Mountain #5: Mount McLoughlin

January 4, 2015


Andy: McLoughlin is a mountain that I’ve been interested in doing for the past few years, but never really studied it or knew much about the route or any technicalities. As we’ve been continuing into the winter months with the Mountain a Month project, we’ve been forced to find summits that are climbable even in bad conditions and when normal trailheads or access roads are snowed in. McLoughlin rose to the top of the list as a possible winter summit as we learned more about it, and the 7 to 10 mile round trip seemed very doable with access right off the highway.


We originally planned to climb this peak as a LONG day trip, driving down super early on Saturday, climbing, then making the caffeine-fueled slog back up to PDX. However, when we smashed the alarm at 2am, the excuses starting flowing and we easily convinced ourselves that only 4 hours of sleep was not enough for an 18 hour push of climbing and driving. Instead, we opted for sleeping in (adequate rest is obviously crucial for summit bagging) and resolved to drive down on Saturday afternoon and climb on Sunday. With this more relaxed schedule, I relaxed my brain as well and proceeded to forget all my bottom layers, leaving me with nothing but jeans to wear when we arrived at the trailhead. Amateur hour! Serious noob moment. I briefly panicked but after rummaging through the car, I realized that Corie keeps a pair of waterproof Carhartt pants in her trunk for tire changing emergencies. Bingo! These pants coupled with a borrowed pair of her Nike Dryfit running tights, made for a bomber mountaineering layering system for my legs (however, getting out of this set up to pee was a different story). I believe I am the first person to ski mountaineer McLoughlin in this combo. I’m expecting a sponsorship from Carhartt any day now.


After I got off my struggle bus, the actual hiking and climbing was great. Although it’s possible to begin right off the north side of highway 140, we chose to park at the Summit Snowpark, which allows access to the PCT and the standard east ridge route.The snow was all the way down to the trailhead and allowed for skinning almost right off the bat. Luckily for us, there was already a great set of tracks from the previous few days that made for easy route finding and almost zero trail breaking.


Although some amount of trail wandering is expected during the winter, we were both surprised to find that we had clocked nearly 7 miles by the time we reached the summit. I’m doubtful that my GPS is off by that much, but the 11 miles round-trip advertised by the trailhead map seems a little optimistic compared to the 13.8 that we registered. Either way, it was another fun, long day on a mountain and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was also fun to try a peak that was new for both of us, and be lucky enough to summit on our first try.


Corie: If I’m being honest, I was not expecting much from Mt McLoughlin. From the trip reports we read going into the climb, and the small amount of knowledge we were able to gather from looking at topos, I was really thinking that this climb was going to be nothing more than a small slog through some patchy snow that led to an epic view of the surrounding mountains.

 I was wrong.  The first five or so miles were a encapsulated by the forest surrounding the mountain.  I spent a good two hours looking anxiously around the corner for a glimpse of the summit, only to be very un-disappointed by each new view, most of which consisted of tall trees glittering in snow, and long stretches of empty land covered in powder (which I had the misfortune of discovering was hip-deep).  I enviously eyed Andy on his skis and moaned internally at the difficulty I was having walking up the slope in snow shoes. But! I was definitely glad I had them once we started gaining elevation…


Another interesting aspect of McLoughlin was that it was the first mountain that I haven’t had a “I’m SO SO SO terrified” moment on.  Andy and I really hit our rhythm on this trip and I was able to navigate 40* stretches of the climb with only the slightest level of anxiety.  That aspect alone really hit me.  As someone who is 5 months into mountaineering, I’ve been anticipating that “clicking” moment.  And it happened on this mountain. I also re-learned the importance of being intentional with food during this climb. When we finally came out of the trees and had the summit in sight, I decided that it was a BRILLIANT idea to eat an apple… and an entire bagel and peanut butter sandwich.  I immediately regretted this decision and spent the next 30 minutes in varying stages of horrifying nausea.  Heavy carbs + intense cardio = bad news for Corie (or anyone for that matter). 


McLoughlin also has a lovely ridge line to follow- something that was also exciting for me since most of our other summits have been gradual pushes up to flat mountain tops- this mountain had a pretty epic drop on each side, which was RAD! Overall, besides being exhausted and ready for bed about 2 miles out from the car, this trip was both surprising and educational for me.  I’m eager to revisit this peak again in the future… hopefully with skis…


In Summary…

We chose to follow the East Ridge route from the PCT, starting at Summit Snow Park. We pitched our tent in the parking lot, and fell asleep as quickly as we could.  The moon, of course, was at its fullest when we fell asleep and we felt a bit like someone was shining a spotlight into our tent all night. Corie was amused; Andy was not.


Overall, McLoughlin was a good winter mountain to do.  It was a bit longer than we expected but still made for an excellent climb- especially given the conditions.  The trail was extremely well marked and having relatively fresh ski tracks to follow up and down the trail made this mountain seem very friendly to both climbers and skiers.  We encountered a number of individuals during the final stretch to the summit, all of whom were either packing a set of skis or a board; McLoughlin is apparently well-known for its ski mountaineering access. 


In the summer, it is likely that this mountain would be comparable to the South Sister, given its ease of access, location, and the fact that it’s basically a walk up a scree hill.


Equipment List:

- Identical to Saint Helens


The Stats:

Total Distance: 13.8 miles
Average Speed: 1.32 mph
Car to Car: 10:29
Car to Summit: 6:23
Starting Elevation: 5129’
Summit Elevation: 9345’
Elevation Gain: 4479’

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© 2018 by The Elective Mountain Refugees. 

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