With the crest of Mount McLoughlin visible just 150 yards away, Dave Alonzo realized that three times might not be a charm.
The mental battle to return to the top of the tallest peak in the South Cascades became a frightfully physical one, turning his limbs into Jello just before the summit.
"My legs kind of hit a wall," says Alonzo, 36, of Medford. "I was staggering around like a drunk guy up top. I just tried to stay on my feet and push forward. You have to, when you're that close."
Alonzo managed to wobble that final 150 yards to complete his third ascent of Mount McLoughlin, but this isn't your typical hikers' Bucket List trek.
The Medford elementary school teacher and long-distance hiking aficionado conquered the nearly 5½-mile trail to the top of the 9,479-foot peak three times in one day, July 7, partly as a training exercise and partly to test his mettle.
That's nearly 33 miles of hiking with 26,730 feet of elevation changes at about a 2.5-mile pace on a trail averaging 16-percent grade each way.
"I just wanted to see if I could do it, and get some altitude training in at the same time," he says.
There is no clearinghouse to gauge Alonzo's ascents against others in high-mountain trail-climbing feats, but recreation officials at the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest who manage the trail don't recall anyone matching Alonzo's busy day.
"That's really impressive," says Brian Long, the forest's recreation staff officer. "He's definitely a glutton for punishment. I know a lot of people go up it, but I think generally that once a day is enough for people."
A physical-education teacher at Kennedy Elementary School, Alonzo got the hiking bug in 2007, enjoying the occasional 15-mile sojourn into the backwoods, but it wasn't until two years later that these adventures became more regular for him.
"I realized there's a lot to see out there that you can't see from the pavement," Alonzo says.
Nestled in the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area, Mount McLoughlin is a steep-sided lava cone sitting atop a volcano that erupted about 30,000 years ago. Forest Service Trail No. 3716 snakes just under 4,000 feet in elevation from the parking lot to the top.
Alonzo has done it each summer for close to a decade.
"Once a year is OK for fun, but it kind of gets boring after a while," he says.
During last year's climb, Alonzo decided to do it twice in once day, something he says he managed quite quickly.
"I still had a fair amount of daylight left, so I thought I could do three," he says.
Alonzo has been training for a string of high climbs in Montana and Idaho to round out his summer, so the notion of getting altitude climbing at Southern Oregon's highest peak seemed logical. So did the idea of three ascents.
He left the trailhead at 4:45 a.m. with his headlight on, and at 6:53 a.m. he hit the summit for climb No. 1.
He stayed atop long enough to drink some water and crunch some trail mix for energy, then headed back down quickly enough to reach the trailhead in just less than two hours.
More tail mix, a sandwich and replenishing his two liters of water at his pickup out of the way, Alonzo headed back up the mountain.
Climb No. 2 went off without a hitch in 2 hours 23 minutes, but the physical struggles were nothing compared to the mental ones.
"The voice inside my head said, 'What are you doing? You can go back to your truck any time you want," Alonzo says. "I pushed through it."
Despite the wobbles, the final ascent also took him just 2 hours 23 minutes.
But the last time on top of the mountain, he spent about an hour soaking up the view as well as the water and protein needed to stabilize his body for the two-hour descent.
"I really don't remember the trip back down," Alonzo says. "I was glad I was in the easy part. I just wanted to get back to my truck and get some Mountain Dew in me."
To celebrate, he drove over to Douglas County and climbed 9,183-foot Mount Thielsen.
"I took my time with that one, and only did it once," Alonzo says.
— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.