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Beacon on the horizon

Pilot Rock offers a unique combination of a nearby hike and a strenuous workout that pushes almost, but not quite, into the realm of technical rock climbing.

You will sweat. You will have to really focus to find trustworthy hand and foot holds. You will have to think it out as you ascend the steep part of this volcanic neck. You will be challenged to the edge but — if you are reasonably fit — not past the limits of your strength and ability to clamber upward on rock.

Then, at the top of this 5,910-foot prominence (only an 800-foot gain in elevation), you will want to sit on the flat places, take in amazing views of Mount McLoughlin, Mount Ashland and Mount Shasta, eat your lunch — and talk with your friends about life and how small humanity feels up here.

"We're a tiny speck on the landscape, and this rock feels huge," says Sophia Borgias, one of a group of four recent Ashland High School grads who clambered joyfully up to the top, took a lot of pictures, did headstands, told jokes and saw how fast they could run over the many uneven flat spots atop a bunch of columnar jointed basalt.

Climb leader David Chambers, who works at the Outdoor Store in Ashland (and has climbed the nearly sheer south face), says, "It's a good place to test and push yourself. It's where a family can come — and if someone isn't comfortable going up the hard parts, they can stay below and enjoy the view."

"When I see something like that lone pine growing out of solid rock, the only living thing up here, well, it's a pretty cool entity," says Torrey Johnson. "And this is a pretty cool spot. Being here is conducive to your well-being."

"Just getting out in nature up here does it for me," Julian Sherr concurs.

The climb will give you the feel of rock climbing, but without the need for technical knowledge or exposure to falls, says Chambers.

"It's really accessible for people who don't do technical climbing," he says. "It gives people the thrill of pushing yourself to get to the top of something steeper than your casual hike."

"It's not a walk in the park," Borgias adds. "It's a scramble. You get your heart rate way up and that makes it better to be up here on the top. You feel you accomplished something when you get up here — and it's about the most spectacular view you can get in the valley with this short a hike."

The hike offers maximum enjoyment and fun with friends without having to worry about ropes and helmets, says Chambers, adding that the scramble up the iconic Rogue Valley landmark often leads people to start lessons at places like Rogue Rock Gym and start tackling some of the steeper rock climbs in the area.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Sophia Borgias steadies herself on the descent from Pilot Rock.