My son, Curtis, and I had decided we wanted to take another trip to visit Charon’s Garden Wilderness in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK. We had visited and backpacked it in December 2004, and Curtis was very interested in tackling some more of the fascinating rock formations. On top of that, we wanted to invite some very dear friends to accompany us: Sheryl and Wylie (my two dearest friends in the whole world), and their three sons, Joel, Daniel and Cody.
Friday night sunset.
Since we’re all involved with the same Venture Crew (Crew 921 of Nicoma Park United Methodist Church), and since Fawn Creek Campground, which is for youth groups only, offered a much less expensive overnight stay than Doris Campground, we decided to make this a Venture Crew event. The only other crewmember who was able to attend was Bryan, a close friend of Curtis’.
We arrived Friday evening just at sunset and decided to drive to the top of Mount Scott to admire the pretty sky display. After that we headed to Fawn Creek, set up camp, and then waited until morning when we’d visit nearby Charon’s Garden.
A garden of rocks and flowers.
While Curtis’ goal was to scramble some of the rocks in Valley of the Boulders, I was more interested in visiting Crab Eyes to see if I might be able to ascend it (a technical climber I’m not!).
Picking a way through Valley of the Boulders.
Upon hiking into Charon’s Garden it was obvious why it’s called a garden (our last visit having been in the month of December): The wildflowers were putting on a cacophonous display of dazzle and color. Throw in the water-filled creeks from heavy spring rains, and the rock features scattered everywhere, and it was quite an amazing display. And everything looked so different than during our prior trip. Where before very few plants had any leaves to obstruct our vision, now everything was full of life and restricting our view on many of the trails. Regardless, we found the section of trail that leads to Valley of the Boulders on the western flank of Elk Mountain. We continued along, eventually reaching the top of the valley. From there we played on the rocks for a while, and the boys hiked to the bottom where a large boulder room is located.
After returning to the top, four of the boys (all of them Eagle Scouts) decided they wanted to scramble up the rocks to Apple and Pear, which have a rather commanding view of the surrounding area. Cody, the youngest, elected to stay with the adults. We agreed to meet the boys past Valley of the Boulders in a spot with which Curtis and I were familiar. They picked out a route and began their ascent, while the rest of us chose to hike around the trail, and then bushwhack to the top of the western side of Valley of the Boulders.
An Apple and Pear, and four Eagles.
Arriving up there, we were able to get the other group’s attention across the valley. They’d actually made pretty good time, and it appeared that Curtis was walking across the top of Window Rock (he’d later say it was an illusion, he was just past it on a rock hidden from view at our angle). On our side we admired some interesting pothole ecosystems created by the recent rains. They were interesting because the solid granite potholes would have been dry except for the rain. Yet, they contained both long, bright green grass and tadpoles!
We shot a few images of the boys across the way, then continued down to the agreed on meeting place. There, we had lunch and filtered some water. Then the clouds, which had been keeping things nice that morning, began clearing. The lack of a breeze, and the very high humidity, took its toll on Cody, who began feeling ill. Our four older boys, however, were interested in scrambling up to the top of Elk Mountain. So, we decided to take Cody back to the trailhead, while instructing the four older boys that, after their ascent, they were to take the Class 1 trail from Elk Mountain summit back down to the trailhead. We figured that should put us all back there no later than 4 p.m. or so.
The adults and Cody bushwhacked most of the return over a different ridgeline then before. We followed a very shady (but lacking in breeze) creek up a small valley. Then, spotting a saddle, we headed out across it to exit Charon’s Garden. We spotted a collared lizard, and saw some technical climbers ascending one of the nearby rock faces. We arrived back at the parking lot about 3:30 p.m.
Failed ascent. Imaged by Daniel.
It wasn’t until 4:20 p.m. that our four older boys returned. While they had successfully ascended most of Elk Mountain, very near the summit was a place where there was a 40-foot rock face and no way around it. The rock face was featureless, and Curtis said it was bolted and had a chain for use by technical climbers. Try as they might, they were unable to surmount this last bit before the summit, so they elected to descend a wash that appeared much easier than their ascent route. It was, but it gave them a much longer hike back to the trailhead than originally planned. Anyway, everyone was back safe, so we headed for Doris Campground, took showers (normally they charge $2 for that, but the nice fellow at the gate told us to go on in without paying). Then we went to Meers for a Seismic Meers Burger, followed by a farewell bid from the top of Mount Scott, and the return drive home.
All in all it was a very relaxing weekend, though I was unable to approach Crab Eyes after Cody fell ill. Oh well: There’s always next time!
The youth enjoy the coolness of Big Boulder Room.
The youth discuss a way to scramble to Apple and Pear.
This is the route they would take to Apple and Pear (which are off the image to the right).
Sheryl, Cody and Wylie hiking.
Valley of Boulders as seen from atop the canyon wall along the western flank.
The view the youth enjoyed from Apple and Pear. Imaged by Curtis.
A climber is spotted on one of the many technical routes.
We also saw a collared lizard (commonly known as a mountain boomer in Oklahoma).
What a great way to end the day: The famous Seismic Meers Burger!