South Dakota 2019, Day 4: Black Elk Peak (July 23)

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Today was our big hiking day. But first, we had to make a small digression. When we packed the previous night, we couldn’t find Nate’s hiking boots, which he had used on the Lover’s Leap trail. Sure enough, we drove back to yesterday’s trailhead and found his boots sitting in the parking lot where he had left them.

With that out of the way, we set off north on the extremely curvy Needles highway.

Needles Highway

This is a scenic highway, meant to be enjoyed at 25 mph. We were driving faster than that, and Nate was in the back seat. Reading. It wasn’t long until he was solidly car sick, and wasn’t long after that until he was puking on the roadside.

We slowed down and stopped at the Needles Eye Tunnel. This tunnel is only 8’ wide and 9’ 9” tall. This slows down traffic considerably. A bus can fit through it, but with inches to spare on either side.

Needles Eye Tunnel

The Needles Eye Tunnel was a great spot to get out and do some scrambling in the fresh air. Nate felt better soon.

The Needles

We finally got everyone together and ready at the trailhead, and began to climb Black Elk Peak. The tallest mountain in South Dakota, Black Elk Peak was formerly called Harney Peak. William Harney was an army general, who was known primarily for his butchering of Native Americans in the 1850s. After a long struggle, the tribes successfully petitioned to rename the peak in 2016.

Views from Black Elk Peak

The sun was hot, the air was sticky, and Nate was super slow. We plodded our way up the crowded trail. The summit itself was just as crowded, but also quite interesting. The fire tower on the top was part of a large castle-like complex.

Fire Tower on the Summit
Apple Maps View of Black Elk Peak Summit Complex
Summit Lake
View from Black Elk Peak

We only had a little bit of time to enjoy the view, as storm clouds rolled in. The thunder cleared out the summit crowds quickly. On the way down we made a good decision to take a different route. This one looped past the Cathedral Spires and was crowd-free.

Cathedral Spires

This took us out to a separate trailhead, so I hiked the last half mile by myself to bring back the car. We ended the day with showers, nachos, and ice cream sundaes back at the campground.

Hiking Route (clockwise from Sylvan Lake on left of map)

8.7 miles

Strava Link

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