A long time ago, I planned to add some photos to this trip report. Instead of doing that on a blog post that’s nine months old, I figured I’d update/repost this and, finally, include photos of the route to the top of Crab Eyes, a small peak in the Wichita Mountains near Lawton.
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 Crab Eyes.
Crab Eyes is a minor peak distinguished by two precariously perched boulders sitting atop its relatively small, airy 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 though I’ve been told otherwise. 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, though risk exists with both methods. (For example, a fall off the slab to the left would likely be deadly; a fall in the crack between the two slabs on the right could be very injurious or worse.)
I consider this portion of the route Class 3, though I saw another report on summitpost.org where a climber had it rated Class 3 to 4. 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. This eliminates the possibility of a “true summit” climb, but there’s no telling what might happen if someone tried to scramble to the top of them. At worst, it could create a deadly rockfall and permanently damage the formation. There’s not a lot of room for people by the eyes. I’d say three at the most, and that’s crowded.
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 scrambling moves and odd-angle crack climbing are needed to continue down.
Along the way, we saw wild bison, quail and some incredible rock formations. The area has a solid mix of evergreen cedars and blackjack oak. During the fall, the contrast of changing broadleaf oranges and yellows mix beautifully with the green cedars and the pinks and beiges or the surrounding rock. During the spring, the Wichitas light up with green flowering plants and bright blooms. At the end of the day, drive to Meers and stop in for a Meers Burger. A great way to end what should be a pretty incredible day.
Probably one of the best things about Crab Eyes is it gives hikers and climbers an opportunity to ascend this unusual formation and test technical and non-technical climbing skills. I highly recommend it.