. The lower forest was lush, green and damp, and as I was enjoying the scenery, I couldn't help but notice that I was quickly approaching the darker cloud layer, and it was moving rapidly. As the pine and fir gave way to manzanita and scrub, the trail steepened and snow patches occasionally made route finding harder. As I entered the clouds, the temperature and visibility dropped rapidly. I got off route several times and had to descend a short ways to refind the route. At 8800' I began to question whether to turn around, nervous about being alone and uncomfortable with the decreasing visibility. I followed a fixed cable (thick fence wire) up the next steep pitch. At about 9000' I crested a ridge and had before me what appeared to be a vertical drop-off, the distance of which was obscured by the clouds. I traversed the short airy ridge, and when I got to the other side I turned around to watch the clouds swirling as they spun off the ridge lip. The ridge was much less defined looking this direction. It was then, that I had to weight the option, go up another 400' in marginal conditions, knowing there would be no view, or give up the summit and get down safe. I struggled with the problem for a few minutes, pondering what could happen if the weather worsened, but it was a no brainer, my wife and 7 year old were waiting for me back at camp. I reluctantly turned around and headed down. As I dropped out of the clouds the visibility and temperature increased and the wind died down. When I encountered a small party heading up, we were quite a contrast in our clothing, I was in full outerwear with a fleece cap and gloves, they were in shorts and T-shirts! They seemed genuinely surprised at the conditions I described above since the weather here was fairly benign. Later I met several more groups, and each one seemed equally disappointed by my candid description, I could only point out that they were starting later and conditions might improve.
Back at camp my son raced out to greet me and my wife asked me if I climbed McLoughlin, well that's a good question I replied. No, I didn't make the summit, but I did feel like I climbed the mountain. Was I disappointed at having to turn around? Yes of course. Did I make the right decision? Absolutely. I probably could have made the summit, but smart climbing means minimizing yours risks. I started in marginal conditions, and had to accept the consequences. The mountain will always be there, and Crater Lake is always a great place to visit.
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