Not two days later I find myself on top of Harney Peak in South Dakota, my 30th US highpoint. Work had sent me to this region so after accomplishing it I decided to take a vacation day and climb this peak. Some hardy and brave coworkers from the Rapid City area, Scott and Jim, offered to join me on the trip and I welcomed the company. Jim turned out to play the role as our own interpretive naturalist as he was a “local”! Leaving Rapid City early, we were at the trailhead in Custer State Park within 1 hour. We were only the second car in the parking lot but found we were actually the third party to the summit that morning. The trail starts wide and easy and is in a beautiful section of the mountains. Aspens, some bright yellow, and some browning, were bracketed by tall pines against the deep blue sky – what a view. Sylvan Lake, near the trailhead was simply inspiring…
Scott started as a brisk pace and never slowed down! Jim and I followed behind as the trail circled a deep valley and actually lost about 200′ in elevation before making it’s up its mind it needed to reach the summit. Along the way we saw a couple of white tail deer by the trail…must not be hunting season yet in the park as they had no fear.
Scott and Jim were both heading out hunting the next day; Scott with his bow and Jim with his shotgun in the eastern part of S. Dakota. After stopping for a snack, we headed up the final part where the going gets interesting with rock steps, a trek through a keyhole and airy stairs that assist the hiker in reaching the summit. The stone tower appeared before us, built in 1939… a lot of work.
On the other side, a mountain goat was eating few tuffs of grass by himself. I scrambled over to another rock knoll close by and he came right by me for my closest view of a wild mountain goat…his white goat was blowing in the breeze. He looks quite healthy and content, albeit perhaps a bit lonely. We were all surprised he was by himself!
Eating some food for the trip back down we rested out of the increasing breeze as Jim and Scott made some cell phones calls form the summit to loved ones. A woman and her dog joined us and we enjoyed a nice chat before starting down. From the summit you can see the “backside” of Mt Rushmore. Later on the way home, we drove by the front and I was able to see it for the first time; impressive!
Heading down was easy enough but we didn’t hurry….we just enjoyed the time in the Black Elk Wilderness Area and saw more wildlife running through the forest (a doe). Jim pointed out a squirrels nest high in a pine tree and we were also treated to a large flock of cranes HIGH overhead flying in a constantly changing formation, heading south. It had taken us 90 mins to reach the top and about 70 to get down. Reaching the trailhead, I was “pleasantly mellow” from the workout as were the others. It had been great to have two friends along and Harney Peak was their first highpoint….maybe future high pointers??? You never know.
After a two year forced hiatus, I now had two more states, ND, and SD and had yet again visited two areas of our United States that I would not normally have seen if I was not involved in this quest for the 50 states. As I head home to VA, I look back to the summits… it will give me motivation until the next ones…
Beta: 6 miles RT – 1000′ Elevation gain, 3.5 hours