Mt. McLoughlin - Into the Jaws of Death

(page 2 of 3)

Solo Climb as a senior in High School on the north face of Mt Mcloughlin 9,495 ft.

Mt. McLoughlin is near Lake 'o the Woods and Fourmile Lake and Fish Lake in Jackson County

Mazamas 1896 and One young man's Eigerwand.

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.

Serenity in the Sky.................................................

I'm sitting on the foundations of the old fire lookout station atop Mt. McLoughlin, gazing 75 miles south at Mt. Shasta, 14,162 ft.. I'm dreaming of the life led by the fire lookouts who formerly lived on the summit. Here is the story that I wrote about that morning on the summit, all alone. Psychologist Abraham Maslow would have called it a "Peak Experience" --


He sat alone on the mountain peak, high in the morning sun, his gaze extending for a hundred miles in all directions. He had been there since dawn, in the vast sweep of forests and plains where there was no sign that humankind and its noisy civilizations had ever existed. The small sounds of the mountain responding to the heat of the sun became preternatually clear, subtle creaks and groans, a distant rock breaking its bonds to tumble down a scree slope.
Overhead the impossibly blue sky glowed with an inner light. Two hawks appeared unexpectedly from below, riding the morning thermals. One drifted so close he could hear the sounds of the wind breaking over its body. Then just as suddenly, the wind blew them away over the mountain's shoulder. They were vanished.
Only he remained -- alone and yet strangely joyous, for such was his vast New World, with its long days to be lived far from distractions of home, of parents, spouses, friends, teachers, employers, police. A companion of generations of wild things that would know nothing of the Dominion of Man, the Planet's passing fancy. Years elapsed before he realized what had dawned on him that morning - a larger Life Vision, a reconnection to all things ancient, primordial. Never would he be alone again, for with his realization he had uncovered his hidden truth: alienation, the malaise of modern man, had lost its power over his life.

Story copyrighted Bruce B. Johnson M.A. 2006-2022, Janet K. Hughes, Editor. It turns out that I was writing very much in the vein of the American Transcendentalist movement of nineteenth century New England, with much in common with William Wordsworth's Blades of Grass or Song of Myself. I'm proud to claim that heritage.

Return to page 1 and view pictures of the ruined McLoughlin fire lookouts and commentary

Visit page 3 of my coverage of McLoughlin's history of summit fire lookouts

Links to some of my other outdoor adventure stories:

"Mountain Night on the Skyline Trail"

"Old Trail"

"Dark Lake of My Dreams"

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Page Last Revised 02/15/2022