For a long time I’ve been wanting to take Emma on a mountain climb. So this year I decided to stop thinking about it and just do it, and we invited my dad and Steph’s dad to go with us. I wanted something fairly difficult, with a good view, but not any severe exposure along the trail. Missouri has a near endless supply of scenic hiking, but the nature of the terrain means there aren’t a lot of isolated high points (it’s mostly ridges and deep valleys), plus dense tree cover limits the large views. So I thought the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma might be a good idea.
While I wouldn’t generally describe Oklahoma as a hikers paradise, there are some pretty neat areas worth checking out in the Sooner State. Back in college I did an internship in Oklahoma City so I spent most of my weekends exploring the remote corners of the state, finding a few pretty neat places in the process. One of my favorites is the Wichita Mountains, a small chain of granite peaks that stretch maybe 75 miles, roughly from Lawton to Altus in the far SW corner of the state. Though the tallest are only around 2,500′, their prominence over the surrounding plains yields some amazing views.
For Emma’s first “mountain climb” I selected Elk Mountain. There are several peaks in the Wichitas higher than this one, but this is one of the few with a trail leading to the summit – as such it’s said to be one of the most popular trails in the state, as well as attracting a lot of hikers from Dallas. We did an 8 mile route starting at Treasure Lake, crossing the Charons Garden boulder field and then taking the Elk Mountain trail to the summit. For the less adventurous it is possible to park at the start of the Elk Mountain trail and cut 6 miles off the trip but I wanted this to be an epic journey, something that would challenge us and see what Emma was capable of. When we first set out in the morning, it was dreary and misting, with most of the mountain shrouded in clouds.
The first part of the trail was very difficult to follow because of the number of informal side trails. At one point we ended up at this beautiful pool near a waterfall. If you look closely in this photo you can see the waterfall behind the leaves towards the left of the photo.
The waterfall was back in a narrow canyon and virtually impossible to reach without swimming or using ropes. Here is a view from a distance.
Much of the trail followed this stream, which eventually lead into a narrow canyon filled with house sized boulders.
Many of the boulders forms rooms underneath. Emma and I could have spent a full day just exploring all the rooms and passageways under the boulders. I think this was her favorite part of the trail.
Emma and I perched up on top of this rock and had a snack where the light was shining down through an opening above. What a cool spot for a break!
Up above the boulder field stands these two gigantic boulders, appropriately named “Apple” and “Pear”.
Once on the north side of the mountain, our destination came into view! It still seemed really far away even though we were getting pretty close at this point!
At last we reach the summit! I made Emma a sign to hold so that it would be official.
My favorite part of a mountain hike is enjoying lunch with a view from the top!
Some people had a camp setup on the side. The tent illustrates the size of some of these pieces of rock. I would have enjoyed exploring around the top of the mountain more but it was getting late so we had to start heading back down.
After enjoying the summit for awhile, we decided the head back down. Not surprisingly we were making much better time going down!
The stretch of trail through the boulder field was pretty difficult. There wasn’t a defined trail so it was mostly rock hopping and climbing over and around the large boulders. It was hard, and we got a few bumps and scrapes but Emma agreed afterwards that it was fun.
Emma liked finding interesting ways to cross the stream, eventually just walking through it. “Mommy wouldn’t let me do this!” she proudly proclaimed.
A few different types of cacti were pretty common along the trail, especially these prickly pear.
This small waterfall was really cool and it reminded me a lot of Coyote Gulch, where Ian and I backpacked in Utah. To get through this spot we had to climb over the waterfall and pass along the ledge on the right side of the photo.