The Fourmile Lake Cabin pokes out of a hefty snowpack at the high-mountain lake east of Medford. The cabin contains a wood stove and firewood, thanks to the Rogue Snowmobilers club.

Fire by the lake

This was a different side of Mount McLoughlin.{br class="hardreturn" /}
Inside the Fourmile Lake Cabin, my cross-country skiing partner Niel Barrett was tending the wood stove, stoking a reluctant fire. While he worked, I fought off the chill outside, stomping in the snow while being warmed by the sight of the frozen-over lake and, more dramatically, McLoughlin, the 9,495-foot peak that straddles the Southern Oregon Cascades.{br class="hardreturn" /}
It was cool but bluebird sunny, so McLoughlin's upper reaches spired majestically above the lake and forest, its broad shoulders spread from its pointy summit like the wings of a manta ray. It was easy to understand why early Klamath Indians called it M'laiksini Yama, or mountain with steep sides.{br class="hardreturn" /}
McLoughlin hadn't been visible as Niel led the way up the Fourmile Road from the sno-park pullout off Highway 140 between Lake of the Woods and Fish Lake. From the parking area we clawed our way up the sno-park's frozen ice wall to begin our ski.{br class="hardreturn" /}
Almost immediately, we found and followed tracks set by another skier. Because our skis had been waxed during a Klamath Basin Ski Club meeting just two days earlier, we smoothly kicked and glided as the steady but gradual uphill route went past turnoffs for the Billie Creek, Big Mac and Upper and Lower Canal trails. Unusually, too, the track hadn't been traveled by snowmobilers.{br class="hardreturn" /}
Along the way we met the skier who'd set the cross-country ski tracks, Janet Kirschner, who was returning from her solo outing. Janet, another member of the Klamath Basin Ski Club, was returning from a solo outing, admittedly uncomfortable skiing alone on a trail obviously traveled by coyotes. Tracks were plentiful, as were scat droppings and spots of yellow snow. We chatted for 15 or 20 minutes, then Niel and I continued north while Janet headed south back to the sno-park.{br class="hardreturn" /}
About 3-1/2 miles from the trailhead, where Janet had turned around, Niel led the way, creating fresh tracks. The route gently climbed for another mile-plus, then roller-coastered past a series of frozen-over lakes — Malice, Janice, Bernice, Clovis and Aphis — before the welcome descent to Fourmile. We mostly double-poled and glided to Fourmile's south shore, then followed the snow-covered road to the cabin.{br class="hardreturn" /}
As Niel had predicted, the six-plus mile ski-in had taken only slightly over two hours. We had maintained a steady but not thigh-burning pace. Along with visiting with Janet, we made brief stops for water breaks or to peel off clothing layers. Skiing to Fourmile Lake is a deceptive but gradual uphill, with an overall elevation gain of about 800 feet. We had started at noon because Niel, who has completed many ski tours to Fourmile, believes traveling in the afternoon generally assures better snow conditions.{br class="hardreturn" /}
The cabin, even with its steeply angled roof, was barely visible because of the accumulations of snow. Inside, we appreciated members of the Rogue Snowmobilers, the club that helps stock firewood for cabin users. When the firewood Neil and I had sliced eventually caught fire, heat from the woodstove quickly warmed our cozy enclosure. While he tended the blaze, I wandered outside, past the snow-locked boat docks, day-use and camping areas and, briefly, onto the frozen lake, which spreads more than a square mile.{br class="hardreturn" /}
Fourmile Lake is a reservoir created when the 25-foot tall Fourmile Lake Dam was constructed, impounding Fourmile Creek. According to "Oregon Geographic Names," "the lake got its name because it was assumed the lake was four miles long." Fourmile Lake is bordered by the Sky Lakes Wilderness and is in the Fremont-Winema National Forest. It's about 48 miles from Medford. Sitting at an elevation of 5,744-feet, the lake and its surroundings feature a mixed conifer forest of lodgepole pine, mountain hemlock, Douglas fir, white fir and Shasta red fir. It's little-visited in the winter, but popular with campers, fishermen, day users and others during the summer.{br class="hardreturn" /}
The lake is located east of McLoughlin, a steep-side lava cone on top of a composite volcano. The story of McLoughlin's name is more complicated. It's had several names — Mount Pit or Pitt, Snowy Butte, Big Butte and McLaughlin. During the 1830s, when one person proposed the Cascades be a Presidents Range, the name proposed for McLoughlin was John Quincy Adams. That didn't take. Instead, McLoughlin honors Dr. John McLoughlin, a Hudson's Bay partner/physician/businessman who headed a provisional government and has sometimes been called Oregon's first governor.{br class="hardreturn" /}
It was after 3 o'clock when, after the woodstove fire burned out, we exited the cabin for the ski out. After the steady uphill climb out of the lake basin, a brief pause to remove a layer of clothes and a longer halt to add more wax to our sticking skis — we mostly double-poled and kick-and-glided the final four-plus miles nonstop to the sno-park. The snow conditions were perfect — the tracks were firm enough to keep at a steady speed, but not too icy to be out of control. By 4:20 we were loading skis into Niel's Subaru.{br class="hardreturn" /}
"This was just like having our own private Nordic park," Niel gleefully exclaimed, repeating the mantra he had chanted earlier. "Just like heaven. Just like heaven."{br class="hardreturn" /}
Lee Juillerat has been writing about outdoor adventures in Southern Oregon and elsewhere for more than 30 years. He is also a regular contributor to the outdoor-travel website High On Adventure at www.highonadventure.com. He can be contacted at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.{br class="hardreturn" /}
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