Three days off during Easter weekend and I’m still stuck living in the Midwestern plains. That’s another story for another time. No early season Utah Canyonlands or Escalante trip this year for me. As I sat in Iowa two weeks before planning this trip the temperature outside was in the 60’s. The morning I hit the trailhead in South Dakota the forecast called for a couple inches of snow, 25 to 35 mph winds, with gusts of up to 50.
I had previously only visited the Blacks Hills of South Dakota once before this trip. Regretfully, that trip involved no backpacking, not even a day hike. I did the obligatory visit to Mt. Rushmore where you have to pay money to park in a multi-level parking garage, walk through big crowds, and pass a restaurant just to get up close and personal with the four former presidents. The commercialism of the place (and the areas surrounding the small tourist towns) is a big bummer in my opinion. This particular weekend I scored views of this gigantic granite sculpture without paying for parking and dealing with the masses.
After staying at a hotel Thursday night in Rapid City, I left early traveling the remaining 30 some miles to the Grizzly Bear (no bears exist in the Black Hills) Trailhead. The black elk wilderness has many options for day and multiday loop trips. The most popular hike being the trip up to Harney Peak, which is the tallest mountain east of the Rockies.
Grizzly Trail to Lost Cabin Trail to Willow Creek Trail to WCT/ Rushmore Trail to Centennial Trail and back to Grizzly Trailhead
I captured these views on my way to the Trailhead on the Peter Norbeck scenic byway highway.
Grizzly Bear Creek Trailhead
The first couple miles of the trail were wide, making it obvious that the path was probably once a road. I found the attempted cover up by these tree limbs to be pretty funny.
That eventually turned into this.
Not really a powder day but I made first tracks anyway.
One of many distant granite castles.
Starting to climb in elevation now.
I left my snowshoes at home... The deepest I saw was probably around 2 feet.
I eventually make it to a clearing to take in some views.
My original game plan was to bag Harney Peak. but at this point I was still about a mile and a half away from the summit, with 50 mph gusts of wind and 250 mL of water left. On Friday alone I heard 2 different trees take a tumble... somewhere in the forest. I opted to stay off the peak and start going down the hill on Lost Cabin Trail.
Little Devils Tower
Night one camp. It was a very brisk evening and I was bundled inside my sleeping bag by 7:00 pm. I know it looks rather pleasent in the photo but that sun is mighty decieving.
I awoke to partially frozen water bottles.
The view looking north from the Lost Cabin pass.
Not my creation, but I appreciated it.
The view of the look out tower on top of Harney Peak... now regretting the fact I didn't make the push.
This is how the Centennial trail was posted every quarter mile or so. I came away very impressed by the trail system in the black elk wilderness. I never had to think twice about retracing my steps because of it fading. There was adequate signage and it was easy to keep my eyes up, and not always on the map.
All is calm at camp on night two.
Then the snow began to fly. It snowed on and off Saturday but never enough to accumulate to anything on the ground...
...Until Sunday morning of course.
These were the only views I could see Rushmore of from the Trail. I suppose if I would have ventured to do a little more bushwhacking, I could have gotten more than just Washington and Lincoln.