Thursday, July 9, 2009

Black Hills National Forest: Harney Peak

It was a beautiful morning and so Noelle and I decided to hike up the tallest peak in South Dakota, Harney Peak. We packed up our gear and hit the road bound for the less traveled Willow Creek Trailhead. Our plan was to hike up Harney from the north. The trails on this side of the peak see much less traffic. So after getting stuck behind gas-guzzling RVs headed for Mount Rushmore we made it to the trailhead. We hit the manure covered trail and at first it was a real slog along dusty trails within earshot of the highway. About 2 miles into the hike the conditions started to improve.

There was less evidence of horse use and the trail entered into the Black Elk Wilderness.
Upon entering into the wilderness the scenery improved vastly as well. There were lots of granite rock formations and viewpoints to gaze at.

 When we got to the junction with the Harney Summit Trail the scene included a lot less solitude. There were tons of people up there; many of them looking like they had never hiked a mile in their lives. Several people carried water and snacks up in plastic grocery bags. The summit area was also an interesting place to listen to conversations.
Several people upon seeing and hearing one of the sightseeing helicopters would say something like “that helicopter must be here for our ride down”, after which the others in their group would chuckle. One young boy claimed to be able to see his house in Mitchell, SD (about 350 miles away). Another gentleman claimed that the mountain receives a “ton of snow in the winter because it is above 7,000 feet just like Mount Mitchell and 7,000 is the magic number”, whatever that means.
We were able to bear about 5 minutes up on the summit with the hordes. We then headed down into relative solitude on the trail. The hike down went quick and before we knew it we were back to the car. It was a good way to spend a beautiful Black Hills day.

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