My trip to Mount Oklahoma was originally supposed to be a full traverse of the peaks from Mount Oklahoma to Mount Champion but early storms prevented the entire ridgewalk. No worries though, Mount Oklahoma (13,845 ft. in the Sawatch Range, Colorado’s 85th highest ranked mountain) was a blast on its own.
I would recommend camping along the access road (FS 110) rather than using my strategy of being kept up ALL NIGHT by my rambunctious puppy and staggering out the door from Boulder at 3:45 AM on about 2 hours of bad sleep. I’ll give more detailed directions and guidance in my Mount Oklahoma online guide but for those who have hiked Mount Elbert or Mount Massive, you’re literally on the right road. Follow the dirt road to the Elbert/Massive main parking areas (about 7 miles) and continue another 2.5 miles west to the North Halfmoon Trailhead. North Halfmoon is well maintained as it is a popular trailhead for hiking Mount Massive. The last 1/2 mile is mildly steep and a little rocky; 4x4s will have no problem and I saw several CRVs and Outbacks at the trailhead. It’s like 4×4 light. There’s also tons of free primitive campground sites en route to the trailhead.
You can see the obvious alpha peak in the western Sawatch is 14,421 ft. Mount Massive to the east of Oklahoma. This is a bit of a blessing, as it diverts most people over to Massive. The upshot is you get a nice mile or so warm up on the Mount Massive trail before the real fun begins — the off trail route finding! Oklahoma is a great destination to practice going into the wild. There are no paths to the summit but the bulk of your navigation is above treeline and relatively intuitive.
At the start of the trail is a newly installed memorial cross commemorating last year’s helicopter crash on Mount Massive on August 19th, 2009. A sobering start to the hike perhaps, but a nice tribute to the men who lost their lives on the mountain (Colorado’s peaks are littered with plane wreckage, including the famous Airplane Gully route on Navajo Peak). Unlike so many of Colorado’s big summits, this one starts with the perfect warm up trail — a nice low angle incline as opposed to the vertical quad-burners familiar to so many Sawatch Range peaks. The shared trail lasts for a few miles. Not far after the split for Mount Massive (you stay on the North Halfmoon Lakes trail), the burly shoulder of Oklahoma looms in the distance while stunning views of Deer Mountain (13,761 ft.) dominate to the west. From this vantage, Deer resembles Mount Hesperus or a miniature Maroon Bell.
Leaving the trail where Halfmoon Creek drops into a cascading, little waterfall the route up isn’t entirely obvious. The east ridge of the shoulder is climbable but with its loose, crumbly and wet class 3 terrain it’s not entirely fun. If you proceed west to the south side of the shoulder, you may find yourself following an impromptu hiker’s trail of cairns that lead to the dog-friendly class 2 hinder-grinder grassy south slopes. My preference was to split the difference and take a super fun class 2+/easy class 3 notch through the east shoulder to top out on the false summit.
If you want to stay dog friendly and don’t mind a thigh burner, here’s a picture of the south slopes route (which I descended since the entire ridgewalk was out):
The scrambling and climbing was fun to the shoulder and you’ll have great views of the entire Mount Massive series of summits. Once you get up to the saddle, it’s an 800 + ft. grind to the summit. There are no trails up, but the rock is relatively stable (reminded me of Fletcher Mountain just west of Quandary Peak). I did underestimate how long it would take and it’s going to get your heart redlining since you’re just about at 14,000 ft.
Topping out, I was bummed to see puffy cumulus clouds already building and it wasn’t even 9 AM yet. My legs and lungs felt strong, but my head was a bit fuzzy from the lack of sleep. I decided to nix the rest of the ridge because of the iffy weather (which turned out to be the right call). I really love ridge routefinding and the traverse that hits Deer Mountain, K49 and Mount Champion looks awesome — I’ll be back there soon!
The summit register showed about 8-10 visitors a month, a drastic downturn from the hundreds who climb nearby Elbert and Massive. I also kept thinking about Pod People and the emphatic IT STINKS OK gesture. Since I had a little bit of time on the summit, I decided to snoop around a bit and look at what I found:
After scoping out the traverse over to Deer Mountain and reaching a waypoint where I would reconvene the climb at a later date, I decided to track the southern slopes to see what the other way up Oklahoma was all about. While I give it kudos for being dog friendly, I was able to surf down most of the loose, grassy dirt. I would imagine it’s a cardiovascular delight ascending the south slopes. The bonus to the adventure was I found myself in fields of wildflowers, watching the weather roll in and seeing hikers work their way up Mount Massive.
I sat for a while in the flowers, letting my mind drift with the clouds. There was wonderful, potent fragrance I had not smelled in the mountains before. The first thing that oddly came to mind was the scent of an inner-city laundromat, a kind of combination of dryer sheets and stand-up arcade games. Weird.
After pondering with the universe a bit, it was an easy traverse through the trees and back to the North Halfmoon trail. Even though I didn’t get the ridgewalkI wanted, I was still out for a good 5+ hours so it was a legit day in the hills. I’m eager to get back and finish the route, though I likely will pick up where I left off instead of going up Oklahoma again. Since route finding and off-trail adventures are my favorite, I left with a good impression of Mount Oklahoma though it’s not for everyone. I was tired when I got back to Boulder, but since I had my camera at the ready I had to take a photo of the welcoming committee that was waiting when I arrived home.