Elevation - 13,845 feet
Route - Southwest Slopes
Total Trip Time - 8 hours
Round-Trip Distance - 8 miles
Elevation Gain - 3,400 feet
Looking at Mount Oklahoma's impressive southwestern ramparts while on a hike to the Fryingpan Lakes a few years ago I promised myself I would climb it someday. Then I found out that it was a "Centennial Thirteener" one of the highest 100 peaks in the state (#85 to be exact) and it quickly rose higher on my ever expanding list. Admittedly, it's taken me awhile to get to it, but I am glad that I finally did as it was a great day.
I drove to Leadville the night before and found a secluded camping spot just down the road from the North Halfmoon Trailhead. Upon my arrival around dark, I discovered that I had neglected to bring my toothbrush, cell phone (something I don't like climbing without), and also forgot to check the batteries on my altimeter, which was dead. I debated with myself whether to attempt the climb, but decided to give it a shot: "Well this is going to be an interesting day" I thought to myself as I settled in for the night, "I hope I don't get into trouble..."
Hiking The North Halfmoon Trail
The alarm went off at 5 AM and I was on the trail by 5:45. As I began my hike I could feel a steady breeze and noticed the clouds moving quickly overhead. That's when I knew it was going to be a windy day. Nevertheless, guided by my headlight, I made good progress on the rocky trail through the evergreens and willows and soon reached a large open meadow below Mount Massive where Mount Oklahoma came into view:
Mount Oklahoma gets hit by early morning light
After crossing the meadow I came to the junction with the North Massive Trail. Here I continued straight (left) on the North Halfmoon Trail as it climbed steeply through the forest and over some large rocky areas towards the upper part of the valley.
North Massive/North Halfmoon Creek Trail Junction
Impressive looking Deer Mountain (13,761 feet) to the southeast
Climbing The Basin Below Mount Oklahoma
Not having my altimeter I was a bit concerned I would miss the turnoff into the basin for Mount Oklahoma which is supposedly at 11,600 feet but I couldn't tell for sure. Kane's excellent description on SummitPost to look for "a place where the stream cascades down, like a waterfall" was very helpful and I continued another .75 miles and soon reached a very evident stream crossing where a log straddled the creek:
The North Halfmoon Creek crossing at around 11,600 feet
Unfortunately it was too wet and slick to cross. Not wanting to take a early morning "swim", I looked for another spot and found a narrow section, behind a rock, just upstream.
A narrow spot where I crossed the creek just above the standard log crossing at 11,600
Once across, I climbed up a small slope and found a use trail that descended southwest through the trees.
A faint use trail winds its way through the woods towards Mount Oklahoma
I continued to follow this cairned trail for about .25 miles as it wound through the trees to the right around a marshy area and then popped out of the woods into the lower basin below Mount Oklahoma.
Emerging from the trees into the lower basin
From here I crossed a small side stream, hiked through a couple of small meadows (avoiding the willows) and began to climb steeply up into the upper part of the basin, following more cairns.
Climbing steep grassy slopes to reach the upper basin
A look back down into the lower basin (my route followed the slope in the left side of this photo)
Reaching the upper basin below Mount Oklahoma's summit ridge
The Nasty Grass/Scree Slope
After hiking another .5 miles, I reached the upper basin below Mount Oklahoma's cliffs and saw grassy/scree ramp described in Gerry Roach's description (although he calls it a "talus slope") to my right. I began to climb this slope which was easy at first, but soon became steeper and looser as I reached the top. Also, random large gusts of wind that came blasting over the summit didn't help my ascent:
A look at the steep grass/scree slope (it doesn't look that steep but it is...)
Another view. Looking back down the grass/scree slope to the upper basin
From the top of the ramp (grass/scree slope) the angle eased and I began climbing southeast across grass and talus on a faint trail towards the windy summit ridge. Soon I reached a flat area and saw the twin summit blocks the north. From here it was a short jaunt to reach the top around 10 AM.
Climbing talus and grass to reach the summit ridge
A look back at the ridge just below the summit (my route ascended/descended around the corner to the left)
Mount Oklahoma's summit dome
Some summit shots:
Looking down into the Fryingpan River Valley (Upper Fryingpan Lake can be seen in the lower left center)
North Massive above the North Halfmoon Lakes
A personal favorite - Mount Sopris (12,953 feet) to the south
La Plata rises above Casco and Frasco Peaks
Who says the Sawatch doesn't have any rugged peaks? Grizzly Peak A (background) and Deer Mountain (foreground)
Basalt and Red Table Mountains (background)
A sea of Sawatch Range peaks
Oh, so that's why they call it Castle Peak!
After spending a cold forty-five minutes on the summit in the rocks, reading the register and munching on food, and enjoying the views, I began my descent. Overall my downclimb was uneventful, until I reached the grass/scree slope.
The first part went okay, but after I got half way down, I got a bit cocky and attempted to scree ski a bit, only to find myself falling and sliding on my butt for a few feet. No harm done, except for a few minor scraps/bruises, but I did manage to tear a hole in my nice Go-Lite shell (bummer ) which I just sent in for repair.
A word to the wise: DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THIS SLOPE!
Looking down Mount Oklahoma's ridge from below the summit (the top of the slope begins below the small grassy area, center right of photo)
Once I made it to the flat area in the upper part of the basin, I stopped, ate a bit more, removed some clothes, and assessed the damages to my jacket before beginning my descent back towards the North Halfmoon Creek Trail.
Much of my route from the upper basin back down to the North Halfmoon Creek Trail
A look back up the lower part of the basin above North Halfmoon Creek
When I arrived at the trail the wind had died and the temperature was great, and I enjoyed the warmth and calm of the valley as I casually hiked the last couple of miles out, arriving back at the trailhead around 1:45 PM.
Descending the North Halfmoon Creek Trail (Mount Elbert is in the background)
A bee collects the last pollen of the summer
Other then some "screeful adventures" (as KeithK would say) this was a great climb and the views of the Sawatch, Williams, and Elk Ranges from the summit were very enjoyable. Despite being somewhat ill-prepared, the climb was a success. I am really looking forward to going back to the area and completing the rest of the Sawatch Centennials with climbs of French, Casco, and Frasco in the near future.