Hikers frequently get lost coming down the winding, stony trail from the summit of Mount McLoughlin, triggering arduous searches and setting the stage for possible disaster — something 14-year old Ian McQuoid wants to head off as he earns his Eagle Scout rank.
McQuoid has enlisted a group of 10 friends, scouts and his parents to spend Saturday schlepping big rocks into place to clearly mark the descent path, which can get sketchy among the braided trails that wind in and out of each other.
The oft-climbed 9,495-foot volcano crowns the Sky Lakes Wilderness —- and signs and painted arrows are not allowed in wilderness areas. The simple solution, says McQuoid, is to use natural, durable materials to mark the trails and install steps on steep areas.
McQuoid has climbed Mount McLoughlin twice, once with his mother, Kim McQuoid, and once with his father, Mark Pollard. With the U.S. Forest Service, he has researched the vulnerable areas and will work mainly around the 6,900-foot elevation, just above the Pacific Crest Trail and just below the tree line, he says.
The deceptive braided trails are created when people wander off the main trail to get around snow or to grab a good view, says USFS Wilderness Ranger Jackie Holmes, often resulting in searches by Jackson and Klamath County sheriff's office teams, which use many volunteers.
Another way hikers get fooled is they look down the slope to the south and see Fish Lake and a clear field of scree (loose, siding stone), which is easy and fun to run down, says Holmes, noting that, after much wandering, they usually end up on Highway 140, far from the trailhead and their vehicles.
"You want to keep Four Mile Lake in view on your left as you're going down, so that you keep heading southeast," says Holmes.
Late summer, when snow is gone from the mountain, is a prime time for climbers, and Holmes cautions that while it may seem a simple hike with a manageable 4,500-foot gain in elevation, is is physically challenging and hikers should take all the basics, including water, food, extra clothing, compass, whistle, knife and GPS.
Holmes praised McQuoid's project.
"Putting in rocks to mark trails is very helpful," she said. "This is the way the Forest Service gets a lot of things done, with volunteer help from the community."
To aid in the project, Holmes this week transported tools up the mountain — rock bars and shovels, no saws or mechanized tools. The devices will be used to move retaining walls, restore "tread" (so hikers aren't slipping on stones) and installing "water bars," which direct rainwater off the trail, preventing erosion.
To reach the top Eagle Scout rank, scouts must earn 20 merit badges and, on their Eagle project, put in 100 hours of work that serves the community in their area — and it must be approved by the Crater Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
"Eagle rank is very prestigious. When you apply for a job, if Eagle Scout is on your resume, you're likely to be hired. It shows perseverance and that you have good work habits," says McQuoid, who is in honors geometry at Ashland High School and hopes to study law, psychiatry or neurosurgery at an Ivy League university.
He has earned 24 merit badges in areas such as environmental studies, citizenship, family life, economics, electronics, geography and aquatics.
"We're very proud of our son — he's worked very hard at this," said Pollard.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.