Mt. Oklahoma - 13,845 feet
Mt. Oklahoma - 13,845 feet
|You're doing fine, Oklahoma - OK!|
Mt. Oklahoma (13,835')
Northeast slopes/Northeast rib thingy to Southeast Ridge via North Halfmoon Lakes
~8 miles, 3,400' vertical roundtrip
I started up the North Halfmoon Trail from camp at the upper trailhead around 3:40. The hike to treeline was fun, just the typical Spring stuff you have to deal with - a couple easily passed downed trees; gushing streams making crossings a little more treacherous; and snow drifts obscuring the dark trail near treeline. The first mile or two are virtually snow free, but nearing the Mt. Massive junction one will encounter sporadic deep, albeit short snow drifts. This made staying on the trail in the dark a little more difficult, but not impossible.
The trail continues straight past the Southwest Massive trail junction and climbs gradually north and west, high above North Halfmoon Creek. Eventually one rounds the corner into the basin and the trail will take a more northerly bearing. Around this time, the dim glow of the coming sunrise began to illuminate the landscape ever so slowly, allowing me to determine the best path across the willows, gushing creeks, and around to the other side of lower North Halfmoon Lake.
Just as the trail began to head north and the lower North Halfmoon Lake became visible, I descended westward through the willows, toward the south shore of the lake. The creek crossings were a little tricky, but I found several dubious looking snow bridges allowing easy passage. I didn't think they could hold my weight, but after stabbing them with my poles a few times to verify their stability, I quickly hopped across without issue.
Skirting around the south side of lower lake on mostly dry ground, I began eyeing my options for the ascent. It looked like I had two choices: I could climb directly up Oklahoma's northeast facing bowl and pick a line to gain the Southeast Ridge; or I could connect sections of dry rock on the northeast-trending rib that eventually sweeps around to meet the Southeast Ridge. Thanks to some CalTopo research, I knew the slope angle near the upper half of the northeast bowl was somewhere in the 35-45 degree range. Without measuring, I'd guess it was somewhere around 40, maybe a little less. As I began a slow ascent over snow covered slopes above the lower lake, I didn't like what I felt under my feet. Most of the snow was solid, but large pockets of snow with a 2-3" crust and crystally, unconsolidated snow underneath were scattered everywhere. Out of desperation, I started to connect slabs and dry talus/scree between snow patches. When I came to the low point on the shoulder that offered full views of the northeast bowl, I made up my mind. There was evidence of a ton of wet slide activity here, although it did look at least a couple days old. I figured the safest option as a solo climber was to minimize my time on those snow slopes and try to stay as high and dry as possible.
The lower portions of the Northeast Rib, as I shall deem it until someone else can correct my terminology, comprise the most difficult part of the entire route. There were a few class 3 moves mixed in there, but nothing too difficult or exposed. Most of it was lower angled slabs of solid rock down lower, then it transitioned to some patches of steep scree between slabs and talus fields. In comparison to other off-route areas I've hiked and climbed, I didn't think the rock quality was too poor and the loose factor was nothing that detracted from the climb. As one gets higher, the slope and terrain ease. It becomes mostly tundra walking until you wind around to the Southeast Ridge. All in all, I thought this was a relatively safe and efficient way to gain the ridge to the summit in the conditions I encountered. The early morning light on Oklahoma's East Face is pretty awesome every time you look to the right during your climb. That being said, when all the snow is melted off in between dry rock, it might turn into the nightmare that has resulted in Mt. Oklahoma's reputation for being loose and unpleasant.
After taking in the remarkable views that surrounded me once cresting Oklahoma's Southeast Ridge, I started up the remaining 800 vertical feet to the summit. I found a striking difference in the snow on either side of the ridge, separated by a step or two, yielding completely different conditions. If I stayed on the highest point of the ridge or went to climber's left of the high point, a 2-3" crust covered the snow with 2-3 FEET of unconsolidated, crystally snow underneath. I post holed up to my waist a few times here. It was a totally different story just a step or two climbers right of the ridge high point. The snow was significantly more shallow, compacted, and supportive. Even with the snow baking in the early morning sun, my boots never sunk more than a couple inches into the snow on this side of the ridge, and I never post holed. It's amazing what a difference lee and windward aspects, as well as solar and less solar aspects, yield in terms of snow quality and structure.
The remainder of the hike up was extremely slow for me, given my lack of time hiking at altitude recently. The ridge was absolutely caked and I was getting giddy thinking about launching down it on my board. That was incentive enough to keep me going uphill. I finally reached the summit at 9:15 AM.
Roach says this peak was unnamed until 1967. I was really hoping my research would come up with something sweet like "Timmy from Tulsa was an avid mountain climber that also dearly loved his home state, and fought to get the peak named after Oklahoma." Instead, I found a comment on summitpost.org from Eric Affsprung explaining the history of the naming of this peak:
Mt. Oklahoma is in Colorado because my dad, Harold Affsprung, worked via the US Geological Survey, and the CMC, I guess, to get it named back in 1967. He was from OK and taught at OU and figured a lot more Oklahomans were climbing in CO than folks from Harvard, Princeton, etc. I've climbed the mountain twice but not since 1967. I agree with you that it's a nice mountain. My dad fell from Little Bear and was killed in '67 - not long after the Oklahoma name became official. He had been climbing in CO since the 50's.
That's like nails on a chalkboard to an Oklahoma State alum. Gross. Disgusting. Ewwww. How?!
Well, to set the record straight, on June 20th, 2015 at least, this mountain was named for THE Oklahoma State University. Excess summit picture-taking ensued.
The summit of Oklahoma is pretty freaking awesome, if I do say so myself. It is nestled deep into a basin so as to not be too showy from below, but once at the top the views are hard to beat. You're surrounded by the state's two highest peaks, can see much of the Sawatch range in both directions, the Elks to the west, the Tenmile and Front Ranges to the northeast, and beautiful, green valleys below. It is quite remarkable how much snow is up high right now. It looks like April up there!
After spending a glorious hour on the summit, I transitioned into my snowboard boots and made the short walk to the start of continuous snow. This was a mere 50 feet or so from the summit, and perhaps only a few feet lower. The snow up top was awesome. It just begged you to open up fat turns across the wide, caked ridge. Near the bottom where the slope mellows out, the snow got pretty sticky on skiers right. I took the second or third viable entrance into the Northeast Bowl and enjoyed excellent turns near the top.
To skiers right was a more sun-protected slope that contained lower angle terrain. I began traversing skiers right just above the crowns of multiple avalanches that appeared to have slid within the last few days. When there was some smooth terrain, I would take a couple turns and then continue traversing right. Initially I thought if I traversed far enough to the right that I would be able to find a path of snow going straight down to the lower lake. I couldn't find a definitive snow-covered route, however, so I ended up traversing far back to the left on sticky, low angle snow to reach the upper Lake. This is where I bottomed out and had to unclip and hike for about one whole minute (I don't care what you're thinking, skiers - I have more fun on my board than you ever will on those planks - even with unclipping and hiking :lol. No worries, I hiked east, strapped back in, and enjoyed some sloppy turns down to the southwest corner of lower North Halfmoon Lake before calling it quits.
I hiked around the south side of the Lake once more to the small bench on its east side. This bench separates the lake from the willows and the main trail to the east. I removed some layers, strapped my board on my pack, and precariously made my way across the sopping wet willows and sketchy snow bridges. As I stepped back onto the trail, I was greeted by two hikers planning on doing the Tour de Massive Loop. Sick! I never did run into your five friends down the trail. I hope yall made it!
I enjoyed a leisurely hike out, soaking in the warmth and sun that signified Summer, despite how much the snow up high convinced you it was still early Spring. I ran into perhaps a dozen other folks. That morning I did not run into a single person until I rode back down to the lower North Halfmoon Lake and saw a guy fishing. Not bad for a major 14er trail in the Sawatch during the summer! I arrived at the trailhead at 12:20 for an 8 hour and 40 minute roundtrip, including an hour on the summit and entirely too many long rests.
A few thoughts and observations:
- I think that with conditions allowing for efficient travel over snow up high, this is not a bad route at all. For the most part, I was able to avoid avalanche terrain and loose rock on the ascent. Route finding was pretty straight forward, and there didn't seem to be any shortage of options for different paths up the patches of dry rock on the Northeast Rib. Granted, you don't want to stray too far climbers left toward the cliff bands, but I saw plenty of decent looking rock all around most of the way up.
- Although I climbed Massive a couple years ago via its Southwest Slopes on a clear day, I do not remember North Halfmoon Basin looking nearly as awesome as it did today. That is a super cool, strikingly beautiful area that sets a nice contrast to the images conjured in our minds when thinking about the Sawatch being dull, featureless, rounded lumps of earth. The beauty of this area, and the enthusiasm of the two I met planning the Tour de Massive, got me thinking I really want to try that route now - if for nothing else, just to see the remainder of the basin.
Thanks for reading, and I would love to hear any feedback, corrections, criticisms, or suggestions!
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