I promise to post photos soon. Just haven’t downloaded them yet. But I figured I’d throw down a little info about an interesting jaunt out in the Wichita Mountains near Lawton.
First off, this has been a long time coming. But me and my hiking buddy, Johnny Hunter, have been battling assorted illnesses that kept us from getting out there. We’re both still a little marginal, and his sister, Ouida (a frequent companion on these trips) was battling through a bad tooth. But we’d had enough. It was time to go out.
First off, the Wichitas are pretty special. We don’t have much in the way of mountains in Oklahoma, but these qualify. They’re rugged and filled with routes to their summits that range from easy hikes to severely advanced technical climbs.
What’s better is that they’re smack in the middle of a wildlife refuge. There are places where the public can’t go, but plenty of room for hikers, climbers and campers. On any given outing, you can see all matter of game fowl plus buffalo, longhorns, elk and other species. They’re all wild (something to remember before venturing too close).
We drove to Elk Mountain — essentially a plateau massif that dominates the center of the refuge — and started out on the trail to Charon’s Garden. If you stick to the trails, you’ll be rewarded with easy hiking and plenty of opportunities for photos and wildlife spotting. You can camp here with a permit.
If you circle Elk Mountain and head back east, you head to a boulder field in a ravine between Elk Mountain and a nearby ridge to the south. There’s a lot of fun to be had there, but that’s for another day. We intended to go deeper into Charon’s Garden and climb to the top of a peak called Crab Eyes.
Crab Eyes is a minor peak distinguished by two precariously perched boulders sitting atop its relatively small summit. They look a lot like the eyes of a fiddler crab you’d see scurrying along the beach and can be distinguished from a couple miles away.
Our plan was to go to the top of this peak via the non-technical north ridge route. After hiking up to the peak, you traverse its east face, then follow that to a 100-foot rock wall that serves as the base for the boulders that are the “eyes” of Crab Eyes.
I should mention that from here, you can reach the top via an extremely challenging technical climbing route on the west face. I could be wrong, but the slabby, overhanged east face looks unclimbable. In any case, all of that is way beyond any capability I have. We decided to get to the top by scrambling up the north ridge.
This is considered a non-technical route. Non-technical routes range from Class 1 (easy trail hike); Class 2 (steep, difficult hiking); Class 3 (climbing, having to use hands and feet to ascend and descend); and Class 4 (harder climbing; use of ropes should be considered). Class 5 is technical climbing, where use of ropes and climbing equipment are required.
The crux of this climb includes wedging yourself between two granite slabs, reaching for handholds and footholds inside and shimmying your way up for about 10 feet. From here, you keep going by balancing on a 2-foot-wide exposed slab (a 50-foot drop to your left) or crabwalk between two large rock slabs to the right. The first one has more exposure. Either way, be careful. The winds at the top can be pretty strong, and falling from either side could be injurious or deadly. I consider this portion of the route Class 3. Once below the eyes, you continue scrambling up another slab until you get to the eyes themselves.
The eyes are perched on a really small base. How they stay up there and balanced, I don’t know. It was worth seeing. Don’t climb them.
From there, we headed back down the north ridge and went west into Styx Canyon. This is all off-trail and is pretty rough going with route-finding, boulder hopping and bush-whacking all the way till you eventually hit Prospector Trail. Finding a high overlook helps with route-finding. It’s really easy to go along and suddenly cliff out. If you do, retreat back and try to find another way. No sense trying to descend something blind. Either way, you’ll likely run into some places where a few Class 3 moves are needed to continue down.
Along the way, we saw wild bison, quail and some incredible rock formations. Trees were in various states of autumn color. So the green, red, yellow and brown mixes, contrasted with a clear, blue sky and a granite backdrop, were amazing. We finished off the day with a Meers burger, definitely a choice way to cap it off.
I will post photos here soon. I highly recommend this trek.
Comment here or e-mail me if you have more info, tips or anything else to contribute to the discussion. E-mail is email@example.com.
Until then, get out there.