The Narrows is a beautiful canyon in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma. Although not a mountain, The Narrows canyon hosts some of the best granite face and crack climbing in the midwest. This area should be on everyone's Wichita Mountains climbing list. The approaches are relatively short and the views are spectacular. There are over 100 routes from 5.4 to 5.12c. Most of the routes are traditional climbs; however, there are many quality sport routes. Here is a quote from Chuck Lohn's guidebook: "If you had only one day to climb in Oklahoma, then The Narrows is where you would want to go." He's right, and The Narrows is by far the favorite climbing area of most locals. Don't miss this one!
Climbing AreasZoo Wall Right: Nine traditional climbs from 5.5 to 5.12. There are a couple of moderate routes which are great for beginning leaders.
Zoo Wall Middle: 15 tradtional and sport climbs from 5.6 to 5.11c. The most popular routes on this wall are The Dihedral (5.6) and Crazy Alice (5.8). Crazy Alice is probably the best 5.8 in the midwest and is a fantastic sustained crack route.
Zoo Wall Left: 8 traditional routes from 5.5 to 5.9 with three 5.8s. The 5.8s are rather sporty and not for the beginning 5.8 leader.
Sunshine Wall: 4 routes with two 5.8s and two 5.10s. The 5.10s have a couple of bolts and the 5.8s are trad.
Lichen Wall: 22 traditional and sport routes from 5.6 to 5.12c. It gets it's name from the lichen covered granite. Lichen wall towers 250 feet over the creek bed. One route is a four-pitch 5.12x.
Leaning Tower:17 traditional and sport routes from 5.4 to 5.11. Classics include Aerosmith (5.7) and Leaning Tower Direct (5.9).
Aerial Anticipation Wall: 4 routes with one 5.6 and the rest 5.10 and harder.
Rumpus and Window Rock Wall:7 routes from 5.8 to 5.11.
There are several other areas in The Narrows including Panther Canyon walls, Wizard Wall, and Meat Slab.
The Oklahoma Climbing Guide by Chuck Lohn
Southern Exposure by Duane Raleigh and Bill Thomas
The personal experience of Alan and Jackie Ellis
Getting ThereThe Narrows is located in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge approximately 25 miles northwest of Lawton, Oklahoma and 70 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. From Oklahoma City: Drive 70 miles southwest on I-44 (toll road). Exit 45 at Medicine Park. From Dallas: I-35 North to Gainesville, Texas. Go west on highway 82 to Wichita Falls, Texas. Go north on I-44 to exit 45. From exit 45, turn west on highway 49. Drive west on highway 49 for 6.7 miles, through the little town of Medicine Park, until reaching the entrance to the refuge. From the entrance, drive west 7.5 miles to a "T" intersection just past the visitor center. At the "T", turn right (north). The road will start north, then shortly return to the west. Continue past Doris campground until reaching a sign for Boulder Picnic area. Turn left at the sign and go south for about two miles until reaching Boulder Picnic area. If you reach the end of the road a little ways further, you've gone too far.
From the picnic area, hike past the rock cabin southeast on a well-used trail. A hundred yard or so past the cabin, the trail climbs a rocky hill. Turn right at the top of the hill and head southwest. The trail will circle around toward the creek and enter the woods. After a hundred yards or so, the trail will leave the woods and cross the creek. After the crossing, climb a slight grade to the top of the ridge where you will be able to see Wizard Wall on the left and great views down the canyon. The trail drops down the right side and crosses the creek again. Follow a sandy trail for about 100 yards. Look for Zoo Wall high and to the right. Don't go too far, and cross the creek again shortly after Zoo Wall. Follow the switchbacks up to Zoo Wall. Sunshine Wall is a little ways further on the left, and Lichen and Leaning Tower walls are a little ways further down the creek on the right.
Here is an online map of the refuge with The Narrows as number 4 near the bottom of the map.
Red TapeThe Narrows is located in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, governed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). No permits or fees are required to climb. Sport rappelling is not allowed. Boulder picnic area is by permit and reservation only. No swimming in the creeks or ponds. The Narrows is a day-use only area. Do not block the gate into Boulder picnic area with your vehicle.
The maximum speed limit on the main refuge road (highway 49) is 45 mph and the speed limit on the Boulder picnic area road is 25 mph. The rangers are notorious for giving tickets. Alcoholic beverages are not allowed anywhere in the refuge. There is a huge sign at the refuge entrance in case you forget.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Route 1, Box 448, Indiahoma, OK 73552 (580) 429-3222.
When To ClimbSpring and fall are the best times. Summer is very hot, humid, and windy. Summer is also the best time for ticks and chiggers. However, if you must go in summer, Zoo Wall is in the shade after 2:00 PM or so. Winter in Oklahoma can be cold and nasty, but can also have some very mild days with temps in the 50s and 60s. In winter, check the weather conditions before visiting, because it can be 60 and sunny one day, then 20 and snowing the next. Check here for current weather conditions.
Weekends can be busy in the Narrows. Zoo Wall is undoubtable the most popular area. Weekdays are the best time to climb. It is rare to see another party on a weekday and you will probably have the whole area to yourself.
Camping and LodgingWithin the refuge, Doris campground has 90 sites including 20 electrical RV sites and 70 primitive tent sites. All sites are first-come/first-served. $10.00/night with electric and $6.00/night non electric tent site. It is approximately 8 miles west of the Refuge entrance on the main road (highway 49). It has bathrooms, showers, drinking water, and a telephone. There is a campground host at the entrance. If arriving after hours (10:00 pm), do not occupy a site without prior registration.
Backcountry camping within the refuge is available in a specific area of the Charon Garden Wilderness area by permit only. Unfortunately, the camping zone is not near The Narrows. However, it is a beautiful area, and if you desire to backcountry camp it is worth it for the scenery and the solitude. You can reserve a backcountry camping permit up to three months in advance by calling (580) 429-3222. Here is the backcountry camping information brochure as provided by the Wildlife Refuge. No camping or bivouacs are allowed in The Narrows.
Outside the refuge, Lawtonka Campground is a commercial campground offering tent sites, full hook-ups, bathrooms, and showers, and groceries approximately 2 miles north of Medicine Park on highway 58.
Lodging: The best place to stay if you are not camping is the Starburst Inn Bed and Breakfast located at the entrance to the refuge. They feature western style accommodations and each room has two-person jacuzzi tubs. Pegi and Clark Brown, innkeepers, have welcomed climbers for years. They are located at the refuge entrance on Haskell’s Way which is on the north (right) side of highway 49. Reservations (580) 529-3270.
Local EthicsIn addition to the USFWS, the Wichita Mountains Climbers Coalition (WMCC) is instrumental with the oversight of the climbing at the refuge. In February 1996, the WMCC was formed as a volunteer, climber-run organization, which represents the interests of rock climbers from the surrounding states. With the Access Fund, they have worked hard for many years to ensure climbing continues in the refuge. Without the WMCC, the USFWS may have easily closed climbing in the refuge ten years ago. In fact, the WMCC climbing management plan is a national role model for climbing management, and the Wichita Mountains are featured on the cover of the Access Fund’s Climbing Management Manual. Therefore, in the spirit of cooperation with the USFWS, the WMCC has ethics/rules which need to be respected in order to preserve climbing in this area.
1. Placement, removal, or replacement of fixed anchors, including bolts, pitons, rivets, coldshuts, and chains, is prohibited without prior approval of Refuge Management through the Advisory Bolting Committee (ABC) of the Wichita Mountains Climbers Coalition. Any climber desiring to add, remove, or replace any fixed anchor must submit a "Fixed Anchor Application" for review by Refuge Management and the ABC. Applications are reviewed quarterly, and the reviews are based on aesthetic and natural resource criteria. Applications are available at Refuge Headquarters.
2. Commercial or instructional operators who charge for their services while on Refuge lands are required to obtain an annual Special Use Permit from the Refuge Manager. Fee required.
3. Minimize the use of chalk and clean chalked areas/routes. Brush off heavily chalked holds when possible.
4. Treat the rock gently. Do not chip, chisel, glue, or otherwise deface our rock resources. Leave the rock and surrounding area in its natural condition.
5. Climb and travel in small numbers. Disperse your activities.
6. Use natural colored nylon webbing if you must leave fixed slings
7. This area is a wildlife refuge populated by elk, bison, longhorn cattle, deer, and other animals. Do not disturb the wildlife.
8. Leave No Trace!
Maps and GuidebooksThe guidebook, “Oklahoma Select" by Tony Mayse is a must to fully enjoy the Narrows and the other climbing areas of the Wichitas. It is available at the visitor center gift shop or it is available mail order from the gift shop. Call the gift shop manager, Fred Crosson, at (580) 429-3187, or email [email protected] Its also available at the Backwoods gear shop in Oklahoma City and Norman. Finally, you can also get the book from www.sharpendbooks.com. Unfortunately, it is not available at amazon.com. Its available at Chesslerbooks.com but Chessler takes forever to ship so it is recommended to get the book at the visitor center, a local gear store, or from Sharpend.
The guidebook, The Oklahoma Climber’s Guide by Chuck Lohn is an older guidebook which is currently out of print. Another very old guidebook is Southern Exposure by Duane Raleigh and Bill Thomas. This is a very rare guidebook and if you find one, hang on to it forever. Finally, the book, Climbers Guide To The Midwest's Metamorphic Forms by Marcus Floyd is also available. The information is not that good and the book is poorly organized, but it has a great map of the climbing area.
A map of the refuge is available at the visitors center and refuge headquarters. For free information and a map, call the refuge headquarters at (580) 429-3222.
The USGS quadrangle for The Narrows is Quanah Mountain and the quad for the rest of the refuge is Odetta.
Online map of general area.
Other InformationThe Wichita Mountains Climbers Coalition has a message board to get any good beta on the area or routes.
Lawton, Oklahoma is 25 miles southeast and has everything you need including hotels, restaurants, Wal-Mart, etc. Closer in, Medicine Park borders the refuge on the east side and has a small grocery/convenience store. Most get supplies/food at the Loves truck stop at exit 45. There is also a Burger King and Sidewinders bar (strip joint) at exit 45.
The refuge has a very nice visitor center about 7 miles west of the refuge entrance on the main road. It is open from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm except Tuesdays and holidays and has a museum, information, rest rooms, and a gift shop. Admission is free and the gift shops sells guidebooks, maps, and souvenirs.
Ft. Sill Army Base borders the south side of the refuge and there is a manned gate to the base a half mile west of exit 45. If you hear thunder on a clear day, it is not a freak of nature, but the Army firing cannon at the Ft. Sill artillery range.
- Oklahoma Select Guidebook
Outstanding guidebook of Oklahoma rock climbing areas by Tony Mayse. This is the only guide book for Oklahoma rock climbing that is in print. The guidebook is available at the Wildlife Refuge gift shop, Backwoods gear store in OKC and Norman, or on the link.