Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Climbing Elk Mountain


So far my vacation has been GREAT! Monday morning at 7:30am I was in my car and driving up to Wichita Falls to visit Brotha James and some other friends. That was pretty much a normal stop. Play some pool, hang out, eat at some old favorite places. Tuesday was the day I was really looking forward to.

James and I were up bright and early and on the road by 9am with my brother Courts. We had all our hiking gear ready and were excited to get up to the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge an hour North in Southwest Oklahoma. We arrived about 10:15. Before actually starting our hike, I thought it would be cool to drive up the second highest peak in the refuge called Mt. Scott. At a hight of 2,549 feet, I would'nt call it Mt. Everest but once on top you feel like you are on top of the world. You can see for miles over the mountain range and the vast expanse of nothing. Really a cool feeling! We explored a bit and took some pictures. Then it was back into the car and off to the trail. About 20 minutes later we were parked and getting our gear on. Hiking boots... check, water and gatorade... check, sunglasses... check, camera equipement... check, we seemed ready to roll. Then I remember the night before I had asked James to bring sunscreen because it was a hot, cloudless day. So I say, "James you got that sunscreen?". He replies, "Nope, Im good though... put some on before we left!". DORK!! He was supposed to bring it for everyone, not just him. What a team player. Anyhow, we hit the trail ready to hike thru the 1.1 miles twisting, winding, rugged trail to the top of Elk Mountian. About a 1/4 of the way up, two guys are coming down the trail and stop to tell us about 3/4 the way up there is a buffalo resting on the trail side and to just quietly go around him. The reason for this warning is buffalo aren't like cattle. Getting to close can cause them to feel threatend and they can charge. So, we took note and forged on. A little further up the trail we come across a family of 5 coming down. They say the same thing, keep an eye out for the buffalo. No problem. About half a mile further and we are really starting to sweat. We'd been hiking for about 45 minutes and it felt like id been on a stairmaster for twice that long. But we were having a lot of fun working our way thru the rocky terrain.

I do believe my small "Lewis and Clark" crew had come a bit underprepaired. James had brought nothing to actually carry his water bottle in. So he just had to walk with it in his hands. He had tucked a white towel up under the backside of his white hat to protect his neck from the sun. He kind of looked like someone from the French Foreign Legion. He also wore a dark red T-shirt which had to be hot. Courts, on the other hand, was even less prepared. He didn't wear cargo pocket hiking shorts like the rest of us. He wore long pants!! He had to be cooking by now. Also, he wore his glasses and not his contacts. I heard him complian more than once about the glasses sliding down his face. He also brought nothing to carry his water. I was nice enough to stick it into my backpack. At least he wore hiking boots! Although I would'nt have been surprised if he would have shown up in sandles.

Back to the hike. By this point, we were getting near the half way point. We had taken several rest breaks whenever we came to some trees with shade. But we were still soaked with sweat by this point. All of a sudden, we look up on the ridge about 200 yards ahead of us and we see the buffalo we wer told of. He was just up and grazing on a patch of grass. He starts walking off to our right into a patch of trees. Meanwhile, I was snapping away trying to get a good picture of the giant male Bison. But soon, he was gone. Vanished from site. So we pick up our gear and move out. About 5 minutes up the trail, we are walking and talking and all of a sudden... "SNORT!" I hear the loud sound of a buffalo snorting. Which is what they do when startled and they want to smell what they have encountered. I look up, and about 15 feet from me is that very large buffalo looking at us. While keeping my eyes on him, I tell the guys, "Ok, just stay calm and dont run....." I look over my shoulder to see Courts and James in a full sprint back down the trail we just came up!! Unbelievable. I look back at the buffalo and he just, well... looks bored. He starts walking again, and stops at a grass patch and lays down. I get Courts and James back up to where I was and we move on.

About 30 minutes later, we reach the top of the mountain! There was a nice strong wind blowing and the view was incredible. We started exploring and snapping pictures. I went off my own way and found a cool and very large lizard sunbathing on a large rock. I started snapping pic's of him with my zoom lens. Got some good ones too. After about 30 minutes of doing this, we packed up all our stuff and started the climb down. It probably only took half the time going down. We were able to move much faster. We reached the bottom exhausted and quite hungery. Just past the exit of the refuge was a Burger King. Sounded good to us! A quick stomach refueling stop and we were on our way back to Wichita Falls, an hour South. It was a really fun trip and I got to take lots of great pictures. It was a good thing we got there early, so it was still cool and nice out. Later that afternoon the heat index reached 103F! Too hot for hiking.
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