Two Southern Oregon Volcanoes

1-2 Aug 2004 - by George Sinclair

Quick, anybody know the name of the next Cascade volcano north of Mt Shasta? Two bonus points if you knew the answer was Mt. McLoughlin. This enjoyable, but relatively little known mountain is only about an hour drive from Ashland. Compared to areas in California, the region around Mt. McLoughlin is very peaceful and uncrowded. There is a trail to the summit, so this isn't a difficult mountain. However, it is a long hike. It is somewhat comparable, in both distance and elevation gain, to hiking up Half Dome in a day. Although the top is only 9,495 feet high, Mt. McLoughlin is the highest thing around for many miles, and the view is grand. The trail, which ascends the south side of the mountain, was virtually free of snow when my son and I climbed it earlier this month. An ice axe may be required earlier in the season, or during big snow years (I understand this has been an unusually warm and dry summer in Oregon). After the climb we drove to the lodge at nearby Lake of the Woods for a steak dinner, and then to Crater Lake for a campsite.

The day after our Mt. McLoughlin climb we decided to try and climb the next big mountain to the north - Mt. Thielsen. Although the summit is a little lower (9,182 feet), and the hike a little shorter, Mt. Thielsen is not an easy walk-up. It's summit, an erosion resistant plug of basaltic rock, is a vertical shaft of rock that has been nicknamed "The lightning rod of Oregon". The mountain can be clearly seen from many spots around nearby Crater Lake.

We reached the well-marked trailhead off of Hwy 138 at about 8:30 am. The trail is in very good condition and climbs continuously, but gradually. We followed the trail for four miles until reaching the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. From here a rudimentary climbers trail heads up the mountain. Before reaching the summit rock, there is a steep and lose section that does require some caution. Getting up the summit obelisk involved about 50 feet of class 4 climbing on good rock. We reached the top at about noon. Fortunately it was a nice day, so there was no fear of lightning. There are rappel slings just below the summit, and a 120-foot rope is adequate for the rappel.

During this trip we spent two nights in the main campground in Crater Lake. Unlike areas in the Sierra, Crater Lake was not too crowded, and we had no problem getting a spot in the campground. We also had no problem getting into the dining room at the historic Crater Lake Lodge for a very pleasant and enjoyable breakfast. The meal was not ridiculously expensive like at the Ahwahnee, and the food was immensely more edible than the slop they serve at Camp Curry.

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