What are you looking at? We spotted this bull elk on our way home (more pics here)
My friend Michael and I did another day trip to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge today. With temps in the 40’s and the usual winds, it was a little too cold for my taste, but we still had a good time. And I learned a couple things:
#1) I’ve probably been to the Wichitas 50 times, and I’ve seen lots of amazing wildlife — free range buffalo, longhorn, prairie dogs, turkeys. But today I saw an elk for the first time. To be honest, I didn’t even know there were elk in the Refuge (even though I’ve climbed on “Elk Mountain”), but apparently elk were indiginous to this area of Oklahoma. They were exterminated by the late 1800’s but reintroduced in the early 1900’s and they’ve thrived ever since. (Here’s a history of the WMWR elk herd published in 1962 and here’s a great painting of an elk herd in the Refuge).
#2) On the way home, Michael wondered what makes a formation qualify as a mountain versus a hill. I did a little research, and it turns out that there is no universally accepted standard definition for the height of a mountain. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names once stated that the difference between a hill and a mountain in the U.S. was 1,000 feet of local relief, but this was abandoned in the early 1970’s. So, the person that names the feature usually decides.
Finally, for those of you that care about climbing, here are the routes we ticked today:
- Crazy Alice (5.8+) — One of the most popular routes in the Wichitas. Crazy Alice is steep and stiff for the grade — I’ve seen 5.10 leaders struggle on it.
- Mr. Coolhead (TR, 5.10d) — A thin face route with 2 bolts in 80 feet. It blows my mind that this was bolted on lead. I’d love to lead this route some day, but probably never will — it’s just too dangerous.
- Sundown Dihedral (5.9) — Nice route with a small roof move that will feel way harder than 5.9 if you do it wrong.
- Fantasy Roof (5.8) — One of the most aesthetic routes in the Narrows. I think it’s as good as Crazy Alice.
- Afterburner (5.9R) — A fun, varied route in seldom-visited Panther Canyon. One of my favorites in the Wichitas. The first 25 feet is unprotected, crumbly 5.6.
- Unknown (5.9+?) — In an attempt to stay in the sun, we strayed from the guidebook and tried a route we had spotted on the east side of Panther Canyon. It was a bust (think awkward 5.10ish moves over marginal protection).
- Old #7 (5.7) — This route isn’t as bad as it looks — but that doesn’t mean it’s good.