Starting Point: Junction of FR 110 and 110J below N. Halfmoon Creek TH (10,240’)
Peak Climbed: Mt. Oklahoma (13,845’)
RT Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,680 feet
R Point Rating (per Gerry Roach): 222 RP
RT Time: 4 hours 40 minutes (including 30 minutes on summit)
I had made an unsuccessful attempt at Oklahoma just three weeks ago. On that day, I snapped this picture looking southeast toward Colorado’s highest peak from about 11,400’ on the Halfmoon lakes trail just as the heavens opened up and let the earth have it.
The skies opened up - time to get out!
I burst into a run but in no more than a few fleeting minutes I was thoroughly drenched; it continued to pour for the next 35 minutes that it took me to make it back to the car which some genius (yours truly!) had decided to park a mile and a half before the trailhead. I was bedraggled and defeated but thankful that I’d made it out in one piece. So I was back today hoping for a better treatment from the weather gods, but as I drove into Leadville, all I could see to the west was a thick dark cloud cover; the most imposing of all Sawatch 14ers, Mt. Massive was conspicuous in its absence and my heart was in my stomach as I made the turn onto CO-300. Some 20 minutes later, as I reached the junction with 110J, having successfully navigated the last 2 miles of the 4WD road in my trusted Civic, the skies had miraculously started to clear and things were looking up. The forecast still called for a 50% chance of thunderstorms and it was 8:35 a.m., so I hit the road running (literally) making the half-mile romp to the trailhead in just a few minutes.
N. Halfmoon Creek TH
The first mile and a half of this trail is the same route leading to Mt. Massive’s southwest slopes, a perfect Class 1/1+ affair, and I’d already decided that I would run this stretch in preparation for what I anticipated would be a narrow weather window to complete the hike – four hours or thereabouts.
Barely thirty minutes into the outing, I got my first glimpse of the peak I was hoping to summit.
Oklahoma comes into view
Shortly after, I passed the turn-off for Massive’s southwest slope.
Junction - head right for Mt. Massive
The skies were still mostly blue with a few non-threatening clouds but I knew I’d have to abandon the lovely trail soon so I maintained my pace.
Trail through the woods
Thanks to my previous, albeit unsuccessful, outing on this trail, I knew the party would come to an end shortly, around 11,600’ where I’d be leaving the comfort of the trail to begin my hunt through the woods in search of the basin leading to Oklahoma’s southeast slopes.
Point where you leave the trail
The next goal was to find the first of two stream crossings. As it turned out, I could hear the rushing water long before I spotted it.
Momentarily, I found a convenient spot to cross without having to test my Gore-Tex boots.
Good spot to cross
A little meandering through the woods and I soon arrived at the next stream crossing which was also thankfully uneventful.
...and through the woods
Watch out for slippery rocks!
The next order of business was to find my way out of the woods and into the basin that still lay hidden from my view. While there was no trail, I knew I had to contour west-northwest so I found the path of least resistance to do just that.
Navigating through the woods
Some bushwhacking is inevitable
One of the joys of climbing more obscure peaks (read 13ers) is solitude, for I did not encounter a soul on this hike until much later on my return. Another is the adventure of having to make your own path, challenge your route finding skills assuming, of course, there are any! This was a treasure hunt that I rather relished.
Almost out of the tunnel...er, woods
Clearing in the woods just below treeline
The reward for getting this right – well, I’ll let the views to the north and northwest speak for themselves. Look closely just left of center on the first shot and you’ll spot a tiny waterfall cascading down a bluff.
Beautiful basin - note waterfall just left of center
Just south of the cliffs at treeline
I had just emerged at treeline but needed to navigate around some rugged bluffs before I would be in the basin to survey the remainder of the route.
Navigating through the bluffs
I found a small drainage just south of the cliffs and paused to take stock of the work so far.
Looking back from the basin
As I looked west, Oklahoma was no longer in sight but the remainder of the route was evident. There was a half-mile hike up the drainage which would put me at the base of the next pitch up a steep south facing slope that would be the crux of the route.
Next two pitches
The next pitch climbs from 12,700’ to Oklahoma’s east ridge at 13,200’ in 0.2 miles, and is filled with loose scree (is there any other kind?), quite reminiscent of the west slope of Columbia.
Crux of the route - watch out for scree!
Progress over the crux seemed somewhat slow compared to my pace up to that point but the time stamps on my pictures indicate that I made this traverse in 15 minutes on my way up, and a little quicker on the descent as I chose to glissade about half way on my derriere before abandoning that approach, realizing that speed is nought without control. Near the upper part of this ascent, I ditched the scree for the solidity of the boulders to scramble up.
Scramblin's better than slippin'
Looking down upon that section, it’s clear that pictures don’t capture the steepness of this pitch.
Looking down the crux
The final pitch up the broad slope to the summit was a little gentler.
Final pitch up the slope
Two hours and ten minutes after starting, I was staring at the summit register on Oklahoma; I was right on schedule but the weather was not, and this was a gift I wasn’t going to pass up. I spent over thirty minutes on my newfound solitary perch, admiring the views of the Sawatch. Massive loomed to the southeast, so massive that my zoomed shot failed to capture N. Massive, its fourth summit above 14,000’.
Turning my attention southeast, I started counting off the neighboring 13ers, flanked by the towering Elbert on one side and the distinctive La Plata on the other.
View to the north
It had been one of those days where all goes as planned and you sneak up on the mountain while it’s sleeping, to drink in the ineffable joys reserved for those who venture to these lofty perches. I believe I had a smile plastered on my face for almost the entire hike, and that’s the gift the mountains have to offer, elevating not just our bodies but our spirits.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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