Long ago, visitors could ride a burro UP Harney Peak. Today, Custer State Park burros simply roam free. As we reached the summit of Harney Peak, Matt and I were wondering “Where is my damn burro?”
Here’s the rest of the trail tale:
Time for another Hansen Summer Bucket List item. This one was a LOT more challenging than anticipated:
Julia, Matt and I took on Harney Peak. At 7,242 feet, it’s the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Swiss Alps. We packed 8 bottles of water into backpacks, laced up our hiking shoes, drove to the Sylvan Lake trailhead and headed out, er, UP!
We took Trail 4 up. It starts in beautiful wild flower and native grasslands, then progresses to through absolutely gorgeous granite rock, trees and bushes. You end up climbing about 1,000 ft. At some points there are gradual descents, which has you wondering if you’re going the right way (we were). It took about 2.25 hours to ascend. It’s a well-travelled trail and we saw a few people — most of them were descending. We didn’t start our hike until 2:30 in the afternoon. (“Oh, it’s 90 degrees F, with the fire warning at extremely high? Let’s hike Harney Peak. Now.” Not my smartest moment.)
Even so, the heat was not unbearable. It got cooler and we climbed, and there was always a nice breeze. We sweated, but not uncomfortably so.
During the final climb, Trail 4 combines with Trail 9. About this time, Matt and I were tired. We weren’t certain how far we had to go, and while we were determined, we were also feeling our lungs–and legs.
About this time, Matt and I were also wondering “Where is my damn burro?” I could’ve used a lift up to the Fire Tower.
We made it!
It’s quiet at the summit, where there’s a gorgeous Fire Tower. We were quiet, too, enjoying the amazing views while we caught our breath. And basking in the pride. I was really, really proud of the kids. After we high-fived and toasted with water, I could see they were silently proud of themselves, too. Lovely moments to watch them in accomplishment.
One last climb
Inside the Fire Tower, there is a very short but very narrow, steep metal staircase to the very tip top. Shaking all the way, I ascended, snapped a quick photo–and gratefully climbed down.
We all took a bit more quiet time to imprint the views on our memories. I prayed — I always feel closer to the Big Guy in nature, and His presence was very near so near to Heaven. I also lightened our backpacks a tad by sharing some of our trail mix with the locals:
We then climbed down, via Trail 9. It’s a much easier route, but still a challenge. As one guy said as we neared the trailhead, “I’ve never been so happy to see grass in my life!”
Us, too. Although the granite was gorgeous.
And I hope Matt and Julia forever remember our Harney Peak hike, their pride–and realize yet again that they can do anything they set their minds to. I’ll back ’em up every step of the way.
I could live happily ever after in Custer State Park. Mostly because of Sylvan Lake. During our Black Hills vacation, we spent a lot of time in the park, and most of it at Sylvan Lake because it has things we all like to do there. Hike. Swim. Climb. Jump off rocks. Picnic. And only the jumping off rocks is illegal, ahem, Julia…
Some highlights of our legal fun at Sylvan Lake:
Another day, we set up our picnic at the day use area (beach):
Rocks islands within swimming distance? Let’s go!
K. Enough pictures. I dived in to join them! Greg was video-taping, so perhaps I’ll post some of those images…
Meanwhile, we all have fond memories of our times at Sylvan Lake. Next time: Water shoes.
Just before we departed for our Black Hills vacation, we had a little party with some friends. One mom recommended Jewel Cave. You need reservations for a tour, so en route, I got our tickets via phone. I considered the four offered tours of Jewel Cave:
1. Scenic – too tame
2. Discovery – still too tame
3. Wild – minimum age 16 and participants must fit through passages 12″ x 8 /12″ – too wild
4. Historic lantern tour – enter and exit through the original cave entrance, carry a gas-lit lantern and have a little adventure – perfect!
(I’m sure my family was thinking at several points, “Why can’t we be like normal families and simply walk a paved path carrying flashlights?”)
This WAS a great adventure!
The tour begins at the ranger cabin, which is a short drive from the main Jewel Cave monument entrance.
The front room walls were painted at one time after the ranger’s wife requisitioned paint from the gov’t. Since times were tight and colors like black, brown, grey and brown were needed for wartime implements, she got….pink.
There were only 15 in our tour group, which was excellent. We gathered our gas-lit lanterns from our tour guide, who was clad in 1930s ranger wear. (Kids under 12 carry LED-lit lanterns.) We walked down a long flight of steps to the historical cave entrance.
Side note: While we traveled to the entrance, we heard many sirens and emergency vehicles passing by. Our guide, who had been tuned in to her scanner, told us another forest fire had flared up 6 miles away. I uttered a silent prayer for all those evacuating and fighting. Underground wouldn’t be the worst place to be for the next 2 hours.
Cool! No, really, it’s 49 degrees, which felt heavenly.
Heaven vs. Hell (er, Dungeon) One of the first things your group does is select your route. One is “Heaven” punctuated by lots of steps down, down, down, down, down… and of course back up, up, up, up… Not my first choice. Our group opted for the Dungeon (originally called “Hell” route because of an eerie encounter by that first park ranger and a lantern that wouldn’t stay lit).
Rock hound heavenCaroline is our little rock hound, and she LOVED the miles of thick crystals, box work, fossils and other formations that she could touch and explore and point out.
Trap door! One of the most challenging (“strenuous” is apparently the approved park language) parts is crawling down a very narrow passage, kinda lit by lanterns with uneven footing. We all made it!
Hands-on This was amazing! Unlike other tours, where you’re constantly reminded not to touch the rock formations, you HAVE TO at Jewel Cave. You’re crawling and ducking, bending and stooping, and the cave walls are your guide for the 3 points of contact recommended to safely get through.
True Jewel Cave beauty In a “room” at the deepest point we would see of Jewel Cave, our guide has us witness the true beauty of Jewel Cave. We extinguished all lights. It was GORGEOUS! Very rare, amazing experience.
A little wild Near the end, you have the option to crawl through a narrow passageway. Of course the kids and I did! Of course Greg was at the other side the snap pictures : )
We highly recommend the Jewel Cave Lantern Tour. And the kids are counting the summers until they are 16 and can do the Wild Caving Tour.