Pear and Apple on the west side of Elk Mountain. Photo by cdoiron
Elk Mountain is another jewel in the chain of granite domes which make up the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma. For climbers, the object is not to get to the summit, but to climb it's wonderful granite slabs and cracks. There is, however, a class 1 trail to the summit via the Sunset picnic area on the north side of the mountain.
Elk Mountain hosts four climbing areas: Elk Slabs, The Treasure Cove, Pear and Apple, and Secret Agent Dome, all with over 55 routes from 5.5 to 5.11c. This is the first area in the Wichitas to be established for rock climbing with Elk Slabs being the first crag to be climbed. With longer and more difficult approaches, Elk Mountain doesn't get the crowds of Mt. Scott or the Narrows of the Wichitas. So if you want to get away from the crowds on a pretty weekend, check out Elk Mountain's slabs, faces, and cracks. You will not be disappointed.
Routes on Elk Slabs located on the south side of the mountain. Photo by Alan Ellis
Elk Slabs: The most popular area of Elk Mountain due to the moderate routes. A fantastic slab of granite that you can see from the parking lot. Thirteen routes from 5.5 to 5.10c. Great Expectations 5.5 and The Dihedral 5.6 are classics where beginning trad climbers go to do their first trad leads. A second pitch to these climbs ends in a traverse, then a 200' rappel. [img:16622:alignright:medium:Routes on Elk Slabs located on the south side of the mountain. Photo by Alan Ellis]
Treasure Cove: This canyon west of Elk Slabs has five walls with 34 total routes rated from 5.6 to 5.11b. Two of the walls, Pyromania and Moon Rock are near the entrance to the canyon. Snake Pit and Refuge Rocks walls are deeper in the canyon and have a hairy approach.
Pear and Apple: Named for two boulders easily seen about halfway up the mountain. Seven routes from 5.8 to 5.11.
Secret Agent Dome: A tough area to lead due to dangerous runouts. Four climbs, all 5.9 RX. A seldom used area.
Elk Mountain 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. Go 5.6 miles to a signed left turn for the refuge headquarters. Turn left and drive 4.7 miles to a right (north) turn which has a sign for Treasure Lake. Turn right and go 1/2 mile to a parking lot. From the parking lot you can see Elk Mountain and Elk Slabs to the north. If you want to climb to the summit via the class 1 trail on the north, go about one mile further past the refuge headquarters and turn left at the sign which indicates Sunset picnic area. The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot on the left across a metal foot bridge. Here is a general map of the refuge and a rough location of the climbing areas.
Elk Slabs: Hike to the north on a signed trail. Follow the creek NW for about 1/2 mile until reaching a waterfall. Cross the creek to the left just before the waterfall and scramble up a hill. Follow the trail (north), cross the creek to the right, and arrive at a house-size boulder on the right. Go right (east) from the boulder and follow the trail until reaching a cave-like formation under a large boulder. Crawl through cave exiting left and the trail will resume on the other side. A faint climbers trail will gradually turn into a scramble for the last 100 ft.. This approach takes 45 min - 1 hr and is about 1.5 miles.
Treasure Cove: Follow the same directions until reaching the house-size boulder. From there, go left and begin looking for a canyon to the hikers right and left (west) of Elk Slabs. A large cedar tree guards the entrance to the canyon. Just past the canyon a faint climbers trail turns right (north). If you reach the Pear and Apple formation, you have gone too far. Follow this until reaching the canyon entrance. Several of the climbs are located at the entrance to the canyon. Some hairy scrambling is required to get to the other routes deeper in the canyon.
Pear and Apple: Follow the same directions and continue past the Treasure Cove canyon. The trail will gradually turn to the north. On the right (east), high on the mountain side, you will see the Pear and Apple boulder formation. It looks like a pear and an apple side by side. Scramble up to the formation.
Secret Agent Dome: Located behind the Pear in the Pear and Apple formation.
Elk Mountain is located in the Charons Garden Wilderness Area of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, governed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). No permits or fees are required to climb. Technical rock climbing is allowed throughout the Public Use portion (including Elk Mountain) of the Refuge during daylight hours. The road to the Treasure Lake parking lot is not gated but it is a day-use only area and is enforced.
The maximum speed limit on the main refuge road (highway 49) is 45 mph and the speed limit on the headquarters road is 35 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. No swimming is allowed in any refuge waters.
When To Climb
[img:31178:alignright:medium:Hiking to Elk Mountain in mid-June. Photo by attm]Spring and fall are the best times. Summer is hot, humid, and windy. Elk Slabs faces directly southwest, so it is like being on a grill in the summer. Treasure Cove is in a canyon with some shade so it is more bearable in summer. 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 at Elk Slabs, while the other areas rarely see climbers. 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.
Within 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 a significant distance northwest of the climbing areas. The parking lot is closer than the backcountry camping zone to the climbing area. 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 as provided by the Wildlife Refuge. No camping or bivouacs are allowed on Elk Mountain.
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.
In 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. As of this date, a temporary fixed anchor moritorium remains in effect for the placement of new fixed anchors in the Charons Garden Wilderness Area (Elk Mountain) pending the outcome of U. S. Forest Service and Department of Interior's national review of fixed anchor policies in designated Wilderness Areas.
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!
Guidebooks and Maps
The guidebook, "Oklahoma Select" by Tony Mayse is a must to fully enjoy Elk Mountain 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Backwoods in Oklahoma City and Norman may also have copies of this book for sale from time to time.
The guidebook, “The Oklahoma Climber’s Guide” by Chuck Lohn is an older guidebook which is currently out of print. Used copies sometimes show up on Amazon.
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 Elk Mountain is Quanah Mountain and the quad for the rest of the surrounding area is Odetta.
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.