After my peaceful solo night on McLoughlin's summit, I descended the NW ridge of the mountain, just as the Mazamas had done in 1896 on the occasion of the newly-formed Club's first big climb. At that time they were inspecting a surprise find: a small glacier with a big crevasse they estimated to be 50-75 feet deep. They named it Sholes Glacier, after a party member of the same name. On a return climb in 1939, the glacier was gone. In 1965 there I was alone, crossing the exact place where the glacier had been when "The Boulder of God" came at me (read below). This view is across the north face where the glacier had been in 1896. It shows the sweep of Mt McLoughlin's little known north face. In the distance are Fourmile Lake, Upper Klamath Lake, and Yamsay Mountain, 8,196 ft, on the distant eastern skyline. Pelican Butte, 8,000 ft, once the proposed site of another Oregon ski area, lies just to the left edge of this picture. Mt. McLoughlin is Oregon's most southerly major Cascades volcano, and was last active during the height of the Roman Empire, thus making its last fires contemporaneous with the lava flows of McKenzie Pass to the north.
The Boulder of God
What was I thinking? What was I doing trying to traverse across the north face of Mt. McLoughlin, by myself and with only an ice axe that I barely knew how to use? It was hot as hell on that June day, mid-morning, too late to be there in the path of rockfall as the sun beat down. Sweat dripped across my body in waves, but it wasn't all due to the heat. Danger could be heard as the mountain let loose various pieces of itself. As I neared the center of the north face, I crossed a deep and dirt-stained "gut" -- it seemed like a dangerous place so I moved fast. Pausing maybe 30 feet past it to catch my breath, I heard an alarming "crack" from high above. My eyes darted upward, to see a deadly boulder the size of a Volkswagen ponderously gaining speed in a series of leaps and bounds, each new bound accompanied by a spray of snow. I watched in a numb fear as the dark monster smashed into my footsteps, leaving a giant hole and pelting me with hard spring snow. As it passed, its leaps seemed longer and longer. I watched it bound down the steep slope for what seemed forever. When the giant finally entered the trees far below, it was just a dot, but it sent trees flying into pieces, soundlessly. The spell was broken, I was no longer afraid of the steepness of the slope. I rushed pell-mell down and across, exiting that awful north face via the mountain's northeast ridge. I didn't tell anyone what had happened.