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The Named Peaks in Charonís Garden, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

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Offline nathanr

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The Named Peaks in Charonís Garden, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

With two kids and a job, itís hard to get away for multiple week-long trips. So lately Iíve been looking for more opportunities to cram a lot into a single day hike.

Like its name suggests, Charonís Garden is a fun place just to go and play. The gnarly topography often ends in cliffs or impassible ravines. The mountains are mostly exposed granite slabs, boulders, and talus. Oak shrubs grow thick and low to the ground which makes bushwacking a tough slog, until you find a clear game trail that cuts right through the bush. The scrambling is mostly class 2, with an occasional class 3 or rare class 4. This trip report describes a day hike linking all the named peaks in the Charonís Garden Wilderness, but it would be just as fun as a two-day backpack if you can secure a backcountry camping permit.





Connecting all the named peaks in the Charonís Garden Wilderness is about 10 miles as the crow flies, and 8,000 feet of elevation change (4k up, 4k down). For me, this is a tough day in off-trail terrain. But Charonís Garden reminds me of a ďbuild your own adventure bookĒ Ė itís easy to make your route as long and challenging as you want. My route was the easiest way to get to all of these places. When given the choice between a class 3 scramble or a class 4 scramble, I took the 3 every time. Thereís easy bail out points throughout the route: on the western half go east until you hit the Charonís Garden Trail and hike out; on the eastern side, head east to the park road. I carried a 20* quilt, a tarp, and some extra food in case I chose to spend the night out there. But my plan was to finish it in a single day.

Summary stats
Distance: 10.6 mile loop, 9.25 hours
Elevation: 8,200 ft (4,100 up, 4,100 down) Ė 770 ft per mile
Tread: almost entirely off-trail
Date: December, 2018



 
The terrain is a mix of granite mountains with prairie in between. The prairie areas are usually fast and easy to travel through but the oak here grows in scrubby brushes low to the ground making it difficult to fight through.


On my way to Sunset Peak I followed a broad prairie between two mountains. It was the most obvious route for me, and game too apparently. I heard a loud rumbling and a herd of bison came running towards me so I jumped up on a boulder to get out of their way.

 Thereís plenty of game trails formed by deer, elk, and bison that make it easier to get through the thicker scrub.




Approaching Mount Mitchell.




Boulders and slabs on the eastern side of the wilderness.

 
 
Water collects in little pot holes in the granite. They were all frozen over when I was there but had clean water under the ice. Some of the creeks were flowing, and youíll find the occasional spring seeping out of cracks in the rocks.



 
It was pretty common to pick a route that seems good, only to have it end in cliffs. This picture above was taken approaching the top of Lincoln. Between me and this 50 ft class 5 climb was a class 4 down climb into a small chute. To the right (east), it cliffed out. To the left (west) the chute went, but had two 20 ft class 4 down climbs. I took a 50 ft hank of cord and used it to lower my pack down these sections.
 

 
There were a few times where the only way through was to crawl through gaps under boulders.

 
Porcupine near the summit of Twin Rocks Mountain.
 

I saw at least 20 cow elk, two bull elk, and several deer on this route.  This bull was standing right in my most direct path (on the top of Elk Mountain, of course), and he didnít want to move. So I walked way around.

Essential gear
Grippy shoes for all the boulder hopping. I wore LaSportiva TX3.
Water was plentiful in January and I carried a lightweight filter that attaches to a water bottle.
Map and compass Ė youíll need strong navigation and route-finding skills.


Resources and other trip reports
Summit Post: https://www.summitpost.org/charon-s-garden-wilderness/274583
Stav is Lost: https://www.stavislost.com/hikes/trail/charons-garden-wilderness-big-loop
Big Bend Chat: https://www.google.com/search?q=wichita+mountains+site%3Abigbendchat.com&rlz=1C1GCEA_enUS816US816&oq=wichita+mountains+site%3Abigbendchat.com&aqs=chrome..69i57.8334j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8





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Offline steelfrog

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Awesome trip report!

The Wichitas don't get near the publicity they might, which is great cause it keeps most of the crowds out, especially of Charon's Garden.

It being only a 3-hour drive from Dallas, I end up going there 20-30 times a year, usually with one or more of my 6 kids, who by now know CG well.

I assume when you say named peaks, you mean named on a USGS map.  Which would be what, Sunset, Twin Rocks, Granite, Lincoln and Elk?

There are actually names, some quite common names, for most of the peaks and ridges and canyons in CG.  The only significant one I'm unaware of it's name (if it has one) is the peak directly north of Twin Rocks.  An example of a peak with a name, in your Stavislost report, it looks like you were on what is commonly known as Mt. Mitchell, out in the southwest part of CG.  Crab Eyes is another example, which has no name on USGS map (some people even call  it Twin Rocks!)

A couple months ago my buddy and I did what we call the "Tour de Charon's Garden" which is all the 2kers in CG, so Sunset, Mitchell, Glass Mountain Peak, the unnamed peak north of Twin Rocks, Twin Rocks, Granite, Lincoln and Elk -- eight 2kers.  And, truth be told, you really could count the high points of two ridges, known as Widowmaker Traverse (the ridge west of the peak north of Twin Rocks) and Ferryman's Traverse (the ridge just north of where Crab Eyes is), both of which have high points over 2k.

Early last year 2 buddies and I started out at the west gate and completely traversed the park, going through CG (and over the Elk/Lincoln saddle) through Narrows, up Panther Canyon to Osage lake, around by Holy City and eventually up Mt. Scott.  Long day...

Anyway, I love your boldness and creativity in doing this route.  I'm up there often, so if we can hook up let me know.  I have backcountry CG permit April 13 weekend, you are welcome to join.  Planning on exploring out south and west of Mitchell.  If we meet I can get you a hand-labelled map of all the named things in CG.

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Offline nathanr

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Your Wichita Traverse sounds awesome - A friend and I have had this on our list for a long time. How long did that take?

The ten I could identify were: Sunset, Mitchell, Charon's Garden, Granite, Twin Rocks, Phantom, Bat Cave, Bat Cave Peak, Lincoln, Elk. I'd love to get a copy of that map.

Agree, the Wichitas are a small little gem that you can do a lot with.

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Offline steelfrog

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The traverse took 12 hours or thereabouts

CGM is only 1905 so it doesn't qualify

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Offline bbbrain

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Re: The Named Peaks in Charonís Garden, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2019, 10:08:57 AM »
That's a couple of big days there by nathan and steelfrog.  we go twice a year, spring and fall, and camp at doris.  highly recommended, but go during the week.   :great:

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: The Named Peaks in Charonís Garden, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2019, 03:30:58 PM »
Heading there tomorrow; gonna climb up one of the north buttresses of Elk, go down Rock Rooms, go back up Rock Rooms, go over and find a new way down to the Elk/Lincoln saddle, then up the north side of Lincoln.

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Offline nathanr

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Re: The Named Peaks in Charonís Garden, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2019, 10:19:27 PM »
Hey Steelfrog, How was Rock Rooms? Think a 9 year old could do it? Do you really need a headlamp?  The north side of Elk Mountain over to Lincoln is a great area to explore.

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Offline House Made of Dawn

  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2YJduDyFA4
  • Golden Eagle
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  • Backpacking since '78, Big Bend since '95.
Re: The Named Peaks in Charonís Garden, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
« Reply #7 on: December 11, 2019, 11:21:16 PM »
The Rock Rooms are heaven for a 9-year-old. Probably actually easier for a child to navigate than for an adult, provided the child is of an adventurous mindset. My familyís old farm is located just north of the refuge and I spent a lot of time there over the years. You can definitely make it through without a headlamp: thereís more than one route. On the other hand, a headlamp is never a bad idea.


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: The Named Peaks in Charonís Garden, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2019, 10:44:00 AM »
Hey Steelfrog, How was Rock Rooms? Think a 9 year old could do it? Do you really need a headlamp?  The north side of Elk Mountain over to Lincoln is a great area to explore.

They were awesome.  A bit of water below the Limbo Rock and The Hump, but we didn't get too wet.  Was more of a problem on the way up as feet were a bit wet and it made it more difficult than it already is to get purchase on the slick rock.  But, was super fun.

Yes, a 9 year old can easily do this.  Spiders and bats are regular friends down there, but it's not a problem.  We took a group through there a couple months ago, about 8 kids, youngest I think was 6.  Getting them to get into the Slide at the end was the only problem.  Once in it though they were fine.  It's easier once you come out the mouth to climb up and get into the slide higher up than it is to do it right at the mouth.

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Offline nathanr

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Re: The Named Peaks in Charonís Garden, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2019, 02:24:26 PM »
Awesome, I'm going to take them out there next clear weekend. Yeah, I think they'll love it. Plus, nothing says adventure like a headlamp and a hank of rope.

 


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