Vertical Gain: 10 hikes to get your heart pumping

Vertical Gain: 10 hikes to get your heart pumping

You've always wanted to climb Mount McLoughlin, but weren't sure you were up to it. Or maybe you're just looking for an enjoyable way to get your legs and lungs in shape this summer. Whatever your motivation for getting in tip-top condition, we've got some ideas for getting you there.

The trail to the top of 9,495-foot Mount McLoughlin gains 4,000 feet in 5.5 miles. A climb like that requires the kind of effort that can traumatize feet, joints and leg muscles while testing your lung capacity. You can learn to love that type of effort — and reduce the sting to your body — by hiking progressively steeper trails near home.

Try these 10 hikes, and by the time you finish you should be prepared to tackle Mount McLoughlin in late summer. The hikes are arranged so that when you reach the top of each, you'll be able to see the next climb on your list.

Jacksonville Trails

Jacksonville's trail system mixes short steep trails with gentle grades for customized workouts. The paths are soft and relatively even underfoot, with poison oak trimmed well out of the way. For an introduction to steep trails, climb the 2/3-mile Jackson Forks Trail to Rich Gulch and connect to the one-mile Petard Ditch Loop, which features dramatic shifts in exposure and grade. Stop by Panorama Point to admire Roxy Ann Peak and Mount McLoughlin.

Upper and Lower Table Rocks

While gold miners scoured Rich Gulch in the 1850s, the U.S. Army guarded a new Indian reservation on and around the Table Rocks. Today, nature buffs swarm up these prominent mesas near Central Point. Caution: for safety, stay back from the crumbly edges of the rocks. Lower Table Rock Trail offers welcome shade as it climbs 780 feet in 1.6 miles. The sunny Upper Table Rock Trail climbs 720 feet in one mile. A gravel path keeps mud and poison oak at bay. From aloft, the Rogue River snakes through the valley floor, and the trails in your future wink on the horizon, including the shapely cone of Roxy Ann Peak.

Roxy Ann Peak

A road restricted to pedestrians and bicycles climbs to the 3,571-foot summit of Roxy Ann Peak on Medford's eastern edge. But the smooth surface and gentle grade of a road won't prepare you for the rock and roll of a trail. To build trail legs, head to a three-mile loop trail that offers a winding, sometimes muddy, 900-foot ascent over 1.5 miles. The lugged soles of hiking boots minimize slippage, while maneuvering on rocky terraces improves balance and strengthens feet and ankles. Winds, climate and plant life change as you circle the peak and rediscover our valley, squeezed between the Siskiyous and Cascades. Mount McLoughlin presides to the east, Wagner Butte to the west, the Table Rocks to the north and the broad back of Grizzly Peak to the south.

Grizzly Peak

Few peak hikes deliver as much grandeur for as little grunt as the five-mile round-trip hike up Grizzly Peak's north side. A couple of steep pitches on the lower part of the trail can be slick in wet weather. Well graded switchbacks pass from deep forests to wildflower-strewn meadows and rocky outcrops. The long views aren't from the 5,940-foot summit, a nondescript knob ignored by most hikers. The trail crests 700 feet above the parking lot, then descends via loop trail to southern exposures. Ashland lies at your feet and Mount Shasta floats in the distance. Between the near and the far is the curling crest of the Siskiyous.

White Rabbit Trail

Steep trails start from the top of some of Ashland's steepest streets. You can ramp up your hiking routine on the first two miles of the White Rabbit Trail at the top of Park Street. The trail rises 800 feet to a rock-strewn ridge (3,300 feet). For variety, try short detours on Looking Glass and Cheshire Cat. Add another 500 feet of climb by walking up Park Street from Siskiyou Boulevard.

Catwalk Trail

A .5-mile hike on the Toothpick Trail off Ashland's Tolman Creek Road leads to the turn-off for the 1.5-mile Catwalk Trail, which gains 1,000 feet on steep switchbacks before meeting Ashland Loop Road near Coggins Saddle (4,380 feet). A couple of views offer excuses to stop, but the most efficient pace is one you can continue without fully stopping.

Ostrich Peak

You can count on tough ascents and challenging descents when you climb a trail that mountain bikers made by sailing downhill at high speeds. That’s the kind of action hikers face on the four-mile one-way hike to Ostrich Peak. The unmarked route combines rutted trail and dirt road for a 2,200-foot rise that begins at Birdsong Lane (2,440 feet) and continues onto private land. Ostrich Peak (4,650 feet) is a local name, so don’t expect to see the name on a map. Your route twists around the mountain for unusual views of the city, Wagner Butte and Grizzly Peak crowned by Mount McLoughlin and the Crater Rim.

Wagner Butte

If you try the 10-mile round trip hike to 7,140-foot Wagner Butte before mid June, snow is likely beyond 6,600-foot Wagner Glade Gap, a point where the trail ends a sharp ascent and begins a gentler two-mile traverse across the mountain’s west face for an overall vertical gain of 2,200 feet. While you are enjoying 360-degree views, look for Mount Eddy. It’s on the leading edge of the Siskiyou Mountains just west of Mount Shasta and Black Butte.

Mount Eddy

The last 1.4 miles of the trail to Mount Eddy climbs 1,000 feet up tight zigzags on the exposed south face of the 9,025-foot peak. The trail surface is more secure than what you can expect on the 1,300-foot scramble up the last 1.2 miles of the Mount McLoughlin Trail. Snow often lingers near the highest tarns until mid July. The long drive to this trailhead pays off with a 2,600-foot elevation gain over 4.5 miles and a taste of high altitude and all-day exertion along a path strewn with rare plants, deep cirques and wind-ravaged pines.

Not only does one trail prepare you for the next, but the harder the going gets, the more likely your body will produce pain-killing endorphins. These feel-good brain chemicals may well account for a hiker’s uncanny ability to forget the strain and recall only the glory.

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