So in the previous installment, I wrote about the Elk Mountain Trail hike from the Sunset Trailhead. An enjoyable, easy-going hike that’s just wild enough to be interesting.
From that same trailhead, entirely different adventures await. So on Day 2 of this little camping trip, the group I was with – a college group from my church, plus a few sponsors – decided to take a stab at the boulder field through-hike.
This requires a little strategy. We were camping at the Doris Campground, further east in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. We’d need to drive to get to Sunset, but would also have to park another vehicle at the trail’s end on the east end. This allowed us to hike through instead of having to do a circuit or simply go back the way we came. It was a good thing, because this is a more taxing trip than the previous day’s march up Elk Mountain.
At the trailhead, you turn right and head south below Elk Mountain’s west face. For awhile, the trail is easy hiking and simple to follow. There is a brief fork in the trail: If you go right and cross a creek, it will take you to Crab Eyes and toward Styx Canyon, Sunset Peak and Mount Mitchell. By going left, you’ll eventually start heading southeast into the boulder field.
The trail rises gently for awhile across easy terrain. To your left are the worn ramparts of Elk Mountain’s south face, prime rock climbing territory. To the right are some lesser ridges: sharply rising fins of stone that are, in their own right, fun scrambles that offer some pretty good views of the boulder field. As the trail continues, the gap between Elk Mountain and its neighboring ridges shrinks. The uphill climbing ends as you come face to face with your first real obstacle – the descent into the boulder field.
At this point, the hike turns into something more than just your average walk. Descending into the boulder field takes some boulder hopping and minor scrambling moves, making the route well past Class 1 (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being technical rock climbing). I’d rate is Class 2+ at this point. You’re not bouldering yet, but there are plenty of places where you’ll need to use your hands to either brace yourself or actually climb up, over or around large rocks.
Complicating matters was the weather. It rained the previous night, and didn’t quit all day. So many of the rocks were slick with moisture. Special care was needed to negotiate this section of the trip. A twisted ankle this deep into the canyon would not have been a good scene.
Once the initial descent ends, the route becomes easier. It’s somewhat steep and still rocky, but the obstacles of boulders have largely disappeared. At the floor of the canyon, the mess of massive slabs of rock, toppled from high above eons ago, create a series of chambers and shelters. Some of these “rock rooms” have some fun climbing available. Pick a shaft created by two huge boulders resting against each other and shimmy your way up to see what new, hidden rock chambers exist above. I’ve been down here before, and it is pretty fun to explore this part of the boulder field. But like anything else here, you need to be careful. Chances are, if you climb around these boulders you’re doing it in a free-climb environment, so make sure you don’t ascend into something where you can’t get back down. Just know your limits.
There’s still plenty of scenery here, even with the high walls of Elk Mountain and its neighbors rising to either side. First and foremost – the Apple and the Pear, two house-sized boulders that have an uncanny resemblance to the fruit they’re named after.
A little more scrambling and difficult hiking remained before the countryside opened up and more routine hiking resumed. After a wet winter and several days of steady rain, a babbling brook appears where in summer and fall, just a few stagnant pools usually exist. This stream would play a part in future sights that revealed themselves later on.
With the terrain opening up, lush meadows appeared, guarded, of course, by the steep granite walls of surrounding peaks and ridges. At this point, the hike was about two-thirds over, but more surprises awaited.
The trail ascends again into narrowing terrain which gets a bit rocky. It’s nothing like the actual boulder field, but the landscape and the weather make for a few tricky spots.
The route eventually runs down the middle of a small ravine, in the heart of which lies a small pool fed by the rain-swelled stream I mentioned earlier. On its east end, the granite-lined pool drops off, revealing a small waterfall. But at this point, the rock is worn smooth and steady rains made it quite slick. We chose to descend to the right of the waterfall. Despite my best efforts, I did slip once or twice, dunking both my feet into the water. Other than that, no problems.
A little more hiking led us to one of the more scenic detours of the trip. As we headed east, a spur trail jogged north over a small hill, then into yet another small, watery ravine. A little hiking and a small bit of scrambling led our group to another waterfall, but this one was significantly taller than the previous one we’d seen. About 40 feet high, this is a seasonal waterfall that only shows up during the spring, and only if there’s significant rain to feed it. We were fortunate to see it, one of the rare treats that the mostly arid Wichita Mountains offer the luckier hikers.
After that side trip, we continued on. Climbing up the last stretch, we reached Treasure Lake. We were able to get good views of the lake on a few higher rock outcrops overlooking the lake. Looking back west over the water, low-hanging clouds obscured the mountaintops and gave one of the most spectacular views of the day.
This was pretty much the end of the road on this hike, which goes somewhere just over three miles. I think most people can handle the hike, though it is more taxing than some of the other popular routes in the refuge. Special care needs to be taken when going into the boulder field, and when hiking with groups you’ll need to estimate the amount of time needed to complete it based on the physical capabilities of all your hikers, not just the strongest. A fit, avid hiker could do this in less than three hours. But others will take longer. If you’re doing this hike in summer, be sure to bring plenty of water and some snacks to munch on along the way.
The reward, however, is some pretty amazing scenery, challenging terrain and the quiet of wilderness – that is, the absence of man-made noises.
The boulder field hike illustrates what I love about the Wichitas. If you want an easy stroll with scenery, there are plenty of trails for that. If you want some of the gnarliest rock climbing this side of Yosemite, you can have that, too. And just about everything in between. The boulder field hike exists in that wonderful place somewhere between those extremes.
Saw this link about Team Jordan’s Everest climb: http://www.jordanromero.com/weblog/
Looks like Jordan Romero — the 13-year-old California kid vying to become the youngest person to ever climb Mount Everest — and his team used a hike to Intermediate Base Camp to acclimatize and are now back down. IBC is about 18,700 feet.
He’s been much higher than this before, with summits of Denali and Aconcagua (the latter is more than 22,000 feet). So that means the thin air so far isn’t anything he hasn’t seen before. That will change once he ascends past Camp 1.
His latest post reports that he and his team are doing well. It also looks like he’s taking an active role in evaluating the team’s health, which I think is pretty cool. I have my reservations about this adventure, but the fact that he’s not just being pulled along and is participating in the important little details of the climb is interesting and, I think, beneficial. Here’s hoping that the team continues to be healthy and safe. More posts as they warrant.
Elk Mountain hike, Sunset Trailhead
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a family-friendly outdoor adventure in the Wichita Mountains: hiking Elk Mountain.
Lacking in that post were a few details and photos of what you can expect if you go there. So over the weekend, on a damp camping trip to the Wichitas, I decided to revisit this place and get a few more details for people who are interested in checking this place out.
First, a few facts about the trip. After two straight weeks of warm, windy and sunny days, Oklahoma got three straight days of cool temps, overcast skies and ever-present rain. So the photos will reflect that.
Second, a few facts about Elk Mountain. As you drive through the Wichitas, Elk Mountain is the first major landmark you see that marks the beginning of the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area. It’s a broad, rocky plateau that has its mix of everything: Easy hiking, fun boulder-hopping and, for the more adventurous and skilled, technical rock climbing. For rock climbers, reaching Elk Mountain’s summit isn’t the goal. Instead, they prefer to scale its many vertical rock faces.
For those looking for views, wildlife and a summit view without having to dangle from threadbare handholds, the hike from the Sunset Trailhead is the way to go.
Fortunately, the rain held out much of Friday evening during the hike. The trailhead starts at Elk’s northwest side, then works its way east, then south to the top.
After crossing a small metal bridge, you’ll hike up to a small dam and a stone staircase leading into the middle portions of the route. The trail can be a bit rocky in places, but for the most part it’s pretty easy hiking (Class 1 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being technical rock climbing with ropes) and a steady, manageable incline. The trail itself is well-maintained. Some people use the route for trail running.
I’ll confess to having never been to the Wichitas in the spring. Every other season, sure. But not spring. I’ve been missing out.
The range is always colorful, but most of the greens are reserved for the cedars or the faint hues of dried-out grasses and thirsty pin oaks.
Not so in the spring. During this season, the trees and grasses are lush with different shades of green. Soon, flowers will begin blooming all over the range. This was just beginning last weekend. Given the gray skies and moist air, I could almost picture the Wichitas being somewhere in Ireland or Scotland rather than southwest Oklahoma.
Closer to the top, the landscape opens up as the trees and brush give way to grasses, rocks and open sky. After ascending to within the final hundred feet to the top, the trail turns south and ends on the mountain’s flat summit.
With less vegetation around, hawks riding the currents came into view, hovering over open ground looking for their next meal. Ah, the circle of life in action.
The reward here is an excellent view of Mount Lincoln to the south and the boulder field directly below. All around you, boulders litter Elk Mountain’s flat top. Many of these are huge, bigger than houses. This view gives hikers a glance into Charon’s Garden’s wild heart.
It was pretty windy on top. So after a few minutes of snapping pictures and enjoying the views, it was time to head down. It was here that a minor problem developed. There’s a lot of little side trails and game trails that lead to nowhere, and for those not familiar with the route, it can be a bit confusing finding your way back down. Hint: If all else fails, point yourself opposite of Mount Lincoln (north) and go that way until you pick up the trail. Don’t ask me how I came to that piece of sage advice.
This is about a two-mile round-trip hike. Most people, even those not in top physical condition, can handle the trail, though the rockier parts might be ankle-busters to the unwary.
Those planning more aggressive forays into the Wichitas should consider using this as a warm-up hike. And for others looking for some great natural scenery in a thoroughly accessible way, the Elk Mountain Trail from Sunset is a great choice.
The next installment will detail a different, much more rigorous route to the south: The boulder field through-hike.
Within the last few days, Jordan Romero, the 13-year-old Californian bidding to become the youngest person to successfully summit Mount Everest, arrived at the peak’s north side base camp. Team Jordan — which includes his parents and a few other team members — is now at intermediate base camp, which sits about 18,700 feet.
It’s all hiking so far, but the climb will start soon.
So far, the team is reporting all is well. You can follow Jordan on Twitter at TeamJordanR, http://twitter.com/TeamJordanR
He’s also got a Facebook site, Team Jordan on Everest.
Here’s hoping for the best, especially safety, as the team tries to tackle Big E.
As part of National Parks Week (which is this week), there are some opportunities for the younger set. Here’s some information about National Junior Ranger Day from the Chickasaw National Recreation Area:
Saturday has been designated National Junior Ranger Day in conjunction with National Park Week (April 17-24), an annual presidentially proclaimed week for celebration and recognition of the country’s nearly 400 national park areas. The Junior Ranger program engages young people in age appropriate activities that allow them to discover the significance of a specific site and introduce them to the national park system and to the mission of the National Park Service.
Park rangers at Chickasaw National Recreation Area will host a series of children’s activities in the Junior Ranger Station, located at the entrance to the Cold Springs Campground from 10 a.m. until noon. No reservations are required. A parent or guardian is asked to attend with each participating junior ranger. Each child receives a Junior Ranger badge, patch, and a certificate at the end of the program when they are sworn in as Junior Rangers.
If you have questions about Junior Ranger Day at Chickasaw National Recreation Area, please call the Travertine Nature Center at (580) 622-7234.
Similar activities are planned at the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site near Cheyenne. For more information about activities there, call (580) 497-2742.
If you want to know more about Oklahoma sites in the National Parks System, go here: http://www.nps.gov/state/OK/index.htm
Just letting you all know that I’ll be out of pocket for a few days, doing some camping, hiking and possibly a little climbing down at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Hopefully the weather will hold out and I’ll get some good pics and info for a trip report or two.
In the meantime, send me a message here or e-mail me about what your outdoor adventure plans are. Going somewhere of Memorial Day weekend? Or over the summer? Are you climbing in the Rockies? Diving in the Caribbean? Backpacking in the Ouachitas? Let me know what you’re up to, or if you’ve done something pretty cool and would like the share, shoot me some information and photos. I’d love to hear what everyone is doing in the great outdoors.
Until then, I’ll see you all in a few days, or maybe I’ll see you in the Wichitas!
The National Park Service, in honor of National Parks Week, is offering a fee-free week at all national parks next week. A small bit from the NPS Web site:
The fee-free week, including the weekends before and after, was announced by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar who said last month, “We are rolling out the red carpet and inviting everyone to visit a national park and help celebrate National Park Week. Parks are fun and affordable destinations and great places to engage in healthy, outdoor activities, whether for a few hours or a few days.”
If you have some time, next week would be a great time to go out to one of our national parks and enjoy the outdoors without having to fork over park fees. National Parks Week goes from April 17-25.
In Oklahoma, that means two places are part of the deal: the Chickasaw National Recreation Area near Sulphur and the Washita Battlefield National Historical Site near Cheyenne. There’s no fee to enter CNRA, so you’re good there. Fees are being waived at Washita next week, and there’s even a discount at the site’s book store. So go check those out if you’re not already going somewhere else.
For more, go to these sites:
Update: Jordan Romero within sight of Everest; plus, reader responses to boy’s attempt to be youngest to ever summit Big E
Got some more news on Jordan Romero, the 13-year-old California kid who is attempting to become the youngest person to ever reach the summit of Mount Everest.
It looks like he is now in Tibet and is within sight of the mountain. Here’s a link with more: http://outside-blog.away.com/blog/2010/04/youngest-on-everest-within-sight.html
Here’s another story, and video, courtesy of BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8615400.stm
And finally, some reader responses.
Just to recap: Romero is aiming to become the youngest person to climb Mount Everest as well as the youngest to climb the “Seven Summit,” that is, the highest peaks on each of the world’s tallest mountains.
As originally profiled in Outside magazine, Romero has a climbing resume that is worlds above most. He was a grade-schooler when he bagged Kilimanjaro, and has since tackled bigger, tougher mountains like Aconcagua, Denali and Elbrus. His parents are climbing with him on an unguided climb up Everest’s north face with limited Sherpa supports.
His climbing resume suggests that he’s as ready as many who try the world’s tallest mountain, but his age concerns many.
And here are a couple reader responses:
This is reckless and irresponsible. The wishes of a child in this matter are irrelevant. The fatality rate I found for an Everest climb is 9.3%. More recent information put it at 4.4% for 2004. That is a higher fatality rate than if he served a year in combat in Iraq. What parent in their right mind would allow a child to attempt such a feat? As a parent of four, I strongly support a very broad view of parent’s rights; however when a parent allows or encourages such a dangerous activity the authorities should step in to protect a minor from irresponsible parents. When adults want to frivolously risk their lives that is one thing, but to allow or encourage a child to take such risk is criminal.
And for what, fifteen minutes of fame for being the youngest. I hope and pray that someone will have the sense to halt this foolishness. If not, I hope and pray he survives. Perhaps an 11 year old will try to break his record and then perhaps a 9 year old. Doesn’t anyone remember Jessica Dubroff’s attempt to set the record for the youngest person to fly across the country in 1996. She unfortunately died in the attempt. Can anyone say it was worth it?
I have done some very dangerous things in my life, the vast majority in service to my country. Life is full of risk, but to needlessly but a child in harms way is despicable. Would you let take a flight if you had a one percent chance of a fatal crash? Would you let your children?
According to media reports the current record was set in 2001 by a 16-year-old Nepalese boy who lost five fingers to frostbite during his climb.
Instead of just writing about it, I filed a complaint with the Child Protective Service in California.
Pretty strong stuff. Another from Nic:
That’s $*&#!n crazy. People die on Everest every season, including experienced climbers. Taking a child there should be illegal, and this kid should be put in foster care. Honestly, a 13 year old is ready to deal with stepping past the numerous corpses that litter the summit routes?
Good question. There’s a lot of facets when it comes to facing death.
I’ll be following his ascent periodically here to see how this goes and post updates here. In the mean time, I wish him and his team the best of luck and hope they come home safely.
I realize a lot of people are getting their information and updates through social networks. Want to know when the latest posts are made? What the next or latest adventure is? Or maybe some discussion on all things outdoors? If you’re in Twitter, look me up at RMhigh7088. I’ll be sure to post any updates from the blog or any other cool outdoors news I find on Twitter.
Saw this story on CNN.com about a young snowboarder named Wesley Muresan. Here’s a link:
Amazing. A lot of times, we underestimate what kids can do. Admittedly, 3 is really young! But I guess seeing is believing.
Here’s a video. From what I can see, this kid is really good!