A Whichita Mountains climbing trip report

A view from Voodoo Wall in the Wichita Mountains on a rainy Saturday. Photo taken with my iPhone.

A blog post has long been overdue here, so here we go…

Life has been pretty hectic and busy lately. Since I ran the Big D Half Marathon (the recap was my last blog post nearly a month ago) back in April I haven’t even had to many opportunities to get in a run or even go climbing. It’s one of those things where you are so busy you can’t even really point to what you have been doing that has made you so busy, but I can say some big changes are coming in the next month. More to come on that. I have actually been procrastinating a blog post because I thought I was going to be able to announce the big news, but that keeps getting delayed.

Anyway, this past weekend I was finally able to make it out to the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, probably my last visit for a long time. Overall, the trip was pretty awesome. On Saturday we had a lot of rain, but hiked to Voodoo Wall, a climbing area we have never been to – one that is rarely visited, and the condition of the bolts in the rock reflected that. The vista seen from the climbing area was gorgeous; it was like none I have ever seen in the wildlife refuge. The hike in was also amazing. We crossed mounds of granite slabs, stunning rock formations, canyons, and beautiful vistas.

View of Voodoo wall from the return trip, taken with my iPhone.

Voodoo wall as seen from the return hike - taken with my iPhone. Voodoo wall is the one with the large boulder on top of it.

Due to the rain we didn’t get a whole lot of climbing in, but we did manage to get a few top rope ascents in after the rain died down. The sun even peeked out a few times. I have to say though, I didn’t have my best day of climbing ever, but at the same time I felt some of my climbing skills are improving – such as crack climbing. We set up a top rope on what was probably a 5.10 dihedral that involved lots of hand jamming and lay backs. After top roping four routes we decided to call it a day and hiked back to the cars. The hike back itself was an adventure because there is no established trail to the crag we climbed at. I always enjoy these adventures.

On Saturday we set out to climb Shake Your Grove Thing , a 5.6 climb that is very exposed and ends with an open air rappel back down to the ground. But due to recent rains the creek was very high and there was about a foot of water under the climb, so we opted to climb Unfinished Piece, a route that is mostly 5.6 with a couple of 5.8 moves towards the top. The crux moves are fairly tough and are very exposed. I have lead the route at least three times, this time I was the third climber up the route, so I was essentially on top rope. While working through the crux moves I kept wondering how I ever made them on lead. I often do that though. I find I am more gathered mentally when making hard moves on the sharp end, although I do have moments where I totally freak out and back down from the climb.

After what seemed like hours because of a newbie trad leader leading the route for us, we finished and moved on to climb Captain Crunch, a 5.7 with an airy overhanging exposed crux on the second pitch. I was going to lead the first pitch and leave the second pitch to the group’s hardman Gary who climbs 5.10 trad. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the start of the climb, so we opted to climb Aerosmith, a 5.6-5.8 slab inside a leaning dihedral.

Aerosmith was another climb I have lead numerous times, but this time it gave me fits. I had a hard time just starting the climb, and as I continued on up the climb I sewed it up like a little baby, plugging gear in every possible crack. It has been a long time since I was that sketched out on a climb, let alone one I have climbed multiple times. My plan was to lead it in one continuous pitch, but after getting to the first ledge I decided to break it up into two pitches since I had run out of slings.

Once my second, Bill, arrived at the top (our newbie trad leader) I “offered” to let him lead the second pitch. There were two different variations to take. I usually opt for the harder route with better protection, but Bill decided to go for the original line with poor protection. After nearly falling asleep at the belay multiple times Bill finally reached the top. Upon coming up behind him I found the protection to be worse than I thought. On top of that Bill had two pieces of gear placed that would not have held a fall, and to make things even worse he had a huge run out above a very poorly placed cam. Had he fallen above that things would not have been good, but thankfully Bill is actually a very good climber and can apparently maintain his composure better than I can.

While climbing the route Gary had set up a top rope on Lycra Sheath, a 5.10c he had established on lead in 1988. He hadn’t climbed the route in 22 years and wanted to see if he still had it in him. We raped down into the climb on a second rope and belayed from the top just in case we couldn’t make it up the route we had an easier climb to the left to top out from. First up was Gary who climbed the route without failing. Twenty-two years later and the old man still has it.

Bill and I were not as successful. Bill eventually made it up, but once it was my turn things didn’t go so well. The trend of a crappy climbing day continued. I ended up having to climb out on Leaning Tower Direct, a 5.9 blocky dihedral that required a lot of very awkward and strenuous moves.

After our Lycra Sheath experience we decided to call it a day, as it was around 5pm at this point. The journey back (as well as the way in) was quite an experience. We made our way around and over lots of down trees that had recently fallen over or broken off during a recent ice storm. The Narrows as the area is called was pretty devastated. It looked like a bomb had gone off. There is a trail clean up planned the first weekend in June, but I will no longer be around to help out with it, but that isn’t a bad thing! Again, more to come on that.

2 Responses to “A Whichita Mountains climbing trip report”

  1. Eileen says:

    Interesting area. Some days you’re on and some days your’e off. Sounds like you had fun though!

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