By Aaron Gibson
Oklahoma winters bring little in the way of snow and ice, and more in the way of gale-force winds and driving rain. There are, however, a few optimal days when snow blankets the granite and the days are cold enough to freeze any water. This is the season for ice climbing in the Wichita Mountains. The few who attempt to ice climb in Oklahoma know of the short window of opportunity and make every effort to get to the ice before it melts the next day.
Post Oak Falls in Charons Gardens offers the best ice climbing in the area. The waterfall is about 30 feet tall and runs into a small, but deep, pool at the base. During the best conditions, there will be three to five inches of ice covering the entire wall, and the pool at the bottom is frozen solid, however, this rarely occurs.
Upon a few occasions, I’ve made the chilly jaunt back to Post Oak Falls in hopes of rediscovering Oklahoma ice climbing. The winter of 2000 was one such occasion. My friends, and I ventured to the Falls. There was about a foot of snow on the ground from the storms that passed a day earlier but it was melting fast. So much for winter, we thought. We hoped to find a little ice, and a “little” ice is indeed, all we found. It was more of a frosted coating of slushy ice dripping like an ice cream cone on a summer afternoon.
We scoped out what remained of the frozen waterfall and decided to set up a top-rope, thinking, only a madman would lead such a thing. After setting the rope I put on my warmest clothes: my new gloves, my gray with orange stripe Polypro socks, and my $2.99 Wal-Mart beanie. Before climbing, we needed to check the integrity of the thickness of the ice covering the frozen pool at the base of the falls. I crouched down and placed a single boot on the surface of the ice and pressed gently. The pool was hardly frozen. A crack erupted, as the ice broke into chunks. I lost my balance and slid into the freezing waters. I pawed desperately at the snow-covered ledge and tried to get a foothold underwater but only slipped further into the depths of the pool. I looked to my friends to rush over and give me a hand. They must have found something humorous in my race between drowning and contracting acute hypothermia; they stood watching my struggle and laughing uncontrollably. The broken ice sheets surrounded me as I bobbed like a cork, desperate to extract myself. Finally, I found an edge large enough to latch onto with my soaked gloved hand and was able to slide out like a seal onto an iceberg.
I leered at my friends as they continued to wail in laughter. Luckily, I had another pair of socks to put on and I borrowed a dry pair of gloves. I spent a long while shivering and doing jumping jacks to warm up. Within twenty minutes the gusting winds had frozen my pants and jacket into a solid sheet of ice. My entire body creaked and cracked with each movement. Even something as simple as lifting my arms above my head was a chore because of the weight of the ice frozen to my sleeves. I looked like an arctic Yeti.
Eventually, I warmed up enough to climb, and it was a lot of fun. But I recall having a passing thought of ending the day immediately after my polar-bear plunge. I thought of hiking back to the car and warming up, getting something warm to drink, listening to the radio and relaxing the rest of the day, but then I realized that I couldn’t miss the single day that comprised Oklahoma’s ice climbing season. This was a novelty! This was true adventure! This was fun! Plus, my friends wouldn’t give me the keys to the car.