Every hiker and climber has a “project,” so to speak. You go somewhere, see something intriguing, and tell yourself, “Next time I’m here, I’m going to climb that.”
For awhile, it was Mount Mitchell in the Wichita Mountains. I first saw it during a hike and climb up Crab Eyes, that iconic little pinnacle in the middle of Oklahoma’s Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area.
That peak, with its wonderful Class 3 and 4 routes to the top, was bagged back in 2009, the final summit that year in what had been probably my best year in the outdoors. With that little project out of the way, I looked to the east from Mitchell’s tiny summit block and saw two spectacular granite domes in the distance. To the south was Granite Mountain, and its magnificent neighbor to the north, Twin Rocks Mountain.
Twin Rocks. That would be the next project.
The mountain’s west face had a complicated and steep pitch to the summit, looking like the perfect new challenge for me.
But life just kinda happens sometimes. Though I’ve been to the Wichitas numerous times since I first spied Twin Rocks, actually attempting this mountain would be postponed numerous times.
This spring, however, offered another chance to have a go at it. But the trip would go a little differently than planned.
Longtime hiking and climbing buddy, Johnny Hunter, came with me and we headed to southwestern Oklahoma. Our plan was to hike to Twin Rocks’ steep and rugged west face. He brought along harnesses and ropes in case the apparent Class 3 and 4 pitches turned out to be something a little more difficult.
The weather was a little troubling, however. It was overcast, windy and cool, and the clouds were low and dark. It seemed like rain was threatening, and if it did indeed rain, that would probably be the end of any scrambling or climbing. Bare granite slabs and water don’t make for a good time. I’d get evidence of that later.
We parked over by the Treasure Lake lot and headed west on a good, level trail before having to resort to some bushwhacking through the canyons that weave between the many mountains in this corner of the wilderness area.
We spied a saddle between Twin Rocks and Granite, then decided we should head there. Johnny had already bagged Granite a few years back via its mellower southeast slopes, so we hoped to find a good route down from the saddle and to Twin Rock’s west face.
Our path to that saddle, however, would include fighting our way through a tangle of cedars, scrub oak and thorns. Every now and then we’d come into more open stretches, but they’d invariably lead to more thickets.
Once we reached the saddle, our plans changed. Granite’s north face looked like a lot of fun, with numerous cracks begging to be climbed. With it being so close to Twin Rocks, the thought of getting a two-fer that day proved tempting. Maybe Twin Rocks’ west face would have to wait.
Heading up to Granite, I spied some interesting looking chutes that led up to the upper slopes of the mountain. They were pretty vertical, so free-climbing them might be a bit risky. But the sections were only about 20 to 25 feet and were the quickest way up. While vertical, all looked to have an abundance of handholds and footholds. They were worth a try.
Unfortunately, two of the three were slick with water from recent rains. One of them also had significant sections that were covered by moss. Technically speaking, they were within my abilities. But with no protection and lots of slick spots it just wasn’t worth it. I backed out of the first chute, climbed up the next, then had a handhold crumble on me. Fortunately, I was wedged in pretty well so the rotten rock I grabbed didn’t send me reeling. But it have me pause in continuing that pitch. Thwarted again, I backed out.
To get to the next pitch, there was a short, exposed and narrow ledge to traverse. The drop wasn’t huge – about 30 or 40 feet – but right in the middle, the rock face bowed outward, forcing me to literally hug the wall and shuffle carefully across the ledge until the obstacle was cleared. Not a big deal, but not a place to slip, either.
The last chute was free of water and moss, and unlike the Class 5 sections I tried before, I’d rate this one Class 4. Stemming proved to be the quickest way to go up, leading to the mellower angled slabs underneath Granite’s summit.
Granite Mountain offers amazing views of Twin Rock to the north, as well as Mount Mitchell to the west and Elk Mountain and Mount Lincoln to the north. To the south was the endless flatness of the southwest Oklahoma plains.
Having tagged this summit, we turned our attention back to Twin Rocks.
Twin Rocks Mountain
Strangely, as great as the day was going, my right ankle started giving me fits. I have no idea when I tweaked it, but it probably happened some time trying to climb those cracks and putting my feet in some very awkward positions. My ankles are slightly wrecked from a bunch of ankle sprains suffered from years of basketball. So there are some issues there when it comes to climbing. Note to self: work on your ankle flexibility.
There was also the threat of rain, as it had been spitting on us a little as we descended Granite. Upon getting to the saddle again, it was decision time. The rain spurts had stopped and I wasn’t going to let a little ankle soreness stop us from having a go at Twin Rocks. The day was far too young to go home now.
Twin Rock Mountain’s south face isn’t nearly as daunting as its west face. It also can be climbed without having to tangle with the exposed ledges and Class 4-5 cracks that we saw on Granite Mountain’s north face.
What we got instead was more sustained Class 2+ and Class 3 scrambling. We also found some really cool fissures in the mountain that bagged to be explored. Rock-hopping, slithering between cracks and fallen boulders and shimmying up narrow chutes made Twin Rock a vastly a different but equally fun experience when compared to Granite.
The real payoff, however, is Twin Rock Mountain’s summit. We had to fight the winds a bit – some of the photos we tried to take challenged our balance as wind gusts threatened to knock us down. But once we got our feet steadied, the view was incredible.
Twin Rock Mountain is in the heart of the wildest portion of Charon’s Garden. Whereas most of the Wichita Mountains have ample space between summits, the southeast section is a dense collection of ridges, domes and steep canyons. You can see them all from Twin Rocks’ summit.
Styx Canyon’s eastern edge starts at the foot of the peak’s west face. Memories of its rocky, tangled morass of thickets came back front and center. Crab Eyes, and its delicately perched summit blocks, can be seen to the northwest while the long, rugged massif of Mount Mitchell stretches to the west.
To the north is Mount Lincoln, and then the daunting south face of Elk Mountain. No Oklahoma wall aside from that of Quartz Mountain provides a bigger climber’s challenge.
Then I turned south. There was the amazing summit of Granite Mountain, where we’d just been, almost perfect in its wind- and water-worn symmetry, glowering under the deep gray haze of the clouds above us.
I’ve been all through this range and tagged a number of its summits, but visually speaking, I can’t say I’ve ever taken in a feast like I did from the top of Twin Rocks Mountain.
The best thing about it is that the mountain itself is calling me back. Why? Because we didn’t climb its west face, which was our original goal. We traded that in for the two-fer. But in the end it was a good exchange. I got to enjoy tagging two awesome Oklahoma summits instead of one and left a reason to come back again.
As if I really needed any extra motivation to do that.
ABOUT THE ROUTE: From the Treasure Lake trailhead, stay on the trail going west for about a quarter mile, then continue west off trail. You will then enter the south end of a canyon separating the two mountains. Continue west, but don’t drop too low in the canyon. Despite it being off trail, there are numerous cairns that will lead you in the right direction. You will see the saddle after about a mile of hiking. From the saddle, you will have a choice of routes on either mountain.
Going south to Granite Mountain, continue off trail until you get to a series of cracks on a few short, near vertical slabs. Watch for moss and water if you choose to climb them. The western-most crack is the easiest to climb, with the least amount of moisture. To get there, traverse west on a short but exposed ledge. Watch your handholds and footholds as some rock here is rotten. The cracks are Class 4 to low Class 5. From above the cracks, continue south on mixed hiking and scrambling to the summit.
Going north to Twin Rocks Mountain, approach the face and pick your line. The rock here has more jumbled boulders and will include some scrambling and boulder-hopping. Once you’re past the boulders, climb the last short Class 3 section before reaching mellower hiking to the top.
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