Hiking | Harney Peak Trail #9

This was an exciting and exhausting hike to do in the snow. What is normally a relatively easy trail becomes much more challenging under a thick blanket of snow. Given how popular this trail is, I was actually surprised the trail wasn’t more trampled down, and in places there was very little trail at all with some pretty good drifting! Snow really transforms everything, and this hike was gorgeous. It was an almost full-family hike, since Jess was here from Illinois, and Mom came as well.IMG_20190127_142058988_HDRJust a few trail stats, since somehow I’ve never done a trail review for Harney Peak (now known as Black Elk Peak. Sorry, I’m afraid it is still Harney Peak to me…). There are a number of ways to get to the actual peak, but the most popular route is Trail #9 from Sylvan Lake, which is probably the easiest trail as well, and very well maintained. It is also wide enough to be great for dogs, as well as people in groups. Sometimes the narrow trails can be annoying with a group, if you have any interest in keeping up some conversation! The trail is roughly 6.5 miles out and back, with elevation gain of 1499 feet, from the lake to the peak itself. This is not a hike to do if you just came from sea level, since you very likely could experience some altitude discomfort.IMG_20190127_143254799IMG_20190127_155403631_BURST000_COVER_TOPThe trail climbs at a pretty good grade for the first half mile or mile, then levels out somewhat, or becomes equally up and down, more or less until the base of the peak. There is a good little climb to the top, with a few switchbacks, and a set of stairs at the very end leading up to the old firetower. There is a lot to see up by the firetower, if the weather is decent and there aren’t swarms of noseeums (that really did happen one summer. No bugs along the trail, but a whole host of little biting bugs as soon as we reached the top. We didn’t stay very long). In the spring and summer, it is a great place to eat a picnic lunch, and there’s fun to be had scrambling around beneath the tower. And in the winter, there’s an added pastime: along the way, Anna stopped to build little snowpeople while she waited for everyone else to catch up with her.
IMG_20190127_143944979_HDRIMG_20190127_155600389Particularly given the altitude change, do be sure to be prepared for weather changes. Bring food, extra layers (even in the summer), water, and flashlights. This should be common sense, of course. But oftentimes with Harney, it has actually been necessary, not just a good idea. A balmy day down by Sylvan Lake may turn into gale-force winds up at the top, or in our case a warm-ish winter day became a snowstorm with poor visibility at the top and probably a good 15 degrees colder. A number of rescues happen every year at Harney Peak, so don’t get stuck needing help because you weren’t prepared. IMG_20190127_144131780_HDRThis is one of the iconic hikes in the Black Hills and truly is worth doing, especially not during the peak of tourist season, for a less trafficked hike. The views from the top are spectacular. I remember one hike a few years ago, up at the peak, watching clouds cascading over the mountains below the firetower, like a long-exposure waterfall photograph. Stunning. The terrain along the trail is beautiful as well, ranging from granite spires and moss-covered spruces, to haunting areas of standing dead, some excellent far views of the distant Harney Peak, a few beautiful sights of Little Devil’s Tower, just to name a few highlights.IMG_20190127_140432883IMG_20190127_141238664One of the many gems of the Black Hills.

Hiking | Secret Waterfall Hike

Too many areas get spoiled by publicity, so a blogger/photographer is in a pickle when she wants to share her find, but doesn’t want to ruin a new favorite spot. So this will remain a secret and I will resist the urge to post the usual GPS map of our hike. If you want to know where and how to find it, you’ll just have to go hiking with me sometime.
IMG_20190119_142647455_HDRNow, one of my favorite parts of the hike was definitely the above sign towards the beginning of the trail. Hang gliders? Really? As Axel pointed out, the sign is only there because someone sometime tried all of those things…I got a laugh out of that. IMG_20190119_152204834_HDRIMG_20190119_150405093_HDRTrails are nice, but hiking where no one else goes, in search of confirmation of a rumor, has a romance all its own. This hike was one such hike, and we took off off-trail in search of a waterfall I had heard existed, but had never confirmed. In total, our hike was about 4.5 miles round trip, most of the distance along an established trail in the Black Elk Wilderness, but the remaining short distance was the hardest part. We bushwhacked up a frozen creekbed, which turned into a very steep boulder field, with huge bedroom-sized boulders, creating what sometimes looked like an impassible wall. And all of this was covered in snow and ice, of course, with beautiful, sheer ravine walls on either side. It all looked like something out of the depths of Middle Earth, and in terrain as gorgeous as that it was hard not to feel like an intrepid explorer. 50668204_361176928014278_8154445975000186880_nIMG_20190119_151452121We weren’t disappointed in the least. The search for a single waterfall turned up two. One was a huge, solid ice pillar growing behind a cluster of boulders, and the other was a graceful, tiered formation of ice spanning a good 20 or more feet.  And I’m not positive that either one we found was the one I’d read about. Ice builds up over time, creating deceptively massive formations from what normally would have been little more than a trickle of water. My impression from what I’ve read is that the Secret Waterfall really is a waterfall, not a mere trickle. So I’m looking forward to exploring this area after everything thaws, and seeing what these falls look like when they’re flowing, and possibly finding a third, the “real deal.” 50813630_277697642922061_8692885039689498624_nIMG_20190119_153606333I got a chance to try out a new pair of ice cleats by Unigear, which were amazing and absolutely indispensable for this hike, much of which was on treacherous footing, scrambling over and under snow- and ice-covered boulders. This must have been one of our more adventurous hikes, in the sense of the very rugged terrain we were in, and the shenanigans we pulled while hiking.  I love a hike that includes hands-and-feet scrambling, a little spelunking, and some boulder hopping! But we have a healthy enough sense of caution, probably partly built on the fact that we’re both first responders and if we got in a bad bind we’d be calling people we know. That’s a good deterrent to stupidity. 50244702_308980189619832_5913311587313123328_nThis is the kind of hike that I hate to have end. In this part of the country, there is so much beauty we take for granted every day, and then there are the places that are absolutely breathtaking if you take the trouble to get to them. This Lord of the Rings fairyland is practically in my backyard. What a joy.

 

Hiking | Spring Creek Loop Trail

Nothing like a brisk hike on a winter day! The sun was out, though tucked behind hills much of the hike, and the creek, partly frozen, chattered and chuckled comfortably along the trail.IMG_20181229_133720310_HDRSpring Creek Loop is a spur off the Centennial and Flume Trails, and can be hiked from Sheridan Lake for a 4 mile hike, or from Spring Creek Trailhead for a 2.5 mile hike. A beautiful option for a quick excursion! The trail is relatively level for the most part, with a few creek crossings over narrow footbridges. A couple of years ago, the footbridges were a disaster and crossing them was a comical chore.IMG_6420eSheridan Lake was at the halfway point on this hike, more or less. The ice on the lake was thick and black and clear, and we skated cautiously out onto it, listening to the ice singing and chattering to itself, scurrying off again when we stood too close together and started a crack which followed us back to shore. Ice fisherman way across the lake had their fourwheelers out, taking advantage of the sunshine. Snow whispered across the gleaming surface of the lake, ghostly and gentle. It was so beautiful and blue under the clear sky.
IMG_20181229_150529005_HDRIMG_20181229_144913132 So many beautiful sights. Hops vines still had their little golden cones hanging from them like Christmas ornaments, and frosty jewels studded the frozen creek, feathery and delicate. IMG_6483eIMG_6630eIMG_6610eIMG_20181229_155134239_HDRWhat a beautiful afternoon. And what a way to (almost) welcome in the New Year.

 

Hiking | Crow Peak Trail

We live right on the edge of the Black Hills National Forest, with our own property to hike on, as well as many other gorgeous hikes within a (relatively) short drive from our house. It is pretty easy to get stuck around here and the southern Hills for our excursions, and not venture too far from north. So I was glad to finally make it up towards Spearfish to hike the Crow Peak Trail, a roughly 6 mile out-and-back trail to the top of a beautiful little mountain, with gorgeous views of the surrounding area, including Bear Butte.
Crow PeakCrow PeakCrow PeakThe trail is well maintained and pretty much impossible to lose sight of. It is a steady uphill climb, steeper towards the top, with a handful of switchbacks and sprawling views from open areas on the way up. In the lower elevations of the trail, there are some good unobstructed views of Crow Peak, which I always enjoy. It is fun to be able to glimpse the destination. In a few places, the trail traverses steep, rock-covered slopes, and standing dead are evidence of not-so-long-ago fire activity. As a proper destination hike should, it boasts incredible views from the summit.Crow PeakCrow PeakCrow PeakWe brought a picnic and our hammocks, and enjoyed an uncharacteristically leisurely lunch on the edge of a cliff, with Bear Butte visible in the distance. It was a bit chilly, but so beautiful, and hard to make ourselves head back down to “the real world.” Amazing how excursions into God’s glorious Creation help to put life into perspective, as worries and cares fade into the distance. Crow PeakIt is a good thing I have a sense of personal responsibility, otherwise I would just quit everything I’m doing and live in the woods with my hammock.

Hiking | Boulder Hill

One of the fantastic things about living in an area like the Black Hills is just how accessible the hiking is. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the Black Hills more this year, with my free-er schedule and ability to really set some time aside to simply enjoy the outdoors. I feel very blessed to have been able to do that this year!IMG_20181020_144007841_HDReBoulder Hill is a short spur off the Flume Trail #50, and makes a great short afternoon hike, with an easily accessible trailhead to the spur, or, if you feel like cheating, an even shorter route up a logging road. It is rated as hard, due to some steep scrambling. If you have a fear of heights, this may not be the trail for you. Some of the steep places are pretty exposed, and made me a little giddy! Be advised that the parking lot for Boulder Hill trailhead is on the other side of the road from the actual trailhead. And what looks like the trailhead sign board is not at the trailhead. Look for this sign:
IMG_20181020_135614712_HDReThat’s the trail.

We lost the trail part way up and ended up walking up an old logging road, which for us was actually the long way around. But that whole area is beautiful, so what did it matter?IMG_20181020_144944783_HDReRemnants of an old fire tower prove what a great lookout this peak actually is. The views from the top are spectacular. The Black Hills are known as an island in the prairie, and Boulder Hill is close to the foothills of the Black Hills, providing excellent views down into the surrounding prairies as far off as the Badlands. There is a beautiful view of Harney Peak, and I could see Lakota Peak as well, a landmark in my neck of the woods, just a few miles from my house.IMG_20181020_150548711_HDReIt was fun to look down from the peak and see, way in the distance, Axel’s car in the trailhead parking lot. I’m not a “vista person,” when it comes to hiking. I love good views, but what motivates me is the enchantment and challenge of a beautiful, long hike, not so much getting somewhere specific but getting away from anywhere specific. That said, what is thrilling about a “vista hike” is getting to look down on everywhere I just hiked. It really puts things in perspective – huge perspective. When hiking in the lowlands, there is absolutely no sense of distance, as far as how far is how far you hiked. What does a mile or six miles or thirteen miles look like, winding through the Hills? But looking down from a peak and seeing the trailhead in the distance is a pretty neat feeling. And, since this is a spur off the Flume Trail, which we had hiked just a few weeks earlier, we sat there trying to orient ourselves to where we’d hiked and where the trail must have been. We could make a pretty educated guess, and the vastness was thrilling.

What a glorious place we live in.

 

Hiking | Little Elk Creek Trail

Oh, back when the weather was warmer…However, warmer doesn’t mean warm. On this particular hike, Axel, Katie, and I all were a bit chilly for the first while, having not considered the morning shade in the canyon. We were treated to some of the first glimpses of winter, with persistent ice over parts of Little Elk Creek, beautiful frozen, frosted, filigreed leaves, and the nipping of the crisp, morning air at our cheeks and noses. Autumn was still hanging on by a thread, and not all the trees had dropped their leaves, but the crispness and the frost let us know that winter was on its way.
IMG_20181020_095501451_HDRIMG_20181020_092419204_HDReIMG_20181020_112105059_HDRLittle Elk Creek Trail is a well-maintained trail, approximately 5 miles out-and-back, used by hikers, bikers, and trail runners. It is mostly level, with very little elevation gain, and though it is rated as moderate according to All Trails, I would definitely rate it as easy. Perhaps the length is where the moderate rating comes in. I don’t know.IMG_20181020_092719462_HDRIMG_20181020_101247761_HDRThe trail follows along or above Little Elk Creek, though some beautiful rock formations and canyon areas, boasting many beautiful views. Across the creek from the trail, shaded north slopes were green with moss, steep and rocky, and very different from the brown, sunlit slopes the trail followed. We met a few other hikers, but it was a quiet trail. It is a ways off the beaten path, and likely not a lively tourist destination, since most tourists would probably hike around Sylvan Lake and Custer State Park, the crown jewels of the Black Hills. But this lovely hike is worth the time to get there.
IMG_3448eIMG_3442eAnd as always in the Black Hills, if you can tear your gaze from the soaring beauty of the trees, spires, canyons, and blue, blue sky, there are other things to marvel at as well. Things like friendship, for one. What a gift God gave when He created people, plural. He meant for us to live in community and fellowship with one another, and hiking with my brothers and sisters in Christ is one of my greatest joys at this time of my life. And then there are the tiny, almost-trodden on things, like abandoned bird nests and rushes growing green along the creek. It is so easy to focus so intently on the big picture that a million priceless glimpses of joy are lost.