Hiking | Poet’s Table, Little Devil’s Tower, Cathedral Spires

Not everything goes as planned, no matter how carefully the plan is crafted. We had a little miscommunication and our hiking group ended up in three separate groups all hiking at different times. And in the Black Hills, cell reception is extremely spotty, so even though we only miscommunicated by about a mile, it wasn’t easy straightening things out. We did meet up and hiked most of the way mostly together, but we got a chuckle out of our miscommunication.
2018-09-03_04-42-33The hike was supposed to include only Little Devil’s Tower and Cathedral Spires, but due to some extra time, Axel and I sneaked in Poet’s Table as well before the three groups managed to get back together. Poet’s Table was recently the subject of a vandalism, when a few girls actually sawed the table in half and carried it away, along with all the decades of notebooks stored in the cupboard. Needless to say, there was some significant backlash, to the point that the whole situation was utterly ridiculous, but at least there is a new table now, and a plaque was added with a short poem by John Raeck, the Vagabond Poet, who founded Poet’s Table decades ago:

“A castle that secluded lies
Beyond the gates of Paradise,
A soul-restoring mountain ark
In South Dakota’s Custer Park;
Where time and life are reconciled,
And man-of-years is like a child.”

~The Vagabond Poet, John Raeck2018-09-03_10-13-59To the west, the sky was looking somewhat ominous, but I decided to risk it and stated boldly, “Oh, it doesn’t really look like rain.”

It rained.

Half an hour later, when we had met up with some of the rest of our group, the sky was darker and we began to get sprinkled on. It picked up until it was a happy little gusty thunderstorm. I was sure thrilled with the White Sierra rain jacket I had found at a thrift store in Bozeman! Things were clearing up pretty well when we met up with the last two in our group, who had actually waited out the storm on or near Little Devil’s Tower, but were game enough to climb back up to the top with the rest of us. And yes, it is a climb. Not a long one, but definitely a hands and feet kind of scramble at times. Gale force winds met us on the way up, but calmed down over the next twenty minutes, as the rest of the storm pushed east. The 360 degree view from Little Devil’s Tower was incredible, with the storm working its way mostly south of us, the glories streaming through holes in the clouds, and virga on the edges of the bands of clouds. We reveled in the glorious views of Harney Peak, the Cathedral Spires, and distant hills. The storm pushed the smoke from the western fires away, and we enjoyed the sight of blue skies overhead. 2018-09-03_04-42-082018-09-03_04-35-272018-09-03_04-42-222018-09-03_04-36-282018-09-03_04-35-502018-09-03_04-36-08The sun was very westward when we hiked into the Cathedral Spires, which is a beautiful, short hike, with some steady elevation gain. I love how different the terrain and landscapes will be within such a short area, from the wide meadows and open hillsides around Little Devil’s Tower, to the sheltered, tree clad slopes around the Cathedral Spires. Some climbers clung like spiders to the sheer rock faces of the Spires, and a few mountain goats meandered down a little lower near the trail. Chokecherries were thick along parts of the trail. 2018-09-03_04-32-392018-09-03_04-33-492018-09-03_04-34-592018-09-03_04-33-342018-09-03_04-34-19These trails are often mentioned individually as destinations, but the three together made for a wonderful afternoon hike. We got back to the trail head around 8pm, with dusk settling and the cool air moving in. The summer is fading fast, but while it is here, we’ll enjoy it!

Hiking | Poet’s Table

I always love a new hike. Yesterday, I hiked to a hidden gem of the Black Hills – The Poet’s Table. And since it is an unmarked trail, it is pretty easy to keep it somewhat secret. I went with people who had been there before, which really is the best way to go in the case of the hike like this one, since it would be pretty hard to find it without a guide, even with directions.  The hike is a good scramble in places, not an easy hike, in spite of the short distance. From the trailhead to the Table only takes about 20 minutes, but it involves climbing a crevasse or two and some steep inclines.IMG_5723eWe started at Little Devil’s Tower Trailhead, which would be the most direct route. Since Little Devil’s Tower Trail is part of the Harney Peak Trail System, and the Poet’s Table trail is a spur or loop off the main trail, one could easily incorporate Poet’s Table into a longer hike. If you decide to do this, do Poet’s Table at the beginning when you’re fresh. Not at the end when you’re already tired and footsore.
IMG_5689eIt really is a delightful location, well-hidden, sheltered, and quiet. People who argue that the Black Hills aren’t mountains haven’t seen places like this. Soaring rock spires conceal this spot, and mountains fall away in the distance. A table and chairs and a cabinet filled with notebooks furnish the nook. People have signed their names on the walls, painted pictures, written poetry in the notebooks, and someone even left a bottle of Jack Daniels. There were remnants of an old campfire, and other odds and ends of trinkets and oddities left by previous passers-by. IMG_5672e We meant to eat a camping lunch up there, since I had missed out on the camping trip due to being sick, but a thunder storm rolled through just south of us, barely touching where we were. We could hear the thunder, so we debated for roughly twenty minutes about whether or not it was foolhardy to be sitting up on rocky cliffs with a thunder storm going on (the answer being “yes”, of course), until the storm basically blew by. By then, we weren’t really hungry and dinner was getting close anyway. IMG_5697ePack a picnic lunch. And enjoy the hike and the accompanying pristine views. The Black Hills at their best.


Blue Skies and Dirt Trails

Harney Peak Trail #4What a delight, when winter temperatures soar into the 60s and 70s under blue skies and warm sun! Waking up to 10 degree temperatures and gentle snowfall this morning, it is hard to believe that we enjoyed a summery hike last Saturday. Like many other residents of the Black Hills, Roy, Jessie and I spent the afternoon soaking up the springtime weather beneath Harney Peak. There was still ice on Sylvan Lake and snow in the shadowed places, but there wasn’t a hint of chill in the air.

Harney Peak Trail #4All around Harney Peak, there is a web of trails wending through the Black Elk Wilderness and Custer State Park, beautiful scenic spurs with gorgeous, soaring vistas and haunting hollows. We have all hiked Harney Peak a number of times, but some of the spurs were new to us, or at least new to me. Trail #9 is the most common way to reach the Peak, but Trail #4 is a little more rugged, less up-kept, and affords lovely views of the towering Cathedral Spires, as well as a lively scramble to the top of Little Devil’s Tower.

Harney Peak Trail #4For some of the little climb to Little Devil’s Tower, it was cumbersome having my camera bag slung over my shoulder, but worth it for the views at the top! The Harney Peak fire lookout looked doll-sized, and the dozens of people in and around the fire tower weren’t even visible. We could see Custer, like a map, spread out in the southwest, and we could see Rapid City to the northeast, sprawling and minuscule, with the Badlands barely visible in the distant haze. The hills dropped away, an alluring blue, fading and dimming as the distance grew.

Harney Peak Trail #4On the Cathedral Spires trail, we could see mountain goats sunning on the tops of rocks, far enough away that it just about maxed out my zoom lens. Such awkward looking creatures, yet so graceful and sure-footed! The first time I hiked Trail #4, we saw some up-close goats. It would have been fun to see a few up-close on the trail, but there were enough hikers with their companionable canines, the goats probably were more comfortable high up and out of the way.

Harney Peak Trail #4Such beautiful country to wander, and what clear, fresh air to breath deep of, to drink in, to soak up. Mica glittered dazzlingly in the trail dust, granite spires soared into the sky, pines grew precariously from any cleft of rock, and the aspens shimmered pale and silver in the warm sunshine, in a sea of golden grass.

Winter isn’t over in the Hills just yet. But almost. Spring is just around the corner.

Laura Elizabeth