Hiking | Hell Canyon Trail

Hell Canyon is one of my absolute favorite hikes in the Black Hills. In the spring and summer, the wildflower exhibition is dazzling, and I’ve found some unusual flowers on my hikes through the Canyon. But I’d never hiked it in the winter, which was a very different and beautiful experience. Hell CanyonA few trail stats: The trailhead is located about 10 miles west of Custer, near Jewel Cave National Monument. It is a well-marked, lightly traveled, approximately six-mile loop, which includes a short scenic spur along the rim of the canyon. It is generally recommended to hike the loop clockwise. I had the great idea to try it counterclockwise this time, and halfway through realized why it should be hiked clockwise. Hell CanyonWe had blue skies and warm winter weather for this hike, and worked up a lot of heat postholing it through the canyon. Our ice cleats were almost more of a hindrance than a help, since the snow was pretty heavy and wet and balled up in the spikes, making walking rather awkward at times. Overall, this is a pretty easy to moderate hike, except for where the trail climbs from the level of the canyon floor to the level of the canyon rim. Hence, why it should be hiked clockwise. Hell Canyon I once heard someone comment on the trail along the rim being dangerous, and was kind of puzzled since it seems one would have to try pretty hard to take any kind of serious tumble from the trail. My understanding for this person’s comment grew during this hike. When the trail is snowed over, the edge of the canyon can be difficult to see, and a number of times a miscalculated or clumsy step sent us awfully close to taking a steep tumble off the trail. I would now agree: in the winter, the canyon rim is rather treacherous. There aren’t really any sheer drop offs, but there are some steep slopes below the trail, and a tumble wouldn’t be a good thing at all. Hell CanyonWhat a day for one of my favorite hikes. Every time I’ve hiked it, new delights have stood out. I’m already getting excited for spring, and seeing it full of wildflowers again!

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.