If you're reaching for that top-of-the-world feeling in Southern Oregon, Mount McLoughlin is your ticket.

If you're reaching for that top-of-the-world feeling in Southern Oregon, Mount McLoughlin is your ticket.

While the 9.36-mile trek with a gain of 4,000 feet to the 9,495-foot summit is relatively difficult, energetic youngsters and well conditioned 70-year-olds are capable of making the trip.

But even experienced hikers who fail to pay attention have been known to spend long, cold nights in the woods in the Sky Lakes Wilderness beneath the mountain.

Rick Brewster made his first journey in low-cut tennis shoes in 1970, along with his older brother, Kent, and parents.

"It was a family hike, so we went ahead of Mom and Dad," Brewster recalled. "But they had all the food and water. We went after church, so we started about 1 o'clock, which wasn't a good idea. It was August, and it was very hot."

Since then, Brewster has ascended the region's signature peak 30 times, primarily in late summer or early autumn to avoid pesky mosquitoes.

Brewster has made it to the top from the trailhead in two hours, but more often the fast-paced hiker takes about twice that time, depending on the company.

"I just go the pace of the group," he said.

Over the years, Brewster has developed a couple of approaches to the climb, sometimes dividing it into a two-part trip in order to view the sunrise. On those outings he overnights along Freye Lake and then clambers to the summit without the gear. More typically, Brewster hits the trailhead off of Forest Service Road 3650 around 6 a.m., providing plenty of time to view Mount Shasta, the Rogue Valley, Klamath Basin and the Cascade Range to the north. He packs plenty of food, a Camelbak hydration pack, bug spray, binoculars, sunglasses, moleskin for blisters, an extra pair of socks, a poncho and a lighter — just in case.

Often he will stash a gallon of water somewhere below the treeline for the return trip, and he brings gloves to help scale boulders on the way up.

"People are usually over-prepared or under-prepared," Brewster said. "They will want to bring too much stuff and that becomes excess weight they don't want to carry 4,000 feet up the mountain."

Although Brewster carries a camera, most hikers rely on their cellphones these days.

On the way down, whether surfing the rocks that carry hikers away from the trail or descending the spine, Brewster always bears to the left before hitting the treeline.

The big mistake hikers can make is forgetting simple geometry. The farther they descend from the top of the cone, the longer the distance to the spine connecting to the trail.

"The need to angle east to Klamath Lake and keep going left," Brewster said. "When they're taking those giant moon steps, they sometimes forget."

Dan and Melanie Rosetta made the mistake of drifting the wrong direction in 1985.

We took the easiest route down, skiing (over loose rocks) down the south side," Dan Rosetta said. "I pretty much knew we had to head counter-clockwise, but it was way farther back to the trail than I figured."

Two hours later, he had stomach cramps and she had knee pain, and the going got slow.

"We were back on the trail and reached close to the Pacific Crest Trail (crossing) before we lost light completely about 10 o'clock," he said. "There was no moon at all that evening to give us light, and the forest seemed to mask the sky completely. The next mile or so on the trail we literally walked blind just using my sense of the concavity of the trail — always going down keeps you on the trail because to go sideways on the trail is walking up. Since we had crossed the Pacific Crest Trail, my memory told me we only had about a mile to go, but it was a long one in the dark. Eventually I recognized a small meadow and knew we were on the trail, we heard the water of the creek and were relieved."